9 Hacks to Make You a Smarter Costco Shopper

Get the most out of your membership fee with these pointers.

Costco has quickly woven itself into the fabric of the American shopping experience. There are entire Instagram accounts dedicated to every shopper's love of this bulk food mecca. New products are greeted with rapturous fanfare, and seasonal favorites are as highly anticipated as the holidays themselves.

But if you've been in a Costco, you know there's a bit of a game to this magic place. To find the best deals, you've got a speak a certain code. More than that, you have to do a little store-to-store comparison to find where Costco is far and away the better pick.

The good news? We've done all that work for you. Here are nine insider shopping hacks you might not have known about Costco.

1. Look for prices that end in 97 cents.

When items aren't selling quickly enough for a store, the prices will get slashed. An easy way to recognize when this happens is to look at the price tag. Items ending in $0.97 have been discounted to reflect this get-a-move-on markdown.

2. Kirkland Signature is quality.

Kirkland Signature, Costco's exclusive house brand, often ranks better than their name-brand equivalents. These high-quality alternatives feature the same ingredients as popular brands, which have led many consumers to question: Is it the same product just relabeled with Costco's house label? Top Kirkland Signature products include: vodka, purified water, wine, vitamins, olive oil, and non-iron dress shirts.

3. Fill up the tank.

After you've filled up your cart, be sure to fill the tank in your vehicle. Many Costco stores feature an adjacent gas station for members. A CBS News report found that the retailer can offer gasoline six to 12 cents below market price.

4. Be a bulk shopper for this one item.

Curious about the number one item to stock up on when shopping in bulk? It's meat. For smaller families, buying in bulk means buying now and freezing for later, but a quick tabulation comparing supermarket prices proves Costco the cheaper option.

Dramatic savings on buying in bulk also applies to Costco's selection of fresh produce and dairy, particularly for larger families, who can consume it all prior to expiration.

5. Stock up on gift cards.

Consumers can save big on bulk gift cards. Costco offers shoppers a variety of gift card options — everything from restaurants to movie theaters. Some are marked down up to 20 percent.

6. Swing by the pharmacy for savings.

Costco Pharmacy offers hundreds of generic drug brands priced at $10 or less for a 90-day supply. Warehouse pharmacies also offer low-cost immunization services and free hearing tests, as well as a full Hearing Aid Center.

7. Bring your own bags.

Costco warehouses do not provide shopping bags at checkout like a normal grocer. Though the stores often have leftover boxes that can be used for hauling items to the car, they are not a given and can be bulky for backseats or trunks. Packing several reusable bags where purchases can be grouped saves time and hassle when unloading your car, too.

8. Take notice of an asterisk on the price tag.

If you notice an asterisk on the price tag of an item you love, it's time to stock up. That little star means that product is being discontinued at Costco.

9. Not satisfied? Take it back.

Don't like what you've purchased or disappointed in the quality of an item? One of Costco's biggest perks is that they will take almost anything back. Customer satisfaction is a top priority for this mega store. Use this perk within reason, because we'd all like to see Costco's generous return policy stick around.

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