Is a Costco Wholesale Membership Really a Money-Saver?

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By now, most of us have heard of Costco, but, when it comes to the wholesale store’s offerings, there’s an air of mystery, especially for those who have never sprung for a membership. Known for everything from cheap gas to free samples, most of Costco’s appeal lies in the fact that you’re getting a lower price per item by buying in bulk. But does paying for a Costco wholesale membership really save you money in the long run? Let’s find out.

Is a Costco Membership Worth the Annual Fee?

If there’s one question almost every current (and would-be) Costco member has asked, it’s probably this one. In order to enjoy the wholesale warehouse’s many offerings, you need to purchase an annual membership. Currently, Costco offers two membership options: the basic Gold Star Value, which amounts to $60 per year, and the Executive Membership, which will run you $120 per year. 

Both membership levels come with two membership cards, which can be used to shop at both Costco’s brick-and-mortar locations and online at Costco.com. Additionally, each comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, which means unimpressed members can cancel at any time and receive a refund. So, what’s the major difference between the two levels? The Executive Membership comes with a 2% back reward (up to $1000) on eligible Costco and Costco Travel purchases. Additionally, Executive Members are eligible for other discounts throughout the year.

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So, is either membership worthwhile? In the end, it depends on how Costco savvy you intend to be throughout the course of your membership. For example, if you shop at Costco on a frequent basis, you’ll be able to take full advantage of those discounts and other offerings. Buying household items in bulk — laundry detergent, garbage bags, toilet paper and more — can be a great way to not only stock up, but save on trips to the supermarket. For $60, that convenience, and the lower per item cost, might make a membership well worth it. 

Additionally, if you have a large family, bulk shopping makes sense quite a bit of sense. On the other hand, if you live alone, or live in a smaller apartment without a ton of storage space, stocking up might not make as much sense.

How to Make the Most of Your Costco Membership

The trick here? Make sure you actually use everything you buy. After all, what’s the point of saving money on a 10-pack of ground beef if you can only eat five packs before the rest go bad? That’s why it’s important to make sure that:

  • You don’t over buy on food that could expire.
  • You don’t buy anything you don’t have room for — that includes freezer space!
  • You don’t succumb to the many impulse buying opportunities. (Do you really need two family-sized jars of Nutella every time? Probably not.)

The one saving grace here is Costco’s generous return policy. If you end up with a bad case of shopper’s remorse, you should definitely take advantage of it. 

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Not a huge bulk shopper? Some of us just use our Costco memberships once a month — or when those household supplies run low. But that doesn’t mean we’re wasting our money on a membership. In fact, Costco also offers:

  • Savings on vacation and travel packages
  • Discounted gift cards
  • Discounts on car rentals through partnerships with local rental companies
  • Glasses and contact lenses at discount, competitive prices
  • Tires and other auto services
  • Non-bulk discount items, like clothing, smartphones, toys, and more
  • Hearing aids
  • Comparatively low-priced gas at its on-site gas stations
  • Executive exclusive deals on resorts, spas, cruises, and other travel-related purchases

Additionally, the warehouse-based store also offers 

Costco Services

, which can get you a deal on everything from home and auto insurance to garage door and air conditioning installation. Needless to say, if any of these items or services are something you plan to take advantage of on a regular basis, those savings can make up for the price of a membership pretty quickly.

Costco Bargains That Don’t Require a Membership

Believe it or not, it’s even possible to score select bargains at Costco without becoming a member. If you’re still on the fence about whether the annual subscription is worth it for you, then you might start by utilizing a few of Costco’s services that don’t require one. 

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Prescriptions: Costco has developed a reputation for having some of the most reasonable prescription prices around, but many people don’t realize that you don’t have to be a member to take advantage of them. Due to the fact that many state laws require pharmacies to remain open to the public, Costco allows even non-members to take advantage of their lower prices.

Alcohol: In some states, it’s illegal to require consumers to purchase a membership of any sort in order to buy alcohol. If you live in the following states, you can shop for booze at Costco even if you don’t have a membership: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai’i, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Vermont.

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Online Orders: Little do some people know that it is possible to shop at Costco.com without a membership, but this one comes with a little fine print. If you aren’t a Costco member, you’ll be charged a 5% surcharge for taking advantage of their online offerings. Regardless, it may be a good way to get an initial feel for the store and how much you’ll end up spending — and saving — if you were a full-fledged member.

Eye and Hearing Exams: You can also take advantage of Costco’s eye or hearing examinations without a membership. The only downside? A membership is required if you plan to purchase eyewear, contact lenses, hearing aids, and other related items from Costco.

Gas: While Costco’s gas stations are generally only open to members, there is one loophole worth knowing. Technically, you can use Costco’s coveted pumps as long as you pay using a Costco shop card  — a.k.a. Costco’s gift card. Of course, to purchase one of those, you’ll need a membership — or to know someone who is a member. 

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