13 Tips To Make Your Costco Shopping Trip Even Better

Costco can be a mecca for savings, snacking, and buying in bulk. It can also be a mecca for headaches, frustration, and trying to avoid the throng of shopping carts and kids circling them like satellites. Some days you might wonder if the price savings are really worth it when you end up spending so much extra time waiting in lines or trying to decide if one thing will be on sale at a later date.

There are plenty of great deals to be had, free samples to consume, and toilet paper for a year to be purchased if you know how to properly plan and when to strike the shopping center. You just need to know how to avoid the Costco rush and how to score the best deals possible. But don't worry, because we have you covered. Before you head out for your regularly scheduled Costco trip, here are some tips, tricks, and suggestions designed to make that trip easier and far more enjoyable.

1. Know when to shop

Like being caught in a stampede, going to Costco on the weekends is a no-no. You're just as liable to get trampled by shopping carts as you are to score all the free samples you want. Even shopping after 5 p.m. during the week (especially Friday) can leave you shaking and in need of a hot bath (and maybe a glass of wine) to calm the nerves. Naturally, the best time to shop at Costco is when the majority of shoppers are at work. If you work from home or are able to escape during your lunch break, it might be advantageous for you to go then. If all of that isn't possible, perhaps you can sneak in prior to heading off to work. Basically, the very best time to shop at Costco is right when it opens, if you can. Even those who work from home tend to not head into the store that early. Doing this will completely change your shopping experience.

If, however, you are not able to make it in that early, shoot for mid-afternoon — after 2 p.m. but before the 5 p.m. rush. During this time, many of the work-from-home individuals will be picking up their kids, or they will be completing some last-minute tasks before clocking out for the day.

2. Look for Costco membership deals

Are you new to the world of Costco but have heard so many great things from friends and family that you're ready to sign up? Maybe you took a wrong turn at a friend's house and ended up in a pantry overflowing with Costco snack food, or you'd rather buy in massive bulk and go shopping fewer times per month. Whatever your justification, you likely won't be disappointed. The only thing is you need to pay for a membership. And yes, if you simply shop for gas at Costco, you'll end up paying for it by the end of the year anyway in all the fuel savings.

In order to save money upfront on your membership, you will want to check out the Costco membership promotional page, as it often offers discounts. You might find other online shopping outlets, such as Rakuten — which pays you to shop with thousands of website portals on its page — that will occasionally have offers dedicated toward helping you save on a Costco membership. It's worth checking out all avenues prior to making that final purchase. You never know just how much money you might save.

3. Download the Costco app

Fishing through your wallet for the membership card can be a hassle. Especially if you're one who frequently loses it and has to make the familiar trek back into the store to customer service for a replacement card. Instead, download the Costco app onto your phone. It makes getting into the store easier, your wallet thinner, and you will find special digital offers in the app.

The Costco app is available for both Apple and Android devices. It isn't necessarily the flashiest of apps, but it doesn't need to be. It's to the point, generally easy to use, and you can find major money-saving discounts all without sifting through the weekly mail to try and find the cuttable coupons buried in the stack of junk mail.

With the app, you can track online orders (or make orders directly through the app) and check for locations, which is great if you're traveling and want to pick up some goodies while on the road — because you never know when that Grand Canyon road trip will require 36 rolls of toilet paper.

4. Shop the side of the store, not the center

The center of Costco has some good stuff. There are seasonal offerings, electronics, boxed sets not found at other grocery stores, as well as various goodies. The thing about the middle of the store, though, is that these are items designed to grab your attention, not to help you save money. Because the greatest amount of foot traffic will pass these areas of the store, Costco places items you'll be more interested in grabbing and dropping into your shopping cart. Basically, it's like the candy shelves in the checkout lanes in other stores, or the seasonal objects you see when walking into a Target. Feel free to grab want you want, just know you're not going to be saving much money on these items.

Instead, if you're going for the biggest bang for your buck, shop at the back of the store. The biggest savings are located around the side and back walls. These areas are not going to receive as much shopping cart traffic as the very middle, and that is exactly where you want to go when looking to score some major deals. Sure, you might not need a box of dog toys for $7, but if you do, that's going to save you a ton of money.

