Frugal Living 

Eight Valuable Costco Secrets

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Costco SignIt’s no small secret that I’m a big fan of Costco. We probably make a trip there once a week, whether to get gas or to shop at the warehouse, and while we never really fill up a cart, we usually walk out with something good. I like Costco for their staples goods, whether it’s toilet paper or tissues, and only occasionally buy food that isn’t fresh or frozen. I just don’t like buying some products in bulk because we don’t have the space to store it and, well, I don’t really want huge jugs of barbecue sauce in my fridge unless I know I’m going to be throwing a party where we’ll be using it up.

This will be a list of tips that I consider valuable. You won’t see me recommending you go there on an empty stomach and fill your stomach full of samples, which is a good tip but not something I’d consider a valuable secret.

Incredible Return Policy

This one hardly counts as a secret but Costco has an incredible return policy. With the exception of electronics (defined as “Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touch screen tablets, iPod/MP3 players, cellular phones), which have a limit of 90 days, and any item that is restricted by law, you can return any product to Costco for a refund at any time. I’ve seen some ridiculous returns, like underwear and spoiled food, but anything goes. In fact, if you are simply dissatisfied, you can return the product whenever you’d like. While you’re at it, you can even get a refund on the membership price if you’re dissatisfied!

Executive Membership “Refunds”

As a corollary to the above “secret,” you can get a refund on your Executive Membership if you don’t earn enough in the 2% rewards to cover the increased price. We signed up for the Executive Membership because it was pitched to us in that exact way – with 2% rewards you get a check each year. If that check doesn’t cover the increase, you can always ask for a refund of the membership fee and then sign up again (when the Executive Membership was pitched to me, the associate just said that I could get a refund of the difference but that’s not corporate policy). We’ve never had to do it because the check has easily beaten the $55 difference in price.

Closeout Pricing

Sometimes the tag will say “last one,” which usually means it’s the last one. 🙂 But did you know that Costco, like many other retailers, use pricing to indicate what items they’re trying to close out? Most items at the store will end in a 99¢. If you see a 97¢, that means Costco is trying to get rid of it and has cut the price on the item. The reduction might be a small reduction or it might be a large one, depending on the item, but know that chances are you won’t see it again in a couple weeks.


Sometimes the price label will have an asterisk in the upper right – that means the item was not reordered and what you see is what’s left (for seasonal items, it might be back next year but it’s on its way out this time around). After they sell it, it won’t be coming back. I wish I knew this before they started discontinuing a few items but it’s a good tip if you’re considering stocking up on something but passed because it takes up so much space.

Coupon Books

Forget your coupon book? Just ask the cashier if they have the codes at the register (they usually do). If they don’t have one, ask someone nearby. It turns out every coupon has the same code (check for yourself!) so your coupon book isn’t unique to you and it’s not unique to the product on the front of it either. I’m not sure why they set it up this way, other than to keep things as simple as possible, but this makes it easier to always get the discount.

30 Day Price Adjustment

Did you buy something and then see that it dropped in price or they added a coupon for it? If it purchased it within the last thirty days, you can get a price adjustment. Just go to the returns counter and ask. Considering Costco has a generous return policy, this just seems like a matter of convenience for them because you could always return the product and then buy it again with the coupon. This also means I keep my receipts just in case a coupon comes out (it also means I won’t delay a purchase on the off chance there will be a coupon). Technically, this is at the discretion of the management but what isn’t at their discretion is the return policy. If you go for a price adjustment and they don’t allow it, return the item. Then buy it again inside the store.

Gas Opens Earlier, Stays Later

If you buy gas at Costco, you know that the lines can get pretty ridiculous. I hate waiting in line and I especially hate waiting in line while idling my car, so I get gas at odd hours. Fortunately, the gas station is open earlier and remains open later than the warehouse store’s regular hours. This will vary from location to location but it’s typically open for an hour earlier and an hour later. There are almost no lines at these later times, especially at the larger ones with more bays.

Here are the official hours (which, you’ll notice are longer than the warehouse hours):

  • Monday-Friday 6am to 9:30pm
  • Saturday 6am to 8pm
  • Sunday 6am to 6pm

Shop with a Gift Card

Another well known secret that works only if you don’t abuse it. You can buy things at Costco using a gift card if you don’t have a membership but a manager might get involved and stop you if you use it to buy a television (I watched this happen, hence my use of the TV as an example). You probably won’t get much resistance if you buy a shirt or a bag of string beans but a thousand dollar item will certainly draw attention. The most realistic way to take advantage of this is to buy Costco gas without a membership, but the membership really is worth it.

Unfortunately, this little loophole has since been closed inside the warehouse. In order for a non-member to use the cash card they need to purchase a one-day pass.

Do you have any Costco secrets that I missed?

(Photo: greenwenvy)

{ 27 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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27 Responses to “Eight Valuable Costco Secrets”

  1. I’m a Costco veteran from the old Price Club days and even I didn’t know some of these!

    Awesome tips – thanks!

  2. Jim M says:

    Contrarian view here – I gave up my costco membership years ago. Whenever I made the trip I never left the store without spending around $200. I never saw a corresponding offset in my grocery store bill. Plus there was the headache of where to store everything and managing huge sizes.

