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The Best Ways to Save Money at Costco, According to Employees

There are plenty of tips out there for saving money at Costco, but few are from the real experts: the employees!

Being a member at Costco is like running a marathon: You have to spend money upfront on a membership (either $60 or $120, depending on the level you choose), and prices are typically higher because you're buying in larger quantities. But over time, being an active member at Costco can save you some serious green, both in money saved and extra perks that go along with holding that little membership card.

Of course, saving even more money is the goal, so we rounded up some of the best (and some little-known) money-saving tips from Costco employees who will help keep more of your hard-earned cash in your pocket.

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You can get your money back if an item goes on sale

costco membership
Andy.LIU / Shutterstock

You finally plunked down the cash on that hand mixer or cutting board you've been eyeing forever, but that was last week, and now you see it's on sale. Are you just a victim of bad timing? No, according to one Costco employee on Reddit. If an item goes on sale less than 30 days after you bought it, Costco will give you the difference, even if you don't have the receipt. And speaking of buying things on sale, skip these 12 Things You Shouldn't Buy in Bulk.

The return policy is very, very generous

Costco wholesale shopping cart

Costco has one of the most forgiving return policies on the market, according to the same employee. If you buy something at the warehouse and hate it, you can return it and get your money back with no questions asked. The store limits the return of electronic items (television, computers) and major appliances (refrigerators, ovens) to 90 days, but that's still more generous than many retailers.

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You can get cash for your rebate check

cash transaction

The Costco Executive Membership—often referred to as the black card—is more expensive than regular gold Costco memberships, but it comes with a bunch of additional perks. One of the best perks is 2% cash back on purchases, which comes back to you in the form of a rebate check. Better yet, you don't have to use it in-store, according to Reddit user Iccusr, who identifies as a Costco employee. We suggest using it on these 15 Costco Foods That Make Meal Prep Easy.

You can downgrade if you're not earning enough cash back

costco member card

The executive membership has plenty of perks, but there's another one many people don't know about: You can get the added cost of the upgrade refunded anytime throughout the year if it doesn't end up being worth it.

"Costco will refund the difference if your 2% refund is under $55 [the cost of the upgrade]," wrote Reddit user VirtualFAQ. "However you must remember to request this. At worst, you're giving Costco a $55 interest-free loan for a year."

Decoding the price gets you the best deal

containers of kirkland signature coffee

It might seem like Costco's pricing system is arbitrary, but the numbers on the tag can provide a lot of information if you know how to read them. According to Reddit user and employee WinterFreshershist, ".99 = Costco's price. .98 = retailer's price. .97 = marked down from the original price."

"Also ending in .00 is manager markdown," added another employee.

And products that aren't sold aren't necessarily kept until someone buys them. "Depending on the item and the agreements we have with the vendor regarding returns and whatnot, usually [unsold items] are either returned to the vendor, destroyed, or—in very rare/specific cases—some things get donated," said Reddit user and employee WaitWhatWut.

An asterisk means an item is going away

costco tech

Are you still mulling over a purchase but not quite ready to commit? Check the price tag first, because otherwise, the store might be getting rid of it.

"If there is an asterisk in the top right corner of the sign, it means that the item is deleted, and they won't get any more in for a while or until next season," wrote Reddit user and Costco employee TheyCallMeJugs. "If it's a good seller, the price won't drop too much, but if it's a slow seller, the price usually goes down more than once."

Seasonal is another way to tell what's going on sale

costco christmas

There isn't a single good time better than any other to find good clearance items because clearance is always happening, according to another employee. However, "we are constantly rotating in and out seasonal items," Reddit user and employee mmoser wrote.

"Toys will go to clearance to make room for furniture; furniture will go to clearance to make room for spring gardening; spring gardening will go to clearance to make room for summer pool/beach items; and so on and so on. The only good tactic for spotting these markdowns is visiting once a week or so and looking at signs that have asterisks on them. …Depending on the item/quantity, it may get marked down, but that isn't always true."

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Frozen is usually a better deal

freezer aisle at costco

Fresh might be more appealing, but many of the foods sold at Costco arrived frozen and were thawed for sale. "We do bake plenty of stuff from scratch (the 'birthday' cakes, apple pies, pumpkin pies, etc.), but some items are brought in from outside and just thawed and packaged or baked and packaged," wrote Reddit user and employee 84awkm. "They come raw, and we bake them and package them."

But you can get an even better deal if you cut out that part and just buy items that are still frozen.

"You can buy the whole base box if you want for a comparably cheap price, as mentioned above," wrote 84awkm. "It's all listed on the 'bakery by the case' boards you'll see on a wall somewhere near the bakery. Most people never notice them for some reason. The meat and deli sections also do similar deals for some of their items."

Do the same thing with baguettes, the insider suggests. "Two in a bag is like $4.49, but a frozen box of 20 is [about] $24. Bake them yourself when you want bread; an added advantage is that they can still be warm and ultra-fresh when you eat them."

You can pay with prepaid credit cards

costco cash card

One of the downsides of Costco is that you can only use cash, Visa debit cards, or the store's branded Visa credit card to purchase items. However, there is a way to get around that: Use prepaid Visa cards. They work for purchasing gas, but "it will only work if the card has a balance of $100 or more," according to mmoser.

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You can use any credit card on the Costco website

credit cards

You might be limited when shopping in your local Costco warehouse, but several employees chimed in on a recent Reddit thread to say that all credit cards—including Discover Card—are accepted on the Costco website. Bonus: Those purchases are delivered to you, which is great if you're purchasing something heavy, like a lot of canned goods.

You can get major savings on tires


Buying tires can be pretty expensive at Costco, but you can save a bunch of cash on a new set if you're strategic about it.

"Bridgestone and Michelin alternate each month [with] $70 off [the price]," wrote to employee and Reddit user systematically_wrong. "Costco will rotate, flat repair, pressure check, and everything else for the life of the tire for free."

The rotisserie chicken is a huge deal

packages of costco rotisserie chicken

While it's usually cheaper to buy frozen or uncooked chicken and prepare it at home, there's one big exception: rotisserie chicken from the service deli at Costco. "[It's] $5 and a minimum weight of three pounds," wrote Reddit user systematically_wrong. "Take it home, tear the meat from the bones, and split it between 3-4 meals."

Bottled water is a great deal

pallets of bottled water from Costco

We don't love bottled water because of the BPA in the plastic. But if it's a matter of staying hydrated, Costco's Kirkland brand is just as good—and some would argue better—than many name-brands out on the market. It's also more cost-effective, wrote systematically_wrong. "It works out to something like $.09 per bottle, and they come in 40 packs."

Gas can be a steal

costco gas
Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock

Well, if you're patient enough. Costco-branded gas stations are located at many—if not all—warehouse locations. But you'll probably have to wait, especially on the weekends. The tradeoff: "My warehouse is frequently [20 cents] cheaper than other stations in the area," wrote Reddit user systematically_wrong.

And the next time you're shopping at the warehouse, don't miss these cheap Costco buys that make the membership worth it.