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Home » Food & Drink

Can You Shop at Costco without a Membership? Yes! Here are 5 Ways

Last updated by on 19 Comments

If you are not one to compromise food quality (like me), but still seek out a good deal – the odds are strong that you have a Costco membership.

And if you don’t, you should seriously consider it.

Just check out some of the Costco prices that I highlighted in my best warehouse deals post in comparison to the reputably inexpensive Trader Joe’s:

  • C&F organic quinoa: 4 lbs, $8.79, $2.19/lb. (compared to $3.99/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • organic frozen broccoli: 4lb. bag, $5.99, $1.49/lb. (compared to $2.49/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Bybee organic frozen green beans: 5 lb. bag, $6.49, $1.29/lb. (compared to $1.99/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Kirkland walnuts: 3 lb. bag, $12.89, $4.29/lb. (compared to $7.49/lb. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Maranatha almond butter: 26 oz., $6.89, $0.26/oz. (compared to $0.31/oz. at Trader Joe’s)
  • Chicken of the Sea canned tuna: 12 – 7 oz. cans, $15.96, $0.19/oz (compared to $0.33/oz at Trader Joe’s)

Costco prices can commonly be anywhere from 15-50% of the prices found at Trader Joe’s – and even more when compared to other grocery stores. It’s not an apples to apples comparison – Costco does have limited SKU’s and the items you purchase are often in bulk volume.

Nevertheless, there are some great deals to be had and once you’ve optimized your Costco routine, it can be frugal heaven.

To get access to that kind of pricing – there’s a cost to just get in the door. Costco memberships range from $55 (per household) to $110 (for the executive plan, which has a 2% kickback). Those fees are not insignificant. And they just so happen to be how Costco makes a good share of its profits. In fact, 70% of Costco’s profit comes from its membership fees – Costco’s markups on food pricing are razor thin, which benefits its members. The more food essentials you buy and eat from there, the more you benefit (just stay away from the other stuff).

What if you don’t want to commit to a $55 membership and just want to see if a membership will be worth your while? It turns out there are a few under-the-radar ways to shop and buy from Costco, without a membership.

Is there a Free Costco Membership?

shop at costco without a membershipUnfortunately, there is no free Costco membership or trial period where you can walk up to the door and get some kind of magic wristband for a day, or something.

If you’d simply like to see what the store has to offer, you are welcome to enter and walk around as a guest of a member. To buy goods, however, you must be a member or have a member make the purchase (with a few big exceptions, which I’ll get in to).

Of course, you might not be comfortable doing that and it could get old pretty quick for the member. There is another way…

The Costco membership refund policy states:

“We will refund your membership fee in full at any time if you are dissatisfied.”

So, you could pay your membership fee, give it a trial run, and if you feel you are not getting the value from it that you’d like – ask for a refund. You can do so at any time.

But what if you just want to get in the door and walk around to see what Costco has to offer, pricing, and all that good stuff – but you don’t know a member you are comfortable tagging along with?

Buying Alcohol at Costco without Membership

I was not able to find any official Costco messaging on this, but it appears from my research that Costco allows alcohol sales to non-members (of legal drinking age, of course). In fact, the idea for this post was spurred by a conversation from someone who had done just that and told me about the exception, much to my surprise.

This may vary by state, but as far as I can tell, it is a national policy. Are their alcohol regulations around the policy? I’m not quite sure.

Having bought alcohol at Costco – I can vouch for the deals to be had. A case of pint-size Guinness cans for $23.99? You bet.

Letting the door attendant know that you are there to buy alcohol, they should let you in the door. And once you’re in, you can walk around and check everything out.

Buying Prescriptions at Costco without Membership

Costco pharmacy non memberPrescription drug sales, like alcohol, are highly regulated. And Costco and other membership stores must offer equal access and pricing for prescriptions to all consumers, regardless of membership status.

So, you could let the door attendant know that you are a non-member who is picking up a prescription. That should get you in the door.

And by the way, prescriptions at the Costco pharmacy are very inexpensive. Costco even has the cheapest flu shots for those without insurance (all insurance plans must now cover flu shots).

Alcohol and drugs? What could go wrong.

Non-Members Can Purchase from Costco.com

Non-members can purchase from Costco’s website, Costco.com, at any time. There is a downside, however:

“Non-members will be charged a 5% surcharge over the member’s posted product prices (except for prescription drugs).”

The food offering on Costco.com is extremely limited as well.

The Costco Cash Card Can be Used by Non-Members:

Costco also has a cash card (fancy name for a gift card). With a Costco cash card, any non-member can show the card to get in the door and use it to make a purchase.

The trick with the Costco cash card is that it can be purchased by a member only. Again, you’ll have to rely on a member, which makes you a bit of a moocher, and raises costs for every membership-buying member. And once the card is depleted, you’ll have to get another fresh one from a member.

If you know someone who is game, one or two cards wouldn’t hurt. I have heard (not tested), that the entire purchase does not have to be made with the card. In other words, if you only had $10 left on a card and had $150 worth of purchases, you could use the card for $10 and then use another form of payment for the remainder. Which is a great segue…

Costco Forms of Payment:

While you may get in the door and even be able to purchase items, note that Costco stores do not accept Discover, Visa, or Mastercard credit cards as payment. Accepted forms of payment include: cash, check, debit cards, the previously mentioned Costco cash cards, and American Express credit cards (including the Costco branded TrueEarnings card).

Unfortunately, the TrueEarnings card and American Express Blue Cash Preferred and Everyday cards all ring up as warehouse stores and are not eligible for the 6% or 3% cash back rewards (respectively) for supermarkets.

Shopping at Costco Discussion:

  • What are your favorite Costco shopping hacks?
  • What are your favorite items at Costco?

