How to Shop at Costco on a Budget


Costco has established itself as the go-to retail destination for consumers looking to buy a lot of things with little money – or at least, with less money than they would need if they shopped elsewhere. Of course, this privilege comes at a cost, in the form of a $60 annual fee to Costco.

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While Costco is pretty good at offering very low prices and giving consumers the best value, some strategy is required if you want to stick to a shoestring budget. After all, Costco is still a supermarket that depends on your money to stay in business. It failed to generate $141.4 billion in revenue in the United States in 2021 because people bought only what they needed and used savvy savings tactics to do so. It relied on impulse buying and other underhanded selling maneuvers designed to get people to spend more, more, more.

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How can you avoid spending more than you want and ensure you stay on budget when shopping at Costco? Julie Ramhold, Consumer Analyst at, shared her top tips on how to do this.

Shop the sales

“Costco frequently offers online-only offers as well as offers available in warehouses and you should check both if you haven’t already,” Ramhold said. “These promotions take the already great prices offered by Costco and provide additional savings, so you can save up to $3 on that B12 supplement you take every day, or $5 on your favorite toilet paper.”

These promotions cover tons of items – so you’ll usually find extra savings on electronics, household items, office supplies, food and drink and more.

“Sales are staggered, with online-only starts and stops at different times than warehouse deals, so be sure to watch them and take advantage of them when you can,” Ramhold said. “By stocking up while these items are on sale, you’ll be able to save upfront and avoid having to worry about buying items when they’re at full price later.”

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Buy only what you need

Costco makes spending money super easy. So be sure to buy only what you really need.

“It can be tough — especially if Costco has a lot of new and exciting things on the shelves or you visit during free sample day — but stick to your list and you can save on your overall bill,” Ramhold says. “Also keep this in mind when buying perishables; That 10 pound bag of potatoes is a bargain, but are you going to be able to eat them before they start to sprout or go away? Otherwise, skip bulk perishables and buy them in smaller quantities from other stores to increase the chances of finishing them before they run out.

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Divide costs — and items

“One of the easiest ways to maximize your budget at Costco is to split the benefits (and costs) with someone else,” Ramhold said. “Do you have friends or family who like to buy in bulk, but don’t have their own subscription? Let them follow and when you want to buy the same, consider buying a package and splitting it between you. Your business partner can also pay half the bill in these cases, which will seriously improve your budget.

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Take advantage of price adjustments

“Yes, Costco offers price adjustments in some cases,” Ramhold said. “Did you opt for these new comfy shorts only one week to go on sale the following week? Contact customer service and see if they’ll fit for you.

Ramhold added that this benefit also applies to groceries, “so be sure to check ads when they come out to make sure you haven’t made a recent purchase that has now come down in price.”

Buy clothes for the whole family

“Costco often runs ‘buy more, save more’ type promotions, especially on apparel,” Ramhold said. “If you need to shop for the whole family, these are great ways to save because you can save $20 when you buy 5-9 qualifying items, or save $50 if you buy more than 10 qualifying items. Common exclusions are underwear, socks, special events, and Costco Next apparel, so keep that in mind when browsing.

Buy bundles around Black Friday

“Costco frequently offers bundles of items, but around Black Friday there are a lot more,” Ramhold said. “Perhaps you’re considering a new fitness tracker — shopping at Costco might mean paying the excellent Black Friday sale price others offer, but also giving you free bands or other perks. The same often goes for video game consoles – even if it’s the same package offered elsewhere, Costco’s price will sometimes be cheaper.

Consult the “While stocks last” section of the site

“If you’re shopping online, you should definitely check out the ‘While Supplies Last’ section of the site, as these are often limited offers – once they sell out, they sell out,” Ramhold said. “This is where you can find things like LEGO themed sets for $15, special beauty picks (I got a six-pack of the best tinted lip balm I’ve ever used in this section for a ridiculously low price a few years ago for example), super-cheap home goods like an Eddie Bauer plush sherpa throw for $10, and so much more.

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles via Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, The Atlantic, Vice and The New Yorker. She is a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray, received rave reviews from Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and has been published in the US, UK, France and Russia – well let no one know what happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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