Costco is all the craze these days and if you have one nearby where you live, you may have considered a membership. But when you have to pay an annual fee for the pleasure of shopping in a particular store, you have to stop and wonder: is a Costco membership worth it?
How much does a Costco membership cost?
Let’s start off by breaking down the cost of membership at Costco. Currently, the annual membership fee for a Gold Star membership (that’s the standard option) is $60. That gets you access to any Costco location in the world, plus online shopping.
Is the Costco Executive membership worth it?
Another option to consider is the Gold Star Executive membership, which costs $120 each year. This is really designed for big spenders at Costco because you receive 2% cashback on your purchases, up to $1,000 each year.
If you spend $250 a month, you’d break even on the extra cost. That means if you spend on average more than that each month at Costco, you’d save even more with this membership. You can also start off with a regular Gold Star membership, then upgrade if it makes sense for your spending.
Does a Costco membership really save you money?
Whether or not Costco memberhsip saves you money depends on several things. First, make sure that it makes sense to buy in bulk for your frequent purchases. Obviously, things like toilet paper and paper towels don’t expire (and are priced low at Costco), but you also don’t want food purchases to perish if you don’t have a ton of people in your household.
What kind of deals can you find at Costco?
Here’s a rundown of the best and worst things to buy there, plus some extra member perks that may make the annual cost well worth it.
Best Things to Buy at Costco
Obviously, there are a lot of great buys at Costco. Check out our favorites that suit a wide range of lifestyles.
Let’s start with gas since most people with access to a Costco probably drive a car. You could save up to 30 cents per gallon, depending on where you live in the country. Only members are allowed to access Costco gas.
On the downside, lines can be long, even with this restriction. But if you plan ahead to fill up your tank while you’re already at Costco, you’ll definitely see major savings compared to the Exxon down the street.
Organic and Health Foods
You can save significantly on both organic dry goods and fresh foods, especially if you line up your purchases with a Costco savings event. Not only can you find quality organic meats, but there’s also a fine selection of dairy products, including Kerrygold grass-fed butter. Again, the trick here is to make sure you can use these things before they perish.
If you’re a daily smoothie drinker, take a look at their frozen organic fruit selection, which is also competitive. Other popular and cost-effective healthy choices at Costco include raw honey, almond butter, hemp hearts, and kombucha. There are frequent organic sales which can help you stock up and save in this category as well.
Costco offers tons of pantry items that don’t go bad quickly and are much cheaper than your regular grocery store, making them good choices for bulk buying. Common spices, for example, can be found for just a few dollars in a large 10-ounce jar, while normal grocery stores would make you pay a similar price for a fraction of the size.
Other staples like flour can be purchased inexpensively — if you don’t mind buying a 25-pound bag. You can also find coupons every couple of months for storage items like Ziploc bags or saran wrap.
There are a few things you should know about buying Costco at alcohol before you step foot in the store. Much of it depends on where you live. In some states, by law, you can still go into Costco and buy alcohol even without a membership card. So if this is the only category on the list that you’re interested in, check with your Costco to see what the rules are.
In all states, you can find a great selection of wines and beers, usually at much better prices than grocery or liquor stores. You probably won’t find anything to compete price-wise with Trader Joe’s two-buck-chuck (which is actually three bucks now), but the quality is great, especially in the $10 to $15 range for wine.
Another fan favorite in this category is the Kirkland champagne, which is priced around $20 and actually comes from the Champagne region of France. Many Costcos also partner with local breweries to offer seasonal craft beers at a great price.
A final note about buying alcohol at Costco is that some states allow them to sell hard liquor which can also save you some serious cash on your next cocktail party.
If you have young children, Costco can be a true friend to you and your wallet. For starters, their Kirkland brand offers quality baby diapers and wipes that rival the likes of Huggies and Pampers. You can get them significantly cheaper, too.
For example, when you go with size 1 Kirkland diapers, you can get them for about $0.16 each, compared to Pampers on Amazon at $0.21 each. If you wait to stock up on boxes when there’s a Costco sale going on, you can save even more. Formula is also way cheaper at Costco and you can also find good deals on vitamins for older kids.
If you have fur babies instead of real babies (or in addition to), Costco has a swath of qualify products for great prices. For some things like dog food, however, you may need to find a good storage system to keep it fresh if you have a small dog since most pet foods come in 30 to 40-pound bags.
The warehouse also has a quality grain free option available. Be sure to check out treats, especially when they go on sale, such as healthy dental chews. And if you need a new pet bed, you can usually find a better quality option at a similar price compared to places like Target or Walmart.
Our final favorite product category at Costco is gift cards. The key to successful saving is to not just think of them for gifts, but also for yourself. There’s a wide range of options available and your purchase price is generally less than the face value of the card.
For example, you can get a four-pack of movie tickets for about $36, which amounts to $9 each. In most places, you could easily pay $12 to $14 for a Friday night movie ticket. Costco offers similar gift card deals for restaurants, amusement parks, and even regional tourist attractions.
Other Membership Perks
Beyond saving money on bulk purchases, Costco also offers a range of unique member perks. You may not need to use them all, but at least a few could help make a Costco membership worth the cost.
Booking your travel through Costco can save a lot, especially if you don’t do travel rewards credit cards. While you can book just about any type of vacation through their website, particularly impressive is their rental car program.
