31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: How To Get Started Playing the Drugstore Game

Last week, I talked about how playing the Drugstore Game had helped to significantly lower our grocery budget. If you’re new to the Drugstore Game, here are some basic steps to help you get started:

1. Pick One Store to Start With

If you have more than one drugstore chain in your area, please do me a huge favor and don’t try to learn the ins and outs of CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid all at once. Start with one drugstore chain and learn the ropes of it before adding in another.

I’d suggest beginning with CVS as it requires the least outlay of cash. You’ll likely make some mistakes in the beginning, so the less outlay of cash, the better.

2. Read, Read, Read

Before you jump in with both feet, it’s highly important that you take time to read up on how the drugstore rewards programs work and what their coupon policies are. It is vital to be well-informed and well-versed. Plus, it greatly increases your confidence level — and you need confidence in order to work the drugstore deals successfully.

Depending upon which drugstore you chose to begin with (see point #1), here are some articles for you to read: CVS 101, Walgreens 101 or Rite Aid 101. I also encourage you to look at the scenarios and deals posted in the weekly CVS Deals, Walgreens Deals or Rite Aid Deals posts and review them until you really feel like you had a handle on how it works.

3. Start Small

I know that it’s easy to want to have some incredible transactions right out of the shoot where you get $80 worth of items for $0.22, but don’t even think about going there yet. Start with a handful of items and work your way up.

I’d suggest an initial Drugstore Game scenario of around $10 to $15. This is enough that you can learn the ropes, but not too much that you’re out a bunch of money if you have some failed transactions.

4. Don’t Expect to Do It Perfectly

Notice I keep mentioning making mistakes? That’s because pretty much everyone makes them when they are first learning.

Even once you’ve armed yourself with lots of information and have reviewed deals incessantly before planning your own, you will very likely make some mistakes. It’s okay. If you’ve never ridden a bike before, you usually don’t just jump on and ride it flawlessly from the beginning. It takes practice and patience.

The same is true with the Drugstore game: you’ll probably not have flawless transactions from the very get-go. But practice and patience will pay off in big dividends. So accept the mistakes you make as part of the learning process.

5. Be Prepared With a Backup Plan

Oftentimes, drug stores will be out of an item that’s part of the rewards offer or they won’t even stock it. A backup plan is key. I often work out 2-3 different scenario ideas and then make my final game plan once I’m in the store and able to see what they have on hand.

I also would suggest finding out when a store restocks their shelves and planning your shopping trip somewhere near those times. It’s frustrating to go in and find that they are completely out of everything that is free after rewards that week. You have a better chance of finding everything on your list if you shop right after they restock the shelves. In addition, if you don’t see something in stock, be sure to ask if they might have extras in the back which they’ve not put on the shelves yet.

6. Commit to Sticking With It For Three Months

While the Drugstore Game can save you a tremendous amount of money on household and bath and beauty products, it’s certainly not for everyone. It takes time and effort and you might find it’s just not worth the time and effort for your family.

However, can I caution you not to give up too soon? If you want to really see if it’s worth, commit to sticking with it for three months. Do at least one transaction every two weeks for three months and then evaluate at the end of the trial period whether you feel like this money-saving idea is worth the return on investment for you.

What are your best tips and tricks for someone who is a newbie to the Drugstore Game? What do you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?

FOR MORE COUPONS, search our comprehensive Coupon Database for manufacturer coupons, printable coupons, eCoupons, and more!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Play the Drugstore Game

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Once you have your coupons all organized and you’re starting to feel comfortable using them at your grocery stores, it’s time to step it up a notch and learn how to play what I call the “Drugstore Game.”

What is the Drugstore Game?

In a nutshell, the Drugstore Game is taking advantage of the rebate programs at CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens to get household and beauty products for pennies on the dollar — or even more than free!

How I Got Started Playing the Drugstore Game

A few years ago, my husband was in law school, we had one child, and we were living in a little basement apartment on a beans-and-rice budget. I had some extra time one day and I was online researching ways to save money.

In my searching, I landed upon a forum of people discussing this store called CVS. As I read more on this forum about people getting hundreds of dollars worth of products for free, you can bet I was a bit intrigued.

