The Drugstore Game is really just the combination of sale prices, store rewards programs, and coupons. Your success in The Drugstore Game will depend on how well you are able to combine these elements to minimize your expenses.
Here’s what you need to know to play The Drugstore Game at Walgreens:
Register Rewards (“RRs”) are coupons that print from a Catalina machine next to the register. (You can see a picture of a Catalina machine here.) They should print at the end of a transaction when you’ve made a qualifying purchase, and can be used to help pay for your next transaction. Generally, RRs expire two weeks from the date they were printed, though this occasionally varies.
RRs are typically part of the following types of deals:
Buy Product X, Receive a $Y RR
Example: Buy Excedrin on sale for $2.50, Get a $2 RR
Buy $X worth of select products, Receive a $Y RR
Example: Buy $20 worth of selected P&G prodcuts, Get a $10 RR
Spend $25, Get a $5 RR
This has happened in December for the last two years.
When purchasing a qualifying item, you can use coupons and still receive the RR. In the first example above, you could use a $2/1 coupon on the Excedrin and get the $2 RR back. In essence, you’ve “made” $1.50 on the purchase. You can do the same in the second example, for instance if you bought $20 worth of Tide, used 2 $1/1 coupons and paid $18 plus tax, you would still get the $10 RR.
Some Register Rewards deals run weekly, and some run monthly. The weekly ones will usually be in the ad, while the monthly ones are frequently advertised only for one week even though they run all month. (A “month” at Walgreens usually starts on the last Sunday of a month and ends on the last Saturday of the next month.)
One thing to keep in mind with RR deals is that you’ll only get one RR per deal per transaction. So if the deal is Buy 1 X, get a $Y RR, you’ll only receive one RR even if you buy 2 X’s in one transactions.
Also, you usually cannot “roll” an RR into the same deal. Thus, you cannot use an RR that you received for buying X to buy another X and still receive an RR. But you can generally buy X, receive an RR, use that RR to buy Y, and receive another RR.
Balance Rewards is Walgreens’ new store loyalty card program that launched in September 2012. Like other loyalty card programs, you’ll need to join to get the most out of your Walgreens shopping. Balance Rewards gives you access to special sale prices, and you accumulate bonus points that can be spent like cash in the following increments:
- 5,000 points for $5 Reward
- 10,000 points for $10 Reward
- 18,000 points for $20 Reward
- 30,000 points for $35 Reward
- 40,000 points for $50 Reward
Since the more rewards you accumulate, the greater value each point carries, you’ll have to decide how best to spend them. If you make large purchases at Walgreens, it may make sense to accumulate 40,000 points. On the other hand, if you simply want to minimize your out of pocket expenses, spending rewards as you earn them may be the best strategy.
Using Balance Rewards and Register Rewards can lead to greater savings than ever. Keep in mind that you should still get Register Rewards if you pay for your purchase with points. However, you will not earn points in a transaction if you use points to pay. Thus, a good strategy may be to accumulate points, and then spend them on items that produce RRs. Manufacturer’s coupons should not have any effect on the accumulation of points.
Points earned should appear on your receipt. If you do not receive points when you should have, you can call customer service at (855) 225-0400 to have the points credited to your account. Points are valid for 36 months, but will expire after 6 months of inactivity on an account.
Walgreens is pretty generous with store coupons. You’ll find coupons in each week’s ad, as well as in the monthly coupon booklet that’s at the front of the store. Sometimes, there are booklets or pamphlets available in the store for free that also have store coupons.
Walgreens now has an official coupon policy (yay!).
I’ve never had any problems using printable coupons at Walgreens, unless they didn’t scan. On the rare occasion that that’s happened, some cashiers have pushed it through while others have told me they can’t accept it.
One thing to keep in mind with Walgreens is that you must have as many items as manufacturer coupons, and that RRs count as manufacturer coupons. You do not need to include store coupons in your ratio. For example, say Quaker Oatmeal is $2.50 if you use an in-ad coupon, and you have a 50 cents/1 manufacturer coupon and a $2 RR. That’s 2 manufacturer coupons (the 50 cents off oatmeal and the $2 RR), so you would need to buy a “filler” in order to be able to use the RR. You can use anything you want that doesn’t have a manufacturer coupon attached as a filler; most shoppers will use something cheap like candy or an item that’s cheap after in-ad coupon like novelty pencils.
Another thing to keep in mind is that RRs cannot be used to pay for tax, and cannot be adjusted down. Therefore, your RR must be equal to or less than your pre-tax total after coupons. In the example above, if you had a $1/1 coupon instead of the 50 cents/1 coupon, your pre-tax total would be $1.50, but you’d have a $2 RR. In that case, you’d want your filler to cost at least 50 cents – if it was less, you’d need more than one filler.
Problems with RRs
RRs are a wonderful way to save money at Walgreens, but sometimes you may run into trouble. If your RR doesn’t print, you have a few options:
The first thing you should do is be sure that you bought the right item for the deal, during the promotion period. If you’re sure you should have gotten the RR, then check to see if the RR deal is listed in the ad or tagged on the shelf. This makes it easy for you to say to a store employee, “Excuse me, I bought X and was supposed to get an RR but it didn’t print out.” Just show them the ad or shelf tag, and the product you bought, and let them decide how they want to handle it. Some stores issue gift cards for the amount of the RR, some stores try a return/repurchase at a different register, etc.
Some deals aren’t tagged or advertised, which makes it more difficult for your to press your case with an employee. If you are comfortable doing so, go ahead. If you’re not, you can either return the item or go home and call the Catalina company at 1-866-8COUPON. If you provide them the information they need, they should be able to mail your Register Rewards coupon to you. If you used Register Rewards to pay for your item, you should still get a full refund, although it may be placed on a gift card instead of given to you in cash.
As with all coupon issues, please remember to be polite to the store employees, even if they are not polite to you. It helps all coupon users if we all keep a cool head. And, you are likely to return to the store if it’s in your neighborhood and it’s easier to shop when you’re on cordial terms with the staff.
Unless you have many RRs, you will probably minimize your out of pocket expenses by doing multiple transactions. Multiple transactions can feel strange at first, so you’ll have to figure out what you’re comfortable with.
Another reason you will want to do multiple transactions is that you will only get one RR per deal per transaction. For example, if Crest toothpaste is giving an RR, you will only receive one RR even if you buy two toothpastes. However, if you bought Crest and Kotex in one transaction, and both were giving RRs, you would receive both RRs .
Some stores will limit the number of RR-producing items that you can buy. Sometimes the weekly ad states such a limit. Store employees have discretion to ignore or enforce limits, and I’ve never been turned down if I ask if it’s okay to buy something if there’s a good amount of stock out.
I try to limit myself to two transactions per store per trip. I feel that it is not excessive enough to warrant any extra attention from the employees, and I am not getting in other customers’ way. I am also not buying enough to wipe out the shelves. And, I rarely have enough coupons to repeat the same transaction more than twice.
If the stars align, I may do more than two transactions. For me, this usually requires extra coupons, a friendly cashier, and an uncrowded and well-stocked store.
If you can, get to know your store’s employees. If they are friendly toward you and your coupons, it will make your transactions that much smoother. It may also make it easier to do multiple transactions in one visit.
Putting It All Together
Walgreens math can get a little complicated, because you’ve got to consider sale prices, store coupons, manufacturer coupons, RRs, and the coupon-to-item ratio when creating your scenarios to minimize your out of pocket costs. The more you play The Drugstore Game at Walgreens, the easier it will be to understand how all of these elements work together.
I’ll put together “starter transactions” each week to help you get started at Walgreens, so stay tuned!