10 Things a New Costco Member Should Know

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Costco membership card
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I get no kickback for saying this, but I’m a Costco fan.

I’ve been a member for decades, have memorized the layout of my favorite store and have even brought friends along to help them decide if they want to become members. I’m seated right now on a Costco sectional in my home, had a Costco burrito for lunch and can honestly declare that the patio furniture I recently bought from Costco is one of my favorite purchases of the year.

Anyone with a membership can walk into Costco and just start shopping, but there’s also a learning curve. When I’ve taken friends with me, I offer them tips as we shop our way through the aisles. It’s always interesting for me to be reminded that not everything about shopping at Costco is obvious to newbies. Here are my top tips that a new Costco member should know.

1. Yes, you’ll need your membership card

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Unlike your standard grocery store, Costco is for members only. When you sign up, you’ll get a membership card with your name and photo on it. Make sure you have it when you approach the store, as there are workers stationed at the front door who are assigned to verify that only members are entering.

If you forget your card, stand in line at the service desk, and they will look you up in the computer and give you a temporary card. And while you can bring up to two guests to shop with you, they can’t pay with their own credit cards – the member needs to pay for anything their friends pick out.

2. Grab a cart at the door, you won’t regret it

Costco shopper wearing a mask and gloves
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Oh, the times I’ve thought I could just dash into Costco and dash out again without using one of their enormous shopping carts. Spoiler: I never can. Even a small item at Costco is pretty large, and you don’t want to squeeze through the aisles clutching a big platter of sandwiches or pallet of paper towels. Better to have the cart and not need it, than to bruise your fingers lugging two heavy gallons of milk around with you.

3. Don’t sleep on the seasonal section

Halloween costumes at Costco
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Costco always has new items, but it’s easy to get complacent and assume everything is the same week to week. Even if you don’t have time to make a full circuit of the store, check out the seasonal section on every visit. Whether it’s Halloween costumes, Christmas tree ornaments or summer swim and camping gear, Costco’s buyers seem to find the most creative and novel items for holidays and special events.

4. You might have to buy two of certain items

Costco bagels
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This might be the weirdest tip on this list, but Costco really does require you to buy two of certain baked goods. I was actually sent back to the bakery department by a cashier when researching this story because I’d only grabbed one pack of Danish pastries. Fortunately, this seems to only apply to some bakery items, and it’s clearly marked on the label once you know to look for it.

5. No coupons allowed

Woman with her arms in an X
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As a former supermarket cashier, I’ve always loved using coupons for savings. But Costco doesn’t accept any manufacturer coupons. The company sends a savings book to its members in the mail, but it’s not a coupon book anymore. It pretty much just tells you where the best deals are. You don’t need to clip physical coupons from it; just read through it for ideas on what to purchase. I also find it useful to download the Costco app, which also lists the store’s current promotions.

6. Look for the Kirkland Signature brand

Imported parmesan cheese at a Costco warehouse
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Costco’s house brand is called Kirkland Signature, named for a Seattle suburb near the company’s headquarters. Keep an eye out for that label. These products are often cheaper than name brands and just as good. In fact, many are made by name-brand suppliers. For further reading: Here are some surprising facts about Kirkland Signature products and the nine most popular items. (And to be fair, here are some to avoid.)

7. Consider your home storage before you buy

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This might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve definitely gotten carried away at Costco and loaded up my cart with too many good deals, forgetting that the store’s bulk portions don’t always work with my regular-sized house and fridge. Sure, you can freeze much of what you buy but better make sure you have the freezer room first. Or split your purchases with a friend.

8. Go hungry and order the hot dog-soda combo

Costco food court
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Don’t eat lunch before you shop at Costco. Their food court (well … really it’s a food counter, but they call it a “court”) is always worth checking out. You can get pizza by the slice or buy an entire pizza. There’s also a variety of main course and dessert options, usually including sandwiches, churros and frozen yogurt sundaes.

But the No. 1 meal by far is the $1.50 hot dog and soda combo. It’s so beloved that Costco’s chief financial officer says the company will try and hold that price “forever.”

9. Keep your receipt handy after checkout

Costco receipt
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You’ll need to show your membership card at checkout. Once the cashier gives your card back plus your receipt, you can put the card back in your wallet or purse but keep the receipt handy. Head towards the exits, then show your receipt to the employee waiting there, who will mark it and hand it back.

My pro tip: There are usually two employees, one on either side of the door, but for whatever reason, customers tend to just get in one line and stay there. If there’s a second line moving faster, don’t be afraid to join the end of that line.

10. The gas hose reaches to both sides of your car

Costco gasoline
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One of the perks of Costco membership: Their gasoline is usually cheaper than almost anywhere else. Naturally, the lines for gas are long as a result. But the pumps have some of the longest hoses I’ve ever seen. You can usually pull them over the top of your vehicle and still have some room left. So you can pull up with your gas tank on the far side of your car from the pump, instead of waiting for a pump on the side you usually use.

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