Is a Costco Membership Worth It?

FT Contributor  | 

For the right consumer, Costco can be a convenient way to save money on groceries and also live comfortably on a tight budget. Aisle after aisle showcases popular goods sold in bulk, with extra services like a food court, gas station, optometrist, electronics center, and travel agent on site.

It is the one-size-fits-all approach for the demanding American household, and while it may not be the best fit for single or smaller households, there is no denying that larger families can save a ton of money with a Costco membership.

How Much Is a Costco Membership?

Costco offers several different membership options for both residential and business needs. Members must be 18 and older to sign up, and membership lasts one year with optional annual renewal by credit card payment. Costco accepts all major credit card providers.

All members are required to have a Costco photo ID card that you will use to enter and check out at stores. Membership includes access for children, as well as two guests during each trip to the store.

These are the kinds of memberships available at Costco:

Gold Star

Annual membership fee: $60 plus tax.

The Gold Star membership is the standard Costco membership with one free household card. This basic membership gains you access to the store for shopping, but you don’t receive any of the extra perks like travel or cashback rewards. Gold Star is perfect if all you want to do is shop.

Gold Star Executive

Annual membership fee: $120 plus tax.

The Gold Star Executive allows the same privileges as the Gold Star plan and allows just one card and one executive membership per household.

Members also receive an annual 2% reward or up to $1,000 on eligible purchases, including travel.

Business

Annual membership fee: $60 plus tax.

Businesses may benefit from Costco, too. Business accounts allow for more than one member card, so your whole team has access to shop.

Business accounts are granted the right to purchase for resale; private memberships are not. There is a maximum of one business membership per household.

Business Executive

Annual membership fee: $120 plus tax.

Business Executive members receive the same benefits as the Business plan but also receive cashback rewards and travel perks. Members receive 2% rewards on Costco purchases and travel, as well as additional discounts and savings.

Students and Military

Annual membership fee: included with regular membership.

There are special discounts for student and military members. You must be a new member, or if you are a previous member, your membership must be expired for at least 18 months.

Students 18 and older will receive a $20 Costco gift card when they sign up for a new membership online through the college savings program UNiDAYS.

Military members can benefit from special savings, to include active, retired, and veteran military families, as well as their spouses and dependents. Costco uses Troop ID to confirm your military credentials, and once accepted, you’ll receive exclusive coupons and savings in the mail to put toward future shopping trips.

What Are the Costco Membership Benefits?

Costco offers far more than just groceries in its attempt to help you maximize your savings. A Costco membership is like couponing for beginners but without the time and effort required with traditional coupons.

Health and Insurance

  • Free health screenings:

Costco has hearing aid centers featuring a ton of free services like complimentary hearing tests, product demonstrations, follow-up appointments, cleanings, and check-ups; for hearing aid products, the store offers a free warranty and loss and damage replacement with no deductible.

Costco’s optical centers provide prescription eyeglasses, sunglasses, and contact lenses. You can also have your eye exam with an independent doctor of optometry.

  • Insurance:

Costco partners with Custom Benefit Consultants, Inc. (CBC) to offer different insurance policies for your family, including health, vision, and dental coverage. You can also get auto insurance and life insurance. There are even policies available for both small business insurance and large business insurance.

  • Low-cost vaccinations:

Costco’s local pharmacies provide many critical immunizations, such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, shingles, tetanus, and more. You can even get a free flu shot with most insurance coverage.

Everyday Savings

  • Low gas prices:

Costco offers a choice of regular, diesel, or Kirkland Signature fuel, featuring deposit control additives to clean your engine and reduce emissions. There is also a new convenient pay fob available for California, Hawaii, and Washington residents.

  • Credit card:

If you sign up for Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi, you can receive cashback rewards with up to 4% savings on gas for your first year and 1% thereafter. These rewards also apply to travel dining and most other purchases that you make.

  • Discount movie tickets and gift cards:

Costco offers discounted gift cards and tickets. You can get cheap tickets from AMC Theaters, Universal Studios Hollywood, and live concerts in your area. Gift cards are available for everyday services like 24 Hour Fitness, iFly for the kids, and popular restaurants like California Pizza Kitchen and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse.

  • High-quality items:

Warehouses offer exclusive member pricing on brand-name items. This includes not only groceries, but also clothing, books, electronics, and jewelry. Many items are sold in bulk for additional savings, but even individual items boast big markdowns compared to other retailers.

Travel

Members may benefit from Costco’s exclusive travel discounts for things like ski tickets and winter activities. There are also tourist and city attraction gift cards and a large selection of gift cards for hotels, spas, and cruises. Additionally, travel immunizations are available through Costco’s exclusive member programs.

Executive member travel benefits include additional discounts, savings, and upgrades while also accruing points toward cashback bonuses.

Is a Costco Membership Worth It if You Don’t Buy in Bulk?

While you may be stuck buying enough Cheerios to feed your child’s entire class, many members may find enormous convenience in stockpiling non-perishables for their families. Even smaller families might appreciate the savings that come with buying in bulk, and it is a time-saving strategy for some parents today, regardless of how many people they are feeding.

A Costco membership can be ideal for the minimalist lifestyle, as basic necessities are available in bulk savings. Costco also won popularity when it entered the organic market, offering several organic products from both its big-name and Kirkland lines.   Many business owners also shop at Costco for the exclusive sales and bulk buys.

Many of Costco’s products and services also extend far beyond bulk sale, with gas and health insurance savings making membership possibly worth it even for those who do not buy bulk.

Costco may not be worth it for everyone. Consumers who prefer to buy local may not appreciate the big-box mentality of Costco, and single or smaller households may prefer to save money by shopping in smaller quantities at other stores like Walmart or Target. There are also some people who only shop organic and prefer special markets and local butchers for their shopping.

Whether Costco is worth it for you depends on your lifestyle and things like how many people you are shopping for, your shopping habits, and your budget. Not everyone can front the cash that buying in bulk requires.

What Services Does Costco Offer Without a Membership?

Not all Costco perks are limited to members. Everyone can benefit from some Costco services in a creative way to save money each month.

You do not need a Costco membership to enjoy the following:

  • Low-cost prescriptions:

Costco offers a wide variety of medical prescriptions for both members and non-members. Their online drug directory shows which prescriptions are available.

  • Cheap food court options:

Costco’s food court is famous for its huge, fresh slices of pizza, enormous hot dogs, and buttery pretzels. It is also famous for its price, making the food court a popular stop for a quick and cheap lunch.  

  • Discount liquor: 

Costco sells liquor, too, but it is not available to everyone everywhere.

These states require Costco and other membership clubs to sell alcohol without a membership:

  • Arizona;
  • California;
  • Connecticut;
  • Delaware;
  • Hawaii;
  • Indiana;
  • Massachusetts;
  • Michigan;
  • Minnesota;
  • New York;
  • Texas;
  • Vermont.

Is Costco Worth the Membership Fee?

A Costco membership has it all: your food, gas, healthcare, liquor, travel, and insurance. There is not much you can’t find here, which explains why Costco has over 98 million customers worldwide and counting.

Even if you aren’t sure whether Costco is right for you, there is a 100% risk-free satisfaction guarantee that removes the sting of the initial investment. Costco’s guarantee applies not just to their products, but also your membership, so you have the extra security of knowing you can get a refund if you don’t use the membership. It may even be worth it for those small households and families that don’t need Costco’s bulk products but perhaps could use some of the other services, like insurance or access to the pharmacy.

Costco just might be the answer to making your personal budget work without the pain and suffering that is normally associated with penny-pinching.


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