Coupon Mom: Tips for strategic shopping at drugstores

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The best way to save money is to become an expert at your stores’ savings policies. This month I will cover the basic savings strategies you can use at major retailers in Atlanta that will help you make a serious dent in your household spending this year.
I call it “Strategic Shopping” defined as “changing the way you buy the products that you like, not compromising on what you like to use or eat.” In other words, you can enjoy the same standard of living at a much lower cost if you can master basic shopping strategies.

Strategic Shopping has three components: Knowing your stores’ savings policies, knowing when to use coupons, and knowing the prices of your common items. The magic of Strategic Shopping is being able to stock up on your items at prices that are 75 percent or more off the regular prices, all year long. Once you learn the basics of Strategic Shopping, you can use this column and the CouponMom.com website to learn what the best deals are each week. Each store has its own unique savings policies that you can combine with coupons and promotions.

The drugstore chains (CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid) all have many savings policies that are similar, but they work slightly differently at each store. For example, each store has an “automatic rebate program” that gives you some type of reward in the form of store credit to be used on a future order. These tend to be high-value rewards, but you will only save money if you remember to use the reward in the future.

If you are new to Strategic Shopping at the drugstores, you will want to pick one of the chains to hone your savings skills. Once you’ve mastered one store, you may decide to add one or two additional stores. Visit each store’s website for a detailed explanation of all of their savings programs. This is an overview of some of the most frequently-used savings strategies at CVS:

Weekly Ads. CVS Weekly Sales prices begin on Sunday and end on Saturday. You can find the circular in the Sunday AJC, in stores and online.
CVS Extracare card: If you don’t already have one, pick one up at your local CVS to get sale prices, store coupons and automatic rebates called ExtraBucks. Go to CVS.com to register the card and you will receive high-value store coupons via email and direct mail in the future.
CVS Coupon Center: Look for the red coupon kiosk in stores, scan your CVS card and you will get CVS store coupons. You can combine store coupons with manufacturers’ coupons from the AJC on the same item for big savings, so make it a habit to scan your card as soon as you walk in the store.
Store coupons: You will also get CVS store coupons on your receipts, so be sure to take a look at the bottom of your receipt to see if there are coupons you would use in the future.
Manufacturers coupons: CVS accepts coupons at face value (they do not double coupons).
Extrabucks Rewards: When you buy a qualifying item, an Extrabucks Reward prints on your receipt which is store credit on a future order. These are just like cash so keep them in a safe place and remember to use them.
CVS Beauty Club: This is probably the most overlooked easy savings opportunity at CVS. Sign up at CVS.com for the Beauty Club, which gives you a 10% rebate on all qualifying personal care items. When your accumulated spending hits $50, you will get a $5 Extrabucks reward which is equal to a 10 percent rebate. Your product spending is tracked based on the sale prices of the items, before coupons are deducted. Because it’s tracked automatically and the rebate is issued automatically, this is a no brainer. Every time you spend the accumulated $50, you’ll get the $5 reward. Note: This is not limited to women, even though it’s called the Beauty Club. Men’s shampoos, lotions, and other personal care products are also included in the list of participating items.

A typical CVS deal would be a name-brand of shampoo that is on sale for $5 (regularly-priced at $7). It may have an Extrabucks promotion that would give you a $5 reward when you spent $15 on that shampoo line. Therefore, if you bought three bottles you’d get the reward.

At the same time, there could be a $1 coupon for that shampoo in the AJC, so you could use three manufacturers’ coupons. When you scan your CVS card at the coupon center, you might get a store coupon for $3 off any hair care purchase over $10. Let’s add all that up: $15 for three bottles, less the $3 store coupon, less $3 in manufacturers’ coupons equals $9 spent at the register. You would get $1.50 in credit for Beauty Club (with $15 in spending toward the $50 goal) and you would get a $5 Extrabucks Reward. Although you spent $9 at the register, your net cost after subtracting future store credit would be $2.50 for three bottles, or 83 cents per bottle, a savings of 88 percent.
And you’ll have enough shampoo to last until the next sale!

Stephanie Nelson, The Coupon Mom, has been teaching Georgia shoppers how to save since 2000.

The full Coupon Mom column appears Thursdays in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Deal Spotter section. It’s full of great local deals and exclusive offers. Visit the Coupon Mom website  for more great tips and printable grocery coupons.

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