Saturday, August 29, 2009

CVS Intro - You can make it work for you!

If you are interested in getting the most bang for your buck, one of the best stores to shop at is CVS. If you’ve never played the “drugstore game” before, you might be thinking, “Really? But their prices are so inflated on everything!” Well, in many instances, that’s true. However, they also have promotional programs that often net you free products, and when you use coupons, you can often make a profit! Read on to find out more about how to take advantage of all the wonderful deals to be had at CVS…

The Extra Care Bucks Program
One of the reasons CVS is such a great place for bargain shopping is their Extra Care Bucks (ECB) program. ECB are coupons that print on your receipt tape after you pay. I like to think of them as “CVS money.” These coupons have no minimum purchase requirement, and they can be used on almost anything in the store. They do exclude things like alcohol, stamps, prescriptions, lottery tickets, and gift cards, but they can be used on pretty much any general merchandise, including toiletries, OTC medicine, household supplies, and groceries.

Each week, CVS offers ECB rewards on a number of items, and there are usually at least 1-2 things that automatically give you back the full purchase price in ECB’s, making the item “free” after ECB. Each ECB deal has a limit listed in the ad, usually somewhere between 1 and 5; this is the number of times you can do each deal per Extra Care account. For example, in the picture above, composition books are on sale for $.99, with a $.99 ECB, limit 2. If you buy 2, you will pay $1.98 and get back $1.98 in ECB. You can buy 3 or more if you want, but you will still get only $1.98 in ECB, unless you have multiple Extra Care cards. (Note: You must use a CVS Extra Care loyalty card to get any ECB; they will not print unless a card has been scanned. If you do not have a CVS card, you can get one at your local store or on the CVS website.)

Now, after you have your ECB in hand, what I do NOT recommend is turning around and immediately using those ECB to buy other random things. I have found that one of the keys to maximizing savings at CVS is to “roll” your ECB. This means that you use your ECB to buy other things that generate ECB, then use those ECB to buy other things that generate ECB – over and over and over again. I use ECB and coupons to pay for as much of each transaction as possible, usually aiming to pay less than a dollar out of pocket each time, and get back approximately the same amount (or more) as I spent. If you don’t “roll” your ECB, you’ll end up paying out of pocket with real money (not CVS money) each time, and your overall expenses will ultimately be quite a bit higher. I spent between $20-$30 on my first major CVS trip in June 2007 and have been paying mostly with my ECB ever since. I almost never pay more than $2 of “real” money.

Over time, deals on pretty much everything will cycle around at some point. Out of my initial investment at CVS, I have netted countless cleaning supplies, almost any toiletry item imaginable, household supplies like paper towels and batteries, and groceries, especially cereal and milk. If you are truly going to make the most of this program, it may require a slight shift in mindset. It may mean buying certain things at a time when you don’t really need them – I buy them anyway because there will be a time when I DO need it, and I would rather buy it when it’s free than pay full price for it later.

Using Coupons at CVS
As you saw above, it is often possible to use the CVS Extra Care program to get things for free. When you use coupons along with this program, you will see your savings multiply even more. For example, a couple weeks ago, Revlon Mineral Mousse make-up was $9.99, with a $9.99 ECB reward (= “free”). A few weeks before that, there was a manufacturer coupon in the Sunday paper for $1 off Revlon. So, with the coupon, it cost $8.99, you get back $9.99, and you make a $1 profit.

In addition to manufacturer coupons, there are also CVS store coupons. CVS store coupons are available from a few different sources, such as magazines, tearpads, and flyers found in the store. Most of mine come from the in-store scanner, which prints coupons when you scan your CVS card. Not all stores have these scanners, but they often give some pretty good coupons, so take a look around your store and see if you can find one. CVS corporate policy allows one CVS store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item. For example, when I bought the Revlon a couple weeks ago, I also had a store coupon for $2 off any cosmetics. I used both the store coupon and the manufacturer coupon, for a total of $3 off; I paid $6.99 (in CVS money) plus tax (in real money) and got back $9.99 (also in CVS money), for a $3 CVS-money profit.

