Skip to content

7 Sneaky Ways Costco Gets You to Spend More

If you’re not paying attention, you could be spending more money than you realize!

Even though Costco is a dreamland of cheap deals and bulk buys, they are in fact a business, and a business needs to find clever ways to make money. Which, of course, does mean there are a few sneaky ways Costco gets you to spend more money, even when you don't realize it. And while these are true for every Costco out there, these tricks are probably also true for whatever grocery store you shop at.

So as you step into your neighborhood Costco—or any other grocery store, for that matter—keep in mind these sneaky ways they get you to spend more money, and ways you can avoid it.

They put the costly things in the front and center of the store.

costco social distancing sign

While this is true for probably every grocery store, it's especially true for Costco. When you first walk into the store, you probably see a few of those front-store shelves that have enticing price tags. But be warned! If you are to really evaluate those prices with others in the store, you'll probably find these items to be a bit more expensive than usual. Take a few steps into the center of the store and you enter Costco's "center court" (which they also call "action alley"), which is full of those "best deals" that are probably pricier than you want them to be.

The trick is to actually go to the sides and the back of the store—this is really where you're going to get those better deals. These are the items that get less foot traffic and tend to be the best prices for your wallet.

You're not understanding the price codes.

costco shelf

Notice all of the random symbols on those large Costco price tags? While it may seem like gibberish to you, they actually have significant meaning that can help you save money later down the line. For example, if you see an asterisk on a price tag, it means that Costco won't be restocking that item. Which means you need to bulk up on it now before it's too late!

Another thing to look out for is the actual prices themselves. Notice how some prices end with 0.99 and others with 0.97? That's because Costco is sneakily telling you which one is the better deal! If it ends with a 0.99 it's actually a wholesale price, and if it ends with 0.97, it means it's the best discount you're going to find. So if you see an item ending in 0.97 instead of 0.99, grab it now.

Your ultimate supermarket survival guide is here!

You're not shopping online.

costco membership
Andy.LIU / Shutterstock

While it's fun to go to the store (and get to eat all of those free samples), you can actually save a lot of money by simply shopping online. In particular, you should download the Costco app to look for deals in advance instead of aimlessly wandering the store for deals when you get there. You'll know exactly what's on sale and how much you can save by doing a little planning in the app beforehand.

You're buying the wrong bulk items.

Costco avocados bulk

Before you buy in bulk, do your research. While Costco prides itself on being the place to buy wholesale, bulk items, those items may not be sold at the best price. Take some time to do your research and see if those bulk items are at the price you really want.

Also, make sure to buy items that will last you a long time! While it's tempting to buy a huge container of spinach in bulk, be honest with yourself: are you really going to eat all of it before it goes bad? When choosing items to buy in bulk, pick things that are really going to last you a long time, like frozen meat and large containers of cooking oil. So next time you're at Costco, here are the best foods to buy in bulk as well as the worst foods to buy in bulk at Costco.

You're avoiding the store brand.

cartons of costco eggs

Costco's store brand, Kirkland, is likely going to be the best-priced items in the store. While this isn't always true, for a good majority of the store, Kirkland prices out beat any other name-brand items you can find. So take advantage of those Kirkland items when you're there.

They don't accept manufacturer coupons.

Woman holding coupons at supermarket

While some stores will take manufacturer coupons and still give you a good deal, Costco doesn't offer this to their customers. If you're going to use coupons, you need to find Costco coupons in particular. You can find them through the Costco app, their website, or if you're the primary member for an Executive, Business, or Gold Star Membership, you'll get those coupon listings mailed to you.

You're shopping for seasonal products at the wrong time.

costco christmas

This is probably true for many stores, but especially for Costco. Notice how Christmas decorations and Halloween costume prices go down significantly before it's over? They clearly are trying to get rid of their inventory before the next season! So if you're looking to get a new collection of Christmas tree ornaments, or want to save on a Halloween costume for next year, buy it after the holiday instead of before. It's likely that these stores sell these at full price during the actual season because there's a higher demand for it. But when it's over, the sales are worth taking advantage of, so start thinking a whole year ahead for the holiday season!

Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten
Filed Under