Monday, March 9, 2009

Boot Camp: The Drugstore Game

"The Drugstore Game" is a phrase that couponers have coined to describe the process of bargain shopping by combining store sales, rebate programs and manufacturer's coupons to get products extremely cheap or free at drugstores like Walgreens, CVS or Rite Aid.

Each drugstore has its own unique promotions, rebate programs and terminology that you will need learn in order to take advantage of the deals at that particular store. For today's Boot Camp segment, we're going to focus on learning The Drugstore Game at Walgreens.



Walgreens: Terms to Know

Easy Saver Rebates:
These are the rebates that Walgreens offers each month on dozens of items throughout the store. These rebates are listed in the Easy Saver booklet found at the front of the store with the rack of weekly sales flyers. Walgreens publishes a new Easy Saver booklet each month.

Free After Rebate: There are a few items each month in which Walgreens will reimburse you the full purchase price for the item, making them Free After Rebate (FAR). If you have a manufacturer's coupon for these items, they become a money-maker for you. (I'll explain this later in the post) You will find these in the center of the Easy Saver booklet.

Easy Saver Coupons or Instant Value Coupons: You will find these Walgreens store coupons in the Easy Saver booklet each month. These coupons can be combined with manufacturer's coupons for additional savings. Unlike manufacturer's coupons, you only need to present one coupon at check-out, no matter how many of the item you are purchasing. For example, if you buy 3 of item X, you would hand the cashier 3 manufacturer's coupons but only 1 Easy Saver Coupon (ESC). The register automatically adjusts the price for all 3 items.

In-Ad Coupons: You will find these store coupons in the weekly sales flyer. Just like ESCs, you may combine in-ad coupons with manufacturer's coupons, and you only need to present one in-ad coupon at checkout even if you are purchasing multiples of that item.

Register Rewards: A Register Reward (RR) is a coupon (also sometimes called a Catalina, after the company that sells these coupon machines to Walgreens) that prints after your regular receipt at the completion of a transaction when you purchase certain items. RRs can be for any dollar amount, but will say something like "$10 off your next order at Walgreens" on the front of the printed RR. You can use this RR [almost] like cash on your next transaction at Walgreens.

Walgreens: Getting Started

Here's a step-by-step guide for the best way to get started at Walgreens:

1) Know before you go. Check out the Walgreens website to find the items that are Free After Rebate (FAR) at Walgreens this month. If you've already begun to accumulate a coupon stash, see if you have any coupons that match up with the FAR items and take those with you to Walgreens for your first visit. Before future visits to Walgreens, you may want to check out the Walgreens forums at www.afullcup.com to look for good Walgreens deals. We'll be posting lots of Walgreen's deals here at the Frugal Muse, too!

2) Make the first trip. Go to Walgreens and pick up an Easy Saver booklet at the front of the store. Find and purchase as many of the FAR items for this month as your personal budget will allow, using any coupons that you may have. (If you have already made a trip to Walgreens this week, you might even have some RRs to use toward your FAR items- all the better!) Yes, you will have to spend some money out-of-pocket, and you may even be purchasing items that you wouldn't normally buy. Trust me: if you continue to work the savings system at Walgreens, you will see a significant return on this small upfront investment. Plus, here's the best part: You will never have to spend out-of-pocket for the FAR items in the future. Ever. I'll tell you how momentarily. Make sure you hold on to your register receipt. You'll need it to claim your rebates.

3) Sign Up. Return home and sign up for a free Easy Saver Rebate account at Walgreens.com. Once you've registered, click on the Easy Saver Rebates tab on the site, then click on the Claim Rebates tab, and then "Start/Add Receipt." It will prompt you to enter a transaction number that you'll find on your receipt. After you've entered the number, click "Save and Return Later." Do not hit "continue" and finish the process of requesting your rebate unless it is the end of the month, or you know for sure that you will not be submitting any other rebates for this month. (I suggest you always wait until the end of the month to request your rebates- you never know when a good sale/coupon/rebate combo will pop up throughout the month. Even if you think you're finished shopping for rebate items, you might not be!).

4) Claim Rebates. When you are ready to claim your rebate for the month, return to the Walgreens website, sign in, and claim your rebates. This is important: request that your rebate be sent to you on a Walgreens gift card. This will accomplish a couple of things: First, getting your rebate back on a gift card will earn you an extra 10% on all your rebates. Second, this card will come in handy when you claim next month's rebates. Next month, you will be able to enter the number of your gift card, and your rebates will be automatically reloaded onto that gift card, with a 10% bonus. That means that next month, you won't have to wait for a new gift card to come in the mail– your rebate money will automatically be loaded onto your existing card, and you can start using your gift card balance for the next month's deals right away!

5) Keep it going. Here's the fun part. Once you've completed your first month, paid for the FAR items and received your rebate back on your gift card, your job is to work on growing your gift card balance. You can do this in four ways:
• By earning the extra 10% on your rebates because you chose the gift card option.
• Using manufacturer's coupons to make a 'profit' on your rebates.
• Using RRs on deals that are money-makers to purchase your rebate items.
• Using the occasional "$5 off a $20 purchase" coupons that Walgreens releases to purchase your FAR items.

