How to snag a major deal on a Costco membership, just before the holidays

Costco is great (read: amazing) for a lot of reasons, from things you need, like food for a party and stocking up on necessities, to things you don't need, like giant lobster claws and 7-pound buckets of Nutella. There's one problem though—if you don't have a Costco membership, you can't get in. Conveniently, just before the holidays, Groupon is having a major deal for first-time members.

The most basic Costco membership, a one year Gold Star Membership, will run you $60 and you'll receive one card for the household. Currently on Groupon, however, you can get the same membership for $60 with an additional $80-plus in perks for free.

Deal: Costco Gold Star Membership + Extra Perks, $60 ($148.98 value)

The added freebies include: a second card for anyone 18 and over living at the same residence, a $20 Costco gift card for in-store purchases, free Kirkland Signature Ultra Clean HE Laundry Detergent Pacs (valued at $17.99), free Kirkland Signature Create-a-Size® Paper Towels (valued at $15.99), $25 off a $250+ online order and $10 off fresh meat. You can find more info on the Groupon offer here.

It's a pretty good deal, considering all of the holidays coming up. Here's how we'd use a new membership to help with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and everything in between. 

1. Halloween candy

The Oct. 31 holiday calls for buying candy in bulk, and there's no better (or cheaper) place to do so than a wholesale store like Costco.

2. Snacks and appetizers

The frozen aisles at Costco are filled with appetizers like shrimp, meatballs, pinwheels, pizza bites and more. There's something for every occasion.

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7 secrets about Costco items
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7 secrets about Costco items

1. EMPLOYEES ENJOY PLENTY OF BENEFITS

Costco now sets its minimum wage for hourly employees at $14 an hour. That’s in addition to offering benefits like healthcare for all employees, regardless of part-time vs. full-time status.

While I was at Costco, they gave employees complimentary memberships to the store. Each employee also got a free turkey to enjoy with their families on Thanksgiving. And to top things off, Costco paid employees time and a half just for working on Sundays.

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2. COSTCO IS A GREAT DESTINATION FOR HEALTH FOOD

People who haven’t shopped at warehouse clubs might expect the “buy in bulk” mentality to mean the aisles are lined with junk food. While Costco does sell things like cookies and candy bars, there are plenty of healthy options, if that’s what you’re looking for. Greek yogurt, coconut water, protein powder, and lean meats are just some of the things that line the shelves at Costco. And the produce section is filled with delicious apples, bananas, berries, salads and more.

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3. IT’S NOT JUST FOR BIG FAMILIES, EITHER

When I tell friends I still shop at Costco, they don’t understand what my husband and I buy there, since we don’t have kids and live in a small New York apartment. But there are plenty of options for any family size, and it doesn’t mean you have to keep ten spare jars of tomato sauce in your pantry. Things like Kirkland Signature protein bars and olive oil are shelf stable for our small household. Cleaning supplies like kitchen sponges are sold in reasonably sized packages, too. It just depends what you’re looking for—but there’s no one demographic that’s more suited to shop there. These Costco shopping tips will save you a ton.

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4. COSTCO’S PIZZA IS THE REAL DEAL

If you find yourself eating at Costco’s food court, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how great the food is. The pizzas are baked fresh in store with Kirkland Signature ingredients, and they don’t skimp on cheese and other toppings. The hot dog combo—just $1.50 for a hot dog and a soda—is also superb. The food court even offers fresh diced onions, in addition to mustard and ketchup, to top your dog. 

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5. PEOPLE REALLY DO BUY THAT FAMOUS GIANT BEAR

The giant teddy may seem like an Internet novelty, and plenty of people (myself included) have stopped to take photos with the 8-foot-tall friend. But I saw more than one person buy the giant stuffed animal—usually grandparents purchasing it as a gift for their grandkids. (I do wonder how they stuffed it into a car/cab to get home.)

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6. YOU CAN GO TO THE PHARMACY AS A NON-MEMBER

If you live near Costco and want to pick up your prescriptions there, you can do so without buying an annual membership to the club. But don’t think you can pull a fast one on the employee checking membership cards at the entrance—you can’t check out at Costco without a membership in your name. 

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7. COSTCO IS SELLING BLUE APRON MEAL KITS

I didn’t learn this one working at Costco—it’s a new initiative—but if you’re looking to save time on meal prep, this is worth knowing about. A handful of Costco stores on the West Coast are selling the Blue Apron kits, which make weeknight dinner prep way easier. Don’t miss the details! Plus, check out even more insider secrets Costco employees won’t tell you.

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3. Thanksgiving turkey

Before the big day, you can order your turkey from the wholesale club (and use one of those free $20 giftcard towards your purchase!). If you're not much of a cook, you can get a full, easy-to-prepare Thanksgiving meal that serves eight for only $104.99 or a ham dinner of the same size for $94.99, if that's more your style. 

