All the Sneaky Ways Costco Gets You To Overspend—and How to Avoid Them
Costco offers so many great ways to save money, but the popular warehouse club also has its own sneaky ways of getting you to spend more money, too. Many times, you don't even realize it.
While your intent may be to pick up a quick, easy, and cheap rotisserie chicken, or grab a $1.50 hot dog for lunch, it's hard to actually walk out of Costco without loading your cart with items you didn't know you needed when you walked in the door. And that's by design.
While not all impulse purchases are bad, here are eight ways that Costco gets you to overspend.
Putting the rotisserie chickens all the way in the back
How many times have you run into Costco just to get a rotisserie chicken for dinner that night and ended up with a whole lot more than just chicken? You got sandwich bags because they were on sale. You bought a plant for your porch because the sun is finally shining. You also bought fruit because, well, you can never have too much fruit. We've all been there and Costco knows it. There's a reason one of the best deals is firmly planted in the back of the store. It's impossible not to walk through a ton of other products you potentially might need or want, just to get to the inexpensive rotisserie chicken. But now that you know, maybe you'll have the willpower to keep your head down until you get to the chicken.
Keeping you guessing when items are in stock
Costco likely carries many of your favorite products at great prices—until it doesn't. The warehouse club is always introducing new products, but oftentimes they don't last long on the shelves, and you're given no indication when or if they will return. My family loves the Good brand of cottage cheese. A few months ago, Costco was selling it in individual containers. Suddenly these disappeared. When they returned, we stocked up on just as much as we could handle. We bet right, too, because they soon disappeared again. Costco knows just what it's doing. The retailer gets you to bulk up on items you love even if you may not be able to go through them quickly. If you won't be completely devastated when it disappears, just grab the one box and hope it's there next time.
Limited time offers
The same goes for those things that are clearly limited-time offers (LTOs). Every year without fail, I buy the kids tech winter gloves (even if we have enough gloves at home) because I know they won't last more than a few weeks in the store. My kids will inevitably lose them! People swarm to the seasonal—holiday gifts, summer inflatables, cashmere sweaters—because it's human nature to not want to miss out on a great LTO. If you do, though, just know that there's something else just as exciting to come next week.
Yes, those samples may tide the hunger while you shop, but they are also designed to entice you to buy whatever you just tried. In your mind, it's easy to justify buying something you just enjoyed, even if the box includes 20 times more of it than you just sampled. Do you really need 150 mozzarella sticks? Probably not, but they are delicious. Add to cart! If you can't resist this, go during the week when there are fewer samples available.
No frills decor
Costco has leaned hard into the warehouse look. That's also by design. If you are shopping in a warehouse versus a decked-out store, you have to be getting a good deal, right? In many cases, that answer is yes, but that mindset is exactly what the company is hoping for to get you to spend. You can bet the club saves a bundle on decor costs, too. Now that you know it's just like every other store, compare your prices, just like you would at other places, before you load up your cart.
You can certainly maximize your Costco membership and have the fees work in your favor, but many people, especially those that don't live close to a Costco, end up never utilizing their membership to its full potential. Or, just the opposite: because people pay a membership fee, they want to maximize their membership with frequent visits to justify the expense. In turn, they end up spending more money along the way. According to the Motley Fool, Costco made over $4 billion dollars in membership fees in 2022, so the company is certainly doing something right. The nice thing is, if you're truly not happy, cancel at any time.
Treasure hunt layout
Even if you frequent Costco, chances are you'll encounter something different each and every visit. That's on purpose. Maybe it's something in the displays up front that you didn't know Coscto carried, or maybe it's the seasonal stuff, like Christmas, Halloween, or summer finds, that reels you in. Or, it's the Roomba that was once hiding deep down the aisle. Now it's prominently displayed at the end cap and you just need to have it. Regardless of the item, Costco benefits from this treasure hunt-style store layout, where you'll uncover new items you didn't know you needed in every turn. Keep your eyes on your list and you may actually save a few dollars.
Costco's return policy is top notch if you take advantage of it. But what it's also doing is convincing you that your purchases are risk-free. As humans, we are more apt to try something if we know there is no penalty to return it. Sometimes you'll return it, but other times it's good enough, or just isn't worth the hassle to bring it back. Just keep in mind you can and should return anything you truly don't like or use.