Parents, Thinking About Signing Up for a Costco Membership? Read This First
It’s a veritable buffet of deals. But when there’s a cover charge just for shopping somewhere, you want to make sure what you’re getting is worth your while.
That’s doubly true if you’ve got little ones at home. Your dollar, like your patience, time and tolerance for sleep deprivation, is most likely already stretched to the max.
How do you figure out which Costco deals are pure parental gold -- and which are too good to be true?
The Best and Worst Deals at Costco for Parents
To keep you from having to deal with yet another set of uncertainties, we decided to gather up the very best -- and worst -- Costco deals for parents.
Here’s what we found.
Diapers and Baby Wipes
If you’ve got young children, it’s no secret: You’re gonna go through a lot of diapers, unless you go the reusable route.
If there was ever a time to buy in bulk, this is it.
Although there are lots of options for buying diapers in bulk, Costco’s house brand, Kirkland Signature, is both cheap and highly regarded.
The same goes for its wipes -- TPH Director of Photography Sharon Steinmann says they have a cult following. I’ve even seen them listed at a markup on Amazon!
And besides, if you don’t have Prime, you’ll have to pay for shipping -- and if you do, well, $99 per year is a lot more than Costco’s $55.
Verdict: Totally worth it.
Food and Household Necessities
Food, cleaning supplies, paper products -- although you always need to keep these items stocked, you’ll go through them a lot quicker when you’ve got more mouths to feed (and clean up after).
Obviously, if you have the space and the means, buying in bulk can save you a ton of money in the long run.
Depending on your family’s lifestyle, it might be cheaper to just buy groceries at a discount vendor like Aldi.
But if you purchase a lot of organics or quick-and-easy prepared foods, Costco’s prices are a lot better than your regular grocer’s. Ditto for foods with long shelf lives, like peanut butter.
And if you’ve got the freezer space, you can buy bigger cuts of meat and freeze produce ahead of time, saving time and money down the line.
Paper products and cleaning supplies never go bad, so as long as you’ve got the storage space, bulking up on these is a no-brainer.
Oh, and one more thing? Costco has some of the best prices on wine in the industry. And if there’s any must-have item on a parent’s shopping list…
Verdict: If you have the space and means, Costco can be a great investment for day-to-day necessities. But if you’ve only got one child or mostly eat fresh foods you buy every few days, it might not be worth a membership alone.
If anyone in the family relies on prescription medication, you’ll definitely want to check out Costco’s pharmacy.
Costco lists its prices online, complete with the manufacturer’s information and the equivalent generics and their prices. Heck yes.
In many states, you have a legally protected right to access Costco’s pharmacy without a membership.
However, you do have to be a member to enroll in its Member Prescription Program, which can save you up to 70% of the cost of medication (yes, even after insurance pays its part).
It also counts toward pet medications, so you might save on Fido’s flea treatment, too.
And if you want access to Costco’s cheap over-the-counter vitamins and meds, you’ve gotta have a membership. And I’m not a parent, but I hear the job can come with some headaches…
Verdict: If your family uses a lot of prescription or over-the-counter medications, this perk could easily pay for the cost of your membership.
(But even if you’re not a Costco member, see if you can use its pharmacy!)
If you’re the kind of parent who’s always schlepping your kids from soccer to church to band practice (to say nothing of, you know, getting to work every day), the cost of gas can really add up.
In most states, Costco’s got the cheapest gas around -- and you have to be a member to take advantage of those prices.
There is one exception, however: If you get a Costco cash card, you can fuel up without a membership.
Of course, you have to be a member to buy a card.
But if you don’t think you’ll get your money’s worth for the annual fee and you know someone who already has a membership, you might ask them to get one for you and pay them back in cash.
Verdict: If you drive a lot, Costco’s cheap gas alone could pay for your membership.
Few things in life are certain, but this one is: At some point, your child is going to ask for a bicycle.
And although it can be an expensive gift, it’s a great one.
It helps keep them active and fit, teaches them responsibility and pride of ownership, and gets you out of at least a few instances of “Hey mom, can you drive me…?”
But when it comes to this pricy rite of passage, Costco might not be your best bet.
For both kids’ and adults’ bikes, I found prices similar to Costco’s, and often times lower, on Amazon -- to say nothing of a way vaster selection.
Granted, if you aren’t paying for Prime, you might be looking at a significant shipping cost for such a large item… but you can find a wide selection of affordable bikes at Walmart, too.
Verdict: If you already have a membership, it’s worth taking a look… but you can probably find a cheaper bike elsewhere.
Your kids keep going… and going… and going. Their toys need to keep up.
One thing’s for certain: Costco certainly has cheap batteries available. You can get a 64-pack for just $19.99 when you buy two.
Unfortunately, the reviews are really bad, mentioning lots of problems with leakage.
Battery acid will destroy whatever it leaks on inside, so it’s probably worthwhile to just spring for brand-name in this case.
