9 Ways to Shop At Costco Without a Membership

posted by Andrea | 06/25/2014

costco membership

I’m often asked if we have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership — and if so, why. Or if not, why not.

Well, my answer is “no” — and right now, I don’t really have a great reason! Dave and I actually have a HUGE Costco only a few miles from our house (it was almost walking distance from our first house) and we frequently drive by it on our way to and from various activities… including our regular grocery store.

I’ve often wondered about getting a membership — but for whatever reason, I’ve never felt the need. I really really like shopping at our local Meijer — which is basically like a Super Walmart, but much nicer in my opinion ;)

Although I’m fairly confident I could easily recoup the money I spend on the yearly membership fee, I really prefer to shop at just one store for everything I need. From groceries and gas to prescriptions and photos — plus baby items, bakery goods, kitchen or other household items, electronics, clothing, auto and so much more; Meijer has it all under one roof, which is why it’s always been my preferred shopping center.

In the future, we would definitely consider a Costco membership, and we’ve actually purchased many things from Costco even without a membership. If you’re debating whether or not to purchase a membership to Costco (or similar warehouse stores) you might be interested to know that there are actually many ways you can utilize these super stores to save a bit of money WITHOUT purchasing a membership.

If after a while, you decide it would be worth the fee, you can go ahead and get your own membership… but in the mean time, try out a few of the ideas below to “test the waters”.

1. Prescriptions and Immunizations

I’ve sent many prescriptions to Costco because they are usually significantly cheaper and a membership is not required to utilize this service. Just tell the person at the front of the store that you’re picking up a prescription and they should let you walk right in.

Costco also offers their immunizations to anyone — even those without a membership. There will most likely still be a fee for the actual immunization

2. Hearing and Vision Tests:

You can get your ears and eyes checked at Costco without a membership — but you can not buy glasses, contacts, or hearing aids without the membership. We have never utilized the hearing tests, but I do know they offer good prices on vision tests.

3. Alcohol:

I’ll be honest, I’ve actually never purchased alcohol from Costco — but I’ve heard it’s cheaper and I KNOW you can buy it without a membership. The same goes for any tobacco products — although I’m not advocating for that :)

4. “Shop” the Food Court:

Costco’s food court is extremely inexpensive and, although they have a limited selection of foods, it’s a fun spot to stop for a quick lunch every once in a while (especially with kids). They have HUGE hot dogs and sausages, and soft serve ice-cream at much cheaper prices than I’ve seen anywhere else.

5. Shop With a Costco Cash Card:

If you know someone with a Costco membership, ask them if they would be willing to buy (or reload) a Costco Cash Card for you. You can pay them for the card and then use it at any Costco location (and any Costco gas station) — no membership needed.

Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend doing this indefinitely, but it could be a great way to test the waters and see if a membership would be beneficial for you or not.

6. Shop Online:

In my own experience, you can buy anything via Costco.com without a membership — and without a Costco Cash Card. You can use any major credit or debit card to purchase goods via their website, and then have them shipped to your door.

You will most likely need to pay a shipping fee — and there is also a 5% surcharge on every purchase. This means that once you spend more than $1100 in a year, you’ve paid $55 in surcharges, and it would have been smarter to just buy the $55 membership. However, if you just need a few items from Costco each year, this could be the best and easiest way to get those items without a membership.

7. Shop with a Friend:

A couple years ago, I needed to buy a bunch of cakes for an event – -and I KNEW Costco cakes would be the cheapest and easiest option. It wasn’t worth me buying a membership just to purchase a few cakes — and obviously, I wasn’t going to have cakes shipped to me via an online order.

Instead, I asked a friend if I could go with her the next time she headed to Costco. I got my cakes and had a fun time shopping and chatting with my friend.

8. Shop on their Guest Days:

I think Costco has special Guest Days a couple times a year (I know we went once a couple years ago). On these days, anyone can shop, even without a membership. These days are usually quite busy, but they are excellent opportunities to shop the store without committing to a yearly membership.

9. Window Shop:

You should be able to walk into any Costco location any time they are open and tell the greeter that you’re there to window shop. Get an application from the front desk and tell them you are considering a membership but want to take a look around first.

If you choose to “window shop” on a Saturday, you can also enjoy all the yummy taste-testing stations set up around the store :)

Like I mentioned above, Dave and I personally don’t feel the need for a Costco membership at this time — not because we don’t think we would recoup the cost, but mainly because I just really like shopping at our local grocery store and don’t want to add one more stop to my weekly errands.

However, I have utilized Costco’s services via most of the above ideas — and I’ve always been impressed with their products and prices. Plus, who can resist a giant soft serve ice-cream cone for only $1!

I’d love to hear from you:

If you currently have a Costco membership, I’d love to know what you love (or don’t love) about it.

Also, if you don’t have a Costco membership, have you utilized any of the non-membership deals and discounts listed above?

