Is Costco really worth the $55 annual fee? If you’re on the fence about joining the warehouse club, this is undoubtedly a question you’ve asked yourself many times. While Costco can contain spending traps for undisciplined shoppers, the store also provides many unique ways to save money. Money that can easily cover, and greatly exceed, the $55 annual membership. Here are a few items that provide enough savings to justify the annual fee. (See also: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know You Could Buy at Costco)
1. Wine. If you regularly buy wine from your local liquor or grocery store, you’re probably overspending. According to Andrew Cullen, founder and editor ofCostcoWineBlog.com, your local Costco sells an excellent selection of wines at very affordable prices.
“I’d say wines at Costco, from my experience in the Atlanta area, are generally priced 10 to 20 percent below other liquor stores,” says Cullen. “Compared to grocery stores, that difference would be even higher.” If you’re buying at least five bottles of wine a month, that savings alone will typically pay for your annual membership.
Cullen adds that the “handpicked nature of the selection” at Costco is another factor that gives them an edge when it comes to buying wine. “Regardless of the varietal or region or price range, wines from Costco typically offer a strong quality to price ratio, almost like they have to pass a screening before they are presented in the stores. That’s not to say I haven’t encountered a few duds here and there, but all in all, the quality of the selection is pretty good.” But like anything in the warehouse, if you pass on a particular wine selection, be aware that it may be gone the next day, never to return.
2. Car tires. If you’re in need of a new set of tires for your car, the $55 membership fee can easily be recouped with a single purchase of four passenger tires. I recently priced a set of four tires for our minivan and Costco was $85 cheaper than my local tire shop and $120 less than what the dealer was asking. Savings was really noticeable when I factored in installation fees which were a reasonable $15 a tire at Costco, compared to $45 at the dealership.
Other side benefits of buying your tires from Costco includes lifetime balancing and rotations, free flat repairs and a 60-month road hazard warranty.
3. Lunch or dinner. Another easy and tasty way to recoup your $55 is at the very affordable Costco food court. Easily their most famous offering is the hot dog and soda meal, which is really hard to beat. For only $1.50, you get a big hot dog and a 20 oz. soda with free refills. It only gets tastier with an excellent condiment bar which features a fresh onion slicer so you can load up your dog. I have a hard time passing up this meal whenever I visit the warehouse close to the lunch hour as it’s a very affordable way to grab a quick bite.
The savings aspect is probably greatest when talking about their pizza. For only $10, you get an extra large pizza that can easily feed a family of four or five, depending on how big the appetites are. But if you have kids and are hosting a birthday party, soccer party or the like, you can really save by ordering pizza from Costco. You’ll be able to feed a lot of people a quality meal, and with the lean prices, you’ll come out ahead when comparing the price to most local pizzerias.
Insider tip: When checking out from Costco, be sure to place your food court order directly from your cashier. That way you’ll only have to pay once and can save time by simply picking up your food from the pick-up window and completely bypass the food court line.
4. Movie tickets. If you go to the movies at least once a month, you should bebuying your movie tickets directly from Costco. Popular theaters that regularly sell discount tickets at Costco include Cinemark, Regal, AMC and Cinelux. For example, right now you can buy a 10-pack of tickets for AMC Theaters for $84.99. Before you ask, these tickets have NO expiration date and can be used seven days a week. With tickets hovering around $11 to $13 nationally, you just saved about 30 percent off your next movie. For a family with kids who love seeing a flick in the theater, buying your movie tickets at Costco is a total no-brainer and can single-handedly pay for your annual Costco membership.
5. Gift cards. Once you take notice of the gift card deals at Costco, you’ll never buy one anywhere else. They sell gift cards for restaurants, theme parks, local attractions and golf outings. Savings on average is 20 to 30 percent off the face value of the card. For example, right now they have four $25 Smashburger gift cards for $79.99 and five $10 Jamba Juice gift cards for $34.99. If you buy discounted gift cards at Costco for places you know you’ll be buying from anyways, or are looking for cheap gift ideas for teachers and coaches, you can save significant money.
6. Prescription drugs (especially generics). If you’re buying prescription drugs on a monthly basis, you can easily recoup your membership fee by purchasing from Costco. According to a study by Consumer Reports, shoppers can easily save more than $55 per year by buying their generic drugs from the Costco pharmacy. The reason Costco can charge less has to do with their huge inventory and ability to buy in bulk from suppliers and pass the savings along to you. Also, while drugstores like CVS and Walgreens depend heavily on drug sales, Costco can afford to give a discount on prescription drugs and stay profitable.
By understanding the products at Costco that are a great value, you can easily justify the $55 annual membership fee. Just be sure you don’t blow the money you save on the bright and shiny objects Costco stocks in the front section of the warehouse. Stuff you had no idea existed, but clearly can’t live without…stuff that also happens to pad their profits. (See also: 15 Things You Should Buy at Costco)