Verdict: Yes, but don’t get Kirkland Signature.
Although they might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of parent-specific deals, young kids grow up into high school and college students who rely on computers.
And in the crazy-connected world we live in today, even your 3-year-old is probably online to some extent.
Staying connected can be a pretty serious expense, especially when tensions start rising about sharing a single family computer.
So how does Costco stack up on the laptop front?
Although it doesn’t have the largest selection, the computers Costco has do seem to be a good deal.
For instance, this high-powered ASUS machine is priced at $2,399.99 at Costco -- significantly cheaper than the $2,999.00 Newegg is asking for (and that’s already a sale price!). Both include free shipping.
However, the same laptop is just $2,185.03 on Amazon, which also includes free standard shipping.
Warranties and protection plans, however, are where this comparison gets really interesting.
Costco automatically extends the manufacturer’s warranty -- often just one-year long -- to two years from the purchase date as part of its Concierge Services. (Note: The policy excludes touchscreen tablets).
And if you make the purchase with your Citi Costco Anywhere Visa, you’ll get an additional two years on top of that.
However, terms and exclusions of warranties vary by brand, and may or may not cover damage caused by the user (which, when we’re talking about teenagers, seems fairly likely).
You might still want to purchase an additional protection plan.
Amazon’s four-year accidental protection plan costs $318.02, and Newegg’s three-year plan is $300. Both cover accidental drops and spills.
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about. And as with any big purchase, it’s worth shopping around -- the best deal will depend heavily on your individual computing needs.
That said, Costco does have some pretty competitive computer deals if you’re after something it stocks.
Verdict: Costco’s got some good laptops -- and some great prices on protection plans.
I don’t know about you, but family trips to the movies are some of my favorite childhood memories.
If you and your kids indulge in every new Pixar flick, Costco’s movie ticket deals might be a great option for you.
The company sells discounted packs of tickets (usually in a bundle of four or 10) that come out to about $8.90 per ticket, meaning you’ll likely save at least a buck or two per regularly priced ticket this way.
That said, if your children are still young enough to get child-priced tickets, or if you only hit the movies a couple of times per year, it might not be worthwhile.
And, of course, there’s still the concession stand to deal with once you arrive at the theater…
Verdict: Yes, if you’re a family of movie buffs.
Did you know that Costco owns a travel company?
Yeah, I didn’t either. But it does -- and it’s got discount packages that’ll take you everywhere from Cancun to Fiji.
While those might both sound like tempting options for any overworked parent, let’s focus on that obligatory trip to the most magical place on Earth. Can Costco save you money on your upcoming trip to Disney World or Disneyland?
At the time of this writing, Costco’s offering a pretty spiffy five-night Disney World Orlando vacation package starting at $685 a head. It includes all of the following goodies:
- Accommodations in a two-bedroom suite at the Melia Hotel (with a money-saving kitchenette!) in the nearby town of Celebration
- A full-size rental car
- Magic Your Way Disney World tickets with the Park Hopper option
- Complimentary parking and shuttle services to the Disney theme parks and downtown Celebration
- All applicable taxes and the daily resort fee
For a family of four, that’ll run you about $2,740 -- and you do still have to account for food. Not cheap.
However, when I tried to price out what it would cost to book on your own, I was stopped short.
The park tickets alone would run you over $1,500 if you booked them through Disney -- and that’s if your two children are under the age of 10.
The family suite at the Melia Hotel runs $940 for five nights, and that’s with a 20% discount for paying up front with your reservation.
So far, we’re up to $2,440, and taxes aren’t accounted for yet. The cheapest full-size car I found ran $38 per day, which adds another $190 to the total -- and I’ve yet to rent a car without the company finding two or three ad-hoc charges to bloat that surprisingly low sticker price.
In short, Costco’s Disney vacation packages may very well save you some money, and they’ll definitely save you time and the headache of pricing out all this stuff yourself.
Although I’m not a parent, I’m willing to bet wrangling the family is enough to deal with on its own. Why act as your own travel agent?
Verdict: While a better deal might be possible, Costco’s got some pretty darn good ones -- and it’s definitely more convenient.
Is Costco Worth It?
Unfortunately, it really comes down to your individual lifestyle when figuring out whether or not a Costco membership is worthwhile.
But kids automatically ramp up your consumption of everything from food to fuel. If you shop smart, plan your meals and maintain a budget, a Costco membership can easily pay for itself.
And if you can tell the difference between deals and duds, you’ll do that much better.
Not convinced? No problem: Here are six ways to shop at Costco without a membership.
And if you can spare the membership fee, but don’t want to deal with the lines, consider signing up for Amazon Family instead. You’ll get all the benefits of Prime, plus a 20% discount on diaper subscriptions -- and you can try the service out free for 30 days.
Your Turn: Parents, what are your favorite things to get at Costco? Let us know in the comments!
Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.