Thursday, October 09, 2008

My laws of bargain shopping

Ok, here's my intro post into deals. There are many other websites that have been doing this much longer than me and are much more hard core about it. I'm just giving you my perspective. For me, good deals are the point, but I don't buy things just because they are a good deal. If I'm not going to use something, why buy it?

Here are my general laws for bargain hunting:

1. Be organized. I go through the ads/check online. Based on the deals, I go through my coupons and match up what I have. I also almost always have a plan B. Many stores run out of items, which I'll get to in a minute, so if I have a store coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase, I have to have a few scenarios that will get me to $25 in case my Plan A isn't in stock.

2. Know the stores. There is a CVS by me that is notorious for giving people a hard time for coupons. There's also one that isn't too much farther away that is well known for being pleasant and accomodating. It didn't take me too long to give the good CVS all my business. It may be a trial and error figuring out which stores are good and which aren't, but if there are people you can ask, do!

3. Don't buy in excess. This is a personal philosophy--I know many sites tell you how to get 100 bottles of robitussin to make money on deals. This is called "smash and grab", and it is why a lot of stores run out of big sale items. I may buy one or two of something, but I rarely buy more than that.

4. Be prepared for disappointment. Here are my experiences with things being in stock: CVS and Walgreens are generally ok (unless things are crazy on sale) if you go early in the week or late (after they've restocked). And, both CVS and Walgreens have monthly deals in addition to weekly deals, so if you can't find a monthly deal one week, you can try again. Rite Aid, on the other hand, is notorious across the country for running out of sale items by Sunday afternoon. So, unless you are waiting when the doors open on Sunday, be prepared for things to be out of stock. There will always be another opportunity to get a deal.

5. Know the programs. Each of the three major drug stores by me have different discount programs. At CVS, you have a store card that gives you sale prices. And their freebie system is Extra Care Bucks (ECBs.) The first time you shop there, you'll have to spend money out of pocket. But, after you pay, you should get your first batch of extra care bucks. These print out at the bottom of your reciept, and they are unique for your card. DON'T LOSE THEM!!!! They cannot be replaced (a change from policy in the past). They generally expire one month after you get them. They can be used on your next purchase like cash, and they can pay up to the full amount of your purchase before tax. They come in pre-determined denominations, so do your deals carefully to best use the combo of ECBs you have. And you almost always have to buy a cheap filler (candy, etc) to max out the ECBs.

At Walgreens, there is no card. There is a monthly Easy Saver booklet in stores that has both coupons and a list of Walgreen's rebates. There are usually a few monthly free after rebate items each month. The nice part about Walgreen's is:
A. You can use one Walgreen's coupon and one manufacturer's coupon per item.
B. You can submit rebates online simply by entering the info from your receipt--no UPCs or forms needed.
C. If you agree to get a Walgreen's gift card instead of a check, you get an extra 10% back.
D. Once you've gotten your first gift card (which takes a few weeks), you can have your next rebate put on the same card, which only takes a few days.

So, like CVS, your first purchase is out of pocket. Actually, your first month's worth of purchases are out of pocket. But after that, you just use your gift card and keep reloading it. Walgreen's also has a separate reward program called register rewards (RRs). It's usually "buy x of these, get y amount back in RR". These are not specific to you (no store card to tie them to), they can be used like cash on the next purchase, and if you do the same transaction again on a new receipt, you can get another set of rewards. Problems: you can't use register rewards from a specific deal to do that specific deal again--the computer recognizes the RR and won't print a new one. The RRs expire in two weeks instead of a month. And, many Walgreen's (including mine) only let you use one RR per purchase. I don't like the RR system as much as the ESR (easy saver rebates), and I think they are more work to plan. But, if you are into that, more power to you.