I’d never heard of CVS in my life, but I discovered that a nearby drugstore was in the process of being converted to a CVS. I read and researched everything I could find about shopping at CVS (which wasn’t a lot back then since there weren’t any blogs who had it all mapped out for you!) and then timidly walked into this in-the-process-of-being-converted-to-CVS drugstore and tried my hand at a simple scenario.

To my surprise, the deal worked! I paid a few dollars out of pocket and got those same dollars plus a few more back in Extra Care Bucks! I practically floated out of that store like I’d just struck gold.

I went home, did more research, clipped some more coupons, mapped out another scenario, and went back the next day. Once again, the deal was successful — and I used the Extra Care Bucks I’d earned on my transaction the day before to purchase my order. So this time, I spent less than $1 out of pocket and, after my coupons and Extra Care Bucks, I got back around $8.

In the Beginning, I Went a Little Overboard

It so happened that the month I discovered CVS was the October when CVS was pushing their Extra Care program really hard. And, during that month they had no limits on the Extra Care deals. Yes, seriously. Plus, some of them were good for the entire month. Since we only had one child, the CVS store was close to our house, I had lots of time on my hands and we had practically no money, I went a little overboard on the CVS deals.

In fact, in about three weeks, we’d gotten around $800 worth of groceries, household products and health and beauty products — and spent less than $20 out of pocket! Plus, I had around $120 in Extra Care Bucks to roll. It was a bit insane!

I’ve Learned That Balance is Key

Over time, I’ve learned that balance is key. You don’t have to do all the deals. But if you’re willing to put forth 30 minutes of planning and 30 minutes of shopping at at least one drug store every week, you can stock up on almost all the household and health and beauty products your family needs for almost nothing.

A One-Hour Investment Per Week Can Mean Free Health and Beauty Products for Life!

And think about it, if you got all of your toothpaste, razors, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, over-the-counter medicines and all the other health and beauty products you routinely buy for FREE, wouldn’t that significantly lower your grocery budget?

Stay tuned next Wednesday when I’ll walk you step-by-step through how to get started playing the Drugstore Game — and how to maximize your time and effort for the best return on your investment of time and money.

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: How to Maximize Your Savings With Coupons

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

We’ve talked about why you should use coupons, how to obtain coupons and how to organize coupons. However, those things alone won’t help you cut your grocery bill unless you know how to maximize your savings with coupons. So today, I want to help you take this new-found coupon knowledge and put it into practice — to your greatest advantage.

Take Babysteps

You hear me say this a lot. But I think it bears repeating: please take baby steps when you start couponing. Do not go buy 10 newspapers, get a big honkin’ coupon box, and spend 5 hours clipping coupons when you’ve never used coupons in your life. You’ll overwhelm yourself, take an enormous amount of time and probably end up exhausted and burnt out — before you’ve even saved a penny on your groceries!

Start with a few newspaper inserts and a small coupon organizer. Check out the deals at your local store (you can find weekly deals for almost all regional stores in the Store Deals section of our website). Pick a few of the best deals that you have coupons for and can use and work those into your grocery trip.

Once you’ve gotten accustomed to matching a few coupons with a few deals, take it step farther and start looking for more coupon sources and try planning a menu based upon what’s on sale at the store. Once you’re comfortable with that, start practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

Learning things gradually will help you to stay sane, save money and time and really determine what works best for your own family.

Prioritize Your Bargain-Shopping Based Upon Your Family’s Needs

There are often many more savings opportunities than time and it’s easy to lose track of this when you get caught up in the excitement of saving! Time is money, too, so always remember that it’s okay to not hit every deal.

In fact, I encourage you to cherry pick: focus on the best deals that week for items you need. Meaning, if you already have 10 tubes of toothpaste but are almost out of shampoo, prioritize shampoo deals over toothpaste deals. If you have extra time and extra wiggle room in your grocery budget, than you can definitely stock up on other great deals, but focus on feeding your family first.

How Much You Spend Matters More Than How Much You Save

A 75% savings on your grocery bill may sound impressive, but the 25% spent is what matters most. Stick to your grocery budget — even when it means passing up good deals — and you’ll see much greater savings in the long run.