Let's use this hypothetical transaction as an example:
You have a $3.00 balance on your gift card from last month's rebates.
Purchase Pantene Shampoo as a FAR item for $4.00, using your gift card to pay.
Use a $1/1 manufacturer's coupon (This is how you designate a coupon for $1 off of 1 item).

Starting balance on gift card: $3.00
Spend $3.00 after $1/1 man. coupon on shampoo.
Get $4.00 rebate back on card
Plus, get $.40 (10%) bonus for using gift card option.
New balance on card: $4.40

Your use of coupons and the 10% bonus just earned you another $1.40 on your gift card! This is how you grow the balance on your gift card. Eventually, you will be able to use the excess balance on your gift card to take advantage of many Walgreens offers, not just the Free After Rebate items. Once you have grown your gift card balance to this point, you will never have to pay out-of-pocket at Walgreens. It takes some time, but with just your initial investment in the first month's FAR items, you begin working toward this goal... and getting a lot of free stuff in the mean time!

Just this month, I think I spent my first actual money at Walgreens since June (because I wanted to take advantage of some great deals, but my gift card was not yet reloaded from last month's rebates). In the past eight months, I have only paid at Walgreens with my gift card, which I had accumulated as much as a $90 balance on, using the method above! That means that over the past eight months, I have brought home thousands of dollars worth of food, household items, baby care items and health and beauty items with no out of pocket expense. Now tell me that doesn't sound like fun!! This is the essence of The Drugstore Game!

Some helpful tips:

Coupon order is important. When you are using multiple coupons on a single transaction, it's important that you hand the cashier your coupons in this order: manufacturer's coupons first, then store coupons. The exception to this is when you are using a BOGO (buy one, get one free coupon). In that case, you will probably want to hand the store coupon first, then the BOGO manufacturer's coupon.

I could explain why (it has to do with how a store coupon adjusts the price of the item in the register), but just trust me with this one. It will save you some headaches.

• When using Register Reward to pay, you need to maintain a one manufacturer's coupon per one item ratio, and the RR counts as a coupon.

For example, if you are buying 5 items and using 5 manufacturer's coupons and planning to pay with an RR you earned on another transaction, you've just made your ratio 5 items to 6 coupons. The register won't let you do it. To solve this problem, you'll need to add one small filler item to your order (like a $.29 pack of tissues in the check-out aisle, or a $.29 pack of Ramen Noodles from the grocery section) to even out the ratio.

Manufacturer's coupons and Register Rewards count toward your item-to-coupon ratio. Easy Saver Coupons and in-ad coupons do not count toward this ratio, because these coupons really just adjust the price of the item in the register instead of acting like a true coupon.

Making sure that you have at least as many items as you have coupons when using RRs will save you a LOT of trouble as you begin figuring out cheap deals and transactions at Walgreens. Many Walgreens cashiers will not even know that this is why the register beeps when using RRs, and they will often make up some absurd explanation for why the transaction isn't working. You will be ahead of the game and save yourself a lot of frustration if you just avoid this scenario altogether, and keep your coupon to item ratio at 1:1!

Do multiple transactions. The best way to keep your Out-of-Pocket (OOP) low at Walgreens is to split up transactions.

Here's an example: Walgreens has a promotion where you earn a $7 RR when you buy an $8 razor. You are planning to buy the razor as well as 2 FAR items on your trip to Walgreens today. When you get to the register, tell the clerk you'd like to do two transactions.

First, hand the clerk the razor that costs $8, along with the $2 manufacturer's coupon you brought with you. Your final cost OOP is $6 plus tax, but you get a $7 RR given back to you at the end of that transaction.

Next, give the clerk your 2 FAR items. They cost $10 total. Use the $7 RR to pay for those items, and then pay the remaining $3 OOP. Get reimbursed $10 plus 10% gift card bonus for the rebate items, so $11, for the FAR items, and you just made two dollars and got all three items free. You spent $6 (trans. #1) + $3 (trans. #2) = $9 total OOP. And you got $11 back on your rebate. You made $2!

If you had paid for all three items in one transaction, you would have paid $16 OOP, and then received the $7 RR at the end of the transaction. Yes, you would still be getting the RR to use on something else, but your OOP on this transaction would have been higher. Obviously, it is always best to keep your OOP as low as possible, and this often happens best by splitting up your transactions so that you can use RRs from one transaction on the other items you need to buy.

Register Rewards have a quick expiration date (usually about two weeks from when you receive it), so be sure and use your RRs in a timely manner. If you let them expire, it's just like money down the drain.

• When you use a Register Reward to pay for a transaction, the RR must be less than the total cost of the transaction before tax. So if you have a $5 RR to spend, you will need to purchase at least $5 worth of merchandise after coupons and before tax.


