Skip to main content

The 6 worst mistakes you make when shopping at Costco

Make sure you're saving big and not losing opportunities

Costco store exterior shot
Juan Llauro / Shutterstock

There’s nothing like spending an afternoon wandering the aisles at Costco. Where else can you shop for organic produce, find a six-month supply of toilet paper, fill a prescription, and enjoy a $1.50 hot dog and soda all in the same building?

For most Costco shoppers, having a membership pays for itself in no time. But new and existing members alike often don’t use their perks to the fullest. There is, after all, an art to shopping at this warehouse store effectively. Here are a few of the most common mistakes members make when shopping at Costco and how to avoid them.

Recommended Videos

1. Overpaying for your membership

Person grocery shopping with a Costco membership
dennizn / Shutterstock

When signing up for your membership, don’t assume the highest tier is the best one. Costco offers several membership levels, all for different types of shoppers:

  • Standard Gold Star level membership that’s perfect for casual buyers
  • Executive membership that’s ideal for large families and bulk grocery shoppers
  • Business membership that allows product resales but not a lot of savings for individuals or families

Consider how often you plan to shop and who you’re buying for so you can compare membership perks and choose the right option for your needs. Doing your research first can help ensure you’re not overpaying or, alternatively, missing out on extensive savings.

2. Not understanding how Costco prices their products

Costco croissants
The Image Party / Shutterstock

The big box store’s pricing is like a secret code for its customers. The Costco price tags can let you know which items offer the deepest discounts and which items are about to leave the store for good.

Here’s how to make the most of Costco’s price tags:

  • Price ends in .99 or .98: This is a regular retail price and will not provide huge savings.
  • Price ends with a 9, excluding .99: This means Costco received a manufacturer’s deal and can offer the product cheaper than other retailers.
  • Price ends in .97: These items are manager-specific discounts designed to sell products, like a sale.
  • Price ends in .88 or .00: Products with this type of pricing have usually been returned, damaged, or purchased by the store as a one-off product that they want to clear out. They are typically deeply discounted.
  • Price tags with an asterisk (*) in the top right corner: These items have been discontinued. If you see something you love, stock up, as you may not see it in store again.
  • Price guarantee: There’s another major way to save money at the store. Costco offers a 30-day price guarantee, so if the price drops on an item within 30 days of your purchase, you can come back with your receipt and get a refund for the difference.

3. Not considering shelf life

Organized pantry with cans and spices
Pipas Imagery / Shutterstock

Buying everything in bulk isn’t always a wise option. Though it may seem like you’re saving money by stocking up, it could end up costing more in the long run if you don’t pay attention to expiration dates. When you’re shopping, always check the best-by date and be realistic about how much you will eat before the food goes bad. Prioritize items with long shelf lives, like canned produce and dry goods, for bulk purchases.

You can still purchase fresh foods in bulk, as long as you’re smart about it. Buy fruits and veggies that can last a long time, like apples and carrots. If you’re a hard-core canner or have the freezer space, opt for produce that can be easily preserved through methods like freezing or canning.

4. Shopping on the wrong day of the week

Crowded checkout line at a warehouse grocery store
ARTYOORAN / Shutterstock

It’s not just you; Sundays really are the worst days to go grocery shopping! This is when most stores, Costco included, are the busiest. Save yourself some stress and go grocery shopping on a weekday instead. If your schedule allows, go to the supermarket on a weekday morning. You can also go after work on a weekday. No matter when you make time for your trip, avoiding the Sunday crowd can create a more relaxing and enjoyable Costco experience.

5. Not watching for price adjustment opportunities

person holding costco receipt
Tada Images / Shutterstock

One common oversight among Costco members is neglecting to capitalize on price adjustment opportunities. Costco’s price adjustment policy allows members to request adjustments if an item purchased at the big box store drops in price within 30 days. This policy applies to both in-store and online purchases, offering substantial savings for vigilant shoppers.

By monitoring price changes and keeping receipts handy, you can easily claim refunds for the difference. This practice ensures that you always get the best deal, maximizing your savings on bulk purchases. Vigilance in monitoring prices and promptly claiming adjustments can lead to significant savings over time, making the most out of your Costco membership.

6. Forgetting about your other membership perks

Costco gas
Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

A membership card doesn’t just give you access to huge discounts on bulk purchases; Costco members can take advantage of a wide range of perks. One of the most valuable member benefits is the store’s medical services. Costco provides discounted health insurance, optometry services, and the lowest prices on generic medicines for its members. Another fantastic membership perk is Costco’s auto service station, where you can gas up your vehicle at some of the lowest rates around.

While it’s always fun to spend an afternoon at Costco, you could be leaving money on the table if you’re not making the most of your membership. Before you begin Costco shopping, it’s crucial to have the right membership type. Then, you can learn the secret code of Costco pricing, plan your purchases well, figure out the best time to go, and enjoy all of your membership perks. In no time at all, you’ll be a pro-Costco shopper.

Editors' Recommendations

Shannon Cooper
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Shannon Cooper has written about everything from pet care and travel to finance and plumbing in her seven years as a writer…
6 New Year’s cleaning resolutions you can actually keep up all year
These easy ideas will have your home sparkling in the new year
Woman sitting on a couch in a clean home

The new year always seems like a good time for new beginnings, including making some changes around your home. Whether you want to save money by using homemade laundry detergent, make some green changes in your cleaning routine, or just get on top of all the overwhelming housework, a few small changes can have a big impact on both your wallet and your peace of mind.

If you’ve decided to make getting your house in order a priority this year, we have six great ways to kick things off right. Let’s get ready for a cleaner, more organized 2024 with these New Year's cleaning resolutions.

Read more
6 delicious Thanksgiving desserts to make if you kind of hate pie
Not a fan of pie? Try these holiday dessert alternatives this Thanksgiving
Autumn spices, pumpkin, and cinnamon

We admit it: We're big fans of all the fall flavors. And come Thanksgiving, many of those fall favorites are the highlight of the dessert table — whether you prefer apple or pumpkin, there's probably a pie to your liking. Of course, if you're not the biggest fan of pies (we don't judge), it can be disappointing to see this dessert dominate the Thanksgiving holiday.

The good news is that there is a variety of delectable, non-pie, fall-flavored Thanksgiving desserts that you can integrate into your Thanksgiving holiday meal. Whether you enjoy pumpkin but not the pie, or if you prefer something different altogether, you don't need to miss out on a delicious Thanksgiving dessert just because of your unique preferences! Here are some amazing Thanksgiving sweet treats that you can top off your meal with this year.

Read more
6 fall cleaning projects you have to do now for a decluttered, stress-free home
Fall decluttering can make winter cozier and more enjoyable. Here's how to go about it.
Fall sweaters decluttered wardrobe

Spring may be synonymous with cleaning, but decluttering your home in the fall is equally important. After a summer filled with fun, relaxation, and time spent outdoors, your home may require a little extra TLC when the weather begins to cool. Not to mention, all of those blankets and holiday decorations that have been tucked in the back of your closet or stuffed into the attack may need a quick reevaluation before you bring them back into your home!

Fall cleaning is a great way to prepare your home for winter, making sure it's in the best shape possible when you and your family find yourselves spending more time indoors. So, here are our best tips for decluttering your home this autumn.

Read more