After three hours, you’ve just emerged from the wormhole that is Costco.
What happened? Where am I?
You’re probably in the parking lot. Shielding your eyes from the blinding sun. Walking on tiptoes to your car so you can peer over your cartful of bulk paper towels, frozen chicken nuggets and animal crackers.
Your stomach probably feels full, too, because, well, free samples.
But you’re feeling proud because you saved money…
Wait, you did save some money… right?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in Costco’s branding. It’s a warehouse club, so it comes with the whole “save money on bulk” reputation.
But if you’re not careful, you could walk out of the wormhole spending way more money than you normally would. (Seriously… all those bulk snack options are so tempting.)
8 Secret Ways to Maximize Your Costco Savings
In order to avoid getting tangled in the wholesale web, we’ve compiled nine tips to help you stay on track and save more money.
1. Compare Prices
Before you even step into Costco, make sure you do some price-comparing.
Now, this doesn’t require you running around town.
We’ll get you started with the most obvious breakdown: comparing prices from warehouse clubs. Spoiler alert: Costco isn’t always the cheapest.
You can also take to the internet to compare prices or, if you’re already in the store, use an app like ShopSavvy.
And be sure to take into account the unit prices, because that modest two-pack of peanut butter might be a better deal than its six-pack counterpart. Plus, this will keep you from having to stash all those extra peanut butter jars under your bathroom sink.
2. Earn Cash Back When Prices Drop
If you prefer to avoid long lines and towers of boxed pantry items, you can always opt to shop online.
Another added perk to shopping online? You can sign up for a price-protection service like Earny.
Online prices constantly fluctuate, but Earny will have your back. He (err, the online bot) will keep tabs on your receipts, and when a price drops, will reimburse you the difference.
Signing up will take as long as it took you to read this paragraph.
3. Look for Membership Sign-Up Deals
If you haven’t already splurged on Costco’s $60 annual membership, look around the internet for any promotions or deals.
One of our favorite places to check is Groupon, the deals and coupons site. Earlier this year, it had a deal that would reward you in $155-worth of freebies. Unfortunately, that deal has since expired, but it’s worth poking around for similar offers.
Also, if you’re an avid Costco shopper, analyze the membership options and see which will most benefit you. If you opt for the $120 “Gold Star Executive” card, you can earn 2% rewards on qualifying purchases.
4. Use Ibotta for Cash Back
Ibotta is an app that gives you cold, hard cash back on your purchases from tons of retailers — including Costco.
Here’s what you do: Download the app, find cash-back offers you qualify for, take a photo of your receipt, scan barcodes if necessary and you’re done!
Once you redeem your first deal, you’ll snag a $10 welcome bonus.
At the time this article was written, available cash-back opportunities included:
- $4 back on a 36-count pack of Scott toilet paper
- $3 back on an 18-pack of Bud Light
- $2 back on Aveeno baby products
- 25 cents back on any kind of potatoes
New deals are constantly being shuffled in, so it’s a fun little cash-back game.
On a personal note, I started using Ibotta about five months ago and have earned nearly $100 back.
5. Understand Costco’s Price Codes
There’s a method to the pricing madness, and reporter Len Rapoport explained what he’s come to learn through the years in an article on Tough Nickel.
Here are some of Rapoport’s helpful hints:
- Regular-priced items typically end in .99, .79, .49, etc. On the other hand, reduced prices end in .97. Unfortunately, Costco doesn’t share the original price with you, so it could be only a slight markdown. You can ask a sales associate to check on the original price for you to see if it’s a good deal.
- An asterisk on a tag means the item won’t be restocked, so act now if you really want it.
- Manager specials are marked by .88 or .00 endings. This means items were returned but are in fine condition. The box could be a little beat up, but who cares?
7. Pay With a Cash-Back Card
With so many cash-back credit cards on the market, it’s hard to know which one is going to offer you the best rewards.
But there’s a tool that’ll help you with this big decision. It’s Birch Finance, and all you have to do is sign into your existing checking or credit card accounts. Birch then analyzes your spending habits and delivers you tailored recommendations.
For example, according to my spending habits in the past three months, I’d be missing out on $604.19 in rewards through the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card (if I didn’t already have it). Birch also gives me additional recommendations, too, if I want to open another card.
So if I shopped at Costco a ton, Birch would take that into account and offer me a card that’d help me capitalize on those purchases.
8. Opt for The Store Brand
Be sure to keep an eye open for Kirkland-brand goods. That’s Costco’s store brand.
We hopped online to compare prices of Kirkland goods and non-Kirkland goods and found some hefty savings. For example, the Kirkland 36-pack of toilet paper is $25.99, whereas the Scott 36-pack of toilet paper is $33.49.
9. Fill Up Before Food Shopping
Grocery shopping on an empty stomach is one of the worst Penny-Hoarding offenses. Why? Well, you’re going to want to buy everything — from a $35 two-pound tin of cookies to a $37 48-pack of popcorn.
Instead, peruse the aisles and fill up on free samples. Or stop by the food court and grab a $1.50 hot-dog-and-soda combo.
Then do your shopping — with a list in hand!
Carson Kohler (@CarsonKohler) is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She could really go for a hot dog right now.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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