They offer heavily discounted rates and extra drivers can be added to the car for free. You can also dig for some vacation package deals to places like Disney or even Hawaii. For those, you do need to do some research and tracking overtime to make sure the discounts really are worth it.
Depending on your vehicle and needs, the Costco tire center could offer a competitive deal. The best way to save is by replacing all four tires at once since you can find frequent deals with a bulk discount when you make a purchase.
Plus, you get ongoing maintenance perks, including lifetime rotation and balancing, and inflation with nitrogen. There’s also a lifetime replacement warranty so that if you get a flat tire, you can get it fixed at a Costco or receive a credit for whatever remaining tread there may be.
It’s pretty easy to figure out whether or not you’ll save money by using the Costco pharmacy because they post their pre-insurance prices online.
If you don’t have any kind of prescription insurance coverage, there’s also the Costco Member Prescription Program that can help you save. And for your animals, Costco’s pharmacy also carries pet medication.
Lenient Return Policy
One of the major perks of shopping at Costco is their convenient return policy. While some things like electronics need to be returned within 90 days, everything else can generally be returned after — wait for it — two years. Because members don’t usually abuse this policy, they can keep it extremely customer-focused.
After two years, there may still be a possibility to return an item, you just need a manager to sign off on it. While perishables obviously aren’t included in the two-year timeframe, you can return those items within a reasonable period.
Double Warranties on Electronics
While most electronics come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty, Costco automatically doubles that to two years on televisions, tuner-free displays, projectors, computers, and major appliances (tablets aren’t included). Coverage stays the same as the manufacturer’s policy, but you can call Costco’s Concierge Service if you need to take advantage of the plan.
Free Shipping on Many Items
Even if you live a bit far from Costco to go frequently, or simply don’t feel like navigating those wide aisles, many items qualify for free shipping. And if you live in certain metropolitan areas, you could even take advantage of their new same-day delivery program — which now includes fresh groceries.
For two-day shipping in other areas, some items won’t qualify to be shipped, but others like diapers, pantry items, and cleaning products certainly will.
What to Avoid Buying at Costco
While you certainly can find a lot of savings at Costco, these items won’t help your wallet in the warehouse.
Movies and Books
Costco does offer a decent selection of popular books and movies, but the prices don’t compare to other places, especially Amazon. You may be tempted to pick one of these up as an impulse buy while browsing the aisles, but try to resist. Wait until you get home and order it online to enjoy in the next few days.
Costco has a refrigerated section with bountiful bouquets, but they can be quite expensive. With much cheaper and still lovely versions available at places like Trader Joe’s, you’re better off going there. Or even better, check out the local selection at your farmer’s market, which will have better-priced bouquets that are in season and on-trend.
Unless you’re buying organic, Costco’s canned goods usually don’t compete with places like Walmart, Aldi, or even other grocery stores when their private label brand goes on sale. The same holds true for many common jar items like pasta sauce. Even though these items don’t go bad very quickly, their prices typically don’t offer savings compared to other stores.
Here’s the thing about buying dairy products at Costco. Even if you find a specific item at a better price than at the regular grocery store, you have to buy a boatload more. So if you don’t have a house full of people to feed, you could easily end up throwing that sour milk away.
Start off by price comparing specific products in your area, then check the expiration date to see if you could realistically get through it. Chances are, you’re probably better off heading to Aldi for a single pound of butter for $2, compared to buying four pounds at Costco for $11.
Costco usually doesn’t compete with sale prices at grocery stores when it comes to brand name sodas like Coke and Pepsi. Again, despite these bulk items lasting a long time in your pantry or garage, you should instead think about stocking up when they’re on sale at another store. Plus, you may be able to find a better selection at other stores.
Is Costco worth the hype?
There’s a lot to be said for shopping at Costco. Not only can you save a good deal of money, but you also get free food samples while you shop and the cheapest hot dog and soft drink combo around.
In some situations, however, Costco may not be the right choice for you.
For instance, it’s probably not good if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. A single trip can quickly add up since you’re buying in bulk. You’ll have to do some savvy budgeting to make sure you’re stocking up in a way that fits your budget.
For other people, the closest Costco might still be quite far and you could end up not using your membership as much as you expected. While you can still get some things shipped, you really have to make sure those staples account for the annual cost.
Some individuals also simply don’t like the Costco atmosphere. While the lines are efficient, they’re generally long, especially if you’re shopping after work or over the weekend. If you can fit it into your schedule, consider going right when they open.
Costco also has a no-frills environment, which largely accounts for their low prices. Still, you are shopping in a warehouse with a lot of concrete and fluorescent lighting.
Finally, with limited employees on the floor to help direct you through the warehouse, it may take you a while to find what you’re looking for, especially when you first start going. Allow yourself ample time to navigate your way and be sure to avoid too many impulse buys. Otherwise, you could be shocked at your total when you finally reach the checkout line!
People who love Costco really love Costco. How can you find out if you’re one of them? Unfortunately, there’s no trial period to test out your new membership, but you can ask to cancel it if you’re not satisfied.
Alternatively, you could go shopping with a friend who has a membership to see if the deals really meet your needs. If the $60 membership fee won’t put a huge strain on your budget, it could be worth trying out Costco for a year to determine if it’s worth it.