16 shopping secrets to save time and money at Costco

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Money Saving Secrets From Costco Employees

Costco is a goldmine for bargains.

But, the opportunity to save can be overwhelming, as you face seemingly endless free samples and bulk deals.

There are great bargains at Costco — even Morgan Stanley analysts say the retailer offers some of the best deals in the industry. However, to cash in on the deals, you need to know a few secrets.

Here's how to make shopping at Costco worth the price of membership.

Make a beeline to the center of the store.

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Many membership stores stick the best bargains in "center court," the pallets in the middle of the store, Paco Underhill, author of "Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping," told Bankrate. Flashy displays at the front of the store, on the other hand, are going to be more expensive.

Keep an eye out for the "star."

David McKelvey

If there's an asterisk on a Costco price tag, that means the item can't restocked and what you see is the last in the store, reports Costco Insider. So, if your favorite seasonal product is marked with a star, it's time to buy enough to last you till next year.

Split bulk items.

You might not have space to store 30 rolls of toilet paper, but your friends would probably be more than happy to split the cost of the $19.50 mega-pack, says Time. Buying in bulk means major savings, so go big — and split the products up before going home.

Visit at the end of the summer.

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Another tip from Time is that Costco is a great place to visit for end-of-season sales. Summer is especially clutch, as Costco does major markdowns of large seasonal items like patio furniture and pool toys to free up room for the next season's products.

Hit up the food court.

Costco

The retailer's food court has some of cheapest meals around, charging only $1.50 for a hot dog and drink, and $1.99 for a slice of pizza. Costco is actually a big deal in the pizza business — the chain is the 14th largest pizza chain in the country.

Crack the pricing code.

Costco's prices have a secret language that super fans like Len Rapoport have decoded. If an item ends with 99 cents, it's regularly priced merchandise — not a mega deal. Items ending with 97 cents have been marked down, meaning you're probably getting more for your money. If you see a price tag ending in 88 cents or an even dollar, those are usually local markdowns by a manager trying to get rid of a product.

Stock up on Kirkland items.

Costco

In general, Costco's in-house Kirkland brand provides the best savings — and is remarkably high quality. Consumer Reports recommends items including the brand's bacon, ice cream, maple syrup, and liquid laundry detergent.

Skip the coffee.

While Kirkland excels in many areas, coffee isn't one of them. Consumer Reports negatively reviewed the Kirkland Signature House Blend coffee beans in 2015, saying they had a "burnt" taste. There are better discount items to spend on.

Make sure to check out the gift card aisle.

Costco

Costco locations sell restaurant gift cards, movie tickets, and other deals that allow you to get Costco-style discounts at local retailers. Some current national deals: $100 worth of Cold Stone Creamery gift cards for $69.99, $100 worth of Baja Fresh gift cards for $79.99, and a ten-pack of Regal Entertainment movie tickets for $89.99.

Snack on samples — but don't shop for them.

Costco

While Costco's free samples are fantastic, don't let Costco get in your head with its generous servings. Free samples help spark sales — Costco's frozen pizza experienced a 600% sales boost after being served as a sample — but can also convince customers to make purchases they otherwise would not buy. Write a shopping list and stick to it.

Bring your own bags.

Any Costco pro knows the chain doesn't offer bags. If you don't want to settle for a cardboard box, bring your own baggage.

Check out the books.

Costco

Costco typically stocks new book releases as early as specialty bookstores, reports Popsugar. The chain keeps book prices super low, like everything else it sells, so check out the chain if there's a heavily anticipated best-seller hitting the shelves.

Buy in bulk for the holidays.

Costco

While most of the year, there's no need to buy more than 30 king-sized candy bars, Popsugar notes that bulk sweets it can be the key ingredient to holidays like Christmas and Halloween.

Take advantage of the return policy.

Costco has a very generous return policy, so if you bought 48 cans of salmon you end up hating, return it instead of suffering through the remaining 47 cans.

Hit up the pharmacy.

Getty Images/Tim Boyle

According to Consumer Reports, Costco sells the most inexpensive pharmacy prescription drugs, with other pharmacies charging up to 447% more for the same drugs. Even better, you don't need to be a member to use the pharmacy.

Skip membership all together with a Costco Cash Card.

Costco

If you aren't sure if Costco is worth the price of membership, get someone who is already a member buy you a Costco Cash Card. Then, you can visit a Costco and get all the discounts without shelling out for a membership, if you use the card to pay. It's not the perfect replacement, but it's definitely a good way to try before you buy a membership.

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