Costco deals: Here's the key to saving money so you can buy more $1.50 hot-dog-and-soda combos
How is it that every time I head to Costco for some essentials, I end up with a cart impulsively loaded with fun items that catch my eye but aren't that healthy for my budget?
I've realized that the key to saving money in the giant warehouse requires patience; luck; and, yes, some self-control. But I do make an exception.
As I stroll aisle after aisle, my eyes scan the price tags in search of an asterisk in the upper right-hand corner. That star – a signal that the item will soon no longer be stocked at Costco – can deliver big savings.
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It's affectionately known as the "death star” in Costco groups and forums where members share the finds they discovered at their clubs. But not every death star item has a discount.
At least not immediately.
I've seen it take weeks if not months for a markdown – if it ever comes – which is why perseverance is needed.
If you see an asterisk but no markdown, you can hold off on purchasing but run the risk that the item will sell out before your next trip or you can stock up.
Here's how I've bagged deals and saved money at the shopping mecca known for its generous food samples and $1.50 hot dog-soda combos.
Clearance shopping at Costco and the 'magic seven'
I go to Costco at least once a week, usually on the weekends, which are busy times to visit a club. In addition to watching the regular members-only saving books that come in the mail, are available in-store and are posted online to know when to stock up on boxes of tissues or plastic bags, I walk the aisles in hopes of finding deals.
Shopping tip: Make frequent trips or tag-team with a friend or family member for the list of items you’re watching. Also, join Costco Facebook groups – two of my favorites are Costco Fans and Costco Products & Reviews – to see what deals other shoppers are finding. Markdowns and selection can vary by location.
To date, I've found my best deals in the clothing section, especially with kids' clothes, but the grocery markdowns have also been amazing.
This week, I spotted asterisks in the alcohol section of my local club, including a $10 savings on the Hello Summer wine sampler box. But the death star item I'll be monitoring when I go back to see if it has a price reduction is the Kirkland Irish Country Cream, which is already a good deal at $9.89 for 1.5 liters.
Watching prices regularly has helped me get a head start on holiday shopping.
In late May, I noticed adorable Mickey Mouse pajamas that I wanted to buy for my niece. I held off initially because they were $14.99 for a two-piece set. I waited and noticed the price drop to $12.99 and the appearance of the asterisk.
The price dropped again to $9.99, and I decided to take a chance and hold off because of how many pairs were still available. In early August, the PJs were marked down to $6.97, and I knew that it was time to buy. I ended up with two sets for $1.05 less than one pair at the original price.
This week, I got a box of 125 Reynolds pop-up parchment sheets for $3.97, which I knew was a score before I compared it to competitor prices. Amazon and Target both sell a box of 30 for $3.49.I also got a 320-count of Nice 'N Clean Antibacterial Wipes for $4.97, which is selling for $11.99 at BJ's Wholesale Club. Walmart sells a 100-count for $7.83.
Shopping tip: A Costco price ending in 97 cents is a giveaway that the item has been marked down. Once you see the asterisk and a price ending in 97 cents, run – don't walk – to load up on the item and check out. Costco.com also has several products ending in 97 cents, which also means they will soon be discontinued, yet the prices are often higher than in clubs. Watch for limited online specials like buy five products get $20 off or buy 10 and get $50 off.
David Gaynor of Coral Springs, Florida, has named the seven at the end of the markdowns the “magic seven” and says he points them out to fellow shoppers during his twice-a-week Costco trips.
I met Gaynor when I made a Costco run Thursday as he was checking out new "magic sevens" and "death stars," too.
A regular Costco shopper for 26 years, his advice to shoppers: If you're leaning toward buying the exiting item, "then put it in your cart. Because a week or two from now, it may not be here and that’s it."
He credits his frequent trips to helping him find price drops and new sales that are sometimes not advertised.
Shopping tip: Watch for further price drops, and if it happens within 30 days, ask for a price adjustment at customer service. They will refund the difference, but some clubs will ask for a receipt and others request that members bring the product in, too. Some exclusions can apply, and timeframes can vary. You can also get a price adjustment for online purchases by filling out a form at Costco.com.
Gaynor said he isn't shy about asking for a price adjustment if he's within the 30-day window. He said he did this recently when he bought about a dozen pairs of Gerry pants and noticed a new discount.
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Costco manager specials
Also, be on the lookout for prices ending in .00. These are called manager specials or manager markdowns and often also have an asterisk on the price tag. Most of the price tags at Costco are on white paper, but sometimes these specials are printed on different color paper or are highlighted in neon on the price tag.
This week, I found more manager specials than I've ever seen in a visit, including Speedo women's swim skorts for $5, Nautica linen shorts for $6 and Gerry men's trail shorts for $6.
In July, I got a five-piece kids character set of Frozen clothes for $10 marked as one of these specials, and during another trip got a set of two Disney Princess nightgowns for $5 total.
I recently found a kid's dress that I got for $12.99 in June on a manager special for $6. I expected this dress to be marked down, so to be on the safe side, I saved my receipt, which I clipped to the price tag for safekeeping.
Because it was more than 60 days since I bought the first dress, it was too late to ask for a price adjustment. So I bought the dress a second time and took the first back with the receipt.
A perk of a Costco membership is that your membership card tracks your purchases and makes for easy returns, but I discovered the system may try to give you back the lowest price for returns, so a receipt helps with any disputes.
Shopping tip: Save your receipt if there's any chance you might make a return. It's also a good practice if there's ever a problem with a product.
What has been your best Costco deal? What's the longest you waited for a product to go down? I want to hear from you. Fill out the form below or here and share your savings.
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Follow USA TODAY reporter Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @KellyTyko. For shopping news, tips and deals, join us on our Shopping Ninjas Facebook group.