Related Posts:

How I Got $385 Cash Back Last Year Just for Buying my Regular Groceries


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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


19 Comments »
  • Alec Barron says:

    Woah, I had no idea they allow alcohol purchases by non-members. I wonder what the rationale behind this is.

    Also, I’ve been using the Costco Cash Cards for the past several months. My sister is a Costco member, and is happy to hook me up with these regularly. Of course, I reimburse her unless it was a real gift.

    I can confirm that you do NOT have to cover the full cost of your purchase with a Costco Cash Card. To pay the remainder over the Cash Card, most Costcos have let me use my AMEX credit card, but more recently they’ve been insisting I use a debit card.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Thanks for confirming on the cash cards running out of balance. I’d be curious to hear other testimonials on this. I’m surprised they don’t openly accept AmEX and try to push you to debit card. Might be too much of a good thing that they are trying to clamp down on…

      • K says:

        I’ve had two different experiences at 2 different store locations. One has allowed me several times to make purchases using a cash card, and placing the remaining balance on my debit card. Even making a purchase more than $100 over the amount of the cash card. But they always have to call a supervisor for an override.

        The other store refused to sell to me for an amount significantly over what was on the cash card. Like, they said they might go a couple dollars over and allow me to cover it with another form of payment.

        So far I guess I can either stick with the one store, or get gift cards in larger denominations.

        Or get my own membership for just $55. I think I could make that back in 6 mos on coconut oil purchases, alone. Not to mention all the other stuff I would buy there, just because I could.

    • dnabrice says:

      Their Kirkland branded Vodka is great, I did a taste test vs some Absolute that I had. It’s $13 for a 1.75L, and $24 for the 1.75L of their Grey Goose equivalent. Their Kirkland brand Champagne this past Christmas was produced by Veuve Cliqout and was half the price…$19.99 for a 750ml.

  • Darrell says:

    At least in California, alcoholic beverage licenses and applicable laws most likely require sales to the public at large. So the policy is probably mandated by state law. I would check with California Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”).

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Yes – this is just a guess, but I would imagine this is true in many states, and to be consistent, Costco may have adopted a national policy around it. I don’t know this, for a fact, there may be some states where they do not have to offer sale to the general public and don’t. Would be curious if anyone has experienced this, to report what state they were denied in.

  • Alejandra says:

    We get all our cleaning supplies, paper towels, tissue paper, toilet paper, food like chicken beef, fish, cashews, cheese, fruits, soups, hamburgers. We buy Kirkland brand when available and we haven’t been dissapointed.
    We have the membership because I have a Costco 2 blocks from work, so I can run and do my shopping diring lunch. I am usually in a rush, so I just go and get what I need, which is good! If not, the bill can get really high.
    I read all your newsletters. I really enjoy them and apply as much advise as possible. Thanks!

  • Lewis says:

    Wow, insightful and fun post. Loved it. keep it up.

  • Natalie H says:

    I love Costco and I buy my frozen fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, rechargeable batteries, tomato sauce, pasta, tires, and many other things there. I think it’s part of the secret of my success as a stay at home mom running a household on under $30k per year. I pay for the executive membership at $110 and get between $55-110 back with rewards at the end of the year so the membership ends up costing me less than $55 after rebates. I think you’ll be surprised how much of your shopping can be done at Costco.

    Sprouts (for produce), Costco, and Amazon account for more than 98% of my purchases.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      “Sprouts (for produce), Costco, and Amazon account for more than 98% of my purchases.”
      Is that all retail purchases or just grocery/consumables?

      “I pay for the executive membership at $110 and get between $55-110 back”
      So you spend approximately $1k-$2k at Costco per year?

  • Alex says:

    I love Costco! Though sadly I’m not a member, but knowing you can get bulky crates of beer for the likes of a barbecue is handy.
    I’ll also look on their website to see if it’s worth ordering some of stuff (considering the 5% charge). I know they have big tubs of hummus for like £2.

  • martha says:

    I grew up with a large family so I love Costco! But now that I am out on my own I haven’t even tried to use it! But I might try some of these .Usually I just con a member to let me use thiers

  • dnabrice says:

    I’ve been told by Costco Employees on a couple occasions, that you will always get at least a $55 Executive rebate. So if you get the membership, you might as well get the Executive.

  • Janet says:

    Don’t forget many Costco locations have gas, too. Usually the best price localy.

  • Lisa says:

    I am not a Costco member but fill all my prescriptions there. One of them is almost $150/month, but at Costco, I get THREE months for a total of $25! And my Costco has told me more than once that I would save even more on meds if I were a member, contrary to what your article said.

  • Melissa says:

    I am considering buying a Costco membership, even though there’s only two adults in my household. I wasn’t sure it would be worth it for us until I saw Janet’s comment about Costco gas.

    I just did a quick online search and learned Costco gas prices are currently $.15/gallon less than the average in my city right now. At the rate we use fuel, assuming the savings remains constant, the gas savings alone will be $117/year. Not to mention, Costco is only a couple blocks from my work and directly on my route home every day. (I won’t add any additional mileage when filling up.)

  • Earnest says:

    I hear, that if you know other members of Costco, they may have free membership spots on their cards. Maybe they’ll share or let you on their card at a discount price.

  • Sandy says:

    i think you should be able to go in and look around and see if it would benefit you to buy a membership. Then if you think it would then buy a membership. Why buy a membership if it is not beneficial to you.

  • maria says:

    I had bad experience yesterday try to buy stuff groceries using my causing card and they don’t let me my shopping card was full and the cashier toll me I have to sign to purchase there was very uncomfortable anyways a left the store wiywith out anything on my hands a lost my time

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