In addition, when you commit to not going over budget, you’ll find that you focus on only getting the best deals and you’ll more easily be able to pass up a nominal deal because it’s not in the budget.

What tricks and tips do you have for maximizing your savings when using coupons? I’d love to hear!

FOR MORE COUPONS, search our comprehensive Coupon Database for manufacturer coupons, printable coupons, eCoupons, and more!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Finding a Coupon Organizational System Which Works for You

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Last week, I shared with you how I organize my coupons. My system has worked well for me for over 10 years. I’ve tried other systems and they never quite work as well so I always end up going back to the Coupon Box method of organization.

3 Tips for Choosing an Organizational System for Your Coupons

1) Start Small

If you’re new to couponing, don’t feel like you have to go get yourself some big honkin’ box or binder in order to use coupons correctly. It’s really perfectly okay to start out with a little index box or something like The Couponizer.

Get accustomed to something small. When you feel really comfortable with that and you want to move up, then it’s time to consider a box or a binder. But don’t overkill from the get-go and then burn yourself out. You can save plenty of money with a small coupon organizer, too.

2) Keep it Simple

The goal is to save money with coupons, not create some elaborate system. Don’t get hung up in all the details. Keep it simple — especially at first.

3) Do What Works for You

What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. I strongly encourage you to experiment with a few different methods and find what works best for you. And then stick with it, so long as it is working well for you!

::Coupon Organizational Methods::

photo from Coupon Magic Organizer

::The Binder Method::

This method of coupon organization is probably the most popular. There are many different ways to create a Coupon Binder, but they all usually involve a 3-ring zippered binder with baseball card holders. You file your coupons in the plastic sleeves of the baseball card holders.

Pinching Your Pennies has an excellent video here on How To Create a Coupon Binder. And Penny Pinching Diva has a great article on The Anatomy of a Coupon Binder which explains how to set up your own Coupon Binder.

Pros — You can easily see all coupons you have at a glance making it simple to locate coupons. Unlike the Coupon Box method, if you drop the Coupon Binder, you don’t have to worry about coupons scattering everywhere!

Cons — When I tried this method, I found it tedious to put all the coupons in the sleeves. If they didn’t fit, you’d have to fold them and stuff them in. It took quite a bit of time and effort compared to my Coupon Box method.

See more Pros and Cons on the Coupon Binder from Utah Deal Diva.

Pre-Made Coupon Binders

Don’t have the time to put together your own Coupon Binder? You can buy them already made up for you from Prospering Families or from Coupon Magic Organizer.

Want something more stylish than a plain old 3-ring binder? Order a Coupon Clutch!

::The Whole Insert Method::

This method of coupon organization is the least time-consuming. Instead of clipping coupons out, you file the inserts whole by date. See a video of how the Whole Insert Method works here.

Pros — It’s so simple and is perfect for a person who doesn’t have a lot of time to clip coupons. In addition, it’s easy to find your coupons when you’re planning your grocery shopping trip as you can search for coupon in our Coupon Database and then just pull the insert from the file and clip the coupon.

Cons — Since you don’t clip all your coupons, if you run into a great clearance or unadvertised deal, you won’t be able to search your coupons to see if you have some which you could use. This was the most frustrating aspect when I tried this method. I missed out on deal after deal because I didn’t have my whole Coupon Box with me and at my finger tips.

::The Coupon Box Method::

I shared how this method works for me here. You can watch a Video Tour of My Coupon Box to see how Carrie set her system up. Monica also has a great tutorial on her adorable coupon box.

Pros — You have every coupon at your finger tip. Plus, I found it much easier to file and find coupons than when using a Coupon Binder.

Cons — The box is a little bulky and might feel conspicuous to some of you to take into a store (doesn’t bother me, but I’m already weird!). In addition, if you drop the box, you may have Coupon Disorganization Disaster! :) And finally, you have to keep up with cutting and filing coupons, otherwise the Coupon Box is not that beneficial.

Those are the three basic methods used by “super-couponers”. There are a thousand different variations on these methods and I encourage you to experiment and figure out what works for you!

