Ah, Costco — our beloved big-box wholesaler where too-good-to-be-true deals and delicious food samples knock us off our feet at every corner. While we all know how massive the stores are, we also have to navigate the online resources and all the services Costco has to offer its members (and non-members!). It can be a largely overwhelming task, but we are here to help. Whether you’re a devoted weekly Costco goer, a skeptic, or a tagalong who just goes with friends, this article will blow your mind. We’ve rounded up some insider tips and tricks you might not know about to help you get the most out of your membership — and how to shop there without being a member.

MEMBERSHIP F.Y.I.s

You can shop at Costco without a membership.

All you have to do is enlist the help of a friend with a membership to grab you a Costco cash card. You can use the card online or at any Costco location.

costco shop card

Think of this as a gift card and temporary membership card in one. Have a member friend pick one up for you, and test-drive Costco before you commit to a membership. Image: Instagram

You can buy some things without a membership.

You can fill prescriptions at a discount, eat at the food court (more on this to come), and in most states, you can shop the impressive adult beverage section without a membership (because many states say it’s illegal to restrict alcohol sales to members of a club). Non-members can also use Costco’s hearing and optical services for exams and screenings. But only members can purchase glasses, contacts or hearing aids.

If you’re not yet a member, look for a deal on membership!

Many deal sites like Groupon and LivingSocial occasionally offer deals on Costco memberships. You can snag a year’s membership for as low as $60 if you’re on the lookout and subscribed to deal alerts from those sites.

Share your membership.

Memberships come with two cards. You can split the price of a membership with a sibling, roommate, significant other or someone else in your household, and you both can reap the benefits!

FUEL UP TO SHOP

Food court prices always stay the same.

The $1.50 hot dog and soda deal is going nowhere. The co-founder of Costco has no plans to raise the price of its frank and unlimited soda deal (which has been $1.50 since the 1980s). What’s more? They have an açaí bowl and a Cold Brew Mocha Freeze that have been gracing many of the menus across the country. Grab a cult favorite or a new healthier offering on the cheap before you shop!

açaí bowl - Costco hacks

This açaí bowl is $4.99 and just as Instagram-worthy as the $15 ones we see on every corner these days. Image: Frolic

Samples! Samples! Getcha samples!

While most advise against showing up hungry to the grocery store, we refute this theory when it comes to your Costco trip. Samples abound at every turn, and you’ll need sustenance to navigate the massive store. We’ve heard that Costco actually encourages vendors to give out unlimited samples. So don’t be afraid to double-back to your favorite offering twice (or thrice!).

IN THE STORE

Don’t worry about toting those pesky coupons.

Costco’s coupon book is basically just a guide to the sales, but the discounts are applied automatically. Instead of cluttering up your wallet or purse, check out the book when you’re creating your list, so you know which deals to target.

Know how to read the signs.

  • If the price ends in 9 cents (.59, .69, .79, etc.), it means the product is specially priced by the manufacturer, so it’s regularly priced.
  • If a price ends in .97, it means the price is marked down.
  • If the price ends in .00 or .88, it’s something the store wants to clear out of inventory. It probably won’t be around for long. Check these items for defects.
  • If something has an asterisk, that means it won’t be there much longer. Stock up!

Check the price per unit on the sign.

A quick check of the price per unit (PPU) on the sign can ensure you’re getting the best price because, on certain things, your grocery store might have a better sale. The PPU will help you figure that out. This is also important to do at any grocery store if you’re comparing quantities or brands.

If you see a price drop, you can get the difference back.

If you bought something last week and see it’s on sale this week, don’t get frustrated! Take your receipt to customer service, and they’ll give you back the difference. Most Costco managers will allow you to do this up to a month after the purchase.

Kirkland brand all the way!

We all know Kirkland as Costco’s brand, but don’t laugh at your dad or husband when he buys that dress shirt three-pack — sometimes Kirkland products are made by the same manufacturers of the name brands — in the same factories, coming off the same conveyor belts. Costco strives to make Kirkland products “equal to or better than” brand name products, according to Costco’s CEO.

The gift card section has more than gift cards.

Don’t skip over the gift card section! You can find deals like two-for-one movie tickets and discounts to local attractions. Sometimes there are also toll booth card deals if you live in a place with a lot of tolls — it can save you a lot. Gift cards are often discounted, too. For example, you might buy four $20 gift cards and get an extra $20 card for free.

AFTER YOUR PURCHASE

Bring your own bags.

There are no paper or plastic bags at Costco, but you can pick out recycled product boxes to load your wares. These boxes can get heavy and hard to carry, though, so consider bringing some sturdy totes as well.

Busy lines at Costco

The best times to go to Costco, according to experts, are Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Image: Flickr

There’s a very generous return policy.

You can return most items at any time without a receipt or even product packaging. But most electronics must be returned within 90 days. You can even return your membership if you’re not happy with it. SB TIP: Seek out the returned items shelf. Items that are returned but aren’t currently being sold on the floor are placed on a special rack. These out-of-season items and out-of-stock items are often deeply discounted.

RELATED: 50 Under $50: Your Ultimate Southern Holiday Gift Guide

Tie your Costco run with a gas fill-up.

Many Costcos have gas stations with discounted gas, and this can really be a game-changer. If you have a membership and multiple family cars, switch which car you take for your Costco run, and fill up every car in the driveway with discounted gas.

costco gas

Can’t beat the price of Costco gas! Image: Shutterstock

Explore Costco’s travel.

You can find stellar flight, car rental, hotel and package deals through Costco’s travel site. Many people report that it’s the cheapest way to book a rental car. One of our SB editorial team members says, “Costco travel is AMAZING. That’s how my family went to Disneyworld this year. The savings are insane! We got flights, the hotel and five days at the Disney parks, and I seriously think we would have paid nearly the same amount on purchasing JUST the tickets directly through Disney!”

RELATED: The Ultimate High-Tech Parenting Hot List

Use their third party services.

Costco offers some invaluable members-only services like handyman work and business printing services. If you buy a new TV there and want it mounted, they can schedule that for you the same day. If you need new business cards or holiday cards, head to the business center online and find some crazy low prices.

Anyone can shop online.

Anyone can shop on Costco.com, but some things are members-only, and to buy other items, if you don’t have a membership, remember that you’ll have to pay a 5% surcharge.

Follow these insanely awesome Instagram accounts.

We couldn’t in good faith end this article here. We wanted to round up some of our favorite finds from Costco, but we’re going to leave it the pros. The people who run the accounts below round up their favorite deals and finds from Costco across all departments. Perusing these accounts can help alleviate some of your year-end tasks, holiday prep and stocking stuffing.

costco hacks instagrams

These accounts, Costco Does It Again and Costco Buys, are gold when it comes to finding the latest and greatest in-store deals. Image: Instagram

Happy big-box shopping, y’all! We’re just as thankful for all of our readers as we are for Costco this holiday season.

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