Is Costco membership worth it?

I know this is controversial but I thought it might be fun to share thoughts on this.

I am a dissenter and do not pay for a membership. Instead I use the Costco gift card for non-members gambit. It does work; I just did it yesterday. BTW, you do not have to do anything special. You just show them the gift card on the way in if anyone asks–they never ask us. Then get your stuff and check out. The clerk has to call someone over to approve it but we never have problems with it. We do not shop there often (see below) and go to different clerks so they do not get to know us.

OK, on to the main topic. Why not paid Costco membership?
Background: just my wife and me and we like to shop bargains.

  1. They do not carry the same stuff all the time, deliberately keep moving stuff around and do not label the aisles to force you to go through the whole store to find your stuff.

  2. They only carry one kind of any item so they do not have to manage a large inventory. A typical Costco only stocks about 4,000 different items, a small fraction of the 50,000 at a typical supermarket or the 100,000 at the average Wal-Mart .

The limited selection is really annoying. Some examples:
unscented moisturizing lotions NA
non-whitening toothpaste NA
non-sweetened bite size shredded wheat NA

  1. As to price, you can easily beat them if you shop the sales.
    top sirloin steak Choice: Costco $8/lb Safeway $5/lb
    whole chicken: Costco $1.29/lb (must buy 2 or 3) Safeway $0.79 /lb for one chicken
    blueberries: $4/lb must buy 2 pounds–Sprouts $2/18 oz
    almond butter: Costco $8/lb in 2.5 pound jar. Trader Joe’s $5.99 for one pound jar. (nut butters are fatty and get rancid fast)
    eggs: Trader Joe’s always beat their price and you only have to buy a dozen at a time.

  2. As to Costco Travel again you can easily beat them. For example on rental cars, shop or to get the lowest price. Can be cancelled at any time. Enter your price into and they will notify you as lower prices appear.

Positives for Costco (and reasons I sometimes shop there)

  1. Good prices on a few items especially on sale: We buy toilet paper, sardines, and store brand monterrey jack cheese there.
  2. We like the samples when we go there although I have not found any that I would buy–mostly pre-prepared stuff and we like to cook from scratch.
  3. Good prices on prescription medicine but here in California you do not have to be a member to buy it.

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I haven’t done any comparisons yet, but right now we would have to drive 20 minutes to get to costco or sams club. We have 2 walmarts and 4 supermarkets that are within 2-5 minutes from our house. And they are building a 5th (which really means my area is big enough for a costco or sams and would have made more sense there than another supermarket, but hey, I’m not a developer or retailer, so what do I know). We only have one small child.

I could see it making sense to make the 20 minute trip for bulk groceries once a month if/when we have two children that are school age, but right now, all those factors listed above plus the membership fee far outweigh the savings on bulk items from costco or sams for us. If they ever build one closer, I would want to go the giftcard route for a while before considering a membership.

It’s sort of case by case, and where you’d shop as an alternative. If you’d otherwise go to a Walmart or Aldi, the savings aren’t massive, but pretty good if you would go to a Whole Foods or Fresh Market. We entertain a lot, so we do save decent amounts on their store brand wine and liquor, as well as prescriptions. We’re in a fancy neighborhood, so our local grocers are pretty expensive.

Also, a non financial factor, my local Costco is pleasant to shop at, but their competitors are total disasters. Think of the membership fee as a door charge to keep the riffraff out.

Bonus points to the OP for doing the gift card entrance method!


We live 5 minutes away from a Costco and been members for about 10 years, so here’s my experience.

  1. Gas is very cheap, especially for premium - compared to others in the area, they are always about 10 cents cheaper.
  2. I think their beef and pork are superior to our local Publix and Walmart. Price-wise, probably the same if we buy in bulk. Since we have a family of four, this is not an issue anymore.
  3. Their dry goods are not the best deal - I would agree with you that I can save more money by going to Trader Joe’s or Publix for Buy One Get One Free sale.
  4. Rotisserie Chickens, TP, Bottled Water, Paper Towels, liquor are always the lowest at Costco.

Again, have to be cognizant of what you’re buying. We spend a lot of money there and the service and quality has always been top-notch along with great customer service. I could not say that for Walmart.


it’s a huge YMMV. In my area just filling up with gas pays for the membership everything else is gravy. I like that it doesn’t have 50 different types of Ketchup or something stupid like that just the stuff I need and buy. Also the no question ask return policy that has very fast returns. Not like Walmart where it takes forever and they are worse then the TSA when you try and return something.


