No Costco Membership? Shopping At Costco Still Saves Money

by Guest Blogger on 2012-07-1632

If you’re a Costco member, you can take advantage of the bulk buying, especially for certain products. But for those of you who aren’t members of Costco, you can still benefit from some deals offered by this warehouse club. Here are some great tips for shopping at Costco even if you’re not a member!

No Costco Membership? Shopping At Costco Still Saves Money

1. You do not have to be a Costco member to get a flu shot there. Unless you have access to a free shot, Costco has the lowest price I have found so far for the flu shot, at $20. The pneumonia shot is $35. Call ahead to see what dates and times they are administering the vaccines. Some restrictions apply. Prices creep up if you go elsewhere. Walgreens gives flu shots for a fee of $25 to $30, which seems like the standard charge for inoculations offered at large store pharmacies. Rite aid has the flu shot for $30 and the pneumonia shot for $45.

2. Non-members can use the pharmacy. Just tell the employee at the entrance that you are headed there and they will waive you in without a membership card. The Costco pharmacy takes cash and credit cards. You can really save a lot at the pharmacy — case in point: I paid $5 for a generic prescription with my Visa that another chain wanted $80 for. One of my blog readers saved $200 getting prescriptions filled at Costco.

3. Members can purchase Costco cash cards and give them to non-members. This was a little known fact about shopping at Costco that a new friend shared with me. Recipients can get a free one-day membership to use the cash card on gas or warehouse items. The cards are also good online. Watch out for customer service snags though, as I’ve heard that some folks experienced problems using them in the past.

Cash cards make great gifts and they are useful for employees, students living away from home, and friends who are dying to buy 20 pounds of strawberries. Costco’s page on cash cards lacks details but it may be possible for the recipient to re-load a card as long as they leave some money on it. It also looks like recipients can buy goods for more than the card is worth as long as they can pay for the remainder in cash.

It is unclear if a non-member who receives a Costco cash card is limited to a certain number of uses per year. I suppose if they start recognizing you, you’ll need to pony up $50 and get a membership. Otherwise, the usage guidelines are somewhat open to interpretation. Just remember to bring cash.

Costco Warehouse Club

4. Non-members can purchase items at, though you’ll pay a small surcharge for not being a member. Not a bad idea to price check before making purchases, especially if you are in the market for a coffin.

5. Consider splitting a membership with a friend if you do want to take advantage of the full warehouse. Costco has no problem if the second person on the membership lives at a different address! (If you need prescription glasses, this would be a fabulous deal that makes it worthwhile to join.)

Costco can be a major money suck: huge carts, huge portions, huge bills. That’s why I am not a member. But strangely enough, some of their best deals are open to non-members!

This guest article is by Julia Scott, who helps people save on groceries, gasoline and household bills at If this post on Costco helped you save money, do visit her site!

Created October 11, 2009. Updated July 16, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Manshu October 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm

You can just borrow a card for filling gas and stuff, if your friend or whoever it is that’s lending you doesn’t mind.

John DeFlumeri Jr October 11, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Great info about the non-member benefits. You are right also about Costco being a money suck!

Financial Samurai October 11, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Ahh, Costco…… the reason why they are so profitable is because they are making a lot of money off their members. Stay away from bulk buying. The membership psychology inadvertently causes you to buy more.

I hate their parking lot as well. Always a mad house. Even if the place saved me 5-10% on something, I wouldn’t go because the stress in the parking lot is enough for me to stay away forever.

Buy variable not in bulk!

Silicon Valley Blogger October 11, 2009 at 8:32 pm

I’m a Costco member and I actually like shopping there. I bulk buy on some items — the non-perishables — and I find it extremely convenient. I’m surprised about some of the comments about them. Actually, the Costco close to where I live is not too bad (not too crowded) since we shop at non-peak hours.

Brenda October 12, 2009 at 9:01 am

Costco does not accept Visa. Checks from members, cash or American Express only.

Drew October 14, 2009 at 9:46 am

I stopped shopping at Costco because I found that bulk boxes made my family consume more. When we got a 20 back of paper towels, we used them more often. When we got the triple sized box of cereal, the kids ate it for breakfast, lunch, and 2 snacks a day.

I’ve gone back to the local grocery store, buy normal quantities, and now we use less.

