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The One Costco Tip You Need to Know Before Shopping

Grab your membership card. (But you don't have to!)

Costco isn't shy about helping its members save money. The retailer throws member savings events, and it even hands out free samples so customers can test products before they buy them. Plus, the warehouse doesn't change the cheap price tags on some of its most beloved products—even though they lose money on them in the long run.

Members know these money-saving hacks by heart, but there's one tip that fans often forget. Can you guess what it is? (Before your next trip to the warehouse, be sure to read up on the Costco Foods You Should Always Avoid, According to Nutritionists.)

You can shop at Costco even if you don't have this one thing.

Costco membership
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It's second nature for members to flash their membership cards as they walk into their neighborhood Costco, so this tip may cause a light bulb to go off. You technically don't need a membership in order to shop at the warehouse.

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Why anyone can shop at Costco, membership or not.

Wu Xiaoling/Xinhua/ Getty Images

Want to buy items in bulk but aren't in the membership system? No problem, there are a few ways you can still shop.

First, you can ask a member to grab a Costco Cash Card for you when they visit the warehouse. Like a gift card, this is "a convenient payment option in our warehouses, gas stations, and on," the retailer says on its website. It can also "be used as a supply card or gas card for businesses" or "as a means to provide students with money for food, gas, or school and dormitory necessities while being able to limit their spending."

Next, you can shop on, but keep in mind that "you'll have to pay a 5% surcharge as a non-member," according to CNBC. While members enjoy perks like two-day shipping, non-member purchases ship in three to five days. Not every item is listed in the online store, and some products may even cost up to 20% more than they do inside an actual warehouse.

Finally, don't forget about Instacart. You may have to pay a little extra (in addition to those service and delivery fees), but you can still get that giant bag of avocadoes you have your eye on without a membership card.

You don't need a membership to buy alcohol.

Costco alcohol
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In certain states, a membership isn't required to buy alcohol because doing so is illegal, according to The Krazy Coupon Lady. The list includes:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Vermont

You don't need a membership to purchase prescriptions.

Costco pharmacy
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Prescriptions can be filled at Costco by anyone, regardless of membership status. Non-members can also also access immunizations like flu shots and the COVID-19 vaccine or visit the optical department and get an on-site eye exam with an optometrist, according to CNBC.

Non-members used to be able to eat at the food court but not anymore.

Costco food court
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Before the pandemic, a non-member could go to the food court and pay with cash. As of March 16, 2020, "an active Costco membership" was "required to purchase items," according to a notice at the warehouse that was recirculated by the popular Instagram account @costcodeals.


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While this news is unfortunate for non-members, food court fans who recently tried the new churro say you aren't missing much.

For more on all things Costco, check out:

Amanda McDonald
Amanda has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in digital journalism from Loyola University Chicago. Read more about Amanda