Mar 17, 2008

Creative strategies for coping with rising costs - Part Two: The Drugstore Game

In this series, Creative Strategies for Coping with Rising Costs, I will discuss the ways I am saving money and cutting costs in order to maintain our lifestyle as prices increase. You can read Part One: Back to Basics here.

Did you know that you can get many items for free from drugstores like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid? Did you also know that it's incredibly easy if you have the right sources?

I've known for years that Rite Aid offers some items free after rebate, but I only recently discovered that Walgreens offers both rebates and rewards, and that CVS has its own rewards programs. I've always hesitated to seek out these deals because there is a lot of fine print and finding the exact right deals seemed like it would require a lot of effort.

But it turns out that there are some wonderful blogs dedicated to showing readers how to get the best deals at these stores. So I subscribed to their RSS feeds and read their posts and began to see that The Drugstore Game, as I've come to think of it, is perfectly doable, especially if I keep my goals in perspective.

The benefits of The Drugstore Game, when played right, are substantial. You can get free or heavily discounted toiletries and groceries, thereby significantly reducing your monthly expenses on these items. I played The Drugstore Game at CVS for the first time two weeks ago, and spent less than $27 out of pocket for four bottles of Neutrogena body wash, a huge amount of candy (perfect for Easter), and two non-disposable razors. Alternatively, I could have spent $24 at Target on just the body wash (I do have a use for the other items, so they were well worth the additional $3). I also have $11 in "Extra Care Bucks" to spend the next time I buy something at CVS. (ECBs are the rewards CVS prints out at the bottom of a receipt after qualifying purchases.)

I realize that The Drugstore Game usually won't help me get the cheapest price on something I need right now. That's what my price book is for. What The Drugstore Game can do for me is help me build up a stock of items that we use regularly for as little as possible so that I make as few "must have right now" purchases as possible. In the end, I expect to save hundreds by playing The Drugstore Game.

And the best part is, I won't have to invest a lot of time in the game. My favorite source for planning my Drugstore Game purchases is Money Saving Mom. If you're new to The Drugstore Game, I highly recommend her tutorials on playing at CVS and Walgreens. Also check out the links in the Beginners section in her right sidebar. If you click on the link that says "Do you like bargains and free stuff?" it will take you to a list of current deals. I particularly like that Crystal offers "deal ideas" for CVS shopping to minimize the out-of-pocket expense and maximize the return of ECBs.

Here are some additional tips that I've picked up during my first few weeks of playing The Drugstore Game:
  • Start slow. My first purchase was in late January at Walgreens, where I picked up some Kleenex that came with a $1 mail-in rebate. I went in the next week and picked up a bottle of Garnier Nutrisse shampoo that was free after mail-in rebate. I'm still waiting for the rebate to arrive, and when it does, I'll use it to buy more free-after-rebate and heavily discounted items. The Drugstore Game experts call this process "rolling over," since you're redeeming current rewards for even more rewards.
  • Plan your purchases ahead of time. It really helps to know what you want to buy before you step into the store. Make a list of things you need, even if they aren't on sale that week, so you can fill out your purchases as necessary (for example, to take advantage of a $4 off $20 purchase coupon where you have $18 worth of items in your shopping basket).
  • Take the store ad with you to the store. I've learned this lesson the hard way, after discovering that the stores can't be relied on to properly mark their shelves - some stores mark their shelves better than others, and some stores will mark certain products while other stores will mark different products. Taking the circular with you will help you be sure you're buying the proper item. (You can also whip it out to show a salesperson if you're having trouble finding an item.)
  • CVS cashiers can't tell you if an item will print ECBs just by scanning an item. I don't know why this is - you'd think that the register would give them a notation of some kind, but it apparently doesn't.
  • Stores sell out quickly. I am definitely not the only person in my area to be playing The Drugstore Game. I've found many items out of stock, but fortunately, I live close to three CVS stores and two Walgreens stores, so I've generally been able to find the deals I've really wanted. I'm still working out the best time of week to go, if it's not first thing Sunday morning.
  • Maintain perspective. The Drugstore Game is highly addictive, and you can find yourself making numerous trips to different stores in an effort to track down the deals you want. I've personally found that I don't mind making multiple trips, but that's usually because I've got to get the kids out of the house or kill some time between appointments. If your drugstore trips are negatively impacting other areas of your life, make fewer trips, even if it means you're not getting the very best deals. Your sanity is worth more than a few dollars.
Finally, here are some links that I've found helpful in learning to play The Drugstore Game:
  • I Heart CVS is a blog with deal ideas and links to printable coupons for CVS.
  • BeCentsAble hosts "The Grocery Gathering," which links to the best deals at grocery and drugstores each week. For an explanation of The Grocery Gathering, visit For Families First.
  • The FatWallet Hot Deals Forum often has posts on drugstore deals, and I particularly like that they are often deals for the following week (such as a heads-up that Coke products are 5 for $11 this week - because I knew to look for the deal, I found a coupon for it in the Walgreens circular in the Sunday paper; the coupon says 5 12-packs for $12, which is still a great deal). The downside is that these posts are buried in among other forum posts that have nothing to do with The Drugstore Game.
So what are you waiting for? Start playing The Drugstore Game and be on your way to big savings! And if you have tips of your own, please leave a comment!

