Friday, July 22, 2011

How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom, Part 4: The Drugstore Game

Note: this post is Part Four in an ongoing series.  You can read previous entries here.

Did you know you don't have to pay for most personal care items, including toothpaste, body wash, shampoo, and deodorant?  I'm serious.  I haven't paid a cent for any of these products since early 2007, when I first started playing The Drugstore Game. 

The Drugstore Game is a nickname for the process of using loyalty programs to score great deals at CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens.  These three stores offer rebates and rewards which will help you save hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars a year on toiletries, household supplies, beauty products, and more.  All it takes is a little know how, and a little planning.

CVS's ExtraCare Rewards Program is the gold standard of drugstore loyalty programs.  Not only has it been around the longest, it also offers the best deals.  I've heard some people describe it as "complicated," but I actually consider it to be pretty simple.

It all boils down to this: every week, CVS offers full or partial rebates on several dozen sale items, delivered in the form of store coupons called Extra Care Bucks (ECBs).  After purchasing a sale item and earning ECBs, you can then use your ECB coupons to buy additional sale items - thereby earning more rewards.  Using manufacturers' coupons further sweetens the deal.

Here's a simple example.  Let's say that CVS is currently offering a sale on Crest toothpaste: buy a tube for $1.99, and receive $1.99 in ECBs, with a limit of two per customer.  You also have a $1 Crest toothpaste coupon in your coupon collection. 

You pay $0.99 (after coupon) to buy one tube of toothpaste, and receive back $1.99 in ECBs.  You then use your $1.99 in ECBs to buy a second tube of toothpaste, earning back another $1.99.  In other words, you walk into CVS with $0.99 and a coupon, and walk out with two tubes of toothpaste, and $1.99 in ECBs to spend at a later date.  Not too shabby, right?

By saving your ECBs from week to week, and using them to make additional purchases that offer ECB rewards, you can buy dozens of personal care items without ever spending a penny.

Rite Aid

Rite Aid offers two unique savings programs: Single Check Rebates (SCR) and +UP Rewards (UPR).  These programs work very differently, and there are good deals to be had using both.

The SCR program allows you to earn actual cash rebates on select purchases.  No membership card is required; instead, you enter your receipt information at Rite Aid's SCR website after every shopping trip.  At the end of each month, you can request a check for the total amount of all rebates earned over the entire month.

UPR is a newer program, closely modeled on CVS's Extra Care Rewards.  It follows the same pattern of issuing rebates in the form of store coupons, which can then be used to make additional purchases. 


Walgreens' Register Rewards Program is very similar to the ECB and UPR programs, in that you earn store coupons called Register Rewards (RRs) by purchasing select items.  Those coupons can then be used to make additional in-store purchases.  However, there is an important catch.

You cannot "roll" your RRs by purchasing the same sale items and earning the same RRs over and over again.  For example, say you take advantage of a deal that pays you $10 in RRs when you spend $20 on Unilever products.  If you try to use your RRs to buy more Unilever products, you will not earn an additional $10 in RRs.  You can, however, save your RRs to use on the following week's RR deals.
With time and practice, anyone can master the fine art of The Drugstore Game.  In fact, after a few months, you'll probably have such a large stockpile of free personal care items that you'll be able to share your purchases with family, friends, and charities.  It's one of my favorite ways to help others - and it literally does not cost a dime.

Do you play The Drugstore Game?  How much have you saved?  Which drugstore is your favorite? 

For more money-saving tips, visit Life as Mom.


  1. Do you stock pile stuff if you find it for a great price? Shop Rite had Degree and Dove deodorants on sale for 98 cents so I bought 2 of each even though we don't really need it now. I'm trying to figure out if this makes me a hoarder :o)

    I'm going to be using a lot of these tips once I start my unpaid/pitifully paid internship in September 2012. It'll be like I'm a stay at home mom because I won't be bringing in an income, but I just won't be home. Harumph.

    Anyway, I just started doing the CVS and Walgreens thing. I follow a couple of websites that do the work of matching sales and coupons and rewards for you. Otherwise, I'd never be able to put it all together myself!

  2. I definitely don't think you're hoarding. It only makes sense to stock up when you find a good price. Personally, I try to keep 6-12 months of toiletries on hand at all times. Anything I'm able to get above and beyond that, we give away.

  3. I play the game! It's a lot of fun when I can get there without kids. My biggest hang-up is that the nearest Walgreens is 12 miles away and it's a pain to go there with 4 kids in tow (I'm rarely kid free)... CVS is even further; though I usually prefer their deals, I get there even less often than I get to Walgreens.

    I'm working on a $33 Walgreens Challenge right now to see how many useful things I can get for $33 I had in gift cards! I'm 3 trips into my challenge and have bought quite a lot for under $9! :-) You can read about it here if you're curious:

  4. That's fantastic! I haven't always been thrilled with Walgreens in the past, but you really seem to be making it work!


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