16 Costco Shopping Hacks You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

Costco membership card and app
Costco membership card and app - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

To the well-prepared shopper, a visit to Costco is a grand adventure. This beloved bulk goods retailer is a Valhalla for discount shoppers, small-business owners, families — just about anybody looking for a deal. Costco stores carry everything from food and beverages to camping gear to electronics and home goods. The $60 Gold Star membership fee unlocks savings on gas, auto repair, medications, travel, and more — and the official Costco app contains its own little microcosm of pinch-yourself deals.

Costco also has a die-hard fan base rivaling that of Trader Joe's or Aldi, and its dedicated groupies are perpetually unearthing new tips and tricks for getting the most bang for your buck at the big box retailer, whether that means concocting a new creation at the food court or sniffing out online deals. Whether you're newly initiated to the Costco life or you're a longtime aficionado of the bulk goods store (like me), there are plenty of tips and tricks you can use to make the most of your membership.

Read more: 16 Worst Canned Foods You Can Buy

Buy Larger Meat Cuts

cut of meat with cleaver
cut of meat with cleaver - Alle12/Getty Images

Consumers love to save time on cooking. Consider the popularity of frozen dinners, ready-made desserts, and grab-and-go grocery items like cheese boards, sandwiches, and salads. There's absolutely nothing wrong with purchasing food items that cut down on your time in the kitchen, but when it comes to produce and meat, shortcuts often come with a hefty price tag. While convenient, pre-cut produce often costs more than whole fruits and vegetables, and the same is true in the meat aisle.

When stocking up on steaks at Costco, it's tempting to reach for pre-sliced cuts. However, purchasing larger cuts of meat can help you score some serious savings on steak at Costco. By buying a whole roast, you may save as much as $3 per pound of meat (though of course, this depends on pricing where you live). Granted, slicing up steaks at home does take more time, but this penny-saving trick is well worth the hassle — plus, you'll have more control over the cut and fat content of your steak.

Order Food-Court Items With Checkout Clerks

items at Costco food court
items at Costco food court - Fang Zheng/Getty Images

Costco is infamous for long lines that move slower than molasses going uphill in January, particularly the lines for returns and the food court. It's no surprise that shoppers willingly queue up for the bulk retailer's cult-favorite $1.50 hot dog with soda deal and $1.99 pizza slices, but waiting in line for half an hour is no fun. Fortunately, internet sleuths have uncovered a Costco food court hack that cuts down wait times enormously — placing food court orders with the clerk as you're checking out from your store visit.

Bear in mind, this is not an official Costco policy, and not all locations may offer this service. There are also a couple of provisos: This hack will not work if you're ordering from the app, or placing an order for delivery. Internet lore suggests that if your Costco offers the option to place a food court order at checkout, the clerks may preemptively ask shoppers if they'd like to order anything from the food court — but if they don't, it never hurts to ask.

Upgrade Your Costco Membership

exterior of Costco and signage
exterior of Costco and signage - Bing-jhen Hong/Getty Images

One of the best things about Costco is the affordability of membership. You can score a Gold Star membership at $60 for an entire year. This membership tier is a great choice for those who don't do a ton of shopping at Costco, but frequent Costco shoppers can save even more by upgrading to the Executive membership level.

Here's the scoop: While the Executive membership costs $120 per year, it provides a 2% reward on eligible pre-tax purchases, up to $1,000 per year. With 2% cash back, if an Executive-level member spends an average of $250 per month at Costco, they'll earn back the equivalent of the basic Gold Star membership ($60) — and if they spend $500 a month, they'll have earned back the entire cost of executive membership ($120). Any spending beyond an average of $500 per month at Costco is essentially pure profit for Executive members.

Additionally, Executive members are eligible for Costco services discounts that are not offered to Gold Star members. And of course, all other benefits of Gold Star membership are included with Executive membership.

Properly Secure Your Wine Bottles

wine selection at Costco
wine selection at Costco - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

Costco's gargantuan shopping carts are ideal for loading up on your favorite items, but like most other grocery carts, they're not designed with wine bottles in mind. If you've ever purchased wine in a grocery store, surely you've experienced the perils of loading glass bottles into a shopping cart. Best-case scenario, the bottles clang and rattle as you roll the cart along; worst-case scenario, they tip over and sometimes even break. People put up with it because it seems like there's no better solution ... until now.

A helpful Costco employee recently shared a clever hack to keep wine bottles secured in your shopping cart, and it's absolutely genius. Make use of the smaller top shelf of the cart — flip your bottles horizontally, bracing the bottoms against the back of the top cart portion, and poking the bottles' necks through the gaps in the front part of the shelf. This secures the bottles into place and wards off sliding, clanking, and (heaven forbid) breaking the wine bottles during your shopping excursion.

Spruce Up Your Costco Hot Dog

food court menu at Costco
food court menu at Costco - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

No trip to Costco is complete without a food court visit. As is the case with the majority of Costco's food court items, the fan favorite hot dog is no-frills, consisting of a simple all-beef dog nestled in a traditional hot dog bun. Shoppers may choose to accessorize their hot dogs with basic condiments like ketchup and mustard, but that's about the most one can do ... or is it?

