The drugstore game is a method of stacking store sales (especially BOGO deals) with coupons in order to obtain drugstore items for pennies on the dollar, or even for free.
I learned how to do the drugstore game back when I was a single mom getting out of debt, and I did it for a short time. I remember being so excited when I went to CVS one day after carefully planning my “scenarios”. The first time, I got over $100 worth of product for around $30 out of pocket, with another $20 or so of CVS extra care bucks trailing at the end of the receipt (which would then be rolled into more scenarios).
I’ve also used knowledge of the drugstore game to occasionally get products I needed for super-low prices, as during my recent spending fast.
I am a frugal mama, to be sure. But the drugstore game doesn’t work for me most of the time. I’ll explain why, and what I do instead to save money on household necessities.
For the drugstore game to work, you must buy the products that make up deals and stock up – even if you don’t need that item or use it.
First, I don’t use a lot of skin care or makeup products. I’m very much a minimalist when it comes to both.
My skin care routine is super-simple. And I wear makeup, but very little. See more about frugal natural beauty here.
Most of the products I use are as natural as I can afford, and paraben free. CVS and other drugstores carry few of these types of products. (Although I do like Physician’s Formula and they are occasionally part of great deals.) The only other brand I see that I like in drugstores is Burt’s Bees, and there are never great deals on those.
I’m super picky about my family’s toothpaste. I like EarthPaste best (which I order each month from Grove, you can also get it on Amazon). My other favorite tooth care product is OraWellness, reviewed here.
I use a Keeper-type, generic menstrual cup so I don’t need to buy sanitary items for myself. Disposable diapers are cheapest bought in bulk from Amazon Subscribe and Save, as are paper towels (if you use them – I prefer microfiber and tea towels in my frugal kitchen) and toilet paper.
In other words, there are rarely drugstore game deals that feature products I use.
And since I dislike clutter, I don’t like “stocking up” on products that will sit around for months while I use them up. (My exception is bulk dried food.)
There are a few things I do buy that CVS carries. However, CVS marks those up too high, like paper products (notebooks for the kids and computer paper). That must be where they’re making up the difference for the stuff they can give away for free.
And I suppose I could buy band-aids, vinegar and baking soda there, but again – the price of those things is jacked up. CVS very rarely offers Extra Care Bucks or coupons for those kind of basic, generic items. Most of the great deals are on items that I never, ever buy, like soft drinks, candy and junk food.
Working scenarios is complicated, time-consuming and stressful when shopping with kids.
And I’m always shopping with kids! If one doesn’t do the scenario perfectly, you’ll pay big at the register, because the price of everything in the store is set higher to recoup the losses from the deals they know people will be working. You have to juggle multiple coupons, multiple transactions and buy the right product (not the 6 oz size, the 4 oz size!) to get the deal.
I’m also concerned with the temptation to shop when I wouldn’t ordinarily be, to buy items that I wouldn’t ordinarily be buying, just to get it free, or to get more ECBs. While it’s awesome to get liquid eyeliner for .17, if I don’t need or use liquid eyeliner in the first place, it’s a waste of my time and money. (Proponents of the drugstore game get so good at it, they often create goodie bags to give away to the homeless. That’s wonderful, but I prefer to give money to charities I trust.)
When playing the drugstore game, you have to remember to use your extra care bucks/register rewards and coupons before they expire!
That’s easier said than done. I have enough to do and remember in my life. Because you’re often literally buying stuff in order to get the coupons to print out, you must continue to play the game to make it work. To quote the now immortalized Sweet Brown, ain’t nobody got time fo dat.
Playing the drugstore game adds another errand to my routine.
I hate shopping and I hate errands. This is why I order most things online. ALDI, my preferred grocery store, has great prices on shampoo, razors, toilet paper, disposable diapers and the other personal care items they stock. Even if I pay a bit more, not having to go to another store makes it worthwhile.
The trouble with the CVS game
CVS is probably the best-known place to play the drugstore game and where the best deals are had (because of the generous extra care bucks that print out after purchases).
To me, the trouble with the CVS game is that it’s similar to the cheap toy and cheap consumer goods situation. We “demand”, via our shopping habits, cheap plastic stuff. So, the manufacturers have to keep cutting corners to give us what we want, which is more cheap plastic stuff.
Then we complain when the cheap plastic stuff ends up being what it is: cheap and plastic. It’s not safe, it’s not good for our health or the environment. But, it’s really our fault for wanting so much stuff, so cheap.
If I take home $100 worth of stuff from CVS and pay 0.23 for it, I’m feeding into that system. I’m demanding more products that aren’t very good for my health or for the environment. I’m voting with my dollars.
I am glad that I learned the drugstore game, because I can use the skill if I need to. I’m also thankful that frugal bloggers have brought attention to the drugstore game, because there are people who may be in a real tight who truly benefit from the information. And I do use deal sites and money back apps from time to time. However, I try to be a conscious consumer and not allow these to influence my buying habits.
- Short gray hair, don’t care
- Bargain Hunt often has rock-bottom prices on drugstore stuff, no complicated deals required
- How to be a frugal natural beauty
- Why I don’t make homemade laundry detergent
- How Grove.co saves me time and money
- A collection of posts on natural beauty treatments
- Beauty secrets of the Bible
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