Costco is one of the top shopping clubs, but the membership can be costly. Here is how you can shop there for free to try it out and see if a full membership is worthwhile.

About Costco

Costco has been on top of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index for three years running, outranking not only other warehouse clubs but other retailers. That is pretty impressive.

The chain has more than 92 million card-carrying members. Recently, Costco memberships have become more expensive which has turned some shoppers away from them. If you are on the fence about joining, it may be worth it to try them out for free first to see if a membership is for you.

Ways to Shop

There are a few ways to check Costco out and see if they are the right club for you.  From shopping online to being a guest, you have a few options that let you try them for free.

Shop Online

You may not know this, but anyone can shop at costco.com. One thing to note is that some items sold in Costco clubs, like many foods, are unavailable on the website.  The key things to remember when shopping online are:

~You will be charged a 5 percent surcharge, so you’ll pay 5 percent more than the product prices you see on the website. The only exception is for prescription drugs.

~You cannot redeem the “Members-Only Savings” offers.

Still, if you prefer to shop online or you spend less than $1,200 a year at Costco, paying the non-member surcharge might make more sense than buying a membership. As long as you spend less than $1,200 a year on Costco’s site, the 5 percent surcharge would amount to less than the cost of a $60 annual membership.

Use a Gift Card

Costco gift cards are known as Costco Cash Cards. They have no expiration date and are available in amounts from $25 to $1,000. The 5 percent non-member surcharge will still apply to online purchases.

Remember that only members can buy the Cash Cards or add money to them, but anyone can use them as payment.  So, if you have a family member who is already a Costco member, ask them about a gift card.

Shop Costco

Shop as a Guest

Costco allows members to bring up to two guests every time they visit a club. Only members can purchase items, but you could offer to pay back the member you accompany for anything you picked out.  This is a great way to see if they have the items and prices that you want.

Use a Household Card

Do you live with a Costco member? If so, you might be able to get a free membership card in the form of a Household Card.

The individual membership comes with one membership card for the primary member as well as one free Household Card. The card can be used by anyone who is over the age of 18 and lives at the same address as the primary member. There is also one free Household Card for Costco’s Business Memberships. The primary member and any add-on members can shop there.

Buy Prescriptions at Costco

Prescription drugs are the one exception to the 5 percent surcharge for non-members who order online. Non-members can generally use the pharmacies in Costco clubs, but this can vary from state to state due to differences in state laws.  It is best to call the location to verify that they have a pharmacy and accept non-members.

If your prescription drug costs are limited to co-pays and you don’t frequent Costco, you’re probably better off using your nearest pharmacy. But if you pay out of pocket for prescriptions, compare what you currently pay to what Costco charges for your medications.  Also, note that their pharmacies carry pet medications.

Is the Membership Worth It?

Using the tips given is a great way to decide if a Costco membership is worth the cost for you.  Shopping online gives you a good idea of prices and going into the stores shows you a larger selection of products.  As mentioned they recently raised their membership fees, so it is something else to consider.  In all, if you like to shop in bulk and get a good discount then a Costco membership may be perfect for you.

Yearly Membership Cost:

$60 general membership, $120 executive membership

Savvy Tip:

Check out the online prices at Costco and compare them to your regular store. Sometimes stores like Walmart have similar pricing so it may not be worth it to pay the yearly fee.