Grocery Geek Presents: Playing The Drugstore Game

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One of the ways that I can regularly cut our family’s expenses is to keep a supply of toiletries and over-the-counter medicines on hand at all times. Rather than buy these items at full price when we need them, I keep an eye out for good sales on the products that we normally use, like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, and ibuprofen. When I see a great deal, I buy several of these and store them in our linen closet.

I’ve been doing this for about 2 years now and the savings has been enormous. Rather than stay brand loyal to a few products, we’ve been able to try a range of new products, some better than our old stand-bys. (That said, FishPapa is loathe to move from his standard hair gel. And I’m okay with that since it happens to be a brand that frequently offers coupons.

For quite some time it was my weekly practice to bop into both CVS and Walgreens to hunt the sales. But, thanks to a great stockpile, when life got too busy for that, I have been able to coast on what we already had. Last month, I slowly started to get back to into it.

Learning the Drugstore Game

If this is all new to you, consider today your primer in playing “the drugstore game.” These deals are no longer good, but they’ll give you an idea of what it would look like “roll” your store coupons for “money back.” These particular deals were at Walgreens.

Week 1’s Deal: Purchase $20 of NyQuil products, receive a Register Rewards.

Bought 5 Nyquil Products @$4.49 each
Subtotal = $22.45
Used 4 $1.50 coupons
Paid $16.45 + tax out of pocket.
Received back a $10 coupon for my next Walgreens trip; this is called a Register Reward. (RR)

Feels like I spent $6.45 +tax on 5 packages of cold medicine.

Week 2’s Deal:

Bought 3 packages Kotex @$2.99 each = $8.97
Bought 1 package unflavored dental floss for cinnamon rolls = $1.99
Bought 1 Colgate toothpaste @ $2.99
Subtotal = $13.95
Used $1 Colgate coupon
Used $1 Kotex coupon
Used $2 Kotex coupon
Owed $9.96 + tax
Redeemed $10 Register Reward from Week 1
Paid remaining tax out of pocket
Received back a $5 RR for the Kotex and a $2 RR for the toothpaste.

I now have $7 to spend on the following week.

Week 3:
Bought 3 Crest/Oral-B products @$3 each = $9
Used $0.75 Glide coupon
Used $2 Oral-B coupon
Used $1 Crest coupon

Keep in mind that I had $7 to spend, but my total is less than this. Walgreens will not give you money back on Register Rewards. Plus, you can’t have more coupons than items. The register will reject that. So, I had to add some “filler.” I chose two gift bags and some animal crackers. I was in a hurry and my family was waiting in the car. Otherwise, I might have made other choices.

Bought animal crackers $1.50
Bought 2 gift bags @$0.29 each = $0.58
Redeemed $7 in RRs from Week 2
Paid $0.33 + tax out of pocket

Received back $3 Register Reward for next time.

So, over three weeks time, I’ve spent about $20 out of pocket, purchased 2 toothpastes, 1 toothbrush, 2 dental floss, 5 cold medicines, 3 Kotex, 2 gift bags, and a huge bag of animal crackers and I still have $3 left to spend.

Yes, it takes some math and paying careful attention to sales, but you can easily keep your family supplied in toiletries and other sundries for quite little money. This definitely works for me!

Do you play the Drugstore Game? If not, how come?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe you can get great meals on the table -- and still keep that pretty smile on your face.

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  1. Oooh, yes! I love the drugstore game! I typically do Rite Aid and get the rebates, but my best deals have been rolling the Walgreens Register Rewards. Wish that Walgreens were a little closer! I’ve heard that CVS is amazing!! I’m jealous of people who have all 3 close by.

    I recently bought two packs of Pampers (and I don’t have kids in diapers) plus shampoo and conditioner, makeup and a bunch of other stuff for less than $9 OOP, and will receive $16 in Rite Aid Rebates! Check it out here:

    I plan to give the diapers to a friend who could use them!

  2. I will definitely be looking into this game! Is the register rewards at Walgreens? I don’t have one local, nor will I when I move, but I will have a CVS….do they offer the same? I always check out the grocery stores every time I shop. They have ‘bargain bins’ and ‘reduced for quick sale’ baskets quite often. The last time I went, I spent $22.00 on $125.00 worth of shampoo, conditioner, and various other toiletry items…even got a stainless steel pepper mill for a buck! (worth 17.00 online!) This was at Bi-Lo. Love it! Thanks for the drugstore tip!

  3. Heaven B. says

    Our town has both a CVS and a Rite Aid. I prefer CVS because you get your “reward” immediately in the form of Extra Care Bucks, and with Rite Aid you have to wait for your refund check.

    The other great thing about these stores is being able to combine store coupons with manufacturer’s coupons for double the savings!

  4. I do the Drugstore Deals too. I only started about 2 years ago myself and so glad I figured it out. We were going thru a rough time financially and really need to figure out the coupon game. That’s when I found all the amazing bloggers who list the deals and coupon match-ups each week. What a true blessing it was! Now we don’t struggle for toiletries or food and I feel like the Proverbial wife. In fact, I just did inventory of what we have and it might sound a little excessive but now I don’t have to purchase anything for the next year in the toothpaste department (we have 40 tubes) and I can share our surplus with those in need. (Love your blog FishMama!) Enjoy your weekend 🙂

  5. I haven’t really delved into the world of register rewards and the drugstore game, partly because we like to buy some natural products that they don’t always sell.

    I also feel a little funny about the drugstore game because it seems like some people can shop there for a whole year just rolling over register rewards and using coupons and not really spending any money. I know it is legal and everything because the stores choose to offer it, but I just get a little unsettled. Any thoughts on this?

    • @Amanda, couple things. 1. I’ve been able to get Tom’s of Maine for very cheap, either on sale or on clearance. If it’s convenient to check in occasionally, it’s worth it.