5. Know the price code

Ever wonder why certain items are priced at the standard $0.99, while others are strangely pinned at $0.97, and even others at $0.88? Rather strange, right? Well, there's a pricing code going on at Costco. Don't worry, this isn't complex algebra, and you won't need to pull out the old college rule notebook and pencil with teeth marks to take notes. It's rather straightforward and, you won't have any issues remembering the numbers.

For starters, something priced at $0.97 means it has been cut down below its regular price. It is on sale, but it also might not be the final sale for the item (though there's no guarantee it won't go back up either). If, however, you spot something that ends with an eight ($0.88, for example), it means the store is trying to sell out on the product quickly (and there won't be many left in reserve), so stock up on that item as you likely won't see a better price. Anything that ends with a nine and isn't $0.99 (so $0.89, $0.79, etc), is a special manufacturer deal given specifically to Costco. You're likely not going to find that price anywhere else.

6. Follow the star (asterisk)

Peter Pan followed the first star to the right (and straight on 'til morning). While you might not end up in Neverland, following the star on Costco price tags (it'll look like an asterisk in one of the corners on the large display tag) will clue you in on some store secrets. When you see a star on a price tag it means the store will not be restocking the goods once it is sold out. So, if you like it, buy as much as you can, because the store won't be buying more of it.

Typically, if there is an asterisk on the price tag there likely is also a special price as well. If Costco has no plans on bringing more of a particular item in they probably don't want it taking up valuable shopping space for much longer either. If you can live without the item, move on, but if not, pick it up. It probably won't be there the next time you go to the store.

7. Bring reusable shopping bags

We highly recommend taking your own reusable bags into any grocery store you go into (in some states, you have to do that now anyway, unless you want to pay for one of the inferior paper bags that seem to disintegrate if it is raining outside). This is especially the case with Costco, as the store does not offer shopping bags. Costco says the best way to cut down on prices is to not give free bags. There's nothing more annoying than trying to dig through the discarded box section or trying to fit everything into your cart, which you'll just toss into your trunk. It makes carrying items back into your house a headache, and even if you did grab some of the discarded boxes you'll have to deal with folding them up and cramming them into the recycling bin.

The reusable bags are a lifesaver for this. Sure, it is a minor inconvenience when buying them in the first place, but these bags are inexpensive, and it helps reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills and, potentially, the ocean. Plus reusable shopping bags can last for years. And if you don't feel like buying reusable bags, you can always just save the plastic bags you receive from other grocery stores and bring them with you. They have more uses than in-a-pinch doggie poop bags.

8. Stop by the booze section for boxes

Okay, so maybe you forgot the reusable bags, or you didn't bring enough with you to carry the heavier items in the shopping cart. Flimsy cardboard boxes aren't always the best way to go, so what should you do? Why not grab yourself a quality wood wine box?

Whether you want something that is durable and able to handle a lot of weight or have some DIY projects coming up and you'd like a great box for what you have in store, you can go to the booze section of your local Costco and grab the wine boxes. These, just like any other cardboard box, are free. So, instead of dropping $20 on a decorative wine box at Michaels or Home Goods, grab yourself a nice wine box for free.

Of course, sometimes there just aren't any wine boxes available on the day that you go, but it's worth stopping by the wine section whenever you go shopping just to see what's there. You might even find a delicious bottle of wine to take home while you're at it. And don't worry — if you have to perform some creative shuffling with wine bottles in order to free up some wood boxes, we won't tell anyone.

9. No membership? No problem at the pharmacy

We're not going to beat around the bush here. Medicine is expensive in the United States. As in extremely expensive. So if there is any way possible to shave a few dollars off the final price of your medication we highly recommend taking advantage of it. While you should try to shop around for your medicine just to see what different pharmacies charge, we've discovered that Costco often has the best price on medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. They also have a great selection of vitamins in bulk.

