Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

Updated: Mar. 26, 2024

With a know-before-you-go approach, a Costco membership can help stretch your grocery budget.

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On the surface, the answer to “Is Costco worth it?” is an easy yes.

But as with so many other should I or shouldn’t I scenarios, the potential value of a Costco membership depends on many factors, including your grocery shopping habits. Here are four things to keep in mind as you figure out whether a membership is right for you.

1. Know the cost of a membership

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How much is a Costco membership? You’ll spend $60 for a Gold Star membership or $120 for an Executive membership. Knowing the different membership perks will help you decide which is a best fit for you.

  • Gold Star MembershipThis membership comes with the access to shop in-store at any Costco warehouse as well as online. It includes two membership cards—one for you and another for a member of your household. And this membership includes 100% satisfaction guarantee, meaning you can cancel or refund your membership at any time.
  • Executive Membership: The Executive membership comes with everything a Gold Star membership has, plus more! You’ll be able to earn up to 2% back on qualifying purchases, plus discounts on Costco services.

Whichever membership you decide to go with, be sure you’re not overbuying in the process. Use these Costco shopping tips to maximize savings.

2. Know how often you’ll use a membership

woman with a filled cart at CostcoRobert Nickelsberg/GETTY IMAGES

Even if a warehouse is located near you, Costco is not the kind of place where you can zip in and out quickly. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you see it as a supplemental shopping trip made say, monthly, versus a place for your “need a gallon of milk” errand.

Proximity aside, it’s always busy. Kelly Ripa was well aware when she famously quipped (following a season of The Bachelor circa 2012), “Fiji is not marriage. Costco is marriage.” Know that upfront and steel your nerves accordingly.

3. Avoid impulse purchases

Costco cereal aisleIcon Sportswire/getty images

It’s easy enough to walk past the 25-pound bag of dried pinto beans, but a lot harder when pantry staples you know and love are on offer. Rise above your inner impulse buyer and only purchase an item if you can answer yes to these two questions:

  1. Do I have an immediate or ongoing need for this item?
  2. Is the unit price less than what I pay at my regular grocery store?

Here is where planning ahead, with a well-organized grocery list in hand, makes all the difference. And there’s no time like the present—here are super easy ways to begin meal planning this weekend.

The safest bet is to skip the two-year supply of ranch seasoning mix and instead opt for non-perishables and everyday household goods.

4. Prioritize the essential items

paper towels at CostcoUCG/getty images

If you have the pantry space and cooking habits to use your goods before they expire, stock up. Basic spices (think lemon pepper and paprika) can be particularly good deals. So can the everyday household items you run through.

For all the inventory turnover at these warehouse clubs, certain goods are there all the time. These are likely the brands you’re buying already for products like cleaning wipes, detergent, toothpaste and toilet paper, all of which can quickly ratchet up a weekly grocery tab.

It takes budgeting and discipline, but if you can limit your purchases to the high-volume, low-risk goods that keep your house a happy one, a Costco membership will be worth having.

When a Costco Membership Is Worth It

You’ll find that your storage, shopping tendencies and household size can sway the choice of whether a Costco membership is worth it.

Having a car that can hold enough bulk items is essential to shopping at Costco. Likewise, once you get back home, you’ll want to make sure you have the pantry and storage space to store these bulk items as they can take up a good amount of room.

Note that if you tend to be an impulse shopper, remember that Costco is a bulk store with higher prices. Impulse shopping at this store could cause more harm than good for your grocery budget.

Last, Costco memberships are extremely helpful for larger households, so if you have a large family, a Costco membership is a good bang for your buck. It’ll also ensure that you’ll go through the bulk items in a fair amount of time.

Can You Shop at Costco Without a Membership?

Unfortunately, Costco does not give free shopping passes. However, there are a few tricks to getting a trial run of the store without a purchasing a membership quite yet. The first is asking a friend or family member who already has a membership to let you tag along on their next shopping trip. You can also get into the store without a membership if you have a Costco Shop Card—store gift cards that can be purchased by existing members and given to anyone to shop at the warehouse.

It’s definitely worth the time and transportation cost to test the store out before making the commitment. This gives the perfect opportunity to see if the drive and the goods justify the membership costs you’ll pay to access them. If you’re up for a trial run, your best bet is to shop on weekday mornings when doors open and any evening an hour before close.

Next: Find out what receipt checkers at Costco are looking for and how to make Costco return without receipt.