This is a good thing – you don’t have to stand there comparing all the options, someone has already done it for you. The quality of the things they sell is usually pretty good, even the stuff made in China, at least in my experience.

You can’t always beat them for rental cars, I’ve tried many times. You can cancel anytime (or maybe up to 24hours in advance, I don’t remember), and re-book if the price drops. Also includes an additional driver for free.

A few more positives:

  • Tires: good selection, reasonable prices (with coupon), free rotation.
  • The Citi credit card has pretty good cash back for Costco, gas, and restaurants.
  • Return policy.

Tire selection is great and their deals are awesome. Just picked up my Michelins that include the hazard warranty at no charge.

For TVs and appliances, Costco’s extended warranty and white-glove delivery service can’t be beat but for me, their membership isn’t worth it. I don’t care if anyone refuses to shop at Sam’s Club because Walmart is the devil but I’ve been a member for 14 years so these are the things I can tell you. Sam’s Club is less crowded in the parking lot and in the store. All of the aisles are clearly marked so products are easy to find. Some Sam’s Clubs don’t check for membership ID. And it’s funny to see some people flash their ID anyway. You know those people also shop at Costco. Although I have been to a couple of stores that checked so YMMV. Sam’s Club has self-checkout stations as well as the Scan & Go app which let’s you scan and pay using your smartphone. You head straight to the door. No waiting in checkout lines. The annual membership fee is also cheaper. Some stores sell Polish hot dogs! Polish hot dogs are overrated though. Basically I’m not wasting a lot of time compared to shopping at Costco and we all know time is money.

I just noticed that the Chase Freedom card 5% categories for next quarter include wholesale clubs so you can buy a gift card with a friend’s account on their website. It is also a 5% bonus category with Discover cards but I do not know whether they still take them on their website.

Several have mentioned cheap gasoline. It is not sold in my local store but I checked Califonia gas prices website and it looks to be about 30 cents a gallon cheaper than at ARCO where I usually buy. We drive very little so it would not make a difference to me but I could see how that could add up if you drive quite a bit.

Just out of curiosity,I wonder if you can buy gas using the Costco gift card and no membership?

edit: I rechecked and gas is only 20 cents per gallon cheaper. But just so you in other states can see how bad it is in Cali–the actual prices are $3.30/gallon in Costco San Jose and $3.50 per gallon at an ARCO near me

Yes you can but the lines are similar to those from the Great Depression.


True. We never shop there when people would be there after work or on the weekend. Probably skews my satisfaction with the place.

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I’m still on my dad’s membership and he likes the bread, milk, and gas prices. I am in charge of running the coffee canteen at work and they like Costco coffee the best, plus at $9 for three pounds it’s pretty cheap. That and emergency supplies. I spend almost but not quite enough for Executive to be worth it, and buy gift cards during 5% categories for credit cards.

No one has yet come up with a compelling reason to be a member.

These are all just reasons Costco is a good place to shop.

The Gas is not worth the 20 minute wait to fill up. Get gas at a cheap grocery store station for about the same.

In CA you can buy booze at Costco just by asking for an alcohol pass at the front door.

OP already buys GC and uses those to skirt the membership.

And in CA online purchases from Costco/Sams have no added 5/10% fee.

The Citi credit card that has been mentioned more than pays the membership fee for me; and i only use it for restaurants and at Costco, since I have other 5% cards for gas etc.

Speaking of gas, I go early, like 7am weekdays or 8am weekends and usually wait just a few minutes at most.

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If you’re buying premium gas, it can be significantly cheaper, and when I go to the costco near us I’ve only had to wait one time.

I bought a computer monitor from them that saved me 85 dollars right there, from the lowest price I could find anywhere (members only price). But I already knew exactly what monitor I wanted and got lucky that costco happened to have it, and for significantly cheaper so very ymmv.

If you use a costco cash card you cannot pay the balance due with a credit card.

The alcohol (and prescriptions) without membership are iirc based on state law, so may vary depending on where you are.

The executive 2% back pays for my membership itself, and of course you can still price match with a credit card if costco is more expensive.

So, depends a lot on individual habits and location.

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Interesting. Aren’t there items on that can’t be purchased at all without membership? “Member-only item”.

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@Full_Disclosure mentioned this as well. I suppose this is a valid reason to be a member if those items are really needed and the savings real.

I use Costco just for eyeglasses and gas. It’s been worth it to me. I don’t drive that much so I figure I save $30-$40 in gas per year but I save a lot more for eyeglasses.

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Do you need to be a Costco member to shop for glasses? The in-store optometrists (the exam part) are independent. Could we use the cash card for contacts/lenses/frames?