The good thing about the Costco pharmacy is that you don't need to have a membership to buy medicine from the pharmacy. So even if you have yet to sign up for an annual membership, you can still grab your medicine. All you need to do is let the front door attendant know that you're going to the pharmacy and they will wave you in. Just remember, Costco does not accept manufacturer coupons (they often have the manufacturer discount built into the price). So, if you have a special offer that came in the mail from the manufacturer, you won't be able to use it at Costco. But other than this, it's a good way to save on your medicine. And in this economy, every little bit counts.

10. Visit the gift card section

Not sure what to buy someone for the holidays or their birthday? A gift card is always a convenient option It's a surefire way to know they will be able to use the card on something they enjoy. Of course, they also instantly know how much money you spent on the card. Or do they? Because if you buy gift cards from Costco, you might be able to pay less for the card than what it's worth.

Costco often sells gift cards at discounted rates. That is especially the case if you're buying a set of cards. Sometimes there are gift cards that come in two, three, and four-card sets. These are more likely going to be discounted, which is basically just you putting money into your pocket. In fact, why not buy yourself some gift cards, if you know you're going to visit the particular business retailing gift cards at Costco? Sure, you're not going to find cards at competitor stores, but you'll find a boatload for restaurants, app stores, and movie theaters. Maybe you like going to Texas Roadhouse for dinner, or you plan on seeing a movie at the local AMC theater. Discounted gift cards can help you enjoy dinner, and a movie, for less.

11. Ask for chub meat

Sure, running around, and talking about chub meat might get your kid disciplined at school, but in the case of Costco, you'll be saving money. And isn't educating the next generation on money-saving opportunities one of the best lessons you can give? When it comes to shopping for ground beef at Costco there is something you need to know. No meat goes to waste in the butcher shop. When fat is trimmed away from steaks and other cuts of meat it is ground up and added to the regular ground beef. Ground beef itself comes in thick, chubby packages, referred to as chubs. When you buy the packaged ground meat without asking for anything in particular, you will be sold the ground beef and added fat combination. However, if you ask for "chub meat", you will be given the beef without the additional fat.

There are two benefits to this. First, the meat you are receiving has a lower fat content, which means fewer calories and it is better for you. Second, chub meat is actually far less money. Because the ground beef and fat combo require additional work hours to produce and package together, the cost per pound goes up. But with chub meat, it's already packaged and ready to go, so you'll pay less. It helps you save money with your next ground beef dinner recipe.

12. Double-back on free samples

Costco's free samples can sometimes be hit and miss. There are times you snack on something and it's just not that great. Remember when you first sampled that salt-free ranch dressing? Almost had to crack open a jug of Hidden Valley just to get rid of that aftertaste. But other times, there's just something about a Costco-cooked Hot Pocket that is absolutely delicious, even if you would never buy them and heat them up at home.

So what are you supposed to do if you loved the sample and want another one? Is it one per customer? Did they mark your hand so they know you already had one? No, not at all. In fact, there's theoretically no limit to any of the free samples. Ever. Now, we wouldn't recommend rolling on up and taking the entire tray. There are others in the store who want to snack on some free samples, just like you. So we recommend taking one and then, if you feel like it, doubling back and grabbing another.

Also, keep in mind the individuals handing out free samples are generally not Costco employees. They represent the brands they are handing out. So don't feel bad if you want to go back and get another sample. It's there for you, and there's no limit. Although you might want to go easy on the free half-shots of booze offered up. You don't want to get in a cart accident.

13. Get more money back

Costco is already one of the best places for you to go when looking to save money on bulk purchases. At times you can cut your costs with some coupons, and you can use the application to search for discounts, coupons, and deals to further slash your final price. But did you know it's possible to get even more money back by using third-party applications?

There are a number of shopping apps available for free that will pay you money for buying certain products at certain stores. Ibotta is likely the most known, but there are others out there. With one of these applications, you'll look through the list of products that might be of interest to you. For example, you might see that Crest toothpaste is $2 back and that a 24-case of Pepsi gives another $4. When you buy the products at Costco and then scan your receipt with the app, you will receive the money in your digital account, which you can then use for buying gift cards, receiving PayPal money transfers, or other items.