Some of the best CVS store coupons are for $4 off a $20 purchase, $5 off a $25 purchase, or something similar. These are great coupons to have! The minimum purchase requirement is before coupons, so if you have a “$4 off $20” and you are already planning to get about $20 worth (pre-coupon value) of products, this coupon basically gives you an extra $4 to spend on anything else you need right then. I usually use it to buy groceries or things we use that don’t go on sale very often.

What if something is out of stock?
Stock for particularly good deals at CVS sometimes disappears quickly. If you find empty shelves at the store, ask for a raincheck. CVS corporate policy is to provide rainchecks for all regularly stocked merchandise (unfortunately, if it’s a seasonal item, you may just be out of luck). The cashier will write the raincheck for the purchase price, and will also write in any ECB that you are owed. When you redeem the raincheck, hand it over at the beginning of the transaction, and they will price adjust the item when they ring it up. Pay like normal, and they will manually print your ECB after you pay.

What if my ECB don’t print? In my experience, ECB almost always print, but there is the occasional instance where the system was not programmed correctly or I accidentally picked up the wrong item or something. If this happens, first make sure that you did in fact get the correct item. If you did, the cashier should be able to manually print the ECB for you, using the 8-digit event code listed in the ad.

Variable Policies
Some policies do vary from store to store. For example, some CVS stores accept expired manufacturer coupons; mine does not, but they DO accept expired CVS store coupons. Check with your store's manager if you have questions.

Walgreens Deals - Week of 8/30

There are some great deals at Walgreens this coming week! Here are the freebies I see this week:

Theraflu - Buy 1 at $4.99 and use $2 printable coupon from the Theraflu website (look in the lower left corner). Pay $2.99 (use another Register Reward if possible, but NOT one you got from buying Theraflu!) and get back $3 in Register Rewards (RR). Free after coupon and RR!

Reach Total Care toothbrush, Total Care floss, or Ultra Clean floss - Buy 1 at $2.99 and get $2 in RR. There were coupons ranging from $1-$2 off one toothbrush or floss in the 3/15, 4/26, 6/14, and 8/2 newspaper inserts. Depending on your coupons, you could get these for free or at a profit.

Rembrandt toothpaste - Buy 1 at $5, get $5 in RR = free! The 8/2 insert had a coupon good on Listerine whitening pre-brush or fluoride rinse or any Rembrandt whitening product. If the Rembrandt toothpaste included in this deal happens to be the whitening variety, you could use that coupon and make a $1 profit.

Carefree Ultra Protection Pantiliners - Buy 1 at $1.99, get $1.99 in RR = free! There are quite a few coupons good for this deal, including $1 off in the 8/30 insert; the June issues of Ladies Home Journal, Cosmo, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day; the March issues of Parents, Cosmo, and Shape; and the Feb. issues of Seventeen, Glamour, Cosmo, Shape, and Parents. There is also a $1 off printable coupon here. Note on the printable: if you hit the back button your browser, it may let you print a second coupon.

Men's Zone 6-Blade Razor System - Buy 1 at $3.99, get $3.99 in RR = free!

Colgate 360 ActiFlex Toothbrush - Buy 1 at $2.99 and use a $.40 coupon from tomorrow's newspaper insert. Get $2.99 in RR = a $.40 profit.

Note: There are some quirks and things to remember when shopping at Walgreens, especially when dealing with RR's. For more on this, read my post here.

8/30/09 Coupon Inserts & Tips

Are you wondering if the coupons in tomorrow's Sunday paper are worth it this week? I think they are! There are several coupons in this week's paper that I will definitely be using (at least sometime, if not immediately) and will probably try to get extras of. Here are my favorites:

From the Smart Source insert:
Carefree Ultra Protection Product
, $1 (exp. 11-30-09) - these are free after Register Rewards (RR) at Walgreens the week of 8/30. Use the coupon, and you'll make $1 in RR!
Colgate Toothbrush
, .40 (exp. 9-19-09) - Colgate 360 Actiflex toothbrushes are also free after RR at Walgreens the week of 8/30. Use the coupon, and you'll make $.40 in RR.
Marcal Small Steps Bath Tissue
or regular single roll Paper Towel or Facial Tissues FREE or $1 on 1 (exp. 10/15/09) - If you can find the single packs, you'll get them free after the coupon. They can, however, be kind of hard to find. In my area, I have found the single roll of toilet paper at Ultra but have not found the paper towels or tissues anywhere.
Palmolive Pure & Clear
, .75 (exp. 9/20/09) - If you use this coupon at a store that will double it (like Kmart if your store does super doubles), then do the mail-in rebate listed below, you'll make a $1.50 profit. Using coupons does not typically affect whether or not you get the rebate back, so you should get the full purchase price back.
Palmolive Pure & Clear, mail-in rebate up to $2.99 (exp. 9-20-09)
Ziploc Fresh Shield Easy Zipper bags
, B1G1 free up to $2.19 (exp. 10-24-09) - This coupon will be good if the bags cost $2 or less at Kmart if your store does super doubles; if you have a B1G1 free coupon for something that costs $2 or less, you can get 2 boxes for free during super doubles.

From Red Plum:
Endust Free
, $2 (exp. 9-26-09) - Endust is regularly priced $3.99 at Kmart. Use this $2 coupon if your store does super doubles, and it's free!
Hefty One Zip
, $1 (exp. 10-31-09) - CVS has 6- and 8-ct. boxes of Hefty One Zip bags regularly priced at $1. Use this coupon, and they're free!
Kelloggs Products with Fiber
, pictured are Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Raisin Bran, Mini Wheat Bites, $2 on 2 (exp. 10-11-09) - I'm not sure how I'm going to use this coupon yet, but I think Kellogg's coupons are always good to have, if you're like our family and eat a lot of cold cereal.
Quaker Grits
, $1 on 2 (exp. 12-31-09)
Quaker Instant or Old Fashioned Oatmeal
, $1.25 on 2 (exp. 11-30-09) - I expect that there will be quite a few sales on hot cereals as winter approaches; the coupon doesn't expire until the end of December, so it could come in handy.
Thai Kitchen product, .50 (exp. 10-31-09) - Thai Kitchen noodle packets are regularly priced $.99 at Kmart. Use the $.50 coupon if your store does super doubles, and they're free!

From P&G:
Crest toothpaste, 4.2 oz+, .50 (exp. 9/30/09) - Crest toothpaste often goes on sale for $1 at many stores. If your store doubles coupons, this coupon would make it free. All Kroger stores double coupons up to $.50 every day, so if you have a Kroger, watch for it to go on sale there.
Tide, $1 (exp. 9/30/09) - Some stores like Walmart and Target have travel size pouches of Tide in the travel section. If the coupon doesn't have any size restrictions on it, you can get travel size laundry detergent for free.

If you want to see a full list of tomorrow's coupons, go here.

Note: Not all coupon inserts are created equal - there are regional differences. Typically the bigger cities' newspapers get the "best" coupons. I get the Chicago Tribune because the coupons are much, much better than the ones in our local paper. Also, if your paper publishes an early Sunday edition on Saturday, it will probably have the same coupons in it, and will be a little cheaper.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

One great source of high-value coupons I've found over the last several months is Vocalpoint. Vocalpoint is an online community that posts surveys, product reviews, and articles on various topics. Go here to sign up with them and indicate that you want to receive special offers, they will send you all kinds of fun stuff. Most recently, I have gotten an envelope full of $1 coupons for Rice Krispies, plus a coupon for a completely free box, and a $2.50 coupon and several $1.50 coupons for the new Bounce dryer bar. Other past promotions that I've gotten included Kashi waffles (a coupon for a free box, plus several $1.50 coupons), $4 coupons for Venus Embrace razors (these coupons ended up making these free after Register Rewards at Walgreens), Frosted Mini Wheats, Crest toothpaste, Kashi cereal bars, Del Monte Fruit Naturals, and probably several others.

As far as I can tell, I have never gotten spam or unsolicited mail from them - just great coupons and sometimes free samples.

Walgreens Intro - You can make it work for you!

One of my favorite stores for bargain shopping is Walgreens, partly because they have some pretty good deals and partly because there is a Walgreens with very nice employees within walking distance of my house. If you’ve never played the “drugstore game” before, you might be saying, “Really? But all their prices are so inflated!” Well, in many instances, that’s true. However, they also have promotional programs that often net you free products, and when you use coupons, you can often make a profit!

