The Worst Costco Shopping Mistakes You Should Never Make

Nothing can stop you when you have a Costco membership in your hands—not even the estimated 2,000 products in each warehouse. Whether you need to get toilet paper to last for months or a handful of organic tomatoes, your purchase power seems limitless. When we first start shopping at Costco, that feeling of power exhilarates us into shopping at a frenetic pace, but as with many other skills, it takes some time and finesse to master the art of shopping at this big-box retailer. And if you're not careful, there are a few Costco shopping mistakes you can make.

You're probably questioning if it's even possible to make mistakes shopping in a store that's so clear-cut and laid out like Costco (even if each store is slightly different). This line of thinking can cause overspending, but if you know what to look out for, you can save money and time every trip. Whether you are new to shopping at this megastore or just want to sharpen your skills, avoid these mistakes that constantly trip up members.


Overpaying for a membership

Costco membership

Deciding which membership level fits our spending goals seems like it shouldn't take too much strategy but many of us miss out on benefits if we haven't done our homework. Knowing how to buy the right level for your spending comes into play here and while many of us assume a standard Gold Star level membership suits our needs, those of us who love bulk shopping and buying for a big family should start with an executive membership to really start raking in the savings.

And then there's the Business Membership that allows for product resales but isn't great for singles and families. Knowing who you want to buy for and how much you want to shop should determine what membership level to begin at.


Shopping on Sundays


Busy shopping days can make heads spin and if you get overwhelmed by crowds, fighting other shoppers feels like you're walking into your worst nightmare. Statistically, Sundays are the busiest shopping days. Instead, opt to shop between 3 to 5 p.m. on weekdays if possible, as these time slots rank as some of the slowest. Plus, less pressure from fighting crowds means you can relax and take in the whole experience.


Buying the wrong items in bulk

Costco bakery

Knowing what you need lies at the heart of saving money and optimizing your Costco run. If you stock up on items you don't use very often just because the store offers a deal, you face the items expiring on your shelf before you even have a chance to crack them open. Alternatively, these items can tempt you in all the wrong ways. Buying that massive tub of jelly beans seems like a good call at the time, but buying unnecessary purchases just makes you spend more on items you probably don't need.


Assuming Kirkland brand is always the best deal

Costco wine

Kirkland brand products often beat out name-brand products when it comes to quality. Some of the time, Kirkland products even are the brand-name product, just repackaged to be sold at Costco. While this brand offers a solid bargain, don't assume it always gets marked at the cheapest price. Always compare the generic product to its brand name equivalent and check their prices against each other. Kirkland offers up some great deals, but don't let your guard down, or otherwise, you might lose a deal.


Shopping on an empty stomach


Shopping on an empty stomach is a bad idea in most scenarios, but when you get tempted with wall-to-wall food, disciplined shopping gets even harder. As many of us have figured out from firsthand experience, shopping while hungry leads to some wild impulse purchases. Take the time to ground yourself and grab a snack at the store's snack bar before you get going and enjoy the trip without random food cravings.


Not using the health services

Costco pharmacy

Between optometry services, the lowest generic medicine prices, offering discount health insurance for members and more, Costco delivers when it comes to supplying basic medical care for its patrons. With so many services offered, the need to go to local pharmacies seems ridiculous with all the savings you can get from buying generic medicines and using their clinic. Just because the store has become known for its deals on food and consumer goods, don't count out their medical service, or else you let your membership go to waste.


Comparing Costco electronics

Costco electronics

One of the most magical aspects of Costco lies in the fact that you can buy almost anything you ever wanted, including remarkable deals on their home electronics. While you can get fixed warranties and tech support built into the price of their tech, don't assume any television or computer has the lowest price.

Many of the models they carry get manufactured to be sold at warehouse stores and lack all the features you might see at a specialty retailer. Even if the TV is the model that you want, look closely and make sure it comes with everything you expect.


Not upgrading your membership

Costco membership

After some time, you start to realize what your membership can and can't do. It might be a lot of fun taking advantage of the daily savings, but if you become a shopaholic and really love visiting Costco, consider spending the extra money and upgrading your membership to increase your savings. If you don't visit that much, it might not make sense to spend more, but if you would see savings in the long run by switching things up, take the dive and get that executive-level membership.


Forget to consider shelf life

Costco produce

Purchasing mass quantities of food seems like a no-brainer. When we have to spend so much of our week running around doing chores, the thought of consolidating a grocery run to one big trip seems tempting. If you choose to shop this way, consider the expiration dates on all the goods you buy. The only thing worse than realizing you can't make the meal you wanted to because the ingredient went bad is realizing you also lost more than one item because they all went bad at the same time and you lost money.


Skip bulk purchases if you're single


You might assume that you don't need a crate of paper towels or frozen dumplings if you currently live on your own and don't have to entertain guests very often. Costco's bulk savings can apply to anyone in any life situation—stocking up on non-perishable essentials saves you multiple shopping trips, time, and gas money. Costco works for everyone, you just need to figure out which products you need to get in bulk to make your life easier.


Only buying items ending in .99 and .98

Costco price

You have probably seen a bunch of seemingly random prices at Costco that end in a variety of cents. While this pricing system seems spontaneously generated, don't get fooled—it is actually a secret code to shoppers. If the price ends in .99 or .98, this indicates a regular retail price and won't give you any great savings. If the price ends in .89, .79, .69, .59, .49, .39, .29, .19, or .09, this indicates the item has come from a manufacturer's deal and can be sold at a cheaper price than other retailers. For maximum savings, look for products ending in .97. These items must get sold at all costs and may even disappear from shelves if an asterisk appears in the corner of the price tag.


Forgetting to fill your tank

Costco gas

The savings don't end once you leave the store. Many of us forget about Costco's auto service station, featuring some of the cheapest gas around—if you have already pulled up to the store and need to fill your tank, you often can't beat these prices. If you have to drive a distance just to gas up or fight a massive line of cars to reach the pump, the expedition to fill up might not be worth it. As long as you visit the store at a calmer time, don't pass up this massive value.


Shopping without a list


Shopping with a list always helps you stay on task and avoid buying any impulse purchases. These lists hold even more value when you have to navigate Costco, a store designed to make you get lost and spend money on things you probably don't need. When you need to keep to a strict timetable and budget, always draw up a list of items you need in order to streamline your trip and keep your wallet happy.

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