Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

With a know-before-you-go approach, a Costco membership can be a major boost to your grocery budget.

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 10 tactics the savviest grocery shoppers live by. Follow these four rules of thumb, and you’ll know if a membership is right for you.

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Understand the upfront cost and choose wisely

How much is a Costco membership? At minimum, you’ll spend $60 for either a Gold Star or Business membership to this much-loved big box store. The only major distinction between these is that the latter is authorized to resell his/her purchases via their business. The other option costs $120 for a Gold Star Executive or Business Executive membership.

These both include the perk of earning up to two percent back annually (capped at $1,000) on qualifying purchases. It’s a benefit that sounds like a no brainer—and if you’re certain your yearly Costco spend will exceed $6,000, that $120 card will indeed pay for itself. (Psst: Sometimes they go on sale.)

Just be sure you’re not overbuying in the process—using these tips for saving big at Costco.

Be honest about how often you’ll use the membership.

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.

If you’re up for a trial run, best bet windows are weekday mornings when doors open, and any evening an hour before close. It’s worth your time and transportation cost to test it out, seeing if the drive and the goods justify the membership fee you’ll pay to access them.

This trick lets you shop at Costco without a membership.

Buy only if an item passes this two-part test.

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, 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.

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Prioritize the long shelf items you use most often.

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, and the recipe possibilities they open up! For inspiration, check out these spicy recipes that’ll blow your top!

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 including 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 well worth having.

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Rebecca Walden
Rebecca C. Walden is a freelance writer with Deep South roots - an Alabama native now living in north Texas. Her writing has appeared in Reader's Digest, the Huffington Post, Southern Living, and many other regional publications, focusing on everything from health and wellness to parenting, family, and women's interests. Walden also provides freelance writing to corporate clients in finance, government, healthcare, and higher education. Check out her latest work