Don't forget to come back next Monday for Part Three of the series. I'll discuss ways to find the time to do all these cost-saving measures.

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Anonymous said...

I never really shop at drugstores, usually just picking up toiletries when i am at tar-jay, but these deals sound very intriguing! I am definitely going to give this a try! Thanks for the great tips!!


Anonymous said...

You don't even have to mail in for rebates anymore. Rite Aid lets you input the info from your receipt to obtain their rebates:

Shan said...

I wish we had the drug store game here in Canada. That would be a huge help.

Anonymous said...

I think Walgreens will give you an extra 10% if you put your rebate on a gift card instead of requesting a rebate check.

Chief Family Officer said...

@aande - Yup, that's what I used to do, but I was sold on The Drugstore Game when I realized that I could get all that stuff plus the body wash that I would have bought anyway (it's the same as the body wash mentioned in this post). Have fun!

@Yune - Thanks for the tip!

@Shan - I don't know where in Canada you live, but maybe it would be worth a trip down to the US sometimes?

@anon - Thanks!

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I finally decided to give Walgreens a try (we don't have CVS here in the Pacific NW). I made one shopping trip, earned some Register Rewards, sent in my Rebate form, and am waiting for the gift card with my rebates on it to arrive before I go back. The Register Rewards were great, but expired sooner than I expected. I used them on basics we needed, didn't fuss with any special deals.

Living Almost Large said...

I only shop at CVS. I refuse to pay out of pocket at walgreens or Rite-AID. So unless they are doing mega deals its not worth it.

I've been doing it for a little over 1 year, since last february 2007 and have saved a ton. I no longer pay for anything toiletry wise. But I do get to spend it on food!

Chief Family Officer said...

@CCS - I'm waiting for my first rebate from Walgreens also. The web site says they sent it last week so hopefully it'll get here soon. I think there are some free-after-rebate deals in the next (April) book that I'm interested in. You can see the deals here.

@LAL - I am beginning to see that I will have to pay very little for toiletries from now on. I love that Target's prices - even on clearance - now seem ridiculously high! :)

Anonymous said...

Here's my tip: jump into the drugstore rebate programs one at a time.

They all have different rules. I decided to learn one and get the routines settled in before I went to the next store's program.

The program to start with would be the store you plan to most frequently shop at!

Anonymous said...

I am fortunate enough to live within 2 miles of both a Rite Aid and a Walgreens. Using their rebates plus store coupons not only allows me to buy toiletries and housewares for myself and my daughter, but also to donate the extras to homeless shelters and emergency pantries. I mention this to remind people that even if they're really strapped, it is possible to give to others in this way. At the very least, it will stretch your "giving" dollars.

Anonymous said...

Sean @ Financial Ramblings left me a comment on my blog, suggesting I include your Drugstore Game in my post. I have and it's a great resource. Thank you.