If you can curb your craving long enough, bring your hot dog home and deck it out there. Costco's hot dogs are made with 100% beef of good quality, so you've already got a great start. Once home with your Costco frank, use any tips, tricks, and hot dog hacks you'd employ if you had cooked it yourself. Split the dog open and fill it with cheese, throw it in the air fryer to make it extra crispy, and, of course, load it up with toppings like specialty mustards, diced onions, relish, or whatever your go-to hot dog toppings might be.

Score Discounts On Rare Wines And Spirits

Kevin O'Leary wines at Costco
Kevin O'Leary wines at Costco - Aaron Davidson/Getty Images

"Bulk goods" and "luxury spirits" are two phrases that may not seem to go hand in hand, but believe it or not, Costco stores around the U.S. sell a number of rare, limited-edition wines and spirits on a regular basis, and generally sells them at a lower price than other stores. They're not available at every store all the time (hence the word "rare"), but it's definitely possible to score amazing Costco deals on bottles that will seriously impress even your snobbiest friends.

A big part of Costco's business model involves selling premium brands under the store's own Kirkland label, but that doesn't mean you can't find name-brand liquors at the store. Costco's operating protocols, which involve making deals with major premium manufacturers, also enables the retail giant to obtain limited-edition and rare labels at a relatively low price — shoppers just need to know what to look out for. Not sure where to start? Check out our list of 15 rare bourbons found at Costco and thank us later.

Buy Gift Cards At Costco

stack of gift cards
stack of gift cards - Alexsl/Getty Images

Due to Costco's massive size, it's easy to miss out on some of the absolute best savings the store has to offer. One such item is gift cards. Costco stores offer gifts cards for everything from restaurants to e-commerce stores to travel. The question is, why buy gift cards from Costco when you can purchase directly from the source itself? The reason is simple: These gift cards are sold at prices that provide considerable markdowns from ordinary prices.

At the time of writing this article, Costco's website offers deals like four $25 Domino's pizza gift cards for $79.99, a $50 Cinemark Theatres gift card for $39.99, or two $50 Spafinder gift cards for $79.99. Cards like these make great gifts for family, friends, and coworkers — or you can buy them just for yourself. Make sure to check both in-store and online if you're considering using this gift card hack; sometimes additional savings or perks are available through one or the other payment option.

Make Broth From Rotisserie Chicken Bones

Costco rotisserie chicken
Costco rotisserie chicken - Smith Collection/gado/Getty Images

We should all be striving to reduce food waste as much as possible. Recycling your containers, bringing reusable bags to the store, and finding waste-eliminating kitchen hacks are all great ways to start. Making stock from bones and veggie scraps is an excellent way to cut down on the amount of waste in your kitchen and have awesome, scratch-made broth at the ready whenever you need it. Costco shoppers are fortunate to have easy access to a fantastic source for chicken bones — the Costco rotisserie chicken.

There are myriad ways to use rotisserie chicken, but at the end of the day, you're left with a pretty big carcass, probably with a good bit of meat clinging to the bones. If you're looking for tips for disposing of your rotisserie chicken carcass, take some inspiration from legendary chef Nyesha Arrington, who uses rotisserie chicken bones to make stock. It's a cost-effective and efficient way to use every part of the animal, and repurposing rotisserie chicken bones into stock has some pretty spectacular end results.

Pay Attention To Price Tags

Costco sign above shelves
Costco sign above shelves - Artran/Getty Images

Price tags in a store are pretty straightforward, in that they tell you the amount of money you'll have to pay in order to purchase a given product, right? Not so fast. While this may essentially be true, there's a secret system to Costco's pricing, and it's something every savvy shopper should know to avoid mistakes everyone makes when shopping at Costco. It comes down to paying attention to the cents listed on the price tag. Prices that end in .99 or .98 are typical at Costco because these are the regular retail prices, sans deals and specials.

However, any cent amount in the price other than .99 or .98 means that Costco scored a sweet deal with a manufacturer, allowing the store to sell at a big discount. Prices ending in .97 are going to come with your biggest savings yet — these are priced-to-sell items, being sold at a steep discount to move product faster. This also means the product is unlikely to return to Costco's shelves, so if you like it, you should stock up now.

Download The Costco App

Costco exterior and signage
Costco exterior and signage - Bing-jhen Hong/Getty Images

Most retail chain stores have their own apps, and Costco is no exception. The Costco app offers paying customers a world of exclusive deals, savings, and access to products that aren't available in stores. As a bonus, with the app comes a digital version of one's membership card and access to a purchase archive.

Costco stores may seem to sell everything you need and more, but the app has a large selection of products that may not be available at brick-and-mortar stores. The app's home page highlights time-sensitive deals and promotions, makes it easy to schedule home deliveries, and allows users to create a shopping list, cutting down on time spent navigating the labyrinth of the store shelves. With the app, Executive members may check the status of their 2% rewards, and the app makes it easy for all members to learn about special events at their local Costco location.