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Woh. That was a lot of information.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! Yes, The Drugstore Game has a learning curve, but you will be a pro in no time. Jump in and try it– many of the ideas and processes that seem complicated on paper become simpler when you're actually doing them. In some ways, they are more complicated to explain than they are to actually do. And if you get stuck and have questions, e-mail me or leave a comment on this blog and I can help.

Believe me, if you jump in and start trying this, it will come very easily to you after just a couple trips to Walgreens! In weeks to come, I will be posting the best weekly deals at Walgreens, so you can get your feet wet in The Drugstore Game.

For those of you who are veterans at The Drugstore Game, I'd love it if you would leave some encouragement in the comments section for the newbies. I know we have several people following this blog who are new to this, and they might not believe me that it is simpler than it sounds. So veterans, let's hear what you have to say– is The Drugstore Game worth the effort of getting over the learning curve?

I really believe it is. For those of you who are new, jump into The Drugstore Game with both feet. Before you can blink, you'll be a pro, and your monthly budget will thank you.


13 comments:

  1. (I found you from Amy's blog.) Thanks for starting this blog and explaining how this works!!! I keep hearing about how people make money at Walgreen's, but I couldn't figure it out. Plus, I didn't understand the coupon/item ratio issue. THANKS for sharing!!! I'll be reading. :-)
    --Karyn

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  2. I'm totally overwhelmed, but I'm headed to Walgreen's this afternoon just to get my Easy Saver Booklet and check things out. I'm determined to get the hang of this!

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  3. THANK YOU SO MUCH for explaining this! I haven't understood it until now...well...I sort of understand it now. It does feel intimidating but I am VERY excited to learn the process! What a ministry you're providing to others by sharing this, Cherissa!!! Thank you on behalf of the Nixon household and pocketbook!!! I'll let you know how it goes after my first trip...

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  4. Yes, that was completely overwhelming to me, but you explained it better than anyone else ever has! I'm so glad you started this blog, and I have been reading. I have so much to learn, but I'm determined to learn it.

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  5. You have explained it better than anyone. I have been trying this but couldn't really figure out the way the RR worked. Thanks! Elisa Winn sent me your blog...great info!

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  6. You will get it just try! Great job explaining Cherissa!

    A HUGE suggestion... do it WITHOUT kids!! I don't know if I lost all my brain cells in pregnancy but it does take some thought and kids can make that hard in a store! :)

    I took Pat with me this week to do the diaper and airfreshner deal and he walked out with me and asked if I was stealing! :) Nope, it is all by the book... just part of the game :)

    He did the WAGS diaper deal for me this summer when I was on bed rest and said he really had not idea what he was doing but just did what I said and got paid for a ton of diapers! :) We are still using them and haven't paid a dime for our 7 month olds diapers!

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  7. Ok, can I just say that I LOVE YOU CHERISSA!!!! I got all my Walgreens stuff, and I'm headed in tomorrow. I feel like I'm on some sort of covert mission... :)
    One big thing I seem to be missing, how do you know what the RRs are? Do you just read what other people got on other sites? Are they all the same for the same products? Do you understand what I'm asking? How will I know when to stop a transaction because I've gotten an RR?

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  8. Can I use the same store coupon for more than one item? Ex.: I have a manQ for kleenex 50c off 3, walgreens has a coupon for kleenex for 89 cents-- do I need three store coupons so that I can get the deal on three boxes? And one site I read said not to cut out the coupons from the easy saver catalog because you can reuse them--is that true?

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  9. Christine,

    Their are two main ways you can know what the RR deals are before you head to Walgreens: 1) Many of them are listed in the weekly Walgreens store ad. Usually these will be in a blocked-off section on one of the ad pages. 2) Check the frugal blogs. They will report the best RR deals each week.

    You will have to make sure you know the terms of the RR BEFORE you make your purchase transaction, and purchase the correct number/type of items accordingly. Does that make sense?

    I'm so glad you're getting started! Way to go, Chris!

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  10. Chris,

    You will need one manufacturer's Q per item, but only one store Q total. For the Kleenex deal, you have one $.50/3 manQ, and all you will need is one $.89 WAGS Q. Anytime the cashier scans a WAGS Q, it automatically applies the price or discount to every one of that item in the transaction. Does that make sense?

    And yes, it is correct that you never need to clip a WAGS Q unless you want to. The cashier can just scan it from the book or input the coupon code, so you never have to actually hand over the Q. In essence, any WAGS Q simply adjusts the price of that item in your transaction. The Q automatically adjust the price for every like item in the transaction, so you do not ever need multiple WAGS Qs.

    Does that make sense?

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  11. ok, I already clipped my wags diaper coupon, but they will let me use it twice? Nice. Have all my dove stuff ready to do. Do you know, will they give me RRs if I'm buying children's Zyrtec instead of adult?

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  12. We went to get started with the easy saver rebate and they say they're no longer doing that.

    Jen

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  13. Thanks for this great article! You can really save by using online coupon codes.

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