11 Things You Should Always Buy at Drugstores
Drugstores have a reputation for notorious markups, but if you know which products to buy and the best coupons to use, you can actually save more than you would have thought.
First, let’s talk rewards programs
The most important step toward getting the best prices at drugstores is signing up for your preferred store’s rewards program. The big three are Walgreens Balance Rewards, CVS ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards, and Rite Aid Wellness+ Rewards. With each of these programs, you can earn credits or points by making purchases, refilling prescriptions, and (as is the case with Balance Rewards) even logging your fitness activity, weight, and blood pressure. The more points you rack up, the bigger discounts you’ll get at the cash register, whether in the form of a percentage off your purchases or money back to use in-store or online. Plus: These are the things DIYers should always buy at Costco.
Saving more means spending more
Whichever drugstore rewards program you sign up for (or maybe you’ll sign up for all three!), get ready to become a frequent shopper there. It may take a few shopping trips to start collecting enough rewards points to save the most money, but you’ll end up with lower prices in the long run. Brandice Taylor-Davis of The Taylor-Davis Agency found success with CVS’s rewards program. “The trick is, the more you buy certain items through your ExtraCare card, they send you more coupons and savings for those items which are almost always in conjunction with an advertised sale. So yes, the laundry detergent is $18, but you can walk out the door paying $8 with $10 in CVS bucks to purchase your toilet paper for free. So you just paid $4 for the detergent and $4 for the toilet paper. That’s certainly a win to me.” Make sure you’re aware of these things you should never buy at drugstores.
They’re the perfect gift for the person who’s tricky to shop for, and they can also get you some cash as well. Buying gift cards at drugstores won’t directly save you money, says Dustyn Ferguson of dimewilltell.com—meaning that $40 gift card to Olive Garden will still cost $40—but it can get you rewards points for future purchases. Just double-check which gift cards qualify. Drugstores usually carry gift cards from national brands of all sorts, like restaurants, department stores, movie theaters, and more. You won’t believe these ripoffs at the dollar store.
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While prescription drugs are often cheaper at big-box stores like Walmart and Costco, you can save on over-the-counter medicines by buying the store-brand versions at drugstores. This goes for medications like painkillers and antihistamines. “By law, generic drugs are required to be as effective as brand-name, so there is essentially no difference,” says Meaghan Brophy, retail analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com. “Brand-named drugs are trademarked based on appearance and inactive ingredients. But the active ingredients are the same. Plus, store brands go through the same FDA-approval process as brand-name. … You’ll get the same product for a much lower price.”
OTC allergy products (at Rite Aid)
Allergy sufferers, Rite Aid knows your pain—and is giving you a big perk because of it. Rite Aid Wellness+ Rewards members earn $20 in BonusCash every time they buy $75 worth of over-the-counter allergy products. This includes national brand medicines like Claritin and Zyrtec and Rite Aid-brand medicines, but it also works for products that non-allergy sufferers can use too, like Vicks VapoRub, Halls cough drops, and Kleenex tissues. A full list of participating brands is available on the Rite Aid website.
Mary Potter Kenyon, author of Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession, says that the key to getting the best deals on everyday necessities like toothpaste is smart couponing. If you’re a rewards program member, hold onto the coupons you’ll get with your receipt. You may be able to combine them with other coupons for an even greater discount. Potter Kenyon has gotten toothpaste for free by combining a manufacturer coupon with a register reward.
Deodorant is another hygiene staple that you’ll want to stock up on at the drugstore. Keep an eye out for upcoming sales and pair them with manufacturer coupons for a drastic discount. Here are the workshop supplies you should always buy at the dollar store.
This is another product to look out for when you get those register coupons, says Potter Kenyon, who has gotten “drastic discounts on the pricey refillable razors.” Her strategy? “Watch the ads, clip your coupons, and keep an eye on the current rewards.”
Shopping deals blogger The Krazy Coupon Lady says that big-name drugstores (i.e. Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid) often have sales on name brand laundry detergents. Not only will you get what you need at a discount, but you’ll keep racking up those rewards points.
Shampoo and body wash (at Walgreens)
Salon products seem to be getting more and more expensive. Luckily, combining coupons with sales is a great way to get your favorite haircare products for less. An insider tip: CheatSheet.com did a price comparison between personal care products sold at Walgreens and CVS—and Walgreens had lower prices on shampoo and body wash. Plus: Check out the things you really shouldn’t buy at the dollar store.
Everyone with a sweet tooth already knows the cheapest way to get their candy fix: Buying drugstore candy after Halloween and Valentine’s Day at dirt-cheap prices. So why not use the same mindset to save on next year’s Fourth of July or Christmas decorations? Stock up on seasonal items once the holiday has passed, and you’ll not only be ready to celebrate early, but save some cash as well. There is a risk that your options will be picked-over rejects, but luckily, holiday decorations don’t vary much from year to year. Here are more habits of people who are great at saving money.
Party snacks (at Walgreens)
Stock up on chips, nuts, and other snacks the next time you check out Walgreens. The Krazy Coupon Lady claims the drugstore often has sales and buy-one-get-one deals that beat grocery store prices.
Anything on clearance
Don’t leave any drugstore without first perusing the clearance section (or looking for orange price tags, if you’re shopping at Walgreens). It’s not surprising that you’ll find the best deals here, but it also gives you the chance to try out a new product. April Timko, a marketing director who frequents Walgreens, sees orange tags on makeup as an opportunity to buy a new lipstick or eyeshadow she’s on the fence about without wasting money on a color she ends up not liking. Plus, you can even combine those clearance prices with coupons—which could mean free stuff for you!