With 94 million members and more than 500 U.S. locations, Costco is one of America's favorite places to shop. And while buying in bulk can save you money, the warehouse club does have a yearly membership fee of $60. Same goes for Sam's Club, which is $45 per year, and BJ's, $55 per year.
Paying for a membership doesn't suit, or make sense for, everyone. "When a warehouse store isn't conveniently located or you simply don't like to purchase large quantities of household products regularly, buying a membership may not be the best bang for your buck," says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.
But can you get Costco access without a membership? To some degree, you can. There are some ways to take advantage of the kinds of prices and good deals you'll get at clubs such as Costco, BJ's, or Sam's Club without paying the yearly fee. Here are a few expert-approved suggestions:
Depending on the club and where you live, you may be able to make certain purchases without paying the annual fee:
- Eye exam: Making an appointment with the in-store optometrist typically doesn't require a membership, and exam fees tend to be lower. Nationwide, the average price of an eye exam is a little more than $100, according to Angieslist.com. At warehouse stores, however, the price hovers around $70. For instance, in Southlake, Texas, an eye exam at Costco is $65. At a Sam's Club in Columbia, Missouri, you'll pay $59. But only members may be able to buy glasses or contact lenses. Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at Offers.com, recommends getting the eye exam and then taking your prescriptions elsewhere.
- Alcohol: Depending on what state you live in, you may be able to buy alcohol at warehouse clubs without a membership. "It can be a great way to save, especially if you're buying Kirkland-branded alcohol," McGrath says. "Kirkland has versions of vodka, whiskey, scotch, tequila, and several red and white wines, so you have plenty of options." For example, a 1.75 liter bottle, usually referred to as a handle, of Kirkland's vodka is $19.99. The same amount of Tito's will cost you just over $29 at Total Wines & More. And a handle of Grey Goose from Total Wines & More will run you more than twice as much at just over $51.
- Prescription medications: Generic prescriptions drugs in some states can also be bought without a membership, McGrath says. Prices are often lower, she says, but it's best to call ahead and be sure the store can fill prescriptions for nonmembers.
Video by Courtney Stith
BJ's, Sam's Club, and Costco all have partnerships with grocery delivery service Instacart. Even if you're not a warehouse club member, you can get items delivered from local clubs through Instacart. A yearlong membership, which includes free delivery, is $99. Or you can pay a per-delivery fee of $3.99 for orders of at least $35.
On Instacart, BJ's offers a carton of 24 Nellie's large free-range eggs for $7.49 (31 cents per egg) and a 40-pack of Poland Spring water for $6.99 (17 cents per bottle). Order at grocery stores, like the grocery chain ShopRite, and you'd pay $10.32 for two dozen eggs (43 cents per egg) and $5.49 for a 24-pack of the same water (about 23 cents per bottle). Prices calculated based on a Fort Lee, New Jersey, ZIP code.
Check the pricing policies at your favorite stores to see if they will match warehouse clubs' advertised deals. Stores like Target and Kohl's "will match Costco's prices, which means you can get their same savings without a membership," Woroch says. And some of those stores also make it possible to buy in bulk and get good deals.
And if you're looking for the Costco experience, along with the prices, try having lunch in their food court, which has cultivated a kind of cult following, due, in part, to how affordable it is. A hot dog is $1.50, a chicken Caesar salad is $3.99, a whole pizza is $9.95, and a churro is $1.
"This [tip is] unofficial," McGrath says. Technically, Costco employees should ask to see your membership card upon entry, she cautions, but "if you're shopping with a Costco member, are at a Costco with an outdoor food court, or walked [in] through the exit," you could easily stop in for a quick, cheap lunch.
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