17 Costco Life Hacks You Should Know About

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Planning a Costco (NASDAQ:COST) shopping trip this weekend and want to save money or time? You’re in the right place.

Costco holds a unique place in American culture. With its famous rotisserie chickens, famous food court items, bulk products sold on pallets, affordable prices, eccentric product offerings, and warehouse design, Costco has captured the imagination, wallets, and hyper-fixation of white, middle-aged Americans for years.

One way or another, we all find ourselves wandering the tall stacks of products in Costco eventually. But unlike typical grocery shopping, the sheer volume and variety of products available at Costco leave room for creative shopping styles. In fact, a whole subculture of maximizing Costco shopping has popped up online.

To help in your next Costco excursion, we scoured the internet for 17 of the best Costco life hacks to help you save money and time.

Why Are We Talking About This?

shopping at Costco
Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Costco prices on display.

As Americans continue to feel the squeeze from inflation and corporations raising their prices beyond what people can afford, they are desperate to find tips, tricks, and hacks to help them make ends meet. Since Costco is one of the largest and most popular retailers in the country, this list should help you get more bang for your buck.

#1 Pre-packaged Rotisserie Chicken Meat

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Front of a Costco store.
  • Credit: hamisthewestie

Do you use fresh rotisserie chickens for meal prep? For just a little bit more than the cost of a fresh one, you can buy 46 oz (2.8 lbs) of rotisserie chicken meat at the deli counter from the day before. It’s already cold, shredded, easy for meal prepping, and you don’t have to spend the time to de-bone it!

#2 Parking Hack

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A Costco auto location.
  • Credit: tlmr14

Are you tired of feeling like a creep while stalking shoppers leaving the store to score their close-to-the-door parking space?  Are you tired of being held up by those people? Oftentimes, the closest parking lots are actually further away from cart returns. Instead of going for proximity to the door, try proximity to a cart return. Parking right next to a cart return will help you end up walking less overall, and spend less time in the parking lot. Being a parent with small kids, my goal is to load my cart as quickly and safely as possible. Parking next to a cart return is the safest way to transport them through the hell that is the Costco Parking Lot.

#3 Skip the Boxes

Costco Wholesale store
Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images
A Costco logo.
  • Credit: tlmr14, chpsk8, Erythro6149, Jen_With_Just_One_N

Any Costco loyalist will tell you that Costco doesn’t supply bags at checkout. Usually, they will offer flat boxes, which may seem like an eco-friendly/ convenient option. But there are a few problems with these boxes. First, the boxes might end up being really heavy and inconvenient to carry up flights of stairs for apartment dwellers. Second, your frozen and cold items may not stay very frozen (especially in a trunk that has been generously heated during summer months). Third, now you have extra bulky boxes to break down and get out of your house.

The solution? Keep reusable bags in your trunk. Some favorite alternatives from Reddit are Ikea bags, crates, the reusable bags sometimes sold at Costco, and coolers.

#4 Food Court First!

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The front of a Costco store.
  • Credit: DarthHarambe666, Mr_Style

Do you savor your after-shopping hotdog and giant chocolate chip cookie? Do you plan on buying a whole pizza for dinner after overstimulating and exhausting yourself trying to wrangle your kids and get through an entire shopping list? Sick of your children asking for literally every single treat they see? Hit the food court first! Shopping when you are no longer hungry will help you only buy what you need, and not let your hunger hold your wallet hostage.

Another food court hack is to grab a small/shallow box to conveniently carry your drinks, ice cream, salad, and dogs to go. It also pays off to order your whole pizza before you start shopping, and then conveniently pick it up on your way out.

#5 BYOT (Bring Your Own Toppings)

Source: rjw1 / Flickr
A Costco hotdog.
  • Credit: grateful_tulip

The Costco pizzas are a staple of the food court and the frozen aisle. The only problem some people find is that the lack of topping options can become repetitive. A pizza hack is to either buy a fresh cheese or pepperoni pizza for $9.99, or a pack of cheese pizzas from the freezer aisle and then buy your own toppings. At home, you can dress up the fresh pizzas and reheat them in your own oven. With the frozen pack, you can add whatever toppings you desire before cooking.

#6 Gift Cards

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The front of a Costco.
  • Credit: mydarkerside, hawksnest_prez

The gift card wall isn’t only for gifting. They often have great deals for popular restaurants, stores, airlines, and entertainment like movie theaters, Xbox, etc. If you purchase the gift cards for yourself, you can often save 10%-40% on things you were going to buy at other businesses anyway. Then, if you use a credit card to buy the gift cards, you can generate more points on top of your savings.

#7 Skip the Cart

Source: diversey / Flickr
A view of Costco carts.
  • Credit: Pearlswisdom

If you only have a couple of items on your list and want to run in and out quickly, skip the cart! This will cause you to only buy what you can carry, which will reduce your impulse buying significantly. This will also force you to stick to your list.

#8 Decode the Discounts

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A typical Costco location.
  • Credit: dan2311

A former employee, dan2311, says that there are ways to tell when an item is truly on sale, special pricing, or actually normally priced (even when it says it’s on sale). If the item ends in .99, the pricing is normal. If it ends in .97, the item is actually on clearance. If it ends in .88 or .00, that item is priced at a special manager markdown and likely won’t be on sale again anytime soon. Don’t forget to pay attention to decode your savings.

