Is a Costco Membership Worth It? We evaluated the cost of the membership fees, and even the gas to get there to see if a Costco membership was worth it! Also enjoy my other posts Real, Affordable, Gluten-free Food at Costco, and A Frugal Real Food Guide to Healthy Food at Costco.
Is a Costco membership worth it?
After price comparing my pantry staples between Costco and ALDI, I absolutely think so, but many readers were concerned about the cost of membership and how that played into the savings.
Still, others said that the Costco warehouse store was too far and they didn’t believe it was worth the gas to get there. Are they right?
I’ve had a Costco warehouse club membership for several years, and prior to getting a membership myself, I shopped at Costco with my step-mom. Do I think a Costco membership is worth it? Absolutely yes!
But we need to look at the numbers too, since the grocery budget dictates where and how we shop. Let’s tackle the issue of the gas first.
Is a Costco Membership Worth It?
Location and cost of gas to get to Costco
There are nearly 800 Costco locations across the world, but it’s entirely possible that there isn’t a local Costco to where you live. So we need to see how the cost of gas plays into whether or not a Costco membership is worth it.
Let’s pretend that gas costs $2.50 per gallon and your vehicle gets 20 miles per gallon. That means that for every 20 miles you drive, you’re paying $2.50.
Now let’s say the closest Costco to you is 60 miles, or approximately one hour away. Your total cost just for making a trip to Costco is $14. (If it takes you shorter/longer to get to Costco, divide/multiply accordingly.)
How can you justify the cost? Even with Costco being far away, there are a few ways to make the drive worth your while:
- make fewer trips, possibly just once a month or even every other month
- buy extras each trip you do make
- strategically plan trips around the holidays to take advantage of seasonal deals
- diligently keep a price book on the items you buy most often at Costco
- browse the warehouse coupons online before you make a trip
With drive time, fuel costs, and schedule logistics, I strategically plan a shopping trip at the start of the month to take advantage of bulk pricing and our membership.
Lesser-known Perks of a Costco Membership
If it’s a road trip to get to Costco, then you better make the most of it. While the affordable Kirkland private label, quality foods, and organic foods are the most common reasons why people shop at Costco, there are a few other perks to a Costco membership that make Costco worth it.
Gift Cards: We use “the gift card trick” often with our Costco membership, buying a full-price gift card for less than face value. For example, one Christmas we bought two $50 gift cards to a local restaurant for $80. We gave one as a gift and used the other for ourselves. Gift cards will vary from location to season, so it’s worth a swing through the aisle when you’re there.
Movie Tickets: Regal Cinemas and Cinemark offer 10-pack of movie tickets from Costco. They can be used at any of the branded theaters, and when you compare purchasing an adult ticket at the movie theater for $12.08, you’ll save over $30 in this purchase alone.
Theme Park Season Passes & Special Events: This is similar to the movie ticket and gift card concept, except there are deals for season passes and special events too. I’ve also done season deals for Legoland, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, the Zoo and Cirque du Soleil.
Gas: If your Costco has a gas station, it would be wise to fill up before you leave. Some locations report a savings of 30¢ per gallon!
Other Non-Food Purchases: Costco members can order checks, buy boats and cars with no-haggle pricing (like Carmax), furniture and generic medications and really rack up the savings.
An Amazing Return Policy: We’ve personally taken advantage of this one multiple times over in many ways. From strawberries to hot dogs, to rotisserie chickens, Costco offers a very generous “no questions asked” return policy. (Electronics and jewelry do have to be returned within a certain timeframe, so double check the policy.)
Shopping Costco Online
Another way to shop is Costco online! You can score some great deals when shopping non-perishables like contact solution, toilet paper, vitamins/supplements and food storage. They even have an online grocery store.
Many of the temporary items like clothing and shoes, as well as seasonal items like pool cleaning supplies, are available online too.
If you travel often, book your travel online through CostcoTravel.com to reduce the overall cost of the trip. Costco also offers vacation packages that come with bonus Costco Cash Cards, on-board credits on cruise ships, resort credits and bonus excursions. I personally haven’t taken advantage of Costco Travel, but I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from those who have.
Is the Drive to Costco Worth it?
Depending on how far you live from Costco will determine whether it’s worth the membership or not. The goal is save what you’re spending on gas, on that trip.
Is a Costco Membership Worth the Fee?
There are three main types of Costco memberships, each with its own advantages. The one thing that all memberships have in common is that they can be refunded at any time.