      2. I can understand the unsettled feeling. I’ve never personally, been able to “roll” the catalinas without spending money. Even though I think I’m using coupons effectively, I always spend some money. In fact, these drugstores have gotten more of my business with my using coupons than before which is why they do it in the first place, I think.

      Provided that people are using their coupons ethically and within the rules of the store, I think it’s okay. But, please don’t feel any pressure from me to do it. I think we each need to find the place where we feel comfortable.

      Obviously, breaking the law or using coupons fraudulently is not negotiable. Does that make sense?

  6. Allison says


    Walgreen’s gets reimbursed by the manufacturer when you use you RR, so don’t feel badly about it. The store is not out any money and the manufacturer is trying to get you to buy their product.

    My only problem is Walgreen’s can’t print the RR if it doesn’t print right, so it can be frustrating. CVS can print it manually.

    • @Allison, good point. I hadn’t read your comment before responding above. Thanks for chiming in.

      I imagine that manufacturers wouldn’t offer coupons if it didn’t work within their business plan.

  7. My favorite drug store to shop is CVS. Partly because they are so much better about rainchecks or substitutions when an item is sold out. I also shop Walgreen’s and have worked out a nice scenario for myself this week using last weeks RR. My problem with the RR is that I can use them at Harris Teeter, so I often just use the coupon on groceries instead of rolling them at WAGS the next week. It’s a habit I just can’t seem to break. I’m still saving a ton of money though.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      I had no idea Harris Teeter and Wags were related.

      • @Jessica Fisher,
        I live in Indiana and shop at Meijer for groceries. They also accept Register Rewards as long as they say “Manufacturer’s Coupon” on them. It may be worth checking into at your grocery store too.

  8. I’m slowly catching on to the drug store game. The savings are fantastic if you keep an eye out for the sales, and are willing to try new products.

  9. I LOVE the drug store game. I have been “playing” since January and whatever I didn’t need for the next 4-6 months I donated to the Ronald McDonald House (my daughter has had a lot of surgeries and we have stayed in a lot of RMH) so I wanted to give them back something. I plan to donate my stockpile at least 2-3x per year because it will get filled up that fast 🙂

    I buy stuff I don’t even need or use if I can get it for free (or pretty darn near it), donate it and take the tax-write off next year. That way I am helping those out who may need the extra toothpaste/bodywash when they have a sick child in the hospital and my account is happy that I am donating to a worthy cause.

    I do couponing legally-I have been “rolling” CVS deal/Walgreens deals for almost 5 months now and have spent very little out of pocket. The money we are saving not buying toothpaste/shampoo/Kotex enables me to buy “greener” things that we do use and organic produce/dairy. The stores get $$ back and then some from the products I buy, I get to try new products out and when you have to sit down with a calulator to figure out the “math” involved, it is helping my brain too 🙂

  10. Wow! I’m definitely going to have to start watching our Walgreen’s and CVS adds and planning better when I shop.

  11. Jenelle says

    Yes! I have been playing for about a year and a half now, and I fially have enough of a stockpile that I can limit myself to just the absolute best deals without running out of anything. I go to the same CVS every week very early in the morning and the checker knows me now. She’s even started pointing out any deals I’ve missed! How cool is that?

    I shop all three stores, but I think CVS is my favorite.

    • Jessica Fisher says

      I’m looking forward to going back to CVS. Just got 2 gift cards from new prescriptions, so we’ll see how long $45 lasts.

  12. Sheri says

    I did this for about 3 months last year before I burned out. We are only a family of four, but my stockpile has lasted over 9 months! I am just now running low on a few items and may need to start again. This does not even take into account that I gave 3 grocery bags full away at the church’s food drive. The drugstore game definitely saves money!

    • Jessica Fisher says

      One of the beauties is that you can take a break because you don’t need anything.

  13. Love the Drugstore game. I am at CVS & Walgreens every week rolling my RR’s and ECB’s!! Found FREE Benadryl at Walgreens today!

  14. I hate to admit it, but every time I try the drugstore game — I lose. I’ve not learned how to do it right yet! I’ll follow a well written plan to a t and then, one of the items is out of stock that is critical to the entire game. I then get sweaty palmed and my heart beats a million beats a minute (exagerating).

  15. I play this game to some extent, but honestly it is hard to use the credits (unless we buy stuff specifically to donate to the homeless) because we just don’t buy much of that kind of stuff. Looking at your examples:

    I can’t imagine using 5 NyQuil products before they expire, even if I had a much bigger family. The 3 of us rarely finish ONE cold medicine before it expires. We avoid taking them because our experience is that they make colds last longer and they have side effects, so they’re only worthwhile if we have to suppress symptoms during an important event.

    I use only reusable menstrual products.

    We only use natural toothpaste, but as you already mentioned that’s something most drugstores do sell now, so I could have gotten it instead of your gift bags (we never pay for those) and animal crackers–but we don’t buy any Crest products except sometimes toothbrushes, which usually are a better deal at Costco than in any drugstore.

    I wish the drugstore game would work to my advantage more!

  16. I love the Drugstore Game and have been “playing” for a little over a year now. I took a break right around the time my son was born, and I take a break every few months or so just to keep it fun and fresh and to use up my stockpile. I prefer CVS to Walgreens because I have a whole month to use up my ECBs before they expire vs. just two weeks with RRs.

  17. Steve says

    Keep in mind that when you donate you stuff you get for free after coupons/rebates/etc, you can’t claim a tax writeoff. Your cost basis on the item is 0, so you can’t receive a deduction. If you buy a $5 item and have $5 in coupons and rebates, the IRS considers that you paid $0, and hence cannot receive a deduction. If you do so, you’re cheating.

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