🔒 Get the goods: 16 shopping tips from one Costco shopper to another (and some social media experts) to make your next visit less expensive, simpler

Costco carts shown in this undated image (Pixabay.com/tokaijiru, Pixabay.com/tokaijiru)

HOUSTON – Costco may be a wonderland of big bulk items, but it can also be a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time.

From price tags to the $1.50 hot dog and Coke, Costco has a plethora of greatness that can be friendly to your family, and your budget.

For this Bulk Buying KPRC 2 series, here are some shopping tips to make your first-time smooth sailing, courtesy of myself and Instagram influencers who visit Costco waaaaay more than I do.

Price tags

The Asterisk (*)

When you look at price tags on some items, you may wonder why some have an asterisk (*) at the top right corner.

That means the item will no longer be on sale (at least for a certain period of time). If you see a pallet full of them, there’s a better chance that it may be all they have in stock. On those items, if it’s worth getting and you’re holding off on it, definitely jump on it. You may not see it again for a while. This is usually the case with holiday decorations such as Christmas and Halloween.

The “.97″, “.49, and “.74″

Items with prices ending in .97 mean that they’re on clearance. Normally .97 items are accompanied by the asterisk, meaning managers are trying to get these items out the door. Other times, prices ending in any of those three digits (without an asterisk) mean that the manufacturer has a special sale.

The Manager Specials

Manager specials, indicated by prices ending in “.00″ and “.88″ are rarely seen at some Costco stores. Managers will price these items to sell in order to make room for new merchandise.

General shopping

The best days to shop

Trying to avoid the big crowds (and fights over parking spots)? Costco influencers say the BEST time to head over to Costco is the middle of the week, in the afternoon. There are fewer crowds, more parking, and lots of wiggle room for walking. If you can, avoid weekends -- they are usually the busiest and the store closes earlier than weekdays (Costco is closed at 7 p.m. every Saturday and 6 p.m. every Sunday).

The best way to shop in stores

Almost every Costco has the same layout -- the deals are usually found on your left and the electronics (such as TVs, computers and appliances), are on your right (although some others are the opposite). If you’re a penny pincher, you’ll want to run to the waaaaaaaay back of the warehouse. The majority of what you need, such as groceries, fresh baked bread, and produce, is in the back. If you’re only going to Costco for the groceries, always have a list with you. Keep in mind, the farther back you walk, the better the deals.

The coupons

Costco does not accept manufacturers’ coupons, unfortunately. Most of the coupons are already included in the deals. BUT, you can ask the customer service desk if there are any coupons available before making a purchase on an item.

The secret deals

You may have wondered how your next-door neighbor scored a brand new 60-inch TV at a steal. That means he signed up for Costco’s emails on the latest deals. Some deals offered last from a day to a month and are usually below the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. If you’re looking for a good deal on an item such as furniture or electronics, sign up for these emails. (BIG TIP: You can sign up for emails if you’re on the fence about membership to see whether the deals are good enough for your wallet. No commitment necessary.) You’ll thank me later.

The SAMPLES.

Every other day, Costco employees will be offering multiple samples throughout the store--from food and snacks part of a Costco deal to nonfood items such as fabric softener. It’ll feel like a free buffet if you try them all!

The return policy

Costco has a generous return policy. Whether you bought your item online or in-store, Costco will gladly accept it. However, there is a catch (well, several). Electronics and appliances have a 90-day return policy, even if they’re under Costco’s Concierge Service, which gives most electronics an extension on the manufacturer’s warranty.

Read Costco’s full return policy here.

Around the store

The Kirkland Signature

Kirkland Signature is Costco’s generic brand, and many Costco influencers and shopping experts say most items are the same quality as the name brand. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to spend an extra $2-$3 bucks on a name-brand item, buy generic. You’ll find items in this quality brand, from dish detergent to wine.

The big markdowns

Experts say that the best markdowns happen at the end of the summer. Yep! With back-to-school season around the corner and the smell of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise just fresh off the pallets, that means all the summer stuff -- including camping items and clothing -- need to go! Managers are making room for these items as the holiday shopping season inches closer.

The fresh food

Hear that bell? That’s the sound of fresh rotisserie chickens coming out of the oven.

From rotisserie chickens to hot dogs, Costco has you covered on hunger busters. No dinner plans? Pick up a $9.95 large pizza with slices that barely fit your hand. Dinner for one? A hot dog and a soda for $1.50 is perfect (and the hot dogs are enough to satisfy you). Need a shortcut to your family dinner? The $4.99 rotisserie chicken can be useful for several dishes and soups.

RELATED: Eat meat? Why rotisserie chickens are your best grocery friend (for now) as inflation rages

And for those who don’t want to deal with cooking -- at all --there are so many premade dishes you can make, from street tacos, to Bolognese spaghetti and shrimp scampi.

If you don’t want to be a member, but still get some of the perks...

The online store

There are items on Costco.com that you can still purchase as a non-member. As long as the item does not have a “Member Purchase Item” label, you can purchase it without a membership. Member-only prices are visible ONLY if you have a Costco.com account and have a membership linked to the account.

An example of how non-members shop on Costco.com. Most of the time, prices are hidden for members only. You must have a linked membership and a Costco.com account to purchase member-exclusive prices. (KPRC)

The liquor store

Both members and non-members can purchase liquor at prices that beat most traditional liquor stores. No membership needed! You’ll even try some samples when available.

The pharmacy

Got a prescription you’d like to fill? You can purchase prescription drugs at any Costco location without a membership. Just let a team member know when you arrive.

The Costco Gift Card

If you want to buy a few items at Costco, but don’t want to commit to a membership just yet, have a friend with a membership purchase a Costco gift card for use in-store. That way, you can treat this as a “trial membership.”


Have other shopping tips that I may have missed? Tell me in the comments.

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About the Author:

A graduate of the University of Houston-Downtown, Ana moved to H-Town from sunny southern California in 2015. In 2020, she joined the KPRC 2 digital team as an intern. Ana is a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur, a catmom of 2, and an aquarium enthusiast. In her spare time, she's an avid video gamer and loves to travel.