Bob October 14, 2009 at 4:43 pm

I know everyone hates Costco but there are certain instances where paying the 50 bucks for a membership isn’t such a bad thing. I almost never buy groceries there except when my daughter was born and the money I saved on diapers, wipes and formula paid for the membership many times over but now that she’s almost out of diapers and my other one no longer uses them at all, I have let my membership go. October 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Great post. I had no idea that there were ways around the membership if you were interested in shopping there. I don’t think I would shop there enough to take advantage of the $50 membership fee. I think if you have a family you may need to buy in bulk and can come out ahead.

JeffrO October 17, 2009 at 8:06 pm

If you are a single or married DINK …yes, I can see where Costco could be a money sucking temptation. With no real benefit in the long run. In that case, your tips hit the mark!

However, when the family starts growing, Costco bulk and special services provide savings far greater than the annual fee. As our family of five started 16 years ago, the money we have saved on diapers, formula, pet food, milk, cheese, coffee (great!), tires, eyeglasses, gasoline, occassional electronics, and even the food court/deli has far exceeded the annual fees. Annual fees which, if you play it smart, in some years are negligible if you take advantage of cash back rewards.

I will agree though, it takes some self control and comparison shopping savvy. Be a smart shopper. All bulk foods are not created equal. To save 5% on a product, only to waste 10% of it due to spoilage or excess is no bargain. Again, your mileage will vary depending upon your family needs.

Dogfood Provider October 17, 2009 at 10:00 pm

I’m single and while CostCo *can* be a money suck, I’ve figured out how to use it to my advantage.

I buy green peppers there in the fall and flash freeze them so I have them all through the winter, when prices on peppers soar in my area.

I save $10 compared to my favorite grocery store’s prices every time I buy dog food for the dogs that rule my life (2x a month).

I do find that I absolutely cannot shop at CostCo hungry — danger! impulse buys ahead! — and I avoid making purchases that seem like deals but aren’t by shopping with my shopping list and price book in hand.

My CostCo takes my Visa Debit card, by the way, which is very convenient.

I save scads of moolah every time I buy new glasses.

I buy ground beef in bulk, season and cook it in bulk, and freeze it in individual serving sizes. Some of it becomes hamburgers, some sloppy joes, some taco meat, etc. Same thing with ground turkey.

I get one prescription that is $9 at CostCo and ran me $30 at Walgreens.

I save about 20 cents per gallon on gas when compared to the other local gas stations. My CostCo is 2 miles from my house and isn’t out of my way at all, so this is very handy. This saves me about $5 a month, since I drive a fuel efficient car, but that alone covers the cost of my membership. Everything else I save on is just gravy.

mewithoutdebt October 18, 2009 at 10:32 pm

I was not aware that you could buy at Costco without a membership. I have compiled a list of what to buy at Costco & what to avoid at Costco that many may find helpful.

Kim Dresel October 22, 2009 at 3:22 am

My Costco membership more than pays for itself. I get the executive membership–$100/yr, but at the end of the year you get 2% back on everything you’ve bought! For the last couple of years that has meant more than $150 (I buy more than half of my groceries, all my dog and cat food, tires for my car when needed, most gifts and lots of miscellaneous things–batteries, light bilbs, etc, sometimes furniture. . .)
Now that they have a deal with American Express I get cash back from the card, too–I’m careful to pay it off every month so there are no charges to me!

Blastoff Network October 30, 2009 at 9:25 pm

I never knew you could go to the pharmacy without being a member. I wonder if it’s cheaper than walmart’s. I stopped using costco. Just not enough room for all of it.

tktim November 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm

I’ve been told:
Membership is not required for purchases of alcohol in the following states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Vermont.

Membership is not required in most states for purchases of glasses at the optical department.

Jerry January 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Would be nice if Costco offered “guest” memberships for travelers who do not have access to one of their stores in their home town. The closest Costco is over 500 miles from our home and we are not near one often enough to justify a membership.

Carla Richardson April 22, 2010 at 8:53 pm

So if i don’t have a costco card I can still drive there and walk in? what do I have to do?

Jeanette Roybal April 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I will be in Albuquerque and have never been in a Costco store. Do I need a membership card for one day?

Milo April 25, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Another option to paying the remaining balance with cash after using a cash card is to pay with an American Express card; they accept that as payment if you purchase in excess of the cash card’s balance.

Memoria May 6, 2010 at 9:38 pm

You will have to buy at least 5000 dollars worth of merchandise per year in order to get your $100 dollars back if you have the executive membership. RIP-OFF!!