I’m curious: If you clip coupons, do you clip all of them or just the ones you think you’ll use? I’ve actually been moving more towards what Carrie outlines here (a combination of the Coupon Box method and the Whole Insert method) in order to save time. So far, it seems to be working well!

FOR MORE COUPONS, search our comprehensive Coupon Database for manufacturer coupons, printable coupons, eCoupons, and more!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: Should You Ever Pay For Coupons?

Missed the first posts this series? Read them here.

While I’m a big proponent of getting coupons for free, I definitely think there is a time and place to pay for coupons. Maybe you live in an area which gets very low-value coupons. By buying coupons online, you’ll be able to get some of the higher-value coupons that your region missed. Or, perhaps you don’t have time to mess with tracking down coupons from free sources, so it’s just easier and more time-efficient for you to purchase coupons online.

I also think that it can be a great deal to purchase coupons if there’s a high-value or free coupon out on something you need and use. If you’re going to be buying it anyway and you can spend $0.05 per coupon to save $2 per item, than it might very well be a great deal.

In addition, if you use a lot of coupons, I think it can be a wise investment to purchase a newspaper subscription or All You subscription–provided you get a great price on them!

Where to Buy Coupons

1) Get a Sunday Newspaper Subscription — If you live in a large city, you’ll more than likely get a good stack of coupons each Sunday in your newspaper. If you can purchase a newspaper subscription for $1.50 per week or less, it’s often worth it to do so as your savings will likely be ten times that–if not more. Plus, you’ll have the coupons delivered straight to your home every week, as soon as they are available.

DiscountedNewspapers.com offers the best prices for most newspaper subscriptions that I’ve found. I highly suggest checking out their prices before you order a subscription elsewhere.

If you don’t live in a big city, try checking cities within 1-2 hours of where you live to see if you can get their newspaper delivered to you. You’ll often get a better selection of coupons from larger city papers than you will from small town newspapers.

2) Order Coupons from Ebay — Ebay is an excellent source for coupons. You can order an assorted lot of them, or specific coupons. Be sure to order through Ebates in order to get 1-3% back on your order.

3) Order from Coupon-Clipping Services — There are a number of different websites which offer individual coupons for sale. These are usually priced around $0.05-$0.15 each, depending upon their value and demand. You’ll have to pay shipping, in most cases, so you’ll want to order enough to make it worth the cost of shipping. A few sites I’d recommend would be The Coupon Clippers and Manufacturer’s Coupons.

If you’re wanting to order whole inserts, Coupons and Things by Dede offers these.

Remember to be wise when ordering coupons. Don’t go spend $30 each week on piles of coupons when you’re on a tight budget and don’t need or use the items you’re buying coupons for! Use moderation and carefully evaluate whether paying for coupons is truly a good deal for you or not.

Do you buy coupons? If so, what are your favorite places to purchase them from?

FOR MORE COUPONS, search our comprehensive Coupon Database for manufacturer coupons, printable coupons, eCoupons, and more!

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31 Days to a Better Grocery Budget: 10 Ways to Get Coupons for Free

Missed the first posts in this series? Read them here.

Maybe after last week’s post on why I believe everyone should use coupons, you’re seriously considering trying out this whole couponing phenomenon. If so, your next question is likely: where do I get coupons?

Well, the obvious answer is that you can get coupons from your local Sunday paper. That’s usually the first thing most people do when they are jumping on the couponing bandwagon. If you already get the Sunday paper and plan to continue doing so, then you’ve got a ready supply of coupons to get started with.

If you don’t already get the paper, I suggest waiting to subscribe until you’ve pursued other alternatives. You see, there are dozens of ways to get coupons for free. In fact, I never pay for coupons. We don’t have a Sunday paper subscription and I don’t order coupons from coupon-clipping services or eBay. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I’ve found that it’s not necessary because I have a pretty much unending supply of free coupons!

How do you get free coupons? Well, you just start thinking outside the box! Here are 10 ideas to get you started:

1. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for their extra coupon inserts

Start asking around and see if anyone you know already gets the Sunday paper and doesn’t use the coupons from it.  You might be surprised at how many coupon inserts just get thrown out because people don’t want to mess with them.