  3. John says:

    Thanks for the post! I love Costco as well, but have also found ways to not bust my budget while still being able to shop there. I did not know some of the tips, so I’ll definitely put them into practice. One thing on the Executive Membership. We always get it hawked at us. The thing is though, that you’re giving them an interest free loan for the year. I did not know that they’ll give a refund of the difference, but why give them your money interest free?

    • govenar says:

      Interest on $55 for one year is less than $1. Are you really concerned about that?

      Another benefit of the Executive Membership, besides the 2%, is higher bonuses on things like opening a ShareBuilder account.

      • John says:

        No, I am not. But, why give it to them if you’re not going to spend enough to get a decent refund back? My argument is that it’s the principal of it. They’ve got enough money, why on earth should I just give them more of mine to hold for the year?

        • Texas Wahoo says:

          Obviously you shouldn’t do it if you’re not going to make enough money to more than offset it. I don’t think anyone will argue with you there.

  4. ziglet19 says:

    Thanks for the tips. I escoecially love the closeout pricing and asterisk information, as sometimes I want to ponder a purchase, and go back for it later, just to discover it’s not there. Now, I would probably pull the trigger if I see a price ending in .97 or an asterisk, as I can always return it if I change my mind, but it probably won’t be there if I come back later for it.

  5. Dang! You covered everything, I was hoping to comment about the gift card policy but you nailed it! I didn’t know about the asterisks though, that’s a good tip.

  6. freeby50 says:

    I think they do the coupons the way they do so that the clerks only have to scan a single coupon. If I show up with 20 items and 20 coupons normally the clerk will have to take the time to individually scan each of the 20 coupons. By having all the coupons use identical bar codes they only have to scan one coupon and then they give you the coupon price for everything you buy in that purchase. It may seem trivial but I’m sure the time savings adds up and helps keep the lines moving faster.

    I’m surprised that a Costco wouldn’t let someone use a gift card. The site says : ” Members and non-members may use the cash cards to shop at any Costco location in the United States, Puerto Rico or on”. I see nothing there that says you can’t use it for certain products. So you ought to be able to use it for anything.

    • Texas Wahoo says:

      I’m guessing that it wasn’t a $1000 gift card. They were probably trying to use a $50 gift card to buy a $1000 TV and pay for the rest via some other method.

      • Jim says:

        That part I don’t know… that would be interesting if they had a $1000 GC and they weren’t allowed to use it.

  7. Ben says:

    Another trick if your tired of getting bothered about getting an executive membership, ask to get a sticker for your card. All they do is put a big red dot sticker on the back of your card, and then if they see they, they know your not interested!

  8. James says:

    Because gas purchases don’t go toward your 2% cash back we always bought a gift card, which does go towards your 2% cash back, and used the gift card to purchase gas. We just kept a gift card in our car and would reload it every time we shopped.

    • Lin says:

      Good idea. I did not know gas purchases dd not go towards you benefits. Thanks for the tip.

    • Michelle says:

      FYI, Costco’s website says that Executive members don’t earn 2% back on Costco cash card purchases.

  9. trangster says:

    Awesome tips, thank you!! Was wondering can you purchase gas with a debit card or does it have to be American Express?

  10. Paul says:

    How does Costco get away with using the word wholesale? ?

  11. Robert says:

    Depending on your State, you can buy prescriptions & liquor without a membership (works for sure in AZ & CA).

  12. SEK says:

    Pharmacy can be used by nonmembers as well as members although members to get a slight additional discount. If you are paying cash for your meds (including your pets meds which are often the same as human meds) savings can sometimes be big. An eye drop I use to treat my cat’s glaucoma was $72-$104 at other pharmacies was $14 at Costco (same brand)

  13. ted komori says:

    When you purchase anything at costco or any other place using your American Express card will double your warrentee up to one year, i.e., if the tv has a two year warrentee, AM
    x will add an additional year of warentee.

  14. Ginny says:

    Here’s one not mentioned. In store we all know you can use a debit card, an American Express Card, cash or check (do people still write checks-lol). Credit cards are not allowed, ie. MC, Visa,Discover etc. I am very fortunate to be able to live debt free and pay my monthly purchases off monthly. I use CC’s for convenience mostly but to also add protection of being able to dispute a charge if nesc. Just built in protection. Well, to get to the point of my post. You can get around this by going onto Costco web site buying a gift card which can be purchased with a CC and then making your purchase inside Costco with that gift card. Although not sure, I don’t know if you still earn the 2% but if you want a great price on a TV etc and it works out to be the best price even without the 2% rebate, this is a way around not being able to make a large family purchase by CC.

  15. Trisha says:

    I just got the newest coupon book in, and saw that the windshield wipers I bought 15 days ago now have a coupon that takes $3 off each one. I called to verify the 30 day price adjustment policy, and was told that it is only two weeks with manufacturer’s coupons, and that they can’t do the price adjust until the coupon starts (which would put it well beyond 2 weeks).

    Can anyone else verify whether what I was told is accurate, or if the policy has changed since this was written, or have any useful experience they can share on this?

  16. Gayle says:

    We use the American Express/Costco card and save
    3% on gas
    2% on eating out, vacation expenses
    1% on Costco purchases

    We use a 1.5% VISA from a credit union for all other purchases.

  17. jack says:

    I wonder what costco does to the returned items. Wish they could have part of their store just to sell those for lower price It seems like they will accept anything thats returned back to them. I wonder if they even check if the electronic items being returned to them are teh same items that was purchased, not a used one from elsewhere.

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