Let me first state that I believe Costco is a great company that treats its employees well. For this reason, I feel that anyone who saves enough to cover their membership fee should purchase one. I did for years, but recently did the calculations to find that I didn’t go to their warehouses enough to justify the cost of a membership. That didn’t mean that I didn’t ever want to go. It simply meant that it made little financial sense for me to purchase a membership since I wasn’t saving enough to cover the cost of it.
So, what was the solution to be able to shop at their stores the few times a year when I wanted to go there? At first, I tagged along with a friend who had a membership since he could have a guest accompany him, then paid him back for whatever I purchased on the trip. It was a perfectly legitimate way to shop there without buying a membership, but it was restrictive in that it was dependent on my friend’s schedule. Instead, I now buy gift cards.
Costco has a gift card which they call the Costco Cash Card. If you are in possession of one of these gift cards, you can shop at any Costco warehouse store. This card can also be used to purchase gas at their gas stations, which often have prices much less expensive than other gas stations, while still selling the same top-quality gas.
The main issue with this plan is that only members are allowed to purchase these gift cards. Since I don’t have a membership, I can’t purchase them on my own. I either have to purchase them from somebody who I know who has a membership, or purchase them on a secondary market like eBay or Craigslist. Secondary market Costco gift cards actually cost more than their face value, but still can be worth purchasing because they will be less than the membership fee if you only go a few times a year. I, personally, have a friend buy them for me.
The Costco cash cards come in denominations of $25 – $1000. If you want to use these cards to purchase gas, it makes the most sense to get a card that has a high monetary value. This is because you can only put the amount of gas into your car that’s on the card that you have. A $25 gift card might not even fill up your car’s tank.
Since I want to buy items that are in the store, I find that it is much more convenient to get a number of different gift cards with the lowest value possible. For example, instead of putting $200 on a single card, I would get eight different cards with $25 each since I can get into the warehouse no matter how much is on the card. I usually spend $100 or more each time that I go into a Costco store, so it makes more sense for me to get a $25 card, then pay any overage in cash or with my debit card. This way for a $200 investment, I can go to Costco eight times. Whereas if I put $200 on a single card, I would only be able to go to the warehouse one or two times.
Of course, if you end up purchasing a number of these cards, you need to make sure that you don’t lose any of them. If you lose them, you’re out the cash and there isn’t any way to get it back. Since I only go to Costco once every few months, four $25 cards will usually last me an entire year. While I am avoiding the membership fee, I am still spending money at Costco and they are earning a small amount off my purchases. This is more than they would get if I didn’t shop there at all, which would be the case if there wasn’t this Costco membership hack.
If you go to Costco more than a few times a year, the inconvenience of trying to obtain gift cards, and the savings that you get shopping there, usually makes it worthwhile to purchase a membership. If however, if you’re like me and only go once every few months, this can be an excellent way to take advantage of the savings that Costco offers without having to pay for a membership every year.