The Drugstore Game
Couponing is not about using coupons as soon as you get them in a willy-nilly fashion. The goal is to exercise patience, waiting to match a coupon with a store sale to get the best possible deal on an item. Couponing is an art.
What avid couponers often refer to as "the drugstore game" is the matching of coupons to sales at (you guessed it) drugstores. Since the Poe Posse membership is a measly two persons at this time, playing this game has allowed for the most successful reduction in our spending. We'll start with my favorite store...
To begin at CVS, you must sign up for an ExtraCare card. To do this, you can simply go up to the counter and ask for one. Once you fill out some info (name, address, etc.), you will be given a sheet with two cards- one that fits on your keyring and one that can go in your wallet:
Next, you should obtain a reusable bag and a CVS Green Bag Tag:
Your reusable bag does not have to be purchased at CVS, but theirs are only 99 cents. Attach the tag (also 99 cents) to your reusable bag, and take them with you every time you go. After the clerk scans at least one of the items you are purchasing that day, have him/her scan the barcode on the back of the tag. After four scans, you will get $1 free in ECBs. In no time the tag will have paid for itself, and then you can continue to rack up the free dollars! (Note: you may only scan the tag once per day.)
Again, couponing is not willy-nilly- some degree of preparation is what will save you the big bucks. Before I visit my local store, I carefully examine the sale and coupon matchups. Typically, since I'm exceptionally busy, I let Jenny do most of the grunt work for me. Her site details the items that are on sale, the ECB offers, all the coupons that could be applied to the product, where to find these coupons, which coupons to use to get the best deal, and how much you'll end up paying if you do what she tells you to. There's even a function to print out a nice list of the deals that YOU want and the possible coupons you can use.
Since CVS requires you to use a card to get these deals, they can limit the amount of sale products that you purchase. This is one of the few downsides to the store. The "household" limit is listed on Jenny's site, as well as at the store, and in the sales flyer. Sales at CVS run from Sunday to Saturday.
When I get the CVS add in the Sunday paper, I make sure the deals I like are available at my store, then I clip the coupons I need, and I'm ready to go to shopping.
Coupon Matching Notes: You may only use one manufacturer coupon per item, so don't try to find all the coupons Jenny lists. However, you CAN pair a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon (from the paper, online, etc.); this is the ONLY way you can use two coupons on the same item.
B1G1 coupons are typically best paired with B1G1 sales at drugstores because of the way they price these items - the first item rings up full price, and the second rings up at no charge. When you pair the B1G1 coupon with the B1G1 sale, you're truly getting both for free. Consequently, when you are purchasing an item that a drugstore advertises as B1G1, you must purchase both to actually see the savings!
Furthermore, if you have two $x off 1 item manufacturer coupons, you may use both when taking advantage of a store B1G1 sale, since you are purchasing two items. If the product costs $y, you are getting two items for $y-$2x...if you're not great at algebra, this usually means it's a great deal.
As soon as I walk in the store, I get out my Extra Care card and scan it twice at the price checking kiosk. Each time, store coupons will print out. Pay special attention to these coupons. Occasionally, a $x off a purchase of $y coupon will print out (ex: $5 off $25); these coupons are essentially free money, but they should be the FIRST coupon you give the cashier when you are checking out.
Quarterly CVS will reward you with an amount of ECBs based on how much you've spent at the chain that period. These ECBs will also print out at the price checking kiosk at the beginning of the next quarter.
After checking the kiosk, I continue shopping like normal. When I've grabbed all the items that I want, I pull out all the coupons for the items I have in my cart, double check that I picked up the correct items and number of items, think about how many transactions I wish to make, and head to the register.
If I am planning to make multiple transactions, I try to limit myself to two, and I make sure that the cashiers aren't swamped so that I'm not a nuisance to them or other customers. The potential benefit to multiple transactions is based on the idea of rolling ECBs, i.e. when I purchase items that give me $x back in ECBs, I immediately use that $x on my second transaction. Rolling ECBs helps to keep the amount of money you pay out of pocket (OOP) as low as possible.
When I get to the register, I show the cashier my CVS card and place the items for my (first) transaction on the counter, along with my reusable bag and tag. After the card, the items and the tag have been scanned, I hand the cashier my coupons, starting with any $x off a purchase of $y coupons that I have. Next, I hand him/her any ECBs I have from previous transactions. ECBs will not cover the tax on an item- if you owe $1.75 and $0.75 is tax, you may only use an ECB worth $1. If you attempt to use an ECB worth more than $1, you will loose the rest of it! When I've gotten the total down as low as possible, I pay for my purchases and obtain my receipt.
As with all receipts, CVS receipts detail the items you purchase, the coupons you used, the tax, and the total you paid for the transaction. They also show you how much you saved on an item (the difference in the price you paid for an item and its regular price at the store).
After the typical information, the receipts detail what you saved today and so far this year, what you've spent this quarter, and your "Beauty Club Spending." For $50 in qualifying purchases (at once or over time) of certain health and beauty products, you will receive $5 ECB back.
Following these totals, you can see the offers that you have taken advantage of so far this week and any offer limits you have reached. The ECBs you've earned from this transaction print out at the bottom of your receipt:
To redeem the ECBs, simply tear them off your receipt and present them to the cashier. You must present your ExtraCare card at the time of purchase! The ECBs have your card number on them and can only be used with your card. There are some exclusions to how you spend your ECBs (for instance, you can't use them on prescriptions); these are listed on the ECBs, as is the ECB expiration date (1 mo. after you receive it).
While this may seem a bit overwhelming at first, I can assure you that it is totally worth it. I have not paid for toothpaste in the past year and a half. Our brand name shampoo, razors, OTC medications, air fresheners, etc. that we use have been bought for a fraction of the cost of store brand items. We've been able to make nice "pampering" gift baskets for birthdays, as well as "care" baskets for sick folks. We've even made money by purchasing certain items! I would suggest that if you're just starting out, go slow, trying a deal or two a week, and ask questions if you have them.
In a bit, I'll post some of the deals I've gotten so far this week at CVS and Walgreens, so stay tuned!