How to get the most out of your Costco membership

Well, Howdy!
Miss me? I'm missing you all, but not enough to put my new baby down for longer than I have to. I'm so in love with my little guy I'm trying to soak up as much squishy, cuddly newborn time as possible. However, I'm going to continue to try to pop in as much as possible to keep giving you guys great fun/cheap/free tips!
Here's a quick one I thought I'd share…
We all know I'm a big fan of Costco…as long as you shop Costco wisely, that is. It's a great way to buy bulk and stock up on quality items that are good to keep on-hand. However, there is an art (if you will) to shopping at Costco!
Here are the ways we get the most out of our Costco membership:
  • Choose your membership. My hubby and I have opted for the Executive Membership vs the Gold Star membership. Yes, it costs more ($110/yr vs $55/yr). But with the Executive Membership you get 2% cash-back on most purchases made at Costco. If at the end of the year you don't get your money's worth out of the membership fee in terms of rewards cash earned, they will refund the difference for your Executive Membership and downgrade you back to the $55 membership. I do about 1/2 my shopping at Costco each month, so we definitely get our money's worth.
    • Note: Purchases that do NOT pay you 2% cash back include: tobacco products, stamps, gasoline (but AMEX does pay you for gas, see below), cash cards, and food court items. See more about this HERE.
  • Anticipate the cash and plan ahead. I love February! I always know that's when my cash is going to arrive. This year it was about $250, well worth the membership fee. Anticipate that the reward is coming, and make a plan for it in advance…so you're not tempted to sprint to the electronics isle and spend your hard-earned rewards on an impulse-buy! Of course, I recommend putting the cash toward debt or savings, but more on that in a few bullets. 🙂
    • *CORRECTION!!!!!* The $250 rebate I got was from my AMEX rebate, NOT the Costco rebate. I just got my Costco rebate today and it was $130. Sorry for the error!
  • Cash your reward in full at the membership desk. Did you know you DON'T have to spend your Costco reward at Costco? They would like you to, of course, but you don't have to! Take your reward straight to the membership desk and they'll give you cash for it.
  • Use the cash wisely. The ideal situation would be to cash out your reward and stick it directly toward debt, or put it into savings (or your Slush Fund). If you need to use the reward, try to use only part. See how we organize our money into our bank accounts HERE.
    • For us, the cash came at a great time this month. I really needed to stock up on a few things that I was running low on (in anticipation of baby coming – diapers and such), but didn't have the budget for. I budgeted $100 of my reward to stock up on a few things at Costco. I purchased the $100 in groceries on my credit card, rather than using the cash, so I could get rewards for the purchase from AMEX (see next bullet). We took all the cash, put it toward my credit card bill, and now we're $150 ahead of budget this month!
  • Stack it with AMEX rewards. As you know, I believe in using credit cards. My personal budget is paid for with the Costco American Express card. We chose this card because it's the only card you can use at Costco, and since I do about 1/2 my shopping there each month, it just made sense  for us. We get between 1%-3% cash back on all purchases made on my AMEX card. So when I shop at Costco, I get cash from Costco, AND cash from AMEX! Read more about the amex HERE. Or click HERE to find the right card for you.
    • So, once again, the $100 I spent on groceries I paid for with my AMEX rather than using my cash, so I could get the rewards from AMEX too. Pretty slick, eh?
  • If you aren't satisfied with the membership…return it! Hands-down one of the best things about Costco (aside from the $1.50 hot dog and drink combo…) is the incredible return policy. You can return just about anything, at any time, including your membership. You can use it for 364 days and if on the last day of the year you decide you didn't get your money's worth, they will give you a full refund. Please do NOT abuse their return policy (because it only increases prices for the rest of us), but don't feel guilty using it legitimately!
In terms of actually purchasing things from Costco…
  • Plan for buying bulk in your budget. See how I do that HERE.

  • Learn what to buy from Costco that will actually save you money (yes, you can LOSE more money than you save if you're not careful!). Click HERE for that info. See how I do all of my grocery shopping HERE.
  •  Learn the smartest ways to shop at Costco; the tricks and tips. Click HERE for that info.
And, of course, you need to…
  • LEARN YOUR PRICES! Hands-down, this is the best way to save you money – in anything you do – always. I carry a Price Notebook around with me to help with this, read about it HERE.

