7 Costco Shopping Tips If You’re on a Budget

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Costco has established itself as the ultimate retail destination for consumers looking to buy a lot of stuff with not a lot of money — or at least, with less money than they might need if shopping elsewhere. Of course, this privilege comes at a cost, in the form of Costco’s annual membership fee of $60.

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While Costco is pretty good at offering rock-bottom prices and giving consumers the biggest bang for their buck, a certain amount of strategy is necessary if you want to stick to a shoestring budget. After all, Costco is still a superstore that depends on your dollars to stay in business. It didn’t generate $141.4 billion in revenue in the U.S. in 2021 because people only bought what they needed and used savvy savings tactics to do so. It relied on impulse buys and other sneaky sales maneuvers designed to get people to spend more, more, more. 

How can you avoid spending more than you want to and ensure that you stay under budget when shopping at Costco? Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com, shared her best tips with us on how to do just that. 

Shop the Sales 

“Costco frequently has deals that are online-only as well as offers that are available in the warehouses and you should be checking out both if you aren’t already,” Ramhold said. “These promotions take the already great prices Costco offers and tack extra savings on top, so you can save like $3 off that B12 supplement you take every day, or $5 off your favorite toilet paper.”

Make Your Money Work for You

These promotions cover tons of items — so you’ll usually find extra savings on electronics, home goods, office supplies, food and drink and more. 

“The sales are staggered, with online-only starting and stopping at different times than the warehouse offers, so be sure to keep an eye out for them and take advantage when you can,” Ramhold said. “Stocking up while these items are on sale will ensure you can save up front and avoid having to worry about grabbing items when they’re full price later on.”

Buy Only What You Need

Costco makes it very easy to spend money — so be mindful to buy only what you really need. 

“It can be hard — especially if Costco has a lot of new and interesting things on the shelves or if you happen to visit during free sample day — but stick to your list and you’ll be able to save on your bill overall,” Ramhold said. “Keep this in mind too when you’re purchasing perishable items; that 10lb bag of potatoes is a great deal, but are you going to be able to eat them before they start sprouting alien-looking tendrils or going off? If not, then skip the bulk perishables and buy them in smaller quantities from other stores to increase the odds of finishing them before they turn.”

Make Your Money Work for You

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Split the Costs — and the Items 

“One of the easiest ways to stretch your dollar at Costco is by sharing the benefits (and costs) with someone else,” Ramhold said. “Do you have friends or family that like to shop in bulk but don’t have their own membership? Let them tag along and when you want to purchase the same thing, consider buying one package and splitting it between you. Your shopping partner can also foot half the bill in these cases, which will seriously help to improve your budget.”

Take Advantage of Price Adjustments 

“Yes, Costco offers price adjustments in some cases,” Ramhold said. “Did you spring for those new comfy shorts one week only for them to go on sale the next? Contact customer service and see if they’ll make an adjustment for you.”

Ramhold added that this perk applies to food items, as well, “so be sure to check ads when they come out to make sure you didn’t make a recent purchase that has now dropped in price.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Buy Clothes for the Whole Family 

“Costco often runs promotions of the ‘buy more, save more’ variety, especially on clothing,” Ramhold said. “If you need to pick things up for the whole family, these are excellent ways to save as you’ll be able to save $20 when you purchase 5-9 qualifying items, or save $50 if you purchase more than 10 qualifying items. Common exclusions are underwear, socks, special events, and Costco Next apparel, so keep that in mind when browsing.”

Shop Bundles Around Black Friday

“Costco will frequently have item bundles, but around Black Friday there tend to be noticeably more,” Ramhold said. “Maybe you’re eyeing a new fitness tracker — shopping at Costco could mean paying the excellent Black Friday sale price that others are offering but also net you free bands or other perks. The same goes for video game consoles a lot of times too — even if it’s the same bundle offered elsewhere, sometimes Costco’s price will be cheaper.”

Check Out the ‘While Supplies Last’ Section of the Site  

“If you’re shopping online, you should definitely check out the ‘while supplies last’ section of the site as these are often limited offers — once they’re gone, they’re gone,” Ramhold said. “This is where you may find things like themed LEGO sets for $15, special beauty picks (I got a six pack of the best tinted lip balm I’ve ever used in this section for ridiculously cheap a couple of years ago for example), super cheap home items like an Eddie Bauer plush sherpa throw for $10, and so much more.” 

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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