Our bargain hunter breaks down the mystery that is CVS Extra Care Bucks, and MARTIN’S officially enters the rotation.
Playing the Drugstore Game for Fun and Profit
“Would you like to get thousands of dollars-worth of free household, medical, and personal care products every year? You can, in just a few simple steps!”
Sounds like a too-good-to-be-true infomercial, doesn’t it? You’re waiting to be told to visit www.freegrocerystuff412.tv, right?
But not only is it true, it’s also 100% legitimate. By astutely combining sales, manufacturer coupons, drugstore coupons, and drugstore reward programs, it is possible to get hundreds or thousands of dollars of merchandise for free or pennies from CVS and Walgreen’s. (Sometimes you might even be “paid” to buy it!)
I suppose the “catch” is that playing the drugstore game isn’t for everyone. Do you:
- Get a high from getting free stuff? Really, who doesn’t? (And the first time you walk out of a drugstore with $20 of merchandise which cost you $.20, you’ll feel like it must somehow be illegal.)
- Have enough spare time to learn how the programs work, and to invest weekly in planning scenarios?
- Need to trim the budget in any way possible?
- Live or work near a drugstore, and are you able make a trip at least once a week? (This is the main reason I cut back on drugstore shopping after my son was born; the logistics of quick stops became exponentially more complicated)
- Have access to the manufacturer’s coupons in Sunday papers, and a printer for printing coupons? Are you already comfortable using coupons?
- Like math? (Or at least don’t mind crunching some numbers?)
- Use a significant amount of products carried at drugstores, like hair care products, makeup, diapers, toothpaste, medicine, etc.?
The more questions you answer “Yes,” the more likely you are to enjoy and reap the benefits of shopping for drugstore deals.
There is an initial learning curve, as you master the lingo and systems. I recommend beginning with CVS deals, then moving on to Walgreen’s and perhaps Rite-Aid. For your initiation into the wonderful world of CVS-ing, read up on free tutorials posted on numerous money-saving websites. Some examples:
Once you’ve mastered the basics, these sites are also great resources for finding out about the best deals each week, along with coupon match-ups. And if you want to talk deals with fellow drugstore junkies, there are also a number of discussion boards where you can get your fix:
Here’s a quick CVS example, using my shopping trip this week:
- $2.99 Colgate Total Advanced toothpaste
- $2.49 Thermacare Heatwrap (1-ct)
- $0.99 CVS Green Bag Tag
- $1.00 Colgate manufacturer’s coupon
- $4.49 in Extra Bucks that I received buying Dove shampoo last week
- $1.18 cash including tax
- $2.00 Extra Bucks coupon for buying Colgate
- $2.49 Extra Bucks coupon for buying Thermacare
- $0.99 Extra Bucks coupon for buying the re-usable bag tag, which will also earn me $1 in Extra Bucks every 4 times I use it
So I bought 3 items for $1.18 out-of-pocket (OOP) and now have $5.48 in Extra Bucks to use on a future purchase. (My cost would have only been around $.15 if I had chosen to not buy the bag tag.)
Meat Top Pick
Hebrew National Franks $2.50 at Kroger. Use $.75 coupon from the 3/7 SmartSource. If you’re shopping today with a coupon, Ukrop’s has a slightly better deal with $3 Hebrew Nationals ($.75 coupon doubles to $1.50).
Veggie Top Pick
8-oz whole or sliced mushrooms $1 at MARTIN’S
Fruit Top Pick
White House applesauce 6-pack $.99 at Ukrop’s
Dairy Top Pick
Yoplait Greek yogurt $1 each at Kroger. Print $.30 coupon from Coupons.com or redeem $.30 coupon from 3/28 SmartSource to make them $.40/ea.
Staples Top Pick
Nature’s Own bagels $1.34 at Ukrop’s; Thomas’ English Muffins half-price at Kroger, or “Buy One, Get One Free” at MARTIN’S
Snacks & Sweets Top Pick
Athenos hummus 7-oz $1 at Kroger
Beverage Top Pick
Crystal Light drink mix $2 at MARTIN’S
Household Top Pick
(In honor of Earth Day tomorrow) Reynold’s wrap recycled foil 35-50 sq ft $2.50 at Ukrop’s. Use $.75 coupon from 3- or 4-18 SmartSource, or print $1.25 coupon from Reynolds website.
Find more deals by accessing the stores’ weekly ads online:
- Prices valid 4/18-4/24: Kroger, Ukrop’s, Target, Walgreen’s, CVS, MARTIN’S
- Prices valid 4/21-4/27: Tom Leonard’s, Whole Foods, Fresh Market
Monthly ads online: