Have you ever played the drugstore game? I’m so entrenched in the couponing/frugal living blog world that I sometimes forget that many people don’t know my terminology. I’ve had an old friend visiting this week who is also into coupons and saving money, and it’s been SO FUN being able to bounce scenarios off of each and share past coupon triumphs. It’s inspired me to Google around and see if I can’t find a couponing community here in the ATL so I can have that fun more often!

But let me back up a little bit.

Drugstores, namely CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid, all have shopper’s cards that can offer you some type of reward at the register. It works a little bit differently at each one, but I have a CVS card, so that’s usually my go-to. Each week, the store puts out its sales circular, and certain items are on sale and include an “Extra Care Bucks” component at CVS, “UP Rewards” at Rite Aid, or “Register Rewards” at Walgreens. This means that, when you buy the item or the specified multiples of the item, you’ll receive these rewards that are effectively equivalent to cash, but only at that particular drugstore (or any location of the national chain). Thus, the “game” is to use coupons to get the sale items for free or close to free, earn the rewards, and then process a separate transaction in which you use rewards to get MORE items for free. This is what couponers refer to as a “scenario.”

I’m not yet very good at the game because I haven’t gotten much for free yet, but I also haven’t tried particularly hard. And I’ve definitely used it to my advantage to save a lot when I had certain things I knew I needed that I was able to find on sale. The problem I run into is that I don’t get the newspaper, so if I want to paper coupons I have to remember to buy one each Sunday, which is more expensive. I also tend to only print coupons I think I will readily use, so sometimes for one of these two reasons I don’t have the coupon that would allow me to take full advantage of the Extra Care Bucks deal. That said, I want to try to get better at this, and I think the first step I’ll take is to jump at deals for something I might need in the future, rather than waiting to buy it when I need it and risk it not being on sale then. For example, I could stock up on shampoo if there were a good deal on it, even though I currently have an almost full bottle. I wouldn’t take the stocking up to extremes, but I definitely have some room in my bathroom cupboards and closet to play the game and get a little ahead.

That said, this morning my friend and I decided to walk to the CVS up the street from my apartment and see what fun we could have. Since the week is almost over, we found that some of the deal items were sold out. If you really want to snap up deals, and especially if you want to buy multiples, you really have to do it the day the ad is publicized. She had 3 Extra Care Bucks left from a previous transaction but ended up being rational and deciding to save them to get her ahead on next week’s sale game. I purchased a bottle of Crest Pro-Health Rinse (which A. uses but is not currently out of) which was on sale and for which I had a coupon. It rang up as $3.50 plus tax but printed me 2.50 Extra Care Bucks. In my second transaction, I purchased a CVS green bag tag (which you put on your reusable bag to scan each time you use it at CVS, and every 4th time you receive 1 Extra Care Buck), a pack of gum, and a Diet Coke, for which I had a $1 off coupon. I also had a 20% off coupon that my CVS card had supplied me via email. (It randomly seems to do that sometimes.) After the coupons and the Extra Care Bucks from my first transaction, I paid only $0.18 for those three things. Pretty okay for a novice and for the end of the week, I think!

The game takes patience, both on your own part and on the part of the cashier. I actually did my second transaction several minutes after my first because I noticed a line forming behind me and didn’t want to be “that girl” that tied up the cash register with something complicated. But it can definitely be fruitful and, with some planning ahead, you could be coming away with free products that you’ve willingly paid full price for in the past.

I’m anxious to see what comes out in this week’s ad, especially since I’ve discovered it’s not a bad walk to my CVS. It could be a fun morning’s activity to go play the game a little bit. We’ll need some soap soon, so maybe it will be my lucky week.

(P.S. I normally buy 12-packs of cans of Diet Coke, but I bought the bottle today so that we can try out this tip from Real Simple. I’ll let you know how it goes!)

Laura Lindeman

Laura Lindeman