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26 comments

  1. Debbie W.

    06/25/2014

    These are great tips! We live too far away from Costco (or Sam’s Club which is where I used to shop) to justify a membership, so this information is really great for me to know. So far the only tip on this list that I’ve tried is to shop with a friend. I’ve also asked friends who were going there to pick an item or two up for me. I’ve done that several times in order to get a few things that are definitely cheaper (like yeast for baking bread). I wonder how many of these tips apply to Sam’s Club? Thanks for sharing!!

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  2. Kadie

    06/25/2014

    We have had a costco membership since 2006. We have the credit card as well. The credit card does not have an annual fee because the fee is the membership fee. With the points we earn from the credit card and the executive membership points we end up getting between $400-500 back each year. This has dropped a bit since we no longer need diapers and formula. Coscto gas is the cheapest in a 30 mile radius, unless we have points from our local grocery store. I shop at costco every 2 weeks. Their brand Kirkland Signature is of higher quality than most brand name products. They have a lot of organic and natural products at great prices compared to a grocery store. Those food stands are out all the time not just on weekends. They take great pride in their selection of furniture as well. Everything is high quality.
    Also you don’t need a membership if you know someone who can buy you gift cards. You can enter by showing the gift card and pay for your items with those cards. I just read that on another blog.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Wow — I’ve heard great things about their credit cards. That’s awesome how much cash back you got!

    And I’m not sure if you saw, but my #5 is the gift card / cash card option :)

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  3. Verity

    06/25/2014

    Great article! Before our wedding, we shopped with a friend at Sam’s Club and saved a lot. But it never seemed worth it to purchase a membership. I didn’t know about these various options!

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  4. stephanie

    06/25/2014

    Seriously? You can go in just for the food court? MY KIDS WOULD LOVE THIS!!! I wish I had known this all 2 years ago. The Kirkland brand of formula is by far the cheapest, and so similar to popular name brands.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes, the food court is open to all :)

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  5. Debbie

    06/25/2014

    When we first got married we didn’t think we needed a Costco membership because there’s only 2 of us. I didn’t like the idea of stocking our freezer, pantry. or fridge and then forgetting all the things we already have. Then we realized we could be saving by going there to get gas so we bought the basic membership. We used it to buy not only gas but food when we have parties, getting our wedding photos developed, a flat screen tv, plants, gifts, clothing, and eventually some produce and groceries. We ended up buying so much that it was a no brainier to upgrade the membership to gold and opening an American Express card. So now we get cash back credit on our American Express and another rebate coupon from Costco every year. We pay off our credit card so we don’t incur any interest. I do think its worth it.

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  6. Kelly in Oregon

    06/25/2014

    I was nervous when I read the title of this article, because Costco makes basically all of their money from membership fees. Their markup on items is extremely low and basically just pays for overhead like the lighting in the stores, etc. If everyone just started shopping with friends, they wouldn’t make any money and then they wouldn’t be in business anymore. But I think this blog is extremely well written – you specifically point out that these things shouldn’t be done forever (especially the shop with a friend or Costco cash card), but they are a great way to try out Costco and see if it’s for you! I am a Costco member, there are only 2 of us in my household but we still love it. We are there at least once a week and buy everything from strawberries to storage bins to everything in between. LOVE Costco.

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  7. Pamela

    06/25/2014

    We LOVE Costco. We are a small family (2 adults, 3 young kids) but still think it TOTALLY worth it to buy in bulk. I especially love Costco’s prices on organics. We’ve also purchased clothing, tires, cutting boards, small appliances, flowers, etc… in addition to weekly groceries. And their return policy is awesome. Can’t say enough good about Costco! I find it interesting (and pleasing) that they don’t play music. It’s the only store I can think of that doesn’t have music playing/blaring in the background.

    Thanks for another great post, Andrea. Yours is the first blog I read every day! Can’t wait to see the finished mudroom pics!

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  8. Jennifer

    06/25/2014

    We have a basic membership and recoup our membership fee in diapers alone. We use their check printing services for my husbands business and our household finances as well and have not found a place that has cheaper prices for this..

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  9. Kelly

    06/25/2014

    Great tips – I didn’t know most of these!

    In addition to the items you listed in the food court – their pizza is GREAT. If we’re picking up pizzas for a birthday party or whatever, they are a great option. You can’t get “gourmet” flavors (if it’s just my husband and I, maybe we’ll splurge for Papa John’s with lots of toppings), but for basic cheese/pepperoni/etc., I really like the taste of Costco pizza – much better than Pizza Hut or Domino’s. I’ve heard you can get them to double-cut it into extra small pieces for kids, too. Like the other food court items, no membership necessary, and you can call ahead to reserve it for later in the day (or, I imagine, maybe later in the week).

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Kelly — is the pizza from the food court or bought in store (like a deli pizza that you need to bake at home?)

