Costco is all the rage these days, and if you live near one, you may be considering a Costco membership. But when you have to pay annual membership fees to shop in a particular store, it makes you wonder: is Costco membership worth it?
How much does a Costco membership cost?
Let’s start by breaking down the cost of membership at Costco. Currently, the annual membership fee for a standard Gold Star membership (that’s the standard option) is $60. That gets you access to any Costco location in the world, plus online shopping.
How much does the Costco Gold Star Executive membership cost?
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 Costco 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 an Executive membership. You can also start with a basic Gold Star membership, then upgrade if it makes sense for your spending.
The Business membership is the same price as the Gold Star membership—$60 per year. It’s for business owners who are purchasing products for resale. To sign up for the Business membership, you must provide business identification, such as a business license or resale certification.
Business members can add affiliates to their membership account for an additional $60 per year, per affiliate.
Business Executive Membership
The Business Executive membership is similar to the Gold Star Executive membership and the membership fee is the same: $120 per year. With this membership, you get a 2% Reward up to $1000 on qualifying purchases. If you own a business and plan to spend over $3,000 at Costco each year, this membership is the best value.
Does a Costco membership really save you money?
Whether Costco membership saves you money depends on several things. First, make sure that buying in bulk makes sense for your frequent purchases. Things like toilet paper and paper towels don’t expire (and are priced low at Costco). However, you 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 deals, plus some extra member benefits that may make the annual cost of a Costco membership 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 stations.
On the downside, lines can be long, even with this restriction. But if you decide to fill up your tank while you’re already at Costco, you’ll see major savings over rivals Sam’s Club and BJ’s.
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. In addition to quality organic meats, there’s 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 that can help you stock up and save in this category as well.
Costco offers tons of pantry items that don’t go bad quickly. They’re also much cheaper than your local grocery store, making them good choices for bulk buying. For example, common spices can be found for just a few dollars in a large 10-ounce jar. Regular 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 Costco membership card. So if this is the only category on the list that you’re interested in, check with your local Costco to see what the rules are.
In all states, you can find a great selection of wines and beers, usually at much lower 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). However, the quality is great, especially in the $10 to $15 range for wine.
Another fan favorite in this category is the Kirkland Signature champagne. It’s priced around $20 and actually comes from the Champagne region of France. Many Costco stores 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, Costco’s Kirkland Signature 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. Kirkland Signature brand infant non-GMO formula is also way cheaper at Costco and you can also find good deals on vitamins for older kids.
Costco carries a variety of pet products at great prices. However, since most pet foods come in 30- to 40-pound bags, you’ll need a suitable storage system for things like dog food.
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 Costco 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 Travel 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, as a Costco member, you get ongoing maintenance benefits, including lifetime rotation and balancing, and inflation with nitrogen. There’s also a lifetime replacement warranty. Costco will fix your flat tire or credit you for any remaining tread you have.
It’s pretty easy to figure out whether 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.
Costco’s Return Policy
One of the major advantages of shopping at Costco is its convenient return policy. The return period for most Costco purchases is two years. However, some items, like electronics, must be returned within 90 days. Because Costco 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
Most electronics come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. However, 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 warehouses 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 can even get fresh groceries delivered same-day.
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 offers 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 coming 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 can’t compete with Walmart, Aldi, or other grocery stores when their private label brand is 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 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?
When you shop at Costco, not only can you save money, you also get free samples of food while you shop. Not to mention, the cheapest hot dog or pizza and soft drink combo around at the Costco food court.
In some situations, however, Costco membership may not be the right choice for you.
For instance, it’s probably not good if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or if you don’t plan to shop at Costco regularly. However, if you can buy in bulk, you’ll make fewer trips to the store. And since most items at Costco are sold in bulk, you only need to visit once a month, which will save you money in gas.
For other people, the closest Costco store might still be quite far. As a result, you may not use your Costco 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 at a warehouse club with a lot of concrete and fluorescent lighting.
Finally, with limited employees on the floor, it may take a while for you to find what you’re looking for, especially at first. 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!
Can you shop at Costco without a membership?
The Costco Shop Card allows non-members to shop at any Costco location. Costco Shop Cards must be given to you by a Costco member as they are the only ones that can purchase them. There are no restrictions on what they can be used for.
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 Costco membership, but you can ask to cancel it if you’re not satisfied.
Alternatively, you could go shopping with a friend who has a Costco membership. This can help you determine if a Costco membership is worth the cost for you. If the Costco membership fee of $60 doesn’t strain your budget, it might be worth trying Costco for a year.