Avid_Juicer May 12, 2010 at 1:20 am

Every other week, including this one, I have purchased kiwi,bananas, watermelon, carrots (4lb) bag, organic apples, organic grapefruit, organic spinach, Fayeh yogurt, white peaches, strawberries and dark black grapes. I am a juicer fanatic and I have to have bulk fresh fruits and veggies for juice 2 times per day. I have shopped at local co-ops and farmers markets for bulk fruits and veggies. I found that farmers market prices are just as competitive to Costco. Costcos’ organic fuji apples are way too high so I do not purchase apples at Costco. I find that some of costcos’ prices are pretty good like the pelligrino water. I clip the costco coupon book to get some savings for alot of items. But overrall, I am a cautious shopper and I do compare costcos’ price and inventory compared to Sams club. So for whatever reason, I switch between the two clubs and shop at one, if not, both to get the better bargain.

Memoria January 6, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I’m dumb and think that i wont save any extra money by shopping at costco. So i would HAVE to spend 5000 at costco! rip off!! someone call the police!

Tyler Deardon February 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’m a little too cheap to pay the membership fee at Costco. Which is why I like this advice. It’s good to know I can still find great deals at Costco without having to pay that membership fee.

Mark Reha July 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm

1 prescription at Rite Aid amounts to $250.00, but at Costco, it’s $27.46, so go there if you have to pay for your RX!!!

Joseph Becket August 4, 2011 at 11:49 am

I love Costco’s membership! I have more than made up for the membership fee.. plus it’s a one stop store so I can pretty much go there for anything I need. Costco is a great company, but like many nationwide businesses it can have some weak spots. I was surfing the internet and I found this site where people can vent about poor customer service or products they received… it can get really funny. I would recommend you to check it out at

connie heise September 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm

It would be nice if you could purchase a 1 day pass or a pass for 2 or 3 days when you live 150 miles or further. For me, it does not make sense to go often but I could go once in a while.

Tony @ A Young Investor July 18, 2012 at 3:36 am

I still like my Costco membership. It’s a lot cheaper than Wal-Mart when you buy in bulk, and the quality of the products is usually better.

P Smithson July 19, 2012 at 1:29 pm

The problem I ran into as a student and early on in my marriage was that I liked going to Costco every now and then but I couldn’t justify spending the $50 for the membership because I didn’t need to buy much more than a cart full of groceries. Costco is great for families but unless I wanted to shop for the entire month I found that it was just too much food or product for a student or someone with no kids. That cash card is a great idea and I admit I didn’t know about it, so thanks for the info.

Karen July 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Is Costo like Sam’s Club where you pay a fee for the privilege to shop there but after you purchase your items the store treats you like you stole something and they have to check your receipt and look all up in your cart to see what you purchased. No thank you, I don’t need to shop at warehouse clubs that treat you like you a criminal. Plus the prices at these so called warehouse stores are not all that great to begin with. They also check your receipt at Walmart.

Aaron @ ThreeThriftyGuys July 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Ah – number 3 is a great idea! Never thought of that. Plus if someone you know is on the fence about shopping there and the prices, getting them a gift card to use there would be a great introduction to the store.

Home Benefit August 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Costco is awesome, pure and simple. I remember someone asked the CEO, why don’t you charge more than $1.55 for a hot dog and a Coke. Why aren’t you figuring out how you can charge more? He answered because he’s trying to figure out how he can charge less. Awesome.

Ohiogirl October 9, 2012 at 8:32 pm

It’s just me and my husband (no kids) but tons of cats – and Costco has saved us HEAPS.

Their pharmacy is awesome. Their vitamin supplements and over the counter meds? Killer. How about $4 for 400 generic benedryl, versus $4 for 20 at a drugstore? Their q-10 (especially if you buy it with one of their coupons) it at least half of any other place in town.

Their canned albacore tuna looks expensive – until you see the quality and how well it is packed. One can is more than my husband and I can eat at one meal.

I’m a home baker and their bulk yeast saves me at least $10 a year.

And don’t get me started on their cheese, on the average 50% less then the supers.

Their tire center (and car battery prices) are really great. And their prices on kitty litter and dry cat food are way lower than you would except for the quality.

Can you get carried away there? Sure. Yes. But that’s not Costco’s fault. Go with a list, have a snack first, and you will be more than fine. And you will save way more than the price of the membership.

Tex October 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

Karen, what’s your problem? Theft is a major problem with retailers. Simply checking to make sure that merchandise leaving the store has been paid for helps them keep the costs down for all customers. Get over it!

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