Make A Cookie Sundae

frozen confection at Costco
frozen confection at Costco - Emmett Reiner/Shutterstock

Much to the chagrin of loyal shoppers, Costco has discontinued a number of food court favorites over the years. One recent change involved swapping out the long-beloved churros for an enormous double chocolate chunk cookie. While not everyone was impressed, the die-hard online Costco community is continuously sussing out new hacks for creating brand-spanking-new ways of capitalizing on Costco's food-court flavors of the moment. One Redditor shared how they used the cookie to cobble together the ultimate cookie sundae at Costco — just order a chocolate sundae and one of the cookies, and crumble the cookie into the ice cream for a decadent, delicious dessert.

Bear in mind that a cookie crumbled into an ice cream sundae has very little value nutritionally, but every once in a while, this hack offers a cost-effective and absolutely delicious treat. Pro tip: One Redditor who was unimpressed with this hack pointed out that their cookie may have been overcooked. Try requesting a freshly warmed cookie for best results.

Save On Ground Beef

ground beef and other ingredients
ground beef and other ingredients - KucherAV/Shutterstock

Ground meat used to be one of the best ways for American shoppers to stretch their dollars, but in recent years, prices of ground meat have risen by considerable amounts. Luckily, social media contains a treasure trove of information when it comes to money-saving hacks at chain grocery stores, so TikTok's Costco hack for saving money on ground beef should come as no surprise.

Most shoppers don't buy ground meat in bulk — it's much more common to purchase a pound or two of ground beef. However, at Costco, asking the butcher for a 10-pound chub of ground beef may save you around 50 cents per pound. A 10-pound chub of ground beef comes in a tube and can contain meat that is around 92-95% lean. If you've got the freezer space or plan on cooking most of the meat all at once, purchasing ground beef in bulk like this is a clever way to save money on an item that's a staple for many families.

Freeze Your Cheese

stacked blocks of cheese
stacked blocks of cheese - barmalini/Shutterstock

Cheese is another category in which Costco shoppers can save some major dollars. The retailer sells both specialty cheeses and everyday varieties in bulk, usually for a lower price than other supermarkets. If cheese is a part of your everyday kitchen repertoire, you may want to consider purchasing Costco's cheese in bulk and freezing it in portions for later use. Cheese may not be a staple that most people think of freezing, but doing is a great hack that will ensure you don't waste that big block of Costco cheese.

On TikTok, Gina Zakaria recommends buying big blocks of cheese from Costco, grating most or all of the block, then separating the shredded cheese into smaller packages before freezing them. This method works well with hard cheeses like provolone and cheddar (both of which are commonly sold at Costco), but not as well with softer cheeses that can't be grated — think Brie or ricotta. Costco members who are frequent users of shredded cheese can shave quite a bit off their budgets with this simple trick.

Position Barcodes Facing Out

checkout line at Costco
checkout line at Costco - Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Checkout lines at Costco are a Wild West of their own. If you don't want to use the self-checkout feature, you may be facing quite a wait as shoppers ahead of you check out. For many people, Costco is a destination to stock up and buy in bulk, so the average cartload may be quite a bit bigger than that of customers at Target or Safeway.

To cut down on waiting, check out this Reddit hack that saves you time in Costco's checkout line — turning the barcodes of your purchases facing up so that they're easily accessed by the cashier. This way, the checkout clerk can easily scan items without having to load everything onto the conveyor belt. This trick may not be as practical if you're purchasing smaller items, but at minimum, use this hack with your larger purchases in order to avoid lifting them onto the belt. You'll save yourself some heavy lifting, and your cashier will appreciate your thoughtfulness.

Plan Visits Strategically

shoppers outside Costco store
shoppers outside Costco store - Hapabapa/Getty Images

If your schedule allows it, planning out your Costco visits at strategic times may save you a lot of time and crowd anxiety. Let's face it: Navigating these giant stores with a giant shopping cart is difficult enough — throw in hordes of other shoppers, and you're in for a real nightmare. The best time to shop at Costco for uncrowded aisles is between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, which makes sense, given that a large portion of the population is at work or school during this time.

If you're able to make it to Costco during these hallowed hours, chances are you'll experience shorter wait times, less crowded aisles, and have a less harried shopping experience overall. Not able to make it during these times? Don't fret — the stores are generally less crowded during the week, so shopping at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday is still a better bet than, say, 1 p.m. on a weekend day, when the stores tend to be at their busiest.

Use The Return Policy

Costco shoppers with carts
Costco shoppers with carts - Krblokhin/Getty Images

Costco is known for its dedication to customer satisfaction. The chain offers a generous return policy on merchandise — nearly everything sold in the store may be returned for a full refund at any time, except for a handful of items. Because Costco is constantly running sales on different products, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the price of items you've recently purchased, because you may be able to return them and score an even better deal.

Let's say you purchased a pair of jeans at $19.99, and the following week, you see the same brand on sale for $14.99. It's perfectly acceptable within Costco's policy to return your already-purchased pair of jeans (this is where hanging onto your receipts or using the receipts feature in the app is important), get a refund, and then purchase the same pair on sale. This hack may not work for sporadic shoppers, but those who frequent Costco regularly can easily save a few bucks.

Static Media owns and operates Tasting Table and Mashed.

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