5. Desserts

If you don't have time or the skills to bake a few cakes, cookies and pies, stock up at Costco. Snag pie flavors like apple, pumpkin and pecan, or go for this "mile high" 6.8-pound chocolate peanut butter cake.

6. Travel

Whether you're flying or driving to see family or friends this holiday season, snag a deal on airfare, rental cars and even gas at Costco. Costco's travel site even has the option to book cruises for a steal if you want to totally get away.

7. Stocking stuffers and other gifts

Find candy stocking stuffers, gift baskets, flowers and more for your friends, family and colleagues this holiday season. From this adorable wine-shaped dried fruit and nut board to a 6-pound tray of cookies to gift baskets created by occasion, there's a gift basket for everyone on your list.

8. Stock your bar cart

Kirkland, Costco's in-house brand, has a wide selection of wines (we recommend the malbec). You can also stock up on craft beer and liquor, too. 

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10 Kirkland items you should always buy at Costco
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10 Kirkland items you should always buy at Costco

Almonds

Health experts can’t stop raving about the benefits of nuts, but man, are they expensive—and Costco agrees. The warehouse store reportedly stopped selling other brands almost entirely when they couldn’t justify how high their prices had gotten. Now you can get a massive three-pound bag of Kirkland Signature almonds for just $13, which isn’t much more than you’d normally pay for a Blue Diamond bag almost half its size. Stock up on these other 15 foods nutritionists always buy at Costco.

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Bacon

When Consumer Reports put different bacon brands to the test several years ago, Kirkland Signature soared above the rest, thanks to its crispy texture and smoky-sweet flavor—which is even more impressive considering its low price. Make room in the freezer, because this bulk buy is no joke: Four pounds for $13.69. Plus, learn the secrets behind Costco’s famous $4.99 rotisserie chicken.

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Liquor

Across the board, Costco’s value-sized bottles of booze get rave reviews. Its vodka in particular has garnered a cult following, with rumors swirling that it shares the same water source as Grey Goose. The luxury vodka brand denies those claims, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—the cheap Kirkland version actually outshines Grey Goose in taste tests. Just $25 for 1.75 liters of high-quality liquor? Can’t beat that.

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Maple syrup

In a Consumer Reports test, Kirkland’s pure maple syrup was the cheapest option ($0.75 per serving) and still managed to score stellar reviews. Testers deemed its taste “very good,” while the priciest choice in its category, Camp Pure Maple Syrup—which costs almost three times more per ounce—was only rated “good.” Learn more Costco secrets revealed by a former employee.

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Pistachios

No matter how tasty they are, it can be hard to justify the price of pistachios—unless you’re at Costco. At face value, a $15 bag seems like a lot, but you’ll change your mind when you see the three-pound package you get. For comparison, a two-pound bag of Wonderful pistachios costs $13 on Amazon. Really, you can’t go wrong with any Kirkland nuts, so stock up on walnuts and mixed nuts too.

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Plastic wrap

Kirkland’s food wrap gets high marks for its durability, so the low price is just the icing on the cake. Paying less than $10 for two 750-square-foot rolls, you won’t need to stock up on plastic wrap again for a long time. You should also always stock up if you see this symbol on a Costco price tag.

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Quinoa

With more protein and fiber than white rice, quinoa has unsurprisingly gone from food fad to kitchen staple. Unfortunately, that hasn’t convinced most companies to lower their prices. At Target, you’ll get three pounds for $12 (not bad), but Costco offers 4.5 pounds for $9. It’s still not as cheap as rice, but it’s definitely a healthier option.

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A 2010 report found that most EVOO on U.S. store shelves wasn’t extra virgin like their labels claimed. One notable exception: Kirkland’s organic version. So not only are you paying less per serving than you would at the supermarket, but you can guarantee good quality. How’s that for a solid deal?

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Cheese

If you think everything tastes better when covered in cheese, Costco is the place to be. From goat cheese and Brie to Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, its cheeses are cheesemonger-quality with warehouse prices. The value-sized hunks of cheese might be excessive for a dinner for two, but Kirkland should be your go-to if you’re planning a party. Just steer clear of these things you should never buy at Costco.

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Baby formula

When you have an infant in tow, the last thing you want to worry about is overpriced baby formula. The FDA has strict nutrition requirements for baby formula, and Costco’s version is no exception. The non-GMO Kirkland baby formula’s ingredient list is nearly identical to Similac Advance’s, but it costs about half as much per ounce. Make sure you know these 15 secrets Costco employees won’t tell you.

[Source for most prices: thriftynorthwestmom.com]

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