Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saving the Moola: playing the drugstore game (and a new series announcement!)

Ever since Jason and I really started cracking down on our finances in order to meet our short- and long-term goals to buy a new-to-us car in cash, save an 8-month emergency fund and pay cash for a condo/home, we've been following blogs led by money-savvy minds, we've been couponing, and we've been shopping at Aldi, Sam's and other warehouse-type stores.

One thing we've never, ever done, perhaps on account of stupidity, was play the drugstore game. Each week, drugstores like CVS, Walgreen's and Rite-Aid offer "free," "near-free" or "good deal" items. To start getting these types of items, you have to lay out some cash up front. For example, if Walgreen's is offering Colgate toothpaste for $3 with $3 back in Register Rewards (RR) (for CVS, these are called ExtraCare Bucks and at Rite-Aid, this is called Up Rewards), I would have to spend $3 initially to get $3 back in Register Rewards to use on my next purchase. But once I get my Register Rewards going, the goal is then to spend nothing out-of-pocket (OOP).

Playing the drugstore game doesn't really involve a lot of time, depending on how crazy you choose to be. For very little craziness, you can easily save around 90% on average.

There's three things I would advise anyone to know about the drugstore game:
  1. Learn the entire coupon policy and carry it with you to the store. This will help you to follow the rules and get the most bang for your buck or rewards.
  2. This is also related to #1. Be nice to the employees! Kindness really goes a long way. If the employee informs you an item isn't really on sale (and it's not in the ad so you have no real proof) or the variety of item isn't the variety on sale, etc. etc., seriously, just listen to them and let the item go if you don't want to pay what they're saying it costs. The customer is NOT always right.
  3. Keep track of every single item you purchase so you can learn what you're actually paying per item (whether the item is a rewards-item or not). My biggest issue with not playing the drugstore game before this weekend was that I didn't think it would actually be worth it at the end of the day. But I'm keeping track of every item, and I can tell you that very soon, my average cost per item will be less than $1 and for the items I'm purchasing and what I would normally pay, this is a very good deal and very worth it for me.
This weekend was a great weekend to start my drugstore game due to "Black Friday" deals, which is the reason I chose this weekend to start! We used part of our DATS budget to do this. This is what we bought at Walgreen's between Friday and Saturday:

Our total out-of-pocket cost between the two days was $18.73. I'm currently at an average cost of $1.70 per item.

Here's the cost breakdown:

Friday's Shopping Trip
  • Colgate toothpaste - $3 (with $3 back in RR)
  • Crest toothpaste - $2.50 (with $2.50 in RR)
  • EOS Shave Cream (2) - $6 (with $4 in RR)
  • Reese's sugar-free candy - $2.39
OOP cost: $14.58
Register Rewards: $9.50

Saturday's Shopping Trip
  • Colgate toothpaste - $3
  • Crest toothpaste - $2.50
  • Hair ties - $3 (with $3 back in RR)
  • Denteks floss picks - $2 (with $2 back in RR)
  • Shick razor - $8.99 (with $4 back in RR)
Coupons: $4.25
RR I used on this purchase: $9.50
OOP cost: $4.15
Register Rewards: $9

I bought the EOS shave cream because I've been secretly lusting to use some of EOS' products for awhile now. Homemade shaving cream is way cheaper, but I was getting my Register Rewards started so I thought I'd check out EOS shave cream and get RR, too. Also, Jason spotted sugar-free Reese's, which we had never seen before, so we bought that, too.

On Saturday, we had to be really careful. Part of Walgreen's policy is that a customer cannot use (for example) the RR from Colgate toothpaste to buy another tube of Colgate toothpaste and get the RR again. I was okay with this because we were on our last tube of toothpaste and I wanted to stock up. Looking back, I could have completed separate transactions to get each tube of toothpaste for free, but I'm starting out simply to try to not hurt my brain.

Another part of Walgreen's policy is that a customer cannot buy (for example) Denteks floss picks plus the razor and use two coupons and two RR coupons. A customer can only use the number of coupons that matches but not exceeds the number of items. I had found, very easily on the internet (I am not very coupon-savvy; I don't take the time/money/energy to find and clip coupons from a newspaper so I rely on printable coupons only at this time), a $1.25 coupon for Denteks floss picks and a $3 coupon for a Shick razor. Using these coupons would make the Denteks floss picks only 75 cents, then I would get $2 back so technically, I'm "making money." The coupon for the Shick razor would drop the price to $5.99, plus I would get $4 back in RR, which would make the razor's end price only $1.99. The razor comes with an extra blade, and there is nowhere I can find razor blades for less than $2/blade. This is a very, very good price.

When I was checking out and explained to the employee that I was new to all of this, I also explained that I had been careful to read the coupon policy in advance. She let me know how grateful she was to me for this and told me horror stories of couponers who demanded they be allowed to use three coupons on one item. I sympathized with her, and when the hair ties I originally picked up didn't match what was on sale for RR, she helped me find the right item and was very patient with me.

In the past, I, like many others I've talked with, have found playing the drugstore game to be confusing. I'm going on this journey to prove, or as the case may turn out, disprove that playing the game is worth it and a real money-saver. Each Thursday, starting December 1, I'll show you what I bought that week and let you know what my price per item has dropped or raised to in a new series called "Winning at Walgreen's" (and the goal, of course, is to never have to change that title to "Losing at Walgreen's").

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