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20 Best Secret Costco Shopping Hacks Right Now

Make the most of your regular warehouse runs by following these member-endorsed strategies.
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Shopping at Costco is not quite like shopping at your local supermarket. The warehouse chain seems to have taken this regular chore and turned it into a weekly bout of mental gymnastics for its members. Stocking up on everyday items in bulk becomes the norm, and scoping out the newest Kirkland Signature items is more akin to a scavenger hunt than the standard procedural stroll through the grocery aisles.

Signing up for a Costco membership does not automatically equate to huge savings. In fact, if you're not careful, you could end up buying and spending a lot more than you intended. Since Costco CFO Richard Galanti has repeatedly confirmed that membership fee increases are coming—"a question of when, not if"—it's more important than ever to make sure you make the most out of every trip to your local warehouse.

Luckily, no one knows how to squeeze maximum value and enjoyment from a Costco membership quite like its everyday members. Shoppers have shared a plethora of genius tips—or "hacks," you might say—on social media that can help you save time and money and make your grocery trips as hassle-free as possible.

Here are the 20 best secret Costco shopping hacks right now, straight from the customers who know the warehouse club best.

Skip the cart when possible

costco cart
a katz / Shutterstock

Many a member has reported falling victim to one of Costco's many tempting impulse buys. But, shoppers say it's much harder to buy more than what you came for when you do your shopping without a cart.

Of course, this isn't always a realistic option when you have a long list of items to pick up. But, if you head to Costco to pick up just a couple of things, browsing without a cart ensures that you can only grab what you can carry.

"Unless you're purchasing large, bulky items like paper towels or water, I suggest skip the cart and only buy what you can carry. Discourages impulse purchases," one shopper recommended on Reddit.

 10 Best Costco Frozen Meals Available Now, According to Members

Make a list and stick to it

Shopping list

Another trick that can help you avoid spending way more than you intended during a Costco trip? Make a list and don't let yourself deviate from it.

This method requires a ton of discipline, of course. But, shoppers say that mapping out what they want beforehand and challenging themselves to stick to it helps keep them from forking over too much cash during one shopping trip. Some shoppers even give themself the option to grab one or two extra items, as long as they maintain their self-control.

"Go in with a list, and never buy anything off of it to prevent spending too much at once. If you need some leeway, perhaps allow yourself one or two off-the-list items," a shopper wrote.

Split bulk items to prevent waste

Costco bulk groceries
ZikG / Shutterstock

The bulk-sized groceries you'll find at Costco are great for people shopping for large households. But, if you live by yourself or with just a couple of other people, it can be hard to get through perishable bulk goods like produce and bakery items before they go bad.

Some shoppers work around this problem by splitting up their groceries with other people. This allows people from smaller households to take advantage of Costco's great grocery bargains without worrying that they'll go to waste. And, if you split the cost with whoever you're sharing with, you'll save more of your hard-earned money.

"As a single person, my hack is to split items with my neighbors. Less likely to go bad, get lost in the mix, take up too much space in my very small apartment, etc.," a shopper noted on Reddit.

 20 Best Costco Items Customers Can't Stop Buying In 2023

Invest in a vacuum sealer

Vacuum sealer sealing beef

For members who struggle to keep their bulk foods from going to waste, a nifty alternative to splitting grocery items is storing them in a way that extends their shelf life. Many Costco shoppers recommend investing in a vacuum sealer, which allows them to securely package meat, fish, pastries, and other perishable items to store in their fridges or freezers. A vacuum sealer also lets you pre-portion your foods for extra convenience come cooking time.

"It's way handier than one would think," one shopper said of the hack on Reddit.

Buy a chest freezer for extra storage

Chest freezer

Even if you have endless piles of cash, it's hard to take full advantage of Costco's bulk grocery selection when you're short on space. This is especially true when it comes to Costco's frozen items, many of which come in large boxes that are hard to fit into your typical freezer.

To fix this issue, many Costco shoppers recommend investing in a chest freezer. Those will give you plenty of extra space to store your bulky freezer finds . You'll also be able to stock up on your favorite frozen foods when they go on sale without being too limited by space.

 20 Best Costco Comfort Foods To Stock Up On Right Now

Don't shop hungry

Costco Bakery cookies and cakes

This rule can be applied to pretty much any grocery store, but it's especially relevant for a place like Costco that boasts so many tempting baked goods and other craveable food items. Shoppers suggest eating before a Costco trip so you're less likely to give in to the temptation of all the craveable sweets and snacks and spend too much money. You could even make a quick pit stop at the food court before perusing the grocery aisles for extra convenience.

"I like going to the food court before shopping. That way I'm not hungry while shopping, and don't have a cart with thawing frozen items with me while I'm eating," a shopper wrote.

Get the Executive upgrade if you're shopping a lot

person holding costco executive membership card
ZikG / Shutterstock

Consumers signing up for a Costco membership can choose between two tiers: the basic Gold Star Membership that costs $60 annually and the Executive Membership that costs $120 annually but comes with extra perks. The tier that's right for one person won't necessarily be right for another. But the pricier Executive Membership can actually pay for itself when you spend enough at Costco each year.

Executive members receive a 2% annual reward on qualifying purchases. Costco ships out reward certificates to members each year with the value of their reward, which they can then use for other Costco purchases. Costco did the math and found that an executive member who spends $3,000 each year will earn about $60 in reward money, which completely covers the cost of the Executive Membership upgrade. Costco shoppers say Gold Star Members who spend $3,000 or more annually should consider upgrading since they can likely earn back the extra fee. Upgrading also gives members access to those extra Executive Membership perks like additional travel benefits and lower prices on check printing.

"The executive membership is cheaper than standard depending on your spending habits. For us the reward usually covers the membership plus cash back," a shopper wrote.

 10 Costco Bakery Items Customers Are Currently Raving About

Avoid weekends at all costs

Crowd at checkout at Costco in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Chris Shott/Eat This, Not That!

As with most shopping destinations, Costco is busiest on the weekends. Like, really, really busy! One Redditor described the typical Sunday morning scene at their local warehouse thusly: "I'm always itching to go by 8:30, but they all open at 10:00 to literally a line of people waiting. It's nuts!"

From struggling to find a parking spot to simply finding an available shopping cart, the crowds can put a damper on any Costco run. To maximize your time and avoid the majority of Costco's busy hours, shoppers says the best move is to avoid weekends altogether. Shopping later in the evening, especially on weekdays, will typically be much quieter. Keep in mind, however, that weekends are often the only time of the week when free samples will be available, depending on your warehouse.

Save big with store-brand products

kirkland signature sparkling water cans
Courtesy of Costco

Costco sells a number of different products across its warehouse, including many major name brands. From groceries to other household goods, you will find a variety of options at different price points. Like other grocery stores, Costco also carries products under its own private label: Kirkland Signature. And, like other store brands, Kirkland Signature products usually offer better savings. As The Motley Fool explains, by cutting out the middleman, Costco does not have to charge higher prices for its Kirkland goods.

One Redditor described Kirkland products as "cheap and usually high quality," specifically calling out Kirkland-brand honey and maple syrup. "Any branded Kirkland product is a safe bet," wrote another Redditor. "The company cares about quality." In fact, some Kirkland products at Costco are fan favorites, like its Super Premium Vanilla Ice Cream.

 9 Costco Tips Only Savvy Shoppers Know

Take advantage of discounted gift cards

costco gift cards
melissamn / Shutterstock

Costco sells more than just groceries and home furniture. You can shop for everything from jewelry to electronics and even new automobiles and vacation packages. When you are in a pinch for an easy gift idea, Costco also sells a variety of gift cards, including ones to local restaurants and movie theaters. Whether you are shopping for someone else or for yourself, buying gift cards at Costco is a sneaky way to save money on your next meal or trip to the movies.

That's because Costco often runs sales on its gift cards, meaning you can get more value for less cash. As some Redditors explain, you can save quite a bit of money when Costco runs deals on gift cards, like buy-one, get-one-free deals or, say, a $100 gift card for just $75. Another Redditor recommended purchasing airline gift cards through Costco to save on future flights. It's a nifty roundabout way to give yourself a little discount on your next purchase or a great way to buy easy gifts for less.

Hack the food court menu

Costco food court
Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Costco's food court is home to some tried-and-true favorites, including slices of pizza, hot dogs, soda, and smoothies. Any sensible Costco member would enjoy these items on their own, but some creative minds have come up with various menu hacks over the years.

Members are not shy in sharing their favorite food-court hacks online. Earlier this year, a divisive food court creation that members named the "Forbidden Glizzy" took the internet by storm. Trying it requires you to insert the famously cheap Costco hot dog into its popular chicken bake.

If the Forbidden Glizzy is a little too out there for you, there are a few tamer food court hacks you can give a try. Members like to upgrade the food court pizza by topping it with diced onions, requesting it "well done" for a crispier crust, or sprinkling it with dried herbs at home for extra flavor.

 The Best & Worst Costco Food Court Items, According to a Nutritionist

Don't skip the gas station

car getting gas gas at costco gas station
Alan Budman / Shutterstock.

Many Costco warehouses feature adjoining gas stations for its members to use. Filling up your tank at Costco is more than merely convenient. It's a great way to save at the pump as well. Members report that Costco's gas stations are commonly cheaper than any other gas station in the area. According to Reader's Digest, Costco can keep its gas at lower prices simply due to the higher volume of cars coming through on a daily basis.

Bring your own shopping bags

Customer with two full shopping carts loads his car at Costco

At Costco, shopping for groceries is all about buying in bulk. You are likely to walk away with more food than you would at your local supermarket, which can easily overwhelm you if you have nowhere to put your food upon checking out. And, importantly, Costco does not have a single paper or plastic bag in sight. Therefore, it's important to come prepared with your own shopping bags.

Some Costco members have come up with creative solutions to accommodate the large volume of bulk-sized groceries being loaded up into their cars. One Redditor shared how they bring the oversized reusable blue bags from Ikea whenever they make a Costco run. Another Redditor pointed out that Costco occasionally sells its own reusable bags and to keep a lookout for them whenever they are on sale.

