May 20, 2008

The Drugstore Game Mindset: To stock up or not to stock up elsewhere

I've mentioned before what an adjustment it was for me to start buying things I don't need so that I can maximize my ECBs at CVS. That was really hard for me, since it seems so illogical. But I've got a good grasp on how the math works out now, and I don't have a problem with it at all.

What I am struggling with now is the notion of not stocking up. You see, we're really low on toilet paper and paper towels right now. Our favorite TP is Charmin and our favorite paper towel is Bounty. And Target is having a pretty good sale this week: 24 big rolls (equivalent to 48 regular rolls) of Charmin and 12 big rolls (equivalent to 16 regular rolls) of Bounty for $13 each. Buy 2 qualifying products and get a $5 giftcard. I have store coupons for $1 off Bounty and 75 cents off Charmin, as well as 25 cents off manufacturer coupons for each product. That brings the total down to $23.75. Subtract out the $5 giftcard and I could get a good stash of both toilet paper and paper towels for under $20. The breakdown of the cost per unit comes to 19.5 cents per regular roll of toilet paper and 58.6 cents per regular roll of paper towels, the best price since I started keeping a price book again.

These items cost considerably more at CVS. I haven't looked at the shelf prices, but online, one roll of Bounty is $1.99 and a roll of CVS brand paper towels is 99 cents per roll. Similarly, a 12-pack of Cottonelle is $9.99, or 83 cents per roll (the only Charmin they sell online is a 36-pack for $28).

Here's where I start to drive myself a little batty. Should I just spend $20 at Target in one fell swoop, stock us up for the next couple of months, and keep an eye out for deals at the drugstores in the meantime?

Or should I buy one or two packs per CVS visit? If I do this, I will only pay $1-$2 per transaction (yes, Gina, I've gotten much better at this!), but I will burn ECBs in the process, leaving me with fewer ECBs than I started with for future purposes.

Part of me - a big part of me - wants to hit Target, and kill the anxiety of possibly running out of toilet paper especially. (Although we wouldn't run out, at least not completely, since we always keep a spare roll on top of each toilet.) The rest of me says that I should play The Drugstore Game the way it was meant to be played and things will work out. Especially because I'm working on ways to get more CVS money (ECBs and giftcards - more on this tomorrow), and hopefully June will mean new money-makers.

What would you do?


Anonymous said...

I have had this problem too. TP is something that doesn't come up as free very often, so I often think of it as subsidized by my other CVS purchases. I usually get it when it is on sale there (plus a coupon) and pay for it with ECBs.

A few weeks ago I came close to running out. Fortunately a new Giant grocery store opened in my area and they put out free TP coupons. The next week they did double $1 coupons plus a good sale and I got a large pack of TP for a very low price. I did compromise on brand though - I also prefer Charmin and I got Cottonelle. For some reason I don't mind changing shampoos at all but this matters to me. However, I'm happy enough with the results.

Going forward, I'm going to try to keep a better stash of TP and paper towels, knowing that it's harder to get them very cheap or free, and that we go through them faster than toiletries. That way, I hopefully won't get in a crunch again.

If I were in your shoes, I'd probably base it on my grocery budget. If you're running low, I'd use the ECBs. Otherwise, I'd consider the Target deal. ECBs are a money equivalent in the end, so while it's tempting to use them more freely, it's not always the best idea. On the other hand, if you've accumulated more ECBs than you can easily keep rolling over, that's a great time to buy something else you need - like toilet paper.

Sorry such a long comment!


Mercedes said...

I accumulate ECBs or Walgreens Register Rewards to buy toilet paper or paper towels because they are usually never free around me and when purchased they require high out of pocket outlay. So I would say, if you can make it to the week of 6/1 (when they will be on sale at CVS) wait until then. Meanwhile try to start building up your ECBs so that you don't feel the burn too much. I know next week there's a chance to grow ECB even if only $3 with theRevlon deal. Then on the week of 6/1 combine any built up ECBs with a $/$$ coupon and get your TP and PT paying with ECBs. There will always be a chance to grow them back up again. There will always be a money making deal, don't worry about that. I am good on paper towels and toilet paper thanks to register rewards deals at Walgreens. I am also more than good on diapers, but I will be buying some on 6/1 because I will at least be getting some ecbs back. I don't care if I burn ECBs, I have found that keeping 10ecbs around is what works for me best.

Mercedes said...

I just wanted to add that $20 of OOP at CVS will get you a lot more stuff that the same amount at Target. So, if you are afraid to burn your ecbs, don't because a $20 investment at CVS will help you grow them again.

Camille said...

I have to admit -- I'd do the Target deal and stock up. Then I'd work really hard at not spending that much money again on those products. Use the 6/1 sale Mercedes mentioned to boost your supply.

I just used about $15 worth of ECBs to get diapers. I still have about $30 ECBs left, but it nearly killed me to spend $15 ECBs and not get anything back! But they were expiring and I paid $1 OOP for 2 packs of diapers. Worth it!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I go with the best price unless my ECBs are expiring and I have to "use them or lose them."

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

That's one of the reasons I buy things like TP at Costco. One big pack lasts us quite a while, and it's just there, no worries about running out. The Drugstore Game is pretty complex, I've found, and can lead to temptation and these dilemnas.

Keep us updated on your decision making!

Anonymous said...

This is exactly why I can't "play this game". I would just stock up on the best deal at the time and move on. I think about everything too much and by the time I figured it out.. we would be out of tp!

Chief Family Officer said...

@Jennifer - I'm green with envy over your Giant deal (Giants don't exist out here in LA). Thanks for the suggestions!

@Mercedes - Thank you for the info! I've got to see if I have those $2 Revlon coupons for next week!

@Camille - Wow, that is a great price for diapers. And I believe there are ECBs on Playskool next week and Pampers during the first week of June :)

@Carol - I'm definitely thinking about it!

@CCS - I totally get what you're saying about convenience, but my price book shows that Costco is noticeably more expensive when it comes to paper towels and toilet paper than the best sales. And we go through enough that the difference would add up over the course of a year. I am working to reduce our consumption, at least of paper towels, but I'm only willing to go so far!

@Anon - LOL! Maybe you could start with the no-brainer free-after-ECB items like shampoo and razors :)

Anonymous said...

I would probably stock up at Target. I see the drugstore game as using the rewards (ECBs or RRs) to get things that are good deals during the redemption period. Unless you're really well stocked on all the upcoming CVS deal items or have ECBs to burn, it seems like it's best to save them for things where CVS has good prices and/or use them on items that generate more ECBs.

What did you end up doing?