Up to this point, our main focus has been on grocery store savings, and hopefully by now, with several weeks’ practice, you feel like you have a firm grasp on the process of making your list, gathering your coupons, and tackling the store. Your pantry stockpile is filling up nicely, and you’re not only starting to understand the process, you also understand the theory behind the process.
(If you are new to my blog or new to couponing, I strongly recommend that you start with part one of my beginner’s guide to coupons before reading any further. It will all make a lot more sense that way!)
It is now time to take your coupon shopping to the next level and start to tackle the drugstores. Because this is the baby-steps coupon program, we are going to take it slow, and start with just one. This week our focus will be on Walgreens.
Drugstore shopping is a little more complicated than grocery shopping.
It requires a lot more planning and forethought, since not only do you have to make your list and gather your coupons, you also need to plan your multiple transactions in order to maximize your savings and minimize your OOP (out-of-pocket) costs.
In the case of Walgreens, there are also a lot more “rules” to remember. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but it is also a lot of fun, and the rewards are incredible. Whereas a really, really good trip to the grocery store will mean a savings of maybe 70%, a really, really good trip to the drugstore can mean a savings of 90% or more.
In my weekly shopping totals and in my monthly budget, I combine my grocery and drugstore expenses. I have found that by drugstore shopping, not only do I end up getting almost all of my family’s toiletries, diapers, medicine, & vitamins for next-to-nothing, I also can score great deals on food staples that otherwise can be hard to find on sale–milk*, eggs, butter, & bread–which helps keep my overall grocery savings higher.
You have now had 3 good weeks of practice at grocery shopping with coupons. Your stockpile is should be filling up nicely and your list of needed non-sale items should be starting to shrink considerably.
This week you are going to continue grocery shopping and building your stockpile, following the shopping guidelines from the previous two weeks, and then try your hand at drugstore shopping.
Week 5 Assignment:
1. Make your list, gather your coupons, and go grocery shopping according to the guidelines from Part 3.
Like last week, since right now you are working on your stockpile, feel free to stock up on any item that you use regularly, so long as it is on sale for at least 50% off.
As I pointed out last week, eventually you will be able to get more selective with your shopping and focus only on the very best deals, but at the beginning 50% is a great goal to shoot for. And once again, don’t feel like you’ve somehow failed if you are saving less than 50%. Any savings is better than none!
If you feel very motivated, you can repeat this process for multiple stores. Remember, the more stores you shop at, the faster you will build up your stockpile since different stores have different sale cycles.
2. Keep your stockpile organized.
You worked so hard last week to get your stockpile set up; reward yourself this week by taking care to maintain your system when you put your groceries away. A little effort each week can save you a lot of hassle and a big mess later on.
3. Sign up for the Walgreens Balance Rewards Card
In September 2012 Walgreens unveiled a new rewards program where customers can earn rewards points for certain promotional purchases, as well as for making healthy choices such as getting immunizations or participating in Walk with Walgreens. This new program works in conjunction with their existing Register Rewards program, but if you are going to shop at Walgreens you will need to sign up here for a card.
While this program is still very new, so far the program seems pretty straightforward & user-friendly. You can check your balance online and the rewards are awarded as follows:
4. Go on a field trip to you closest Walgreens store.
Consider it a dry run. Go to whichever store you plan to shop at most often, and pop in for a quick visit and tour. It may sound silly, but trust me, it helps (a lot!) to know where things are.
There is a lot to keep track of on a high-savings shopping trip–your shopping list, your coupons, unplanned for in- store coupons, unadvertised specials & clearance items (not to mention your kids, if you are forced to drag them along!)–and you will save yourself a lot of aggravation and time by knowing where to find things.
Make a mental note of the food section, the baby aisle, the supplement, shaving, eye care, oral care, & hair care areas, which are all sections you will probably need to find frequently. Also check if there is a special clearance section somewhere (usually hidden near the back of the store).
5. Learn the rules.
Print a copy of the Walgreens coupon policy, and be sure to keep it handy in your accordion file, Couponizer book, Qubie, or coupon binder.
