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Ramsey Monroe knows a thing or two—or maybe 179—about Costco.
Monroe, known as “The Costco Connoisseur” on her popular blog and Instagram page, has been to a whopping 179 Costco warehouses in 33 states, as well as outposts in Canada, Mexico, Australia, and the U.K. She’s not gunning for a world record; she says she simply enjoys seeing the differences in warehouses around the globe. (There are 767 Costco warehouses worldwide, including 532 locations in 44 states and Puerto Rico.)
“I try to go to as many as I can,” says Monroe, whose Costco sprint started in 2014. “A lot of my friends think I’m crazy, like, ‘You’re visiting Mexico and you’re going to Costco?’”
Though many companies pay influencers to travel the world and promote their brands, Monroe pays for her Costco adventures entirely out of pocket, documenting her journey through the hashtag #GoingToAllTheCostcos. The 35-year-old blogger and engineer has never received money from the retailer or vendors for posting product reviews.
In fact, neither her blog, which she says has reached a million total page views since its launch, nor her nearly 10,000-follower Instagram have made Monroe any money: “All of my reviews come from items I’ve purchased, or services I’ve purchased, or talking to friends or family who have used the service.”
The Washington, D.C. area-based blogger aims to show readers the benefits of Costco aside from its popular cheap, bulk groceries. The retailer also sells unconventional goods such as coffins and urns, propane, household pizza ovens, and humidors for cigars. Aspiring gym rats can even nab discounted two-year 24-Hour Fitness memberships.
Monroe’s scouting pays off: She finds high-end cosmetics like Smashbox or Clinique for 20 to 40% off the retail price, plus designer clothes like Ugg and Hunter boots for nearly $50 less than retail prices.
She even credits the store for improving her aunt’s quality of life. When an insurance company wouldn’t cover the cost of her aunt’s hearing aids, claiming they were a “cosmetic” item, her aunt found a pair at Costco for a quarter of the cost she was previously paying; the store has since released their own Kirkland Signature brand hearing aids.
Costco has a reputation of selling more for less, but Monroe says it’s not all about the bulk buys. “There’s so much more to your membership than just what’s in the warehouse,” she says, and to take advantage “you don’t have to be a family of four or six or have a bunch of kids.”
As a loyal Costco shopper for 15 years, Monroe has picked up some tips and secrets along the way. Here are her best Costco shopping hacks:
Visit a local Costco warehouse when you travel.
Because Costco warehouses vary by state (and by country), Monroe recommends travelers visit local Costcos if they’re on a road trip or abroad. (A North American membership gets you access to warehouses worldwide.) Different countries offer popular food or local items at a fraction of the cost compared to typical tourist sites. In the Melbourne Costco, for example, you’ll find Christmas cards with Santa surfing or laying out on the beach since the Southern Hemisphere experiences summer, not winter, during the holiday season.
The Melbourne Costco warehouse is one of Monroe’s favorite stores. The building sits across from the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel in the Docklands area of the city. “The way the food court is set up in the corner of the building with these huge glass walls, you look out over the Docklands,” she says. “It’s a beautiful area.”
From a cost-saving perspective, Monroe recommends stopping at Costco for their notoriously cheap gas if you’re on a road trip, or getting the $8 deluxe car wash on offer at some warehouses. And don’t forget the snacks. Orlando’s warehouse, conveniently near Disney World, has a special market section. “You can buy individual items as if you were going into a 7/11, but you’re paying these crazy low Costco prices,” she says.
The $120 Executive membership pays for itself.
For individuals, Costco offers two payment options: a $60 per year Gold Star membership and a $120 per year Executive membership. If you think you’ll spend $3,000 a year (or $250 or more a month) at Costco, Monroe recommends the Executive membership, which comes with 2% cash back on your purchases.
Though the average of $250 a month threshold sounds like a lot, Monroe says she easily spends that much for her family of two. In addition to groceries, she buys gas, household goods, and clothing items from the retailer, plus big purchases like TVs and computers.
Attend soft openings for freebies.
One of Monroe’s favorite activities is heading to a Costco “soft opening” the night before a new warehouse officially opens to the public.
These VIP-style events are open to both members and non-members in the community to check out the new warehouse. The fully catered event includes freebies of Costco foods and beverages. You might even catch a glimpse of Costco CEO W. Craig Jelinek, who allegedly attends every opening. Plus, as Monroe says, “it’s the only time you’ll ever see a Costco in absolute pristine condition.”
Use their Facebook page if you have issues.
Despite her store obsession, Monroe says she has a few Costco criticisms: the retailer dropped her favorite chocolate frozen yogurt from the food courts, and also got changed the recipe of their pumpkin cheesecake, a holiday staple at her house. The store also nixed an annual Black Friday cookbook with hundreds of recipes using store products.
She finds leaving comments on Costco’s Facebook page gets a response within 24 hours. The Costco website also has a nearly 24-hour chat feature.
Her most critical blog post featured Kirkland Signature bed sheets she returned to the store for their poor quality. Since her post, however, she noticed the same sheets in seemingly better condition—something she thinks her comments might have helped change.
“I’d like to think my blog post provided feedback that these sheets aren’t up to par,” Monroe says. “I’d like to think the company takes that feedback to heart and changes the products for their buyers.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said Gold Star memberships and Executive memberships cost $60 and $120, respectively, each month. They are yearly membership fees.