If you're a Costco member, you probably know a thing or two about saving a buck. But there are ways to cut costs even further at the ubiquitous warehouse club, with its nearly 700 locations worldwide. Part of the strategy is knowing where and when to find the deepest deals. It also pays to choose only the best products from Consumer Reports' tests of Costco products large and small, including condiments, detergents, mattresses, and more. Here's the score:
For starters, it's always good to check the Costco website for discounts. "Our job is to provide great products and services at great savings to members, but we also want to wow you," says Richard Galanti, Costco's chief financial officer. The website makes that possible with savings on large appliances, exercise equipment, and luxury items you might not expect. The website has plenty of offerings you won't find in the store.
You can also find offers on the Costco app. A handy feature of the app lets you clip desired deals to your shopping list, upload photos directly to the photo center, and check the hours of your local store, among other things.
Some Kirkland detergents kept pace in our tests with name-brand detergents that cost two and three times as much. If you use liquid detergent, try the Kirkland Signature Free & Clear, 11 cents per load. It was tough on grass, blood, and ring-around-the-collar in our tests (though not quite as effective overall as the top-rated Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release, 25 cents per load.)
For your dishwasher, the Kirkland Signature Dishwasher Pacs, 9 cents per load, were very good at cleaning items with caked-on and baked-on macaroni and cheese. Compare the Kirkland pacs with our top-rated Cascade Complete ActionPacs, which cost 29 cents per load.
We've been big fans of Costco's Kirkland Signature Regular Sliced Bacon for a while now, noting its crispiness and balance of fat and meat flavors. We like it even more thanks to its lower price, down from $16 for the 4-pound pack to as little as $10 or $12, depending on the location. That's about $1.50 less per pound than what you'll spend on leading name-brand bacons from our tests, none of which tasted as good.
In blind taste tests, we found the Kirkland Signature Real Mayonnaise to be just as good as Hellmann's, for about 60 percent of the cost; the texture did seem slightly less dense, however, so it might take some getting used to. Kirkland Signature maple syrup also delivered good value and flavor, surely enough for your kid's waffles.
If your home has a lot electronic devices, including toys, remote controls, smoke alarms, and flashlights, go for the bulk supply of Kirkland Signature AA Alkaline batteries. They were judged excellent overall in our tests and cost just 27 cents per battery.
Costco's pharmacy department offers hundreds of prescription medications at deeply discounted prices—so low you may not need your insurance at all. As a bonus: no membership required. Costco stores in nearly every state allow you to use their pharmacy for free. While available medications aren't listed on Costco.com, a quick call to the pharmacy desk at your local store should be able to provide you with the information.
Though Kirkland paper products don't make our recommended list, they have some redeeming qualities—in addition to the great price. Kirkland Signature toilet paper, 12 cents per 100 sheets, is quite soft and disintegrates easily; it lost points for strength and tearing ease in our tests. In our paper towel tests, the Kirkland Signature Premium Big Roll, $1.47, was extremely absorbent, though also a bit short on strength. Both products have been reformulated since our tests, so results may vary.
In our latest ratings of eyeglass stores, based on a survey of nearly 20,000 subscribers, Costco topped our chart, beating out most other chains. And when it comes to the cost of frames and lenses, Costco shoppers spent much less than those who bought from independent retailers, private physicians, or the specialty stores LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. The median price paid at Costco was $186, compared to about $300 at the other options. If multiple people in your family wear glasses, the savings can really add up. One caveat: Costco's frame selection is relatively limited.
Kirkland Signature organic chicken stock served up impressive flavors, and at $12 for a case of six 32-ounce containers, it was about half the price of other top-scoring products from Knorr and Swanson. While we haven't tested Kirkland's organic milk, it's USDA certified, and at roughly $4 per quart, it's a buck or more less than what many national brands charge. Kirkland organic eggs are another bargain, costing about $8 for a 2-dozen container.
Some Costco prices are better than others, and the price tag code is the place to spot the biggest bargains. If the price ends in ".97" instead of the more common ".99" that's a sign that the price has been marked down. Also look for an asterisk in the upper right corner of the tag, especially on favorite items, since that marking means the item is being replaced by different stock.
Costco could be the place to nab your next mattress. The Novaform 14" Serafina Pearl Gel, $800, is one of our highest-rated latex foam models. Unfortunately, you can't try the mattress out in the store. We also liked the Spring Air Back Supporter Natalie, $1,200. But while Costco doesn't have an official return policy for mattresses, as far as we can tell, they won't charge for shipping and handling if you contact them within a reasonable period of time, say a few months after purchase. You don't even need to save the box.
Costco also carries our top-rated blender, the Vitamix Professional Series 750. At $600, they're not exactly giving it away, but that's about $50 less than what you'll spend at other retailers.
It's a good way try a new product without committing to the 5 or 10-pound bag. The handouts can also help introduce young picky eaters to new foods. And don't be shy about going back for seconds. "The sample sizes are generally large to start with, so you can go back two or three times," says Galanti. "We, and the vendor, want you to like it."
Just be careful about making too many impulse purchases, no matter how tasty the snacks. And try not to treat the free samples like your lunch or dinner. Better to sit down to a proper meal, maybe centered on a nice Costco rotisserie chicken, for the hard-to-beat (and never changing) price of $4.99. "It's become a signature item," says Galanti. "I've been on shareholder calls where I've had to say, ‘earnings would've been higher, but we kept the chicken at $4.99.'"
—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter)