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5 Traps to Avoid When Shopping at Costco

Motley Fool - Sat May 27, 12:00PM CDT

A father bringing home bags of groceries to his family waiting in the kitchen.

Image source: Getty Images

Boasting 123 million members, it's safe to say that Costco has a lot of fans. And we get why. Bulk discounts and a beloved house brand mean the potential for savings on groceries and homegoods is huge. This makes shopping at Costco a good personal finance move for many families.

As awesome as Costco may be, however, you need to shop with a bit of caution. There are a few financial traps you could fall into that will keep you from getting the full value out of your membership.

1. Buying too much

The most obvious trap of shopping at Costco is simply buying too much. Right off the bat, there's the bulk-buy model. Everything you buy comes in not just large, but often jumbo sizes.

While the bulk-buy model is part of what keeps the per-unit price low, it means you'll wind up with a whole lot of everything. If you can't use it all up before it goes bad, you could be throwing out your savings along with expired goods.

2. Not buying enough

When we first join things -- be it the gym or the warehouse club -- we do so with optimistic visions of how often we'll make use of our new memberships. But as life goes on, sometimes those visions don't always transition from fantasy to reality.

There are many reasons you may not visit Costco enough to make up for the cost of membership. Maybe the club is too far away, maybe it's too busy, maybe you just don't go through things fast enough to warrant multiple trips.

Whatever the case, if you're not making use of your membership fairly regularly, you may not be getting the savings you need to justify the $60 annual membership fee.

3. Succumbing to deal blindness

Of all the potential Costco traps, this may be the most dangerous. Deal blindness is that odd tunnel vision you get when you see a great deal and immediately know you have to take advantage of it -- whether you actually need the items in question or not.

Walking through the huge aisles full of deal after deal, Costco shoppers can easily wind up with a cart full of stuff they don't need. Worse, when you finally get home and your vision starts to clear, you may often realize you don't even want the items.

You can help combat this problem by making a list before you leave the house -- and sticking to that list. But if you know you're prone to deal blindness and can't resist a bargain, you may be better off skipping the Costco membership.

4. Ignoring useful membership perks

Sure, most folks get a Costco membership to, you know, shop at Costco. But thinking that's all it's good for is a common trap.

Why? Because a Costco membership also unlocks access to a range of potentially valuable programs. For example, did you know Costco has a travel portal full of vacation deals?

Additionally, many Costco locations offer some practical services like tire centers or eye care centers where you can find good deals on your chore to-do list. You can even get pet insurance or health insurance discounts thanks to your annual Costco membership.

5. Bringing the wrong credit card

This little Costco quirk has trapped many potential shoppers. Costco is one of the few stores that doesn't accept credit cards from all four major networks. In fact, the warehouse clubs only accept credit cards that operate on the Visa network. So, if you don't have some sort of Visa payment card -- or plenty of cold hard cash -- you're going to run into trouble when you try to check out. On the positive side, Costco accepts most PIN-based debit cards.

(dis)Honorable mention: The Forbidden Glizzy

This social media fad was born in the Costco food court, the child of their infamous $1.50 hotdog and Caesar-inspired chicken bake. (It's the food court version of mixing weird flavors from the fast food soda machine.) As tempting as it may be to spice up a shopping trip with some internet-inspired inanity, the Forbidden Glizzy is one Costco trap everyone should avoid.

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