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The 10 best things to buy at drugstores

Meet someone who hasn't paid for a toothbrush or toothpaste in years. No, she's not a shoplifter. She's simply mastered the hacks for Walgreen and CVS.

By Stacy Johnson Mar 1, 2013 1:12PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News


Money Talks News logoWhen it comes to many items, drugstore chains like Walgreen and CVS can't compete on price with stores like Wal-Mart, Target or the local grocery store.


Like convenience stores, drugstores carry lots of staples, but you pay for convenience with higher prices. According to a Consumer World survey (.pdf file), the average drugstore charged 50% more for a sampling of 25 common grocery items than the least expensive supermarket.


But as with many things in life, there are hacks that level the playing field.

For example, and owner Christie Hardcastle recently told me she regularly finds deals at chain drugstores that beat the pants off big-box and grocery stores.


In fact, she claimed to routinely get things free and sometimes even get money back.


Image: Man shopping (© Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images/Getty Images)Impossible? I thought so, too, so I invited her to meet at a local Walgreen to explain how she does it. As we wandered the aisles, Hardcastle began pointing out deals and explaining how she achieves uber-savings.


Turns out, you can often get a good deal at chain drugstores just by keeping an eye out for ad circulars and in-store signs revealing what's on sale. But to get the best deals, you'll have to do more: Join loyalty programs, look for coupons -- both store and manufacturer's -- and check out sites like Hardcastle's for ways to get the best current deals.


While that may sound like a hassle, the rewards are powerful -- very cheap and sometimes free stuff.


For those of you new to the drugstore discount game, here, in her own lightly edited words, are some of her favorite products to purchase at drugstores:


1. Cereal

This is one of the items drugstores price below grocery stores to get you in the door. Each week you'll normally see a different cereal brand or selection on sale. If you aren't brand-loyal, you can pretty much bet on getting a great deal every week. If you have a brand you prefer, you'll usually see sales every six weeks or so. Plus, there are often coupons you can print even if you're new to couponing or don't have newspaper coupon inserts.


2 & 3. Dairy and eggs

Drugstores will often run sales on milk and eggs with savings up to $1 over grocery store prices. Dairy prices vary regionally, but keep an eye out for sales or special offers.


4 & 5. Toothbrushes and toothpaste

These items will often have pharmacy rewards (like Walgreen's Register Rewards or Balance Rewards Points) that can really lower the price. Combine points with coupons, and you should be able to grab toothbrushes and toothpaste free or very inexpensively every four to six weeks.


6. Makeup

If you're using drugstore brands, you'll usually get a much better deal at drugstores than grocery or department stores. There are often rewards for these products you can combine with coupons and sales to get fabulous deals. We see "buy one, get one free" or "buy one, get one 50% off" sales on cosmetics regularly. Plus, because of limited space, drugstores often have great clearance makeup deals to make space for new products.


Another tip: If your store has a beauty counter, always ask the beauty adviser for coupons.


7. Personal care items

Soap, body wash and lotions can often be purchased very inexpensively at the drugstore. Look for sales, rewards and store coupons you can stack along with manufacturer's coupons for these items, too.


8. Store-brand garbage bags

I love Walgreen-brand garbage bags. The quality is excellent, and the regular price is very reasonable. I usually wait for a sale, when you can grab them for about half the price of brand-name garbage bags.


9. Drugstore-brand diapers

While not a user myself, I've heard great things about Walgreen-brand diapers. Look for the "buy one, get one free" sale that happens a few times a year and you can grab diapers for about 12 to 13 cents each.


10. Hair color

Not only do drugstores have a great selection of hair color, they often run sales and rewards promotions. You can also find many clearance hair color deals. Combine that with coupons and you can easily get hair color kits from your favorite brands for about $2.50 to $3.50 a kit.


The bottom line

While surveys like Consumer World's indicate that drugstores charge for convenience, learning to hack prices with rewards programs, sales and coupons can turn high prices upside down.


If you haven't tried it yet, do it. And if you need free help, there's plenty out there. For starters, check out Hardcastle's Wild For Wags and Wild for CVS.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Mar 1, 2013 8:44PM
I have found lots of bargains at Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid that beat the other stores hands down.  
Mar 4, 2013 6:04AM
While wandering the isles waiting for prescriptions, I've also found drugstores like Rite Aid to be consistently less expensive than grocery or convenience stores on adult beverages... specifically domestic beer and mid-range wines.  The Coors Light that costs me $18+ at Safeway and $16+ at AM/PM or 7-11 is regularly priced at $13.99 at Rite Aid.  Heck of a deal.
Mar 1, 2013 6:02PM
Toothpaste and personal care items are often cheaper at the supermarkets for me, but the variety is greater in the drugstores.  I often need to go to the drugstore to get the squeezable container, extra whitening, and green mint flavor I like all in one toothpaste container!
And I don't think you can beat the warehouse store prices on garbage bags.

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