#9 Get a Vacuum Sealer

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Entering a Costco.
  • Credit: Gordon_Explosion, KumbayaPhylisNefler, PhilosopherScary3358

Buying in bulk has its pros and cons. Pros, it’s often a lot cheaper in the long run to buy in bulk rather than small quantities only when you need it. It costs more upfront but will save you money over time. A big con is that maybe you can’t go through five pounds of strawberries before they go bad, or eat two dozen chocolate muffins in a few days. The solution? Purchase a vacuum sealer! Sealing extra portions of perishables and freezing them to save for when you need them is an excellent way to get the most out of your Costco Purchases.

Other things you can vacuum seal and freeze are raw meats, cooked meats, baked goods, berries, vegetables, cheese, soup, and stocks.

#10 Use the Whole Bird!

Source: Wikimedia Commons
A view of a Costco.
  • Credit: grilledcheeseonrye, Gordon_Explosion

If the pre-shredded Rotisserie Chicken isn’t your jam, and grabbing that $4.99 fragrant bird gives you a juicy dopamine hit, you are only a true Costco loyalist if you use the whole bird. De-bone and shred the breast meat and dark meat to create 1–3 dishes, throw the chicken scraps into soup the next day, then, boil the carcass with veggie scraps, garlic, and herbs to create home-made chicken stock. The stock can be frozen to use when you need it. The stock pairs excellently with the Costco mini frozen wontons to make a wonderful wonton soup.

#11 Car-buying Perks

Source: Stu pendousmat (talk) / Wikimedia Commons
Costco and cars.
  • Credit: JR_1985, LetsBeginwithFritos, grisisita_06

Costco regularly offers generous perks for its members who are interested in buying a car. These perks are usually part of a limited-time promotion and vary by make and model. Currently, Costco has a Savings Event promotion on select Volvo, Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC vehicles with a $1,000 member-only incentive that members can take to a dealership for a discount. It also is offering a $2,000 memebr-only incentive on Polestar 2 vehicles.

While you can’t buy a vehicle directly from Costco, it usually has prearranged pricing with dealerships around the country and limited-time specials. This allows members to get a cheaper price on many vehicles than many other people would be able to get otherwise. Check with your local Costco location regularly to see if the current promotion has changed and your dream car is part of the discount perks.

#12 The Last Purchase You Will Ever Make

Source: Bidgee / Wikimedia Commons
A Costco warehouse.
  • Credit: acoverisnotahat, NomNomNews

Earlier when I said you can buy almost anything at Costco, I meant anything, including a casket. Delivery and shipping are included in the price, and most caskets are obtainable at wholesale price. The caskets are of good quality and comply with federal laws. It’s a crafty hack to save some money and also give your loved one a good send-off.

#13 Don’t Sleep on Costco Travel

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A Costco store at night.
  • Credit: gypsysniper9

Costco Travel has extremely reasonable prices for rental cars, all-inclusive resorts, airline flights, and even hotels. It’s not always the very best deals, but it never hurts to look before booking.

#14 The Limit Does Not Exist

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View of a Costco warehouse.
  • Credit: xxDankerstein

One of the best, dopamine-generating aspects of Costco are the numerous free samples. When you see a friendly employee with a red apron and hairnet, you instantly get butterflies in your stomach, your pupils dilate, and your palms start to sweat. Here is one of the best hacks of all: There is no limit to how many samples you can get. The employees are not allowed to say no. Cheap lunch date? Exciting outing with the toddlers? Use your imagination, but please ask politely.

#15 Snack Delivery

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A Costco during the pandemic.
  • Credit: Intrepid_User_8311

Anything you buy from the Costco app or website comes with free delivery. So, although you can’t purchase fresh food, frozen food, bakery items, or perishables from the app, you can buy non-perishables. You can get all of your pantry items and snacks delivered directly to your door. Save time, save money, save sanity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the free samples, though.

On top of that, online ordering opens the door to a plethora of products that aren’t available in-store.

#16 You Can Return Anything

Costco Connection Magazine
Source: 24/7 Wall St / Eric Bleeker
A view of the Costco magazine.
  • Credit: nowherebutupfromhere

Costco is known for its super generous return policy. You can return anything, after any amount of time. This includes furniture, moving crates, water bottles, cooking knives, and more. So, theoretically, one could purchase a couch, and when that couch gets damaged or worn out five years later, one could simply return the used couch and leave with a new model. Theoretically, of course.

#17 Shop With Friends

Costco Rotisserie Chicken
Source: 24/7 Wall St / Eric Bleeker
The famous Costco chicken.
  • Credit: Wooden-Quit1870

Grab your community and go shopping together! Then, you can divvy up the products into smaller portions, share the price, and leave with a reasonable amount of groceries, and deeper friendships. This is great to do for produce, over-the-counter medication and supplements, bulk kitchen items/ electronics, canned goods, and frozen meat. This is especially helpful for college students, single adults, people who live in apartments, and people who want to make friends.

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