So there you go! Those are the ways that we really stretch our membership dollars. How do YOU stretch your dollar at Costco? I'd love to hear all about it!
Enjoy your weekend 🙂


  1. AvatarPatty says

    OK, something is not adding up for me. What am I missing. If you got $250 back or 2% most items then you spent $12500 for the year. If you do half your shopping at Costco then you have spent $2600 there (52 X 100 / 2). Where does the other $10000 go? Do some items pay back considerably more than 2%? Maybe that is gas money? I figure you need to spend $2750 for the upgrade to be worth it without the AMEX card. What else are you buying that makes it worth this much to you.

    • AvatarNancy says

      My name is Nancy, 35 y/o single mother of 3 and I love to shop at Costco. I have the executive membership not only because I get a check at the end of the year, but there are some savings that ONLY apply to executive members. You DON’T get cash back on items that are on sale. I don’t get a lot of money back at the end of the year, but I do get at least a minimum of $50 back which I usually put down for my next years membership. In essence, I’m paying out of my own pocket about $50 a year for my membership. I get only items on sale except for all my fruits and veggies. The sales are fantastic! 🙂

  2. AvatarShannon Walkley says

    Part of the AMEX rebate can come from non-Costco purchases. So if you use your card for gas purchases at non-costco gas stations, you still get a percentage back…as well as other types of purchases. The Costco membership rebate is strickly for Costco purchases. Sounds like if you have the Executive membership and the Card, you will get a lot of bang for the buck! I have the AMEX but not the Executive Membership…kinda wish I did.

  3. AvatarClaire says

    I came across this from a pin on Pinterest. We do the Dave Ramsey envelope system, so once we switched to that I started tracking what I was spending by item at Costco. I didn't want to get up there to pay and realize I'd gone way over. I keep my list in a note on my phone and as I go through the store I record the price next to each item to make sure I stay on track with my budget. Since I write down the price every time, it's really interesting to see how the prices can change.

  4. AvatarLynn says

    No, the corrected it,t hey only received a rebate of $130 from Costco (not $250 – $250 was Am Ex) So that means they spent $6,500 at Costco. Paid $110 for the membership, so in reality, they only received a rebate of $20 net in the end.

  5. AvatarKathleen Bennett says

    How do you become a member and where are the costco store located around Dayton or Cincinnati, Ohio

  6. Avatarbirthtoashes says

    I just now ran across your blog on Pinterest and I wanted to say a big THANK YOU! This is very inspirational. I am currently trying to implement a budget due to some financial changes in the family and your blog has been very helpful! Thank you so much! 🙂

  7. Avatarfuncheaporfree says

    Yes, that may be true. But you have to have the executive membership in order to have the AMEX at Costco, and we got $220+ in addition to the $130, so if you include the AMEX benefits then it's a great deal for us!

  8. AvatarBeth Bisch says

    There is a really nice/big one on Gemini pl just outside Columbus, Ohio…I live in Medina and go there every couple months as they have things there that the Strongsville store doesn't.

  9. AvatarValerie K says

    I personally have found that the cheapest diapers are the Parent’s choice brand from Wal-Mart. For the size 3 diapers they are about 13.5 cents per diaper as opposed to 18.5 cents each at costco. Also I have noticed that at my local costco they actually RAISE the prices of the diapers when there are coupons in the coupon book. They used to be $38.99 at regular price, then the $7 off coupons came out in the coupon book, and bam, the listed price is $46.99, so with $7 off, the price actually comes to $39.99 per box, which is more than the $38.99 regular price! I was so devastated. I like the quality of the Kirkland and Huggies brand at Costco, but for something that just gets pooped in and thrown away, the 13.5 cents each diapers at Wal-mart are a better deal and save me 28% on my diaper bill. Maybe with the new year costco is just raising the regular price of diapers, but for now, I’m buying mine at Wal-Mart.

  10. AvatarRonny Dunn says

    Why don’t you guys tell us which gas stations give the max rebate? I keep getting less for my purchases from you. I am confused regarding who you honor and who you don’t. Some purchases I don’t get any rebate..

  11. AvatarNorma says

    Just have a question really quick. I got my amex or American Express and head to my Costco, to find out they don’t do Amex anymore, yikes! Did you stick to their new credit card ?

  12. AvatarErin says

    I shop frequently at Costco and so I’m really interested in how you budget for it. I have clicked on the link that is suppose to send me to how you budget for Costco and it isn’t there. I’ve spent some time searching this site for it and was wondering if yojust could give me an updated link. Thanks so much for all your knowledge and experience. I was so excited when I watched your video on the I am mom summit!!

  13. AvatarChelsey Hackleman says

    I love Costco…but it’s amazing how one trip can get out of hand in spending hahaha. This is awesome because it really can be worth it if you’re smart!


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