Standard Gold Star Membership: $60 annually and includes a second household card for free
Business Membership: $60 annually, includes a second household card and allows you to make purchases for resale
Gold Star Executive Membership: Executive membership costs are $120 annually. Executive members receive a second household card, 2% rewards on most purchases, additional benefits on Costco services and benefits and upgrades with Costco Travel (more on these services and travel below). If it turns out your 2% reward does not cover the cost of the upgraded membership ($60), Costco will refund you the difference.
Note: Splitting a Costco membership with someone is not okay in their books. A second household card is intended for another person living at the same address. This could work though if you’re in a roommate situation.
How to Get a Costco Membership for Free
Living Social is a daily deal site and every so often, they have a deal when you purchase a NEW membership to Costco through them.
The Bottom Line on Costco Membership Worth
If you choose the executive membership, you technically have to spend around $2800 in one year in order to earn the 2% reward and break even on the cost of your membership.
However, since Costco will refund you the difference if you DON’T earn $60 in rewards, then you only have to save $60 over the course of a year to break even.
I know that by shopping at Costco instead of ALDI each month, I’m saving at least $60, but closer to $80. But if buying in bulk doesn’t fit well with you and your family, consider these items that the cost savings of them by themselves, make a Costco membership worth it:
Baby Diapers and Wipes: Sales on Kirkland diapers (which are made by Huggies!) worked out to be the same as price matching and couponing at local drug stores. Since buying from Costco was so much easier than couponing and price matching, we’d wait until Kirkland diapers and wipes were on sale and then buy enough to get us through until the next sale (usually 2-3 months later).
Wine: I’ve seen prices vary as much as $4 per bottle on local varieties, but Costco is known for carrying many imported wines that would otherwise be extremely expensive! Beer is also significantly more affordable.
Large Appliances: When we buy a house, we’ve already decided to get our appliances from Costco!
Electronics: Both of my DSLR cameras were from Costco, and since we bought them when they were on sale, we easily saved $200-300 over the cost of buying them elsewhere. We’ve also purchased a laptop and a desktop computer from Costco, and we saved tons of money on both.
Glasses / Contacts: The glasses I’m wearing as I type this post are from Costco! Both Mr. Crumbs and I wear contacts, and insurance covers them each year, but it means paying out of pocket for glasses. What would normally cost $200 at the eye doctor cost me $80 at Costco – and this included a new set of frames!
Blendtec Blender: We bought my favorite Blendtec blender at Costco and saved $100 over what we would have paid elsewhere! We loved that Blendtec has a warranty, but that Costco has their awesome return policy too.
Here are some other big ticket items that make the membership worth it:
- Pet Food and Supplies
- Insurance (homeowners and car)
- Roadside Assistance for Executive Membership
- Batteries (think Christmas gifts!)
- Pool Cleaning Supplies
Is a Costco Membership Worth It – Not Always
Personally, I think every family can benefit from shopping at Costco. However, every family is different and a Costco membership might NOT be worth it if you:
- prefer to buy just enough food for the week and not have anything extras or leftover
- don’t have the time or energy to divide bulk food purchases into smaller portions
- work hours that preclude you from shopping when Costco is open (although you could still shop online)
- have to drive more than 4 hours to get to Costco (it’s not a gas issue, but a time issue)
- don’t have fridge, freezer and/or storage space for bulk items
- have a family of just one
- do not find the clothes, shoes or seasonal items to suit your taste
How to Use Costco Without a Membership
If you end up deciding that a Costco membership is not worth it for you. There are Costco services you can still take advantage of that don’t require you to have a membership:
- Pharmacy- counter medications
- Food Court
- Alcohol (in some states)
- Eye doctor appointments (glasses/contact purchases require a membership)
- Hearing appointments (aids require a membership)
- Price comparison shopping (tell them you’d like to browse the store before committing to a membership)
Another way to shop Costco without a membership is to use a Costco Cash Card. It’s similar to a gift card, with the only hiccup being they can only be purchased by people who have a Costco membership. If you’re fortunate enough to have friends or family who happen to have a Costco membership, have them purchase you a Costco Cash Card and then you can shop on your own schedule, without having to buy a membership yourself.
If you work for a company who has a Costco business membership, volunteer to be one of the designated shoppers. You’ll be issued a Costco card that you can use for yourself as well as the company.
Finally, the tried and true way to use Costco without a membership is to shop with a friend who is a member!