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Save Money at the Drugstore

From loyalty cards to instant rebates, here's how to cut costs at the register.

                        Related
                        • Coupons: To clip or not to clip
                        • Customer loyalty pays
                        • Go generic: Buy store brands

Save Money at the Drugstore

— Uppercut/Getty Images

Phil Susi doesn't rely on prescription medicine to treat his ills, nor does he believe in paying full price for the herbal remedies that for him have been effective. The 73-year-old construction foreman from East Northport, N.Y., holds out for 2-for-1 sales at local drugstores or makes the longer drive to a discount vitamin shop. By doing so, says Susi, he ends up with a 60- or 90-day supply for the same cost as a 30-day supply.

Waiting for sales and frequenting discounters are just two of the strategies employed by thrifty drugstore shoppers. There are many others. Here are a few more ways to save during your next trip to the drugstore.

Use coupons and rebates
With a traditional rebate, you mail it in with proof of purchase and wait (and wait!) for the check to arrive. Drugstores can give you instant gratification. According to Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com, CVS and Walgreens pay rebates automatically at the cash register. Add coupons and a store sale to the mix, and you could end up spending just pennies on a purchase.

Using coupons and buying smaller packages of an item can also save you money. Strategic shoppers will get multiple copies of the newspaper and instead of buying a big container of, say, shampoo, they'll buy smaller sizes and use coupons for each one, says Nelson. Check the fine print on coupons for restrictions.

Sign up for loyalty cards
Many of the major drugstore chains offer loyalty cards that reward you for accumulated spending. The rewards usually are doled out as either dollar amounts or points that are convertible to dollar amounts. Rewards can be applied to future purchases. CVS, for example, gives a quarterly reward of 2 percent of your spending. Look for the amount on the printouts you receive at the register.

There may be restrictions on which products earn rewards points, and some products earn extra points. With a Walgreens card, you get bonuses every time you buy Walgreens-branded products and photo finishing. Rite Aid has a wellness program that gives one point per dollar spent on nonprescription items.

Don't forget to hand the cashier your rewards card whenever you make a purchase, says Elisabeth Leamy, author of Save Big. Sometimes the clerk will forget to ask, which translates into lost savings.

Cash in on next-purchase discounts
Some drugstores reward you simply for shopping there, usually in the form of money off your next purchase, even if you don't have a loyalty card. That's appealing if you don't want to sign up for a loyalty program. Look for the reward amount at the end of your receipt, and be sure to cash it in during your next trip to the drugstore since these types of rewards tend to expire quickly.

Buy drugstore brands
Drugstore-branded products are often similar or even identical to name-brand products. The big difference is the price. Rite Aid claims customers can save up to 40 percent on a single product when they buy one of 3,200 privately branded products. Compare the active ingredients listed on packaging to ensure that the drugstore-branded products are the same as the name brands.

Shop online
Buying drugstore items on the Internet isn't only about convenience; it can also save you money. The major drugstore chains, including CVS and Walgreens, usually offer online-only specials in addition to similar savings as you'd find in brick-and-mortar stores. Buying in bulk is particularly thrifty, especially if the cost of shipping is waived.

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