Here are the Walgreens “rules” you will need to know:
- You must have at least as many items as coupons used in a transaction. Register Rewards (RRs) are considered coupons. Thus, if you are planning to use 5 coupons and 2 RRs in a single transaction, you must purchase 7 separate items. If you were only planning on buying the 5 items you had coupons for, you will need 2 small “filler” items in order to use your RRs. I usually find good fillers (like $0.05 pencils) in the clearance section.
- Most Walgreens registers will not accept a coupon that has a higher value than the item being purchased. Even though this shouldn’t make a difference to the store (since they are reimbursed by the manufacturer), for now when this issue arises, the cashier or manager will have to either manually push the coupon through (unlikely) or change the price of the sale item to match the coupon value so that it is still free, but not a moneymaker. Hopefully Walgreens corporate will find a way to resolve this issue.
- When “stacking” a Walgreens store coupon with a manufacturer’s coupon, always hand the cashier the manufacturer’s coupon first. Depending on the item, sometimes the register will not accept manufacturer’s coupon after a store coupon has been used, so it is just a good general rule of thumb to follow.
- There are restrictions on which items you can purchase with your RRs. I already knew they could not be used to purchase alcohol or tobacco products, but I frustratingly found out recently that RRs are also not valid for purchasing milk.
- Register Rewards cannot be used to pay sales tax, and you MUST use the full amount of the RR. If something is $0.99 before tax and you have a RR for $1, it will not work, even if your total after tax is $1.07. In this case, you would have to use a small filler (like a $0.05 pencil) to make it work, and your total OOP cost would be approximately $0.12 (the cost of the pencil + tax).
- Most items will allow only 1 RR per transaction, and that RR cannot be used to purchase the same item. If you want to purchase multiples of an item, you will have to do them all in separate transactions that are alternated with other items.
6. Make your list.
While you are just getting started, here are some guidelines to follow:
- Check ALL items that are free or less than free after coupons and Register Rewards.
- Check any other items that you want or need that are a savings of 70% or more after coupons and Register Rewards.
- Print your list.
7. Create your Transaction Scenarios.
For your first week, I wouldn’t recommend doing more than about 4 or 5 items or more than 2 or 3 transactions.
Once you have printed your list, play with the different items to come up with a way to spend the least amount of OOP money.
The goal is to earn RRs on your first transaction that can then be spent on your next transaction, and so on.
Always try to start with one or two items that are free or less than free after coupons & register rewards. Save your last transaction for sale items that don’t produce any RRs or any other needed items on your list.
Be sure when you create your scenarios that you write down how many of each item to purchase, which coupons to use, your estimated total after coupons, and how many RRs you will be getting back.
8. Go shopping.
I try to always do my drugstore shopping on Sundays, the day the sale starts. Some weeks it doesn’t matter, but when there is a really hot deal going on the stores can sell out quickly and it is frustrating to spend a lot of time creating your scenario, only to have it all fall apart because one of the items you’ve planned for is gone.
Once you’ve gathered your items, take a few minutes before checking out to organize your coupons and your items into transaction piles.
Be sure to politely tell the cashier you will need to do several transactions, and be willing to get back in line if there are a lot of people in the store.
At Walgreens, I like to check out at the cosmetics counter when I can. It is less busy and the cashiers seem friendlier, but maybe that is just my experience!
Pay close attention as you check out to make sure your totals are similar to what you had anticipated on your scenarios, as well as to make sure that your RRs print out.
RRs will print out on a separate Catalina machine located next to the register. If for some reason a RR doesn’t print, be sure to point it out right away. The cashier will probably have to get the manager.
RRs can fail to print for a variety of reasons–the machine is offline, out of ink, turned off, or gets tricked because you paid with a RR that was the same amount as the one that is supposed to print. In all of these cases, the manager should be able to issue you a new one or give you the same amount in cash.
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And that’s this week’s assignment. Compared to last week, it probably seems like a lot, and after reading this tutorial you may be hesitant to venture into the drugstore realm.
I promise that the savings you find will make it worth the effort! Coupon shopping does take some time at first, but it does get faster and easier as time goes on.
Stay tuned for next week’s assignment and, as always, please post any questions or comments you may have below. I do read all my comments, and I make an effort to respond and answer questions as best I can.