2. Stop by Starbucks or McDonald’s on Sunday afternoons

Many people purchase Sunday papers, read them at Starbucks, McDonald’s and other similar venues, and then leave them. Some of my friends stop by a few Starbucks or McDonald’s locations on Sunday afternoons and are able to pick up at least 3-5 complete coupon inserts from extra newspapers left behind by customers.

Know someone who works at restaurants like this? They might be able to collect the leftover coupon inserts and give them to you later in the week. In addition, some gas stations will also give you their extra unsold Sunday newspapers on Sunday evening or Monday morning. It never hurts to ask.

3. Make friends with someone who delivers newspapers

Not all areas allow this, but some people who delivery Sunday newspapers are able to pass on any leftover newspapers and coupon inserts to other people. Or you might be able to find the recycling center they drop them off at and be able to obtain them there.

4. Trade coupons

Trading coupons is a great way to get coupons you need in exchange for giving away coupons you don’t need. For instance, if you have a dog and don’t have children in diapers and I have children in diapers and don’t have a dog, we could trade diaper and dog food coupons.

You can trade coupons with people in your own area or you can join coupon trading forums online and trade with people from all over the country. While it will cost you postage, it’s often better to trade online since different regions get different coupons. So trading with people from other states allows you to diversify your coupon portfolio.

Hot Coupon World has some very active coupon trading forums, if you’re interested in trying this out.

5. Join Coupon Trains

Here’s a simple explanation of what a coupon train is from an article at Suite 101:

Before the internet, people wanting to save money with coupons would turn to joining or forming a coupon train. A train is maintained by one person who sends an envelope of coupons through postal mail. The package contains a mailing list, and as one person takes and adds coupons to the envelope, it is mailed to the next coupon train recipient on the mailing list.

Coupon trains allow individuals between cities, or even across states and provinces, to organize and share coupons. By establishing a group, the coupon train leverages each person’s coupon clipping power to share coupons with a larger audience. Read the full article.

Interested in joining a Coupon Train? Hot Coupon World has a very active forum with Coupon Trains you can participate in.

6. Check your local library

Pretty much all libraries receive newspaper subscriptions. Often, they will allow you to have the coupon inserts from their Sunday papers if you just ask.

7. Dumpster Dive

Dumpster diving for coupons doesn’t have to be as “ew!” as it sounds. Let me tell you, it really works! In fact, this is one of my biggest “secrets” for obtaining the majority of my coupons. I hit some very clean newspaper recycling bins on my way home from the store every few weeks and in 15 minutes, I can usually salvage 10-15 coupon inserts!

8. Pick up coupons at the store

Keep your eyes peeled at the store and pick up any coupons you find on tearpads or in the blinking dispensers. If there are plenty of extras, snag multiple copies of these. A lot of times, this very item will be on an exceptional sale just a few weeks later and you’ll be more than glad you picked up that handful of coupons!

9. Print coupons out online

If your store accepts printable coupons, this can be a great source of coupons which cost little more than your printer ink and paper. And oftentimes, the coupons available to print online are much higher than what you’ll find in the newspaper inserts.

I usually highlight the best printable coupons on my blog as they become available. But you can also do a search for the product name plus “printable coupon” online and it will often bring up many different coupons.

10. Write and ask for coupons

What products do you regularly use and love but rarely can find good coupons for? Write to the manufacturer, tell them how much you like their product and politely request that they send you any coupons they have available (don’t forget to include your mailing address, too!).

Usually, it only takes a few minutes to do so through a company’s contact form and you’ll very likely get some sort of coupons just for asking. In many cases, you’ll receive high-value coupons or even free product coupons!

While I’ve not done this a lot, I’ve had great success in writing to a few companies when there was a problem with a product I purchased. Find more ideas on how to contact companies for coupons here and find an alphabetical list of company contact form links here. Just for fun, you’ll also want to check out The $39 Experiment.

What are your best sources for obtaining coupons for free? Tell us in the comments section.

FOR MORE COUPONS, search our comprehensive Coupon Database for manufacturer coupons, printable coupons, eCoupons, and more!

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