Rite Aid is my #3 stop. Again, there is no store card. They have a monthly rebate catalog as well (but be careful when you read it--some deals are marked only for specific weeks). They do rebates like Walgreen's, with a similar online system. But, you can only get a check (no gift card), there is no bonus (so you get the price of the item back, but no extra to cover tax, etc), and it takes a while to get the check. This also means that every transaction is out of pocket. Now, they do have some good deals on occasion. But, between the stock being very limited and no 10% bonus, it's got to be a pretty good deal to make me go. They are having such a week next week, which I'll get into in a future post.

6. Always check the limit on rebates. This is VERY IMPORTANT! There is nothing worse than doing the deal and finding out the limit for rebates was 1 and not 2. When in doubt, assume the rebate is limit 1. CVS will tell you the rebate limit in the ad, and after you do the deal, it will list it on your receipt and say, "offer limit reached." They do sometimes have a limit of more than 1, but be sure to check. Walgreen's and Rite Aid's free after rebate items are almost always limit 1. Some of their $1 back-type rebates (ones that give some, but not all, of the purchase price) are usually limit higher. But check before you buy!

7. Make money. So, here's the way you make money: stack the deals. Stack store coupons, manufacturer's coupons (MQs), and rebates to make the most money. If you check my deals, this is how I do it. I used to be happy getting things for cheap. Then, I wanted things for free. Now, I generally only go if I make money.

Don't get confused--no one is going to give you cash back at your purchase. It's money back in the form of ECBs or rebates greater than the amount you spent out of pocket (OOP). I'll give you an example in a minute.

8. Get the Sunday paper, and get freebies from web sites. This is how I get my coupons. Some people buy a bunch of ads. I very rarely do this. I check the ads on Sundays and see what the coupons are like. Some Sundays you'll get four inserts, some times none. There are websites to check in advance to see what coupons are coming out. It's also a good way to double check to make sure your paper has everything it is supposed to. And sign up for free samples--especially the Wal Mart ones. They often come with really good coupons.

9. Sign up on the drugstore websites. You'll often get emails for exclusive store coupons. There's a CVS one for this weekend, for example.

10. Share the wealth! The more people you talk to, the more ideas you'll get for deals. And then you'll also be passing it forward.

Again, these are just my rules. There are people way more into it than me. I'm not into the smash and grab. I make a stockpile for my family so we don't run out of toiletries, and I give away what I can. I don't want to be greedy, and I want to make sure someone else is able to get deals too.

So, how about an example? There's one here from a Walgreen's deal I did a few weeks ago. Here's a CVS one I am planning for this weekend:

Always infinity pads 4.98
Bic soleil razor refill 5.99
Colgate max fresh 2.99
Vitamin water 2.29
CVS vitamin D 2.99
Filler 0.76

Total 20.00

$4 off $20 CVS coupon -4 (from email)***ALWAYS GIVE 1ST!!
Always FREE coupon -4.98 (from walmart sample)
Bic internet coupon -2 (internet printable)
Colgate MQ coupon -1 (from paper)

Total (pay in ECB/change) 8.02 (plus tax)

Total back in ECB:
From Always pads 4.98
From Bic razors 4.00
From Colgate 2.00
From vitamin water 2.29
From CVS vitamin D 2.99 (monthly deal, not weekly)

Total back in ECB: 16.26
Minus OOP: 8.02
Total made: 8.24 (minus whatever tax is)

So yes, I plan to make about $8 on this. I have a few backups: the wellpatch arthritis care are another monthly deal--pay 5.99, get 5.99 in ECB. There was a $1 MQ out there, but I already used it last week. This deal is limit 5, so I still have it available if I need it. I also have a FREE coupon for a refill of scrubbing bubble action scrubber (I emailed the company to tell them how much I liked it, and they sent me a free coupon). So I can use that too. I have a few other things I can use as well if I need to.

Now, this is doable at CVS because the $20 amount is before coupons are taken off. At Walgreen's, when they send out similar coupons, it had to be $20 AFTER coupons. This is harder to make money with, so I usually do my monthly ESR freebies with that coupon. Once those are up, I rarely make another Walgreen's run.

Next time, I'll post the sites I use to make my deals, with a little commentary on each. Hopefully, this is enough just to get you started. Happy deal shopping!

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