It’s no secret that you can shop at Costco and save money, but you can also make silly mistakes that don’t pay off. Mistakes you might make include the ones you’ll eventually realize, like having to throw out food you couldn’t finish before expiration or reaching the end of your membership year and realizing you didn’t make the most of the fee you paid. But they also could include mistakes you might not ever realize you’re making. Before your next trip to Costco — and definitely before you sign up for or renew a membership — consider these 10 Costco shopping pitfalls that are costing you extra.
Buying the Wrong Membership
“There are two membership options to choose from at Costco — a Gold Star and an Executive Member for $60 and $120, respectively,” said consumer analyst Julie Ramhold of DealNews. “The biggest difference in perks for the two memberships is that Executive accounts receive an annual 2% reward on qualified Costco, Costco.com and Costco Travel purchases. But if you aren’t spending enough to make that reward worth it, then you may be better off going for the cheaper membership. Executive members will also be able to purchase items for resale and receive more benefits and discounts on select Costco services. The good thing is you can try out an Executive membership and then downgrade if you find it’s not worth it. Many members find they spend enough in a year that the reward certificate basically pays for the membership. But if that’s not the case for you, Costco is good about making it easy to drop to the lower tier, and you don’t miss out on too much in the long run.”
Not Splitting the Costco Membership Fee
“Because a Costco membership comes with two cards, you can split the membership fee with a friend or family member,” said Andrew Lokenauth, a personal finance expert and CEO of Fluent in Finance.
However, the catch is that the person has to be over 18 and reside at the same address, which is great if you have a relative or roommate who lives with you. But what if you don’t? As a way around this, Costco does allow you to bring up to two guests with you per warehouse visit, but the Costco member must pay for the purchases. So you could potentially split the cost of the membership with a friend — although you would not be able to give the friend his or her own card — and plan your Costco shopping trips together. After each shopping trip, your friend could reimburse you for his or her portion of the items.
Not Taking Advantage of Costco’s Price-Adjust Policy
“Costco will price adjust any item you purchased at full price and recently went on sale, for both in store and online,” Lokenauth said. “If your item went on sale within 30 days after you purchased it, you can bring your item or receipt back and get a refund for the price difference.”
Although it might not be practical to monitor Costco’s pricing for 30 days following every item you purchase, it could pay off to do so for any large Costco purchases you make.
Buying Fresh Produce in Bulk
“It’s so tempting to stock up on fresh produce in bulk at Costco, but if you’re a small household or you just don’t have plans for how to use it all, you may want to reconsider,” Ramhold advised. “While buying a tray of apples or a huge bag of potatoes may be a good deal money-wise, if you end up having to throw out produce because it went bad, it’s not as good of a deal as it might seem initially.”
It’s smart to have a plan before you go to Costco. For instance, even if you plan on eating a big salad every day for lunch and buying bulk produce seems to make sense, will you be able to finish all the produce you buy before it expires? Perhaps you can consider splitting bulk food items that have a limited shelf life with a friend or family member, so both of you can benefit from the pricing.
Only Considering Brand-Name Wine
“One thing that people absolutely do wrong in the wine aisle is to look for brands that they already know,” said Mark Aselstine of Wine Club Reviews. “There’s relatively little wiggle room in wine pricing these days for established brands, so you may only save a buck or two buying the Prisoner or Gnarly Head or whatever in the warehouse. Instead of those established names, consumers should absolutely look to some of the Kirkland labeled wines because those are half-off or even cheaper compared to their counterparts.”
Aselstine said that oftentimes Costco’s Kirkland-label wine is bottled by winemakers who simply label their own wine for Costco, which means that you’re getting a brand-name wine at a much lower price than if you bought it with the brand-name label.
Restricting Yourself to Whatever’s in Your Local Store
“Costco warehouses are huge and have aisles upon aisles of items to shop, as well as certain things you can only get in-store,” Ramhold said. “But if you’re focusing on what your local warehouse carries, you’re missing out. Costco.com has a ton of stuff that may not be in your local store, including different clothing styles, foods, electronics, and more. You’ll get way more out of your membership by shopping both in-person and online — be sure to check the ‘what’s new’ and ‘while supplies last’ sections on the website regularly. They feature new products the company has just begun to carry, as well as price drops on items they may be trying to clear out.”
Not Checking Prices
Most Costco members joined to take advantage of the low costs on bulk items, which is convenient for stocking up for the entire family in fewer trips,” said Adam Wood, cofounder of Revenue Geeks. “Instead of buying a little bottle of olive oil that would run out quickly, you can acquire a two-liter bottle of Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $15.49 on Costco.com. On Amazon, a two-liter bottle of Mantova Extra Virgin Golden Italian Olive Oil costs $19.89. That’s an extra $4.”
However, it’s important to always check prices and quantities to make sure you’re getting the best deal. In Woods’ example, the two bottles of olive oil are truly the same size, so the savings are apparent. But when you’re buying large quantities of items, you’ll need to do the math to make sure the per-unit price really is saving you money over buying the same item in a smaller quantity elsewhere.
Ignoring Gift Cards
“Not Costco gift cards — instead, I mean gift cards that are for other businesses,” Ramhold said. “Costco offers packs of discounted gift cards, and depending on the restaurant or store, you could save 15% to 25% off the face value of the cards. For instance, last year, I purchased $200 worth of gift cards to Texas de Brazil (split up into 4 $50 cards) for $150. It’s also not uncommon to see $100 worth of gift cards going for $70 to $80, depending on the restaurant or store they’re for.”
Not Buying Fuel
Gas prices at Costco (or any wholesale club) tend to be significantly lower than those at other local stations (often as much as $0.10-$0.40/gal cheaper),” said Lauren Keys of Trip of a Lifestyle.
And if you really want to get extra bang for your buck, the Costco Anywhere Visa by Citi, which you must have a Costco membership to acquire, will give you 4% cash back on up to $7,000 worth of eligible gas purchases per year, including gas from Costco. Once you meet the $7,000 spending limit, the card pays 1% cash back. Additionally, you’ll receive 2% back on purchases from Costco and Costco.com. Another plus? The card has no annual fee.
Not Using the Return Policy as Needed
Although you don’t want to abuse Costco’s generous return policy, you should use it if you need it.
“Since Costco sells such large quantities of their food, they don’t want people to be discouraged from trying new things,” Keys said. “That’s why they let you return anything at any time, including food that’s been opened, and even your membership itself! There are a couple of exceptions, but Costco’s customer service is unmatched when it comes to guaranteed satisfaction.”
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