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    Kelly Reply:

    From the food court :)

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    Becky Reply:

    The pizza you buy (but would need a membership or gift card, I guess) is also amazing! We use it for Friday pizza night all the time and it’s occasionally on sale for $3.00 off! Freezes well, too. :)

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  10. Rabecka

    06/25/2014

    We have a Costco membership (for the last 14 years) and we love it! We shop there twice per month. I’ve tried enough Kirkland brand products over the years to trust that they will always be high quality. We love the low gas prices and always fill up there when we are close by. And a biggie for me is the Photo Center. You can store and organize all of your digital photos on their site indefinitely for free! Printing is cheap cheap cheap, even for larger format printing. And most recently, I’ve utilized their photobook service. It was easy to use since my photos are already stored on their site and the book came out beautifully.

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    Rabecka Reply:

    Also, they ALWAYS have gorgeous dresses for my little girl at Christmas and Easter time for under $20!

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  11. Pam

    06/25/2014

    Costco is a favorite shopping destination for our whole family. We have used Costco to rent cars for vacation. We just rented a car in Florida for $187.00 for seven days. Can’t find a cheaper price any where. Again, we love Costco!!!

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  12. Rebecca G

    06/25/2014

    Costco also sells non-food items through Amazon (and on ebay) – I buy things like Costco’s Kirkland generic Zyrtec 365 tables for $12 on Amazon – amazing prices if you already have a Prime membership. (And it’s $5 cheaper than in Costco itself!)

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  13. Amy O

    06/25/2014

    I am a very frugal consumer, but I wholeheartedly endorse having a Costco membership. They offer such a great deal on contacts and glasses, it pays for our membership every year. (We are a very nearsighted family – both my husband and I and two of our kids need contacts and/or glasses.) They have great deals on a lot of other stuff too. They have a cheap deal on gas, and there are many food items from there we like. Their customer service is top notch. If you ever don’t like an item, they will reimburse you. We love Costco!

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    Becky Reply:

    We are huge Costco fans – got the membership as a wedding present twelve years ago. Diapers, formula, and wipes are super cheap and great quality. Good deals on tires, with free rotation and cheap road hazard warranty. Batteries are cheap, as well as all food staples. We buy lunchmeat, bread, cheese, milk, eggs, juice, and know that we’re getting good prices, without having to do all the legwork and coupon/flier hunting. Also, they do a lot with fair and safe buying practices, and continually evaluate their sources to be sure of quality and best prices. I really can’t say enough about Costco. I, too, am glad that you didn’t advocate continuously using giftcards or mooching off friends. If people want to use Costco’s services, they should do it in an ethical way. Thanks!

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  14. Chris k in Wisconsin

    06/25/2014

    We, too, love Costco! I am retired, and my husband is semi-retired, so it is just the 2 of us. It is always fun to go to Costco, and as someone else mentioned, they do have samples every day, not just the weekends. Their gardening supplies and plants and shrubs are wonderful. The bakery and produce is excellent. It is the only place I will buy ground beef. Never have the layer of grease with their ground beef. At Christmas their assortment of books for all ages is superb. AND, best of all, they pay their employees well, which is obvious in the excellent Customer Service we always receive!

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  15. JoDi

    06/25/2014

    We’ve been Costco members since 1988! Do I get a prize? LOL

    We LOVE Costco and have saved a ton of money there over the years. I now work closer to a BJ’s Wholesale and we belong to that club too. There are different things I buy at each club that more than save us the membership fees for both clubs each year. Even if I never shopped at Costco, I would keep the membership for the discount on auto and home insurance alone. I price check with other companies every couple of years, and our rates are always lower by a few hundred dollars a year.

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  16. Kerry

    06/25/2014

    I used to have a Costco membership but swapped for a BJ’s one when I found out the BJ’s near me had gas–the Costco near me does not. With the gas, it’s worth the cost of the membership. Without, I would probably do the trial memberships or the occasional trip with friends.

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  17. Lisa

    06/25/2014

    You can also buy the Costco cash cards thru their online site. I can’t remember if you have to be a member to do this (we are.) We buy the gift cards because we can use our rewards VISA to pay for them online and then use them to shop in the store. (The stores only take debit or AmEx.)

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  18. Melissa Q

    06/28/2014

    Costco is for me what Meijer is for you — I buy nearly all my groceries there, maybe heading to the grocery store for about 6-10 items in a month’s time. In fact, I have this fantasy about being on a reality show where I have to furnish an entirely empty house from Costco AND buy everything I need for an entire year’s time exclusively there. Seriously, I’m sure I could do it easily :-)

    We upgraded our membership to their Executive level, which gives you 2% rebate at the end of your year for your Costco purchases. We easily recoup the additional $50 this executive membership costs, plus it allows us to have their AmEx card where we get around $300 in rebates every year. The bulk of this is earned through their 3% back on gas purchases – which are NOT limited to Costco gas centers.

    Big fan, big fan :-)

    And as a side note, what I love most about your site’s approach is that it echos my thought “you do what works for you”.

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  19. Raquel

    07/01/2014

    Thanks for the info. We have debated a Costco membership for years (Sams and Amazon Prime also). I just wonder if I would use it enough to justify the $55 membership fee. I will have to look into those guest days.

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