Coupons at Walgreens
One thing makes for some great deals at Walgreens is their coupon policies. Of course, Walgreens accepts manufacturer coupons, but they also issue store coupons (if you’re not sure if it’s a store or manufacturer coupon, look at the barcode – manufacturer coupons have barcodes that start with either a 5 or a 9; if it’s any other number, it’s a store coupon). Store coupons are found in the store ad every week (see left), and also sometimes in special booklets found at the front of the store or in the pharmacy area. Walgreens policy allows you to combine a store coupon with a manufacturer coupon for some great deals! For example, this week’s ad contains a store coupon to get Reach floss for $.99. The coupon insert in the 8/2 newspaper insert had a coupon for $1 off Reach floss, so…free floss :)

Walgreens also sometimes issues coupons for $5 off a $25 purchase, or something similar. They actually have one available on their website right now; you can print it here. These coupons say that your total must be $25 before taxes and after all other coupons are taken off; however, the managers at my local stores instruct all their cashiers to take off the $5 coupon first. So, you may want to check at your local store to see what they do. If they are like mine and take off the $5 coupon first, these coupons also make for some great deals. If you put together an order of things that will be mostly free or very cheap after coupons (like the Reach floss this week), it’s not hard to reach a pre-coupon total of $25. Then use the $5 coupon, and you could end up paying very little.

Register Rewards
Another great thing about shopping at Walgreens is their Register Rewards (RR) program. RR’s are coupons that print out of a machine next to the cash register; these coupons are good for money off your next order, a kind of “Walgreens money.” Certain items are advertised in each week’s ad as producing RR (see the Listerine example to the left); sometimes items are “free” after RR, meaning that you get back the same amount that you pay. RR deals can be great in and of themselves, but if you have coupons, they can be even better. For example, Softsoap body wash was free after RR last week. I had printed $2 coupons from the internet, so I paid $2 and got back $4 in RR.

Now, after you get your RR, I recommend trying to “roll” them. “Rolling” means that you use your current RR to purchase something else that generates about the same amount of RR, then using that RR to purchase something else that produces RR, and so on – over and over and over again. Rolling is beneficial because it minimizes your out of pocket expenses. My basic goal for each transaction is to pay as much as possible with coupons and RR, pay very little out of pocket (usually less than a dollar), and get about the same amount of RR (or more) back. For example, last week I started with a $6 RR, and I used it to buy the Softsoap (on sale for $4, produced a $4 RR); I also added several cans of fruit so that I could use the full amount of my $6 RR. I got a $4 RR from the Softsoap. Then, one of Walgreens’ special promotions late last week was that you got a $5 RR when you bought $25 worth of merchandise. The $25 threshold was based on your pre-coupon total, so I got:

6 bottles of Tylenol (on sale for $4.49, buy 1, get 1 free)
3 tubs Huggies wipes ($3.29 each)
4 boxes Kraft macaroni & cheese ($1.49 each)

Total before coupons = $29.30
Minus 6 $2 Tylenol coupons (if something is on sale B1G1, you can still use a coupon on each one!)
Minus a $1 and 2 $.50 Huggies manufacturer coupons
Minus a $2 Huggies store coupon (takes off $2 for each tub, so -$6 total – these coupons are in special back-to-school booklets found at the front of the store by the ads)
Minus a buy 3, get 1 printable coupon for the mac and cheese (-$1.49)
Minus in-ad store coupon to get mac and cheese for $.69 (takes $.80 off all 4 boxes, so -$3.20 total).

My post-coupon total was $4.61. I paid with my $4 RR from the Softsoap and some change, and got back a $5 RR because my original total was over $25.

These transactions are part of a long chain of RR deals. I don’t even remember what my initial RR was from, but I think I got it sometime back in May, and since then, I have used RR + pocket change to get toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, cookies, cereal, pens, Glade candles, a blow dryer, deodorant, and more groceries than I can remember right now. If I weren’t “rolling,” I’d be paying a much larger percentage out of pocket for all these transactions; as it is, I’m really just paying pocket change each time, for things we’ll use.

