I generally recommend that frugal shoppers should avoid Costco, because Costco is exceptionally good at making people part with their hard-earned cash. But, there are exceptions to every rule. There are a few things you can do to hack Costco without a membership. Keep your hard earned money, but still take advantage of some of Costco’s low prices. Besides, it just feels a little dirty joining a club dedicated to mass-consumption.
1. Cheap Eats
This is a fairly well-known secret in suburban So Cal where I live: you can hack Costco food courts without a membership. All you need is a Costco with an outdoor food court. While technically you’re supposed to have a membership, Costco managers themselves admit that they simply don’t have the resources to check at the outdoor food courts. If you need a half-dozen pizzas and polish sausages for a party, this is the place to go.
Even if your local Costco has an indoor food court, you can still get access by having a cash card (see below), or by telling the door guy that you’re on your way to sign up for membership. It depends on each individual Costco, but some will just allow open access to the indoor food courts.
2. Pharmacy & Optical
Most Costco locations have pharmacies and optical services. Federal law prohibits anyone providing these types of medical services from limiting access. So, you don’t need a Costco membership to access Costco’s pharmacy and optical services. If you have recurring prescriptions, access to Costco’s discounts can save you a ton of cash. Just tell the door guy that you’re going for pharmacy/optical, the doors will open.
Many people love Costco for no other reason than it’s deals on wine and alcohol. You don’t need a membership card to enter and buy alcohol at Costco in about a dozen states. (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Texas according to this article) But, be careful. While you may have the legal right to walk in and purchase alcohol without a membership in these states, many Costco workers apparently are not familiar with the laws. So you may run into resistance by the door guy and/or the cashier. But persistence should win the day if you insist.
4. Costco Cash Card
Do you know a friend who is a Costco member? Slip them some cash, and ask them to buy you a Costco cash card. This like a gift card that doubles as a membership card to get you in the door. You can walk into any Costco and buy whatever you like with one of these.
Hack Costco Pizzas & The Frugal Rule of 20
The Frugal Rule of 20 is a rule of thumb I use to estimate how much a spending habit costs over 10 years.
A large 18-inch pepperoni pizza at my local New York style pizza place is $19.50 for pick-up. If you go hack the Costco food court instead, you will pay about $10.50 for the same size pepperoni pizza here in Southern California. That’s a 46% discount, and $9 savings per pizza. Let’s say you and your family order out for pizza twice a month. At $9 savings per pizza, you’ll save $216 per year by hacking Costco.
Apply the Frugal Rule of 20 to the Costco pizza nights: $216/year x 20 = $4,320
In other words, by ordering Costco pizza instead of your regular take out pizza consistently for 10 years, you would have $4,320 extra in the bank.
OK…. admittedly nobody wants to order from the same pizza place for 10 years, unless it’s really really awesome pizza (Costco’s isn’t). But, the point is that small changes in your spending habits can result in a big difference over time. I wouldn’t mind saving 4Gs just on pizza alone.