9 Tips for Saving Money at Costco to Maximize Your Membership

Costco's bulk pricing is already a great way to save money, but there are a few clever hacks you can use to save even more cash.

Last month, a survey from The American Customer Satisfaction Index named Costco as America's favorite retailer, which comes as no surprise considering we all love saving a few dollars. And while it's true the retailer can save you some serious cash, chances are you're not taking full advantage of all the money-saving hacks Costco has to offer.

Experienced Costco shoppers can tell you that choosing the Kirkland brand over name-brand products is a great way to save money (and don't even get us started on how great the instant savings deals are), but there are so many other ways to save money that you probably don't know about. From reading secret codes on price tags to learning what not to buy from the retailer, these are our best Costco shopping tips to keep both your cart and your wallet full.

Learn Costco’s Pricing System

Most stores use sale or clearance stickers to indicate a price decrease, allowing you to compare the original price with the sale price—but Costco doesn't do that. If an item is on sale, Costco won't always advertise the original price, which means you might not actually be getting a great buy. The good news is, there's actually an easy way to tell when you're getting the best deal on anything at Costco.

A longtime employee explained to Business Insider that everything you need to know about a potential price decrease is right on the price tag. Most regularly-priced items end in .99—which means you're paying the highest price for that item. Sale items, however, will usually end in .89, .79, .69, .59, or .49. These prices indicate a sale that Costco is offering through the item's manufacturer. Additionally, items ending in .97 are usually clearance prices, meaning it's likely the cheapest it will ever be.

Don’t Buy Everything at Costco

Even though it's so easy to buy everything in one grocery run, there are actually things you shouldn't buy at Costco. Almost anything you can buy in bulk is cheaper than buying singles at another store, but buying in bulk only saves you money if you can actually use or consume all of it before it goes bad. Grocery items like eggs and fresh produce can be cheaper in bulk, but they aren't always a good deal for households with just one or two people, because you're not saving any money if you're wasting a fridge full of food every month. For instance, a household of eight hardcore Nutella lovers could probably finish this 7-pound Nutella tub from Costco before the expiration date, but a single person is probably better off buying a regular-size tub at another store.

Look for Asterisks

In addition to learning Costco's pricing system, it can also be beneficial to understand the information on the rest of the price tag. If the price is followed by an asterisk symbol, it means the item won't be restocked at that location. According to employees, these items have also usually been marked down quite a bit as well.

If an asterisked product is something you regularly purchase, consider stocking up before it leaves the store forever. Otherwise, you'll have to purchase it elsewhere (likely for a higher price) once the item leaves Costco.

Read the Date Codes

You can also use the price tag to determine the right time to buy an item. If you're buying something that's already been marked down, the date code (found at the bottom right-hand corner of the price tag) will tell you the last time the price was marked down. If it's been a few weeks since it was marked down—and if there are still several on shelves—chances are another markdown is coming. You do run the risk of it being snatched up before you come back for the bigger discount, so if it's something you really need you may want to get it while you can.

Upgrade Your Membership

A standard Costco membership will run you about $60 a year. But you can earn rewards from upgrading your membership. The executive membership costs $120 a year, but you'll earn 2 percent back on qualifying purchases. If you spend $3,000 a year at the store, the executive membership will pay for itself—and start putting extra cash in your pocket.

Follow Along on Social Media

We won't lie—Costco can be overwhelming. We totally know the feeling of aimlessly roaming the aisles and filling our carts with new and exciting products we didn't plan to pick up (and didn't budget for). Fortunately, there are social media accounts specifically designed to help with this. We love the Instagram account @CostcoDoesItAgain, which alerts you to new products, great sales, and instant savings deals so you can have a game plan when you actually arrive at the store. Talk about reigning in impulse control!

Buy Non-Grocery Items

You already know Costco has the best deals on bulk food items, rotisserie chickens, and household items, but next time you need to make a big purchase in other areas, check Costco first. You can score deals through Costco on car insurance, travel plans, and even your mortgage payment!

Buy Returned Items

Costco is well known for its lenient return policy, but not every returned item makes its way back onto the floor. Only items that have not been used or damaged can be resold again—but at a discounted price. Look for prices that end in .88 or .00. These items were purchased by someone else, returned to the store, and now must be sold at a sale price (even though the product is in perfect condition). You might be taking home a product with less-than-perfect packaging, but unless you're buying the item as a gift, this is totally the way to go.

Ask an Employee

We all have our Costco staples, but their seasonal finds can be so good. Since they rotate out products so much it can be hard to locate things, which often leads to a lot of mindless wandering through aisles—which also means extra items can end up in your cart. The best money-saving strategy is to plan out what you need and map out your route before you enter the store.

Learning the layout of the store can help cut down on impulse buys. All regular items stay in the same place, but non-permanent products are hardly ever in the same place twice. That's because Costco is totally aware of our wandering-and-impulse-buying tendencies. Luckily, employees are trained to know exactly where the seasonal buys can be found, so ask where seasonal items are located as soon as you enter the store, and then continue with your grocery game plan as normal.

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