Other Useful Walgreens Tips
  • It's best to have the cashier scan the in-ad store coupons last. This is because none of the other coupons (RR, manufacturer coupons, other Walgreens store coupons) will pay tax, so the register won't take them if they would make your pre-tax total be negative, even by a few cents.
  • If you buy more than one of an item and use a Walgreens store coupon, one coupon will take the amount off all qualifying items.
  • Only one RR per deal will print per transaction. For example, if I had bought 2 Softsoap in one transaction, it would still only print 1 RR. However, you can buy items for separate RR deals in one transaction, and it will print all RR.
  • If you use the RR you got from one deal to buy more of that same item, it will not produce another RR. So, if I used my Softsoap RR to buy more Softsoap, it would not produce another RR. However, I could use it to buy the Listerine deal pictured above and I would get the RR.
  • The Walgreens registers are set to not accept more manufacturer coupons than items per transaction. And RRs count as coupons. This means that if you buy, let's say, 4 items and you have a manufacturer coupon for each one, if you are going to use an RR, you will need to add another item item that you do not have a manufacturer coupon for, or the register will not accept all your coupons. I usually add something small (like under $.50 or so); items with in-ad coupons are often good choices. Walgreens store coupons are not counted in the "coupon count."
If something isn't clear or you have questions that aren't covered here, please feel free to ask questions, and I'll do my best to answer!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Attention Kmart Shoppers!

About a year ago, Kmart started having periodic "super double" coupon events. During these promotions, they double coupons up to $2 (i.e., any coupon with a face value of $2 or less takes off double the face value). Under normal circumstances, I find Kmart to be incredibly overpriced, but they usually have some truly amazing deals during super doubles. They had super doubles this past week, and they will be having another next week. If your local Kmart is participating, I highly recommend checking it out. Tonight was the last night of the current promotion, and this is what I got:

4 Welch's juice @ $2.79 ($.79 each after doubled coupon - you can print a $1 off coupon from the link in my sidebar)
4 I Can't Believe It's Not Butter @ $2.66 ($.16 each after doubled $1.25 coupons from 6/28 insert)
3 cans cream soup @ $.89 ($.22 each after doubled coupon, which I found in the store's ad)
3 Sally Hansen nail clippers @ $1.59 (free after $1 coupon from 8/2 insert)
3 pkgs. bacon (free after coupon - go here and click on "sign up" at the top. Fill out your information, and at the end, it will give you a link to print a $3 coupon for Smithfield bacon. If you hit the back button before closing your browser window, it may let you print a second one; it let me do that on one computer but not on another one.)
2 cans Chef Boyardee (free after doubled coupon received from ConAgra in the mail)
2 loaves bread @ $.89 (no coupon, just needed bread)
2 pkgs. Bic Triumph pens @ $3.99 (free after $2 doubled coupon I printed a few weeks ago, unfortunately the coupon is no longer available)
1 box Kleenex @ $1.33 ($.23 after $.55 doubled coupon that I received from the company in the mail)
1 package Tyson chicken @ $3.32 ($1.32 after $1 doubled coupon from the 8/2 insert)
1 Revlon tweezers @ $1.99 (free after $1 doubled coupon from 8/16 insert)

I also used a coupon for $3 off a $20 purchase. Before coupons, my total was $56.68; after coupons, it was $5.97. That's a savings of almost 90%! Plus, after I paid, I got a coupon for $5 off any "book, magazine, health, beauty, food, or consumables" purchase.

Some of these deals will still be available next week, and I'm sure when next week's ad comes out, there will be even more possibilities. But with coupons, you should be able to at least get the following for free (well, you'll have to pay tax :) ):

