If you’re not a no-compromise food quality (like me) but still looking for a good deal – chances are good that you have a Costco membership.
If you don’t, you should seriously consider it.
Just check out some of my Costco prices highlighted in my Best Warehouse Deals post, compared to reputable Trader Joe’s:
- Kirkland Organic Quinoa: 4.5 lbs, $11.99, $2.66/lb. (compared to $3.49/lb at Trader Joe’s)
- Organic Frozen Broccoli: 4-lb bag, $5.99, $1.49/lb. (compared to $2.49/lb at Trader Joe’s)
- Kirkland Walnuts: $9.99 in 3-lb bags, $3.33/lb. (compared to Trader Joe’s $7.49/lb)
- Canned Sea Chicken Tuna: 12 – 7 oz. Can, $12.99, $0.19/oz (vs. $0.33/oz at Trader Joe’s)
Prices at Costco can often be 15-50% of the price at Trader Joe’s – even higher compared to other grocery stores. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison – Costco does have limited SKUs, and the items you buy are usually in bulk (sometimes you may not be able to finish the amount before the food goes bad).
Still, there are some great deals to be frugal once you’ve optimized your Costco routine.
To get this kind of pricing – there is a price to pay. Costco memberships range from $60 (per household) to $120 (with a 2% rebate on the executive plan). These costs are not insignificant. And they just happen to be how good things can share the profits. 75% of Costco’s profits come from its membership fees — Costco’s very thin markups on food pricing benefit its members. The more food necessities you buy and eat from there, the more you benefit (away from other things).
What if you don’t want to commit to a $60 membership and just want to see if the membership is worth it? As it turns out, there are some less common ways to shop and buy from Costco without a membership. Also, for those interested, I’ve posted a list where you can shop at Sam’s Club without a membership!
Is there a free Costco membership?
Unfortunately, there’s no free Costco membership, day pass, guest pass, or trial period where you can walk up to the door and get some kind of magic wristband, or something.
However, if you just want to see what the store has to offer, you are welcome to come in and walk around to buy some products. I was never asked for a membership card when I entered Costco, and even if they did have a greeter, they seem to be there to encourage you to show it.
To buy most items, you must be a member or have a member to buy (with a few exceptions, which I’ll get into).
Of course, you may not feel comfortable doing this, and members may get old quickly. There is another way…
The Costco Member Refund Policy states:
“If you are not satisfied, we will refund your membership fee in full.”
So you can pay your membership fee, try it out, and if you don’t think you’re getting value out of it – ask for a refund. You can do this anytime.
But if you just want to get in the door and see what Costco has to offer to price and all the goodies – but you don’t know if a member you’re willing to tag?
Buy alcohol at Costco without a membership
I can’t find any official Costco info here, but from my research, Costco allows alcohol sales to non-members (legal drinking age, of course). The fact that the idea for this article was inspired by the conversations of those who have done that and told me about the anomaly surprised me.
This may vary from state to state, but as far as I know, it’s a national policy. Are their alcohol regulations in line with policy requirements? I’m not so sure. Update: Learn more about this policy in my Costco Alcohol Price List.
Buy alcohol at Costco – I can guarantee a deal. Just $23.99 for a small case of Guinness tins? you bet. $20 Kirkland Brand Canadian Whiskey for $20? yes.
Let the doorman know where you’re buying alcohol and they should let you in. Once you’re in, you can walk around and check everything.
Buy a prescription at Costco without a membership
Like alcohol, prescription drug sales are strictly regulated. Costco and other member stores must offer equal prescriptions and pricing to all consumers, regardless of membership status.
So, you can let the doorman know that you are a non-member and are taking a prescription. This should get you in the door.
By the way, prescriptions at Costco pharmacies are very cheap. For those without insurance, Costco even has the cheapest flu shot (all insurance plans must now cover the flu shot). You can buy immunizations at Costco without a membership.
Alcohol and drugs? What could go wrong?
No membership to get food from Costco Food Court
I’ve seen many tipping sites where you can get food from a Costco food court restaurant without a membership, but only if it’s just an outdoor food court. This is not true. Since anyone can enter Costco, anyone can get food from the Costco food court – outdoor or indoor.
However, you need to pay in cash.
Costco restaurants have great deals, but options are usually limited to hot dogs/sausages, soda, pizza, grilled chicken, sundaes, and frozen yogurt.
Using Costco Optical Services Without Membership
You can have your eye exam done at Costco Optical. However, to buy glasses and/or contacts, you’ll need a Costco membership.
Non-members can buy from Costco.com
Non-members can buy at any time from Costco’s website, Costco.com. However, there is a downside:
“Non-members will be charged a 5% surcharge on the member’s published product price (excluding prescription drugs).”
Food availability on Costco.com is also very limited.
Costco Cash Cards can be used by non-members:
Costco also has a cash card (the name of the gift card). With the Costco Cash Card, any non-member can present the card to enter and use it to make purchases.
The trick with the Costco Cash Card is that it can be purchased by members only. Again, you will have to rely on a membership, which makes you a moocher and increases the cost of buying a membership per membership. Once the cards are exhausted, you will have to get another new card from the member or be reloaded by the member. These cards can be loaded up to $1,000.
If you know someone in the game, a card or two won’t hurt. I’ve heard (untested) that you don’t have to use a card for the entire purchase. In other words, if you only have a $10 card left and you have $150 worth of purchases, you can use the $10 card and then use another form of payment. This is a great segue…
Costco Payment Methods:
While you may come in and even buy items, please note that Costco stores do not accept Discover, American Express, or MasterCard credit cards for payment. Accepted forms of payment include: Cash, Check, Debit Card, the aforementioned Costco Cash Card, and Visa Credit Cards (including the Costco-branded Costco Anywhere Visa Card, which gives you 2% cashback on Costco purchases.