 10 Costco Items That Are Way More Expensive Anywhere Else

Download the Costco app

costco mobile app
rafapress / Shutterstock

It's in Costco's best interest to keep its members up to date on the latest sales. To streamline the shopping experience and to educate members on current promotions in the warehouses, Costco has its very own mobile app members can download and use on each visit. The app also features a digital membership card, making it easier to show an associate on your way into the warehouse rather than having to dig through your wallet to find your physical card.

While members say the app isn't the most customer-friendly, checking it can still make sure you know about sales that might have passed you by otherwise.

Order your food court meal during checkout

costco food court signs and seating

One of the highlights of a trip to Costco is a stop at its renowned food court. It's home to fan favorites like the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo, not to mention its slices of pizza and fruit smoothies. Some Costco members make the food court a non-negotiable stop every time they shop at their local warehouse, but that could be tricky depending on how busy it is that day.

Reader's Digest suggested a great hack to save time at the food court. All it involves is simply placing your food court order at the main register while you check out with your groceries. You then take your receipt from the register and show it to the food court to pick up your meal. Members have come up with other hacks that save time at the food court, too. One Redditor shared how a married couple can divide and conquer, with one waiting in line at the register while their spouse waits in line at the food court.

 8 Costco Items That Are a Really Great Deal, According to Customers

Seriously, get the rotisserie chicken

calimedia / Shutterstock

Costco is home to some rather iconic food items. One of the most recognizable is, of course, the famed rotisserie chicken for $4.99. Seemingly inflation-proof, the fully cooked chicken has been priced under $5 for years. No, it's not too good to be true, and it's totally worth grabbing on your weekly grocery run.

There are a ton of healthy, easy meals you can make with this whole chicken, making meal planning a breeze. One Costco member shared on Reddit how versatile the chicken is, using everything down to the leftover carcass for homemade chicken broth. And at just $4.99, it's one of the cheapest grocery items you will find in the entire warehouse.

Call ahead to order your pizza

costco food court pizza

Costco's food court pizza is a fan favorite, with many members ordering slices or entire pies when visiting the warehouse. What some members do not realize is that you can actually call ahead of time to order your pizza. So, whether you plan on eating it at the end of your grocery run, or you are picking pizza up for a dinner or birthday party, there is no need to wait in line at the food court and then wait even longer as the pizza is made.

Simply look up the phone number of your local Costco food court to call ahead and order your pizzas. (Note: Costco currently does not take pizza orders online.) Or, do as one Redditor does, and order your whole pizza at the food court kiosk as you begin shopping. By the time you pay for your groceries, your order should be ready.

 13 Costco Items Customers Desperately Want Back

Buy premade meals for easy dinner planning

costco chicken street taco kit
Costco / Facebook

Meal planning can be a tricky endeavor. You have to come up with several different dinners each and every week. Don't feel as though you have to make all of your meals from scratch. Buying pre-made meals means dinner is ready in a matter of minutes, and you are still spending far less than what you would by ordering takeout or delivery. When you are a Costco member, there are ways to hack your way to a cheaper weekly food bill by strategically incorporating pre-made meals into your weekly planning.

Costco sells many different ready-to-eat meals in its grocery section, from chicken taco kits to macaroni and cheese. They are great for families, as well as single Costco members just shopping for themselves or one other person. "I buy their premade meals and kits and get 3 meals out of them," one solo member shared on Reddit.

Learn to decode the price tags

Closeup of a price tag for mozzarella snack pack inside Costco warehouse.

One easy way to hack your way to more savings at Costco is to learn how to decode its price tags. It may seem arbitrary at first, but the way items are priced at Costco gives shoppers huge hints about whether that item is marked down or not.

According to shoppers, any prices that end in .99 are typically standard pricing. On the other hand, if you see a price that ends in .97, that typically means that it has been marked down so shoppers can get extra savings. Prices that end in seemingly random numbers like .49 or .79 are typically special deals from the manufacturer. Finally, spotting an asterisk in the upper right hand corner of the price tag—also known as the "death star"—means that the item won't be restocked once it's sold out.

 7 Costco Desserts That Are Perfect For the Holidays

Save big by stocking up on pantry essentials

Diced tomatoes on display at Costco

Focusing on your pantry essentials—flour, seasonings, rice, and the like–is one of the ways that Costco members can hack their way to serious savings. Just like at other grocery stores, stocking up on pantry items is generally a better way to stretch your grocery budget. With Costco, that money gets stretched even further when you remember you are buying in bulk, often resulting in a lower per-unit price.

"Buying ingredients is generally a better deal than buying processed foods," one shopper pointed out on Reddit. "Nuts, honey, rice, flour, raisins, and other pantry staples are all good to buy at Costco." Another Redditor shared that their local Costco sells certain pantry items like coconut milk and quinoa at lower prices than what they could find at any other supermarket. You can likely shop around for the best prices on other things like organic produce, meat, and dairy, but when it comes to pantry items, sticking with Costco is often going to be the best way to hack your grocery budget.

This story was originally published in July 2023. It has been updated to include new information.

Carly Neil
Carly Neil is a freelance writer specializing in all things food, travel, Disney, and theme parks. Read more about Carly