Vaseline lotion - on sale for $3, use $1.50 coupon from 8/2 insert = free
L.A. Looks styling gel - regular price $1.69, use $1 coupon from 8/2 insert = free
Sally Hansen beauty tools - various items (nail clippers, tweezers, etc.) are priced under $2. Use $1 coupon from 8/2 insert = free
Revlon beauty tools - various items (nail clippers, tweezers, etc.) are priced under $2. Use $1 coupon from 8/2 insert = free
Velveeta Shells & Cheese cups - regular price is $1.19, use buy one, get one ("BOGO") coupon from 8/9 insert and get 2 cups for free*
Easy Mac cups - on sale for $1, use buy one, get one from July Good Housekeeping magazine and get 2 cups for free
Visine - some varieties are regularly priced at $3.99, use $2 coupon from 8/2 insert and/or the printable link here = free
Kotex liners (small box) - regularly priced at $1.29, use $.75 coupon from 8/23 insert = free
Dove Ultimate deodorant - on sale for $3.99, use $2 printable coupon here = free

If you've never before ventured into Kmart during super doubles, there are a few things you might want to note:

  • They have a lot of rules, and they often change from one promotion to the next. This time, the rules were that you had to have at least $25 worth of "grocery and drugstore purchases," you couldn't use more than 25 total coupons at one time, and you couldn't use more than 4 of the same coupon in one transaction.
  • Kmart also has a lot of ads. They have a monthly ad and usually 2-3 ads, all of which are valid for the week
  • Kmart registers are amazingly inefficient at doubling coupons. Sometimes a screen pops up and requires the cashier to select which items the coupon should apply to. If the cashier does not choose the correct items, your coupons may not double properly, or if he/she does not immediately respond to the screen, any other coupons scanned will not be taken off. I always check my Kmart receipts pretty closely because there is a lot of room for error in their system.
  • If you have a buy one, get one free (BOGO) coupon for something that is priced at $2 or less, the coupon will double and give you both items for free.
  • Not all Kmart stores participate in double coupon events. You may want to call and make sure your store is participating. If you call Kmart's corporate customer service line, they may know more about next week's doubles promotion than your local store does at this point.
When next week's ad is available, I will post a more extensive list of the good deals, but hopefully this will help you see some of the things that are possible.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What is frugal? And is it a good thing???

What does it mean to be “frugal”? Do frugal people ever have any fun? In a culture that values having the biggest, best, and newest of everything, is frugality a good thing?

In popular culture, it often seems that frugality is identified, or even equated, with being cheap. The implication is that frugal people must never have any fun, probably eat mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time, and buy low-quality, low-cost products.

Given the subtitle of my blog, “My Frugal Adventures,” you can probably guess that I do not agree with this perception of frugality! A little over a year ago, I started clipping and collecting coupons. That was the beginning of my own frugal adventures. I call it an adventure because figuring how to do all this has actually become fun for me. It was a little stressful at first (and still is, sometimes), but after you walk out of a store having paid less than a dollar for a cart full of products you know you’ll actually use, it starts to grow on you!

As a result of my “adventures,” our spending on personal hygiene items and household supplies has been reduced to literally pennies. We have also drastically reduced our grocery budget – we now typically spend a total of $10 or less each month on groceries. And, we get quite a bit more “fun” stuff now. We currently have enough ice cream in the freezer to last a few months – and it was all free! They even paid me to take some of it. (That’s right, sometimes you can actually make money by shopping!) In my opinion, we also get higher quality products now. Before I started shopping with coupons, I often bought off brands or cheaper products; I now have cabinets, closets, freezers, and a refrigerator stocked with “the good stuff.”

Over the last several months, I have come to realize that even though frugal shopping may not cost much money, it’s also not “cheap” – it’s being good stewards of our resources. In the current economy, cutting household expenses has become increasingly important for many people. Even when the country is not in a recession, I think it still makes good sense to learn how to save money when possible. Being better stewards has also allowed us to bless family, friends, and others in our community with our excess to a much greater extent than we could have before (another great benefit!).

It has been on my heart lately to start sharing shopping tips and strategies in a more public forum, so I decided to start this blog. I won’t pretend to know everything about saving money – I feel like I’m always learning more – but I remember where I started, and I know I’ve come a long way since then. The information posted on this blog represents both my mistakes and my successes, and I hope you can learn from both. Check back here often and see what amazing deals might be hiding at stores near you. I’ll also explain promotional programs at stores like CVS and Walgreens, and how to make them work for you. And, look for upcoming posts about making the most out of your coupons, how to get the best coupons, and even how to make a profit by shopping!