Oct 6, 2008

Simplifying The Drugstore Game

I've been overwhelmed at work lately, sometimes to the point of tears. And I have to admit that in some ways, not playing The Drugstore Game would reduce the amount of stress I am experiencing - in other words, I could reduce stress by buying whatever I want whenever I want without much consideration of the cost. But that would just stress me out in other ways, since I hate wasting money and knowing that I was overpaying would drive me nuts.

And then there's the fact that playing The Drugstore Game makes me happy - and you can't put a price on happiness. I love planning my transactions and figuring out how to save the most money. Once I've figured out my transactions, I look forward to going to the store for days, until I can get there. I've been known to toss my bags into the trunk and take my receipt out so I can bask in the glow of my low out-of-pocket cost before I drive away.

So there's no way I'm sitting on the sidelines of The Drugstore Game just because I have too much work to do. But I've decided to simplify things somewhat to get the most bang for my buck. Here's how:
  • I'm going to pass up more deals. As I mentioned last week, I decided to forego the free-after-SCR-and-coupon razor at Rite Aid. It turns out that I also missed out on some free toothpaste. But those are exactly the types of deals I'm going to pass up from now on. I don't need toothpaste, razors, shampoo, conditioner, or toothbrushes. So I'm definitely not making a special trip to get them, even if they are free or a small moneymaker.
  • I will make fewer trips. There's a CVS every couple of miles near my house, and I've been known to hit three or four during a particularly hot week. I've also been known to pop into multiple Walgreens stores in a single day or week. But I'm going to cut back on the number of times I go to a store now. In fact, I'll probably visit each store only once a week. I will miss out on some deals, but the added stress, time and effort outweighs the added savings.
  • I'm going to limit myself to one transaction per store and absorb slightly higher out of pocket costs. One key to minimizing out of pocket expenses in The Drugstore Game is to break transactions up so as to maximize the use of coupons, particularly where you can "roll" ECBs or Register Rewards into the next transaction. It's also part of the fun of minimizing expenses while maximizes purchases. It takes me a little more time and effort to plan multiple transactions, but the real stress comes from having to be extra organized and know which coupons go with which transaction, and being prepared for the first transaction to not go perfectly, which can throw off the subsequent transactions. By doing only one transaction per store, I'll end up paying a little more out of pocket. But for the time being, the reduced stress, time and effort are worth the added cost.
I still expect to save a lot of money compared to shopping in other stores. This is largely because now that I have a great stockpile of most things that we use, the only deals I chase are the ones for the few things that we do need or will need soon.

The ECB deal on Renu contact lens solution last week at CVS is a good example. Marc and I both wear contacts, and we only have a couple of bottles of solution in our stockpile, which isn't enough to last us through the end of the year. We've also used up all of the funds in our flexible spending account, so anything we spend on contact solution won't be reimbursed. And, contact solution isn't cheap - last I checked, a 12-oz. bottle of Target brand solution was $5.99. After coupons and ECBs, I was able to get one 12-oz. bottle of Renu for $2.49 and two bottles for $2.99. And I hope that this will be enough to keep us going through the next great sale, when I'll stockpile again.

Another benefit of The Drugstore Game is that I don't have to shop every week because of my stockpile. So if things get so crazy at work that I can't make it to a drugstore one week, that's fine.

But I hope that doesn't happen. Not only will I be unhappy from having to work that much, I'll be unhappy about missing my savings high.

Did I miss anything? Share your tips for simplifying The Drugstore Game in the comments!


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good plan Cathy. I've been more selective lately too. My life has been pretty crazy. I've also found that I was sometimes blowing my food budget on good deals. They really were pretty good, but we're well stocked and I can wait for the best deals or just sit it out if I need to.

Your happiness comments made me smile though. I show off my receipts to my husband like trophies! If he comes along, he says it's like watching me compete in a sporting event. It is really good fun. :)


Gina @ MoneywiseMoms said...

I didn't know you were making so many trips! You really DO need to simplify.

I feel strongly that one can make ONE trip a week, preferably on a Sunday or Monday, to CVS/Walgreens and still do great with the Drugstore Game. You may miss out on a few things here or there, if they're out of stock, but once you know the deal cycles, it's easy to plan ahead. For example, I buy a ton of diapers when Huggies give ECBs, then I know the deal won't come up again for 6-8 weeks. It's the same with the toothpaste (though Colgate is easy, that's free every other week!). And as long as you go for the freebie money (like the meter deal this week and last week), you'll always have extra ECBs for your non-sale, or specific brand items that you must have.

Kacie said...

Once I had a pretty sizable stash of drugstore goodies, I decided to take it a bit easier.

I'm now banning myself from buying any more shampoo for, well, a long time! I don't care if it's free. I have so many bottles that any more would be ridiculous. I *could* donate to charity, though.

Anyway, to help rein in my drugstoring, I keep a little inventory of what I have. That way, I can see that, yes indeed, I have plenty of shampoo and toothpaste, but it would be good for me to continue stocking up on bodywash, for example.

Camille said...

I've cut back as well -- mostly due to pregnancy, but we are so stocked up that we're good for now.

I have started re-using my RR from Wal-Greens in the same trip so I don't HAVE to go back. I find the RRs expire quicker than the ECBs. I also keep no more than $10 total of ECBs at a time. If I have more than that, I spend them immediately. I feel less pressure to make a trip when I just may not feel up to it. It does mean higher OOP costs, but I'm still saving tons of money!

Chief Family Officer said...

@Jennifer - I knew I couldn't be the only one :)

@Gina - I didn't mean to make it sound like I do this *every* week, but often enough, I suppose. Once a week does sound better. Mostly it's when I have time to kill, but I don't have that time lately. And it's less the stopping in to get something than it is the time planning my transactions before I go. I'll have to see if I can find that monitor coupon, although I think that might be one of the deals we got stiffed on here in LA :(

@Kacie - Hm, an inventory. That's a great idea!

@Camille - RRs really do tend to expire quicker than ECBs, although the Tylenol RR I just got expires in December, yeah! But I think what you're doing makes sense, especially since you're probably buying things you need or rolling them into rebate items.

Mercedes said...

That's the beauty about this, you may hit it hard for a little while and then you don't have to. But your stockpile is there to save you money for a while. It's like savings on auto-pilot.