Dec. 14, 2009 -- The holiday shopping season is a great time of year to kick off a lucrative cycle of collecting rebates and rewards at drugstores. Why? Because there are lots of party supplies and stocking stuffers available at drugstores, so it's a good time to spend a bit of money at these types of stores, to get yourself started.
Drugstore rebate and rewards programs are a way to not only SAVE BIG, but to actually make money! As you know, leading up to the publication of my book, "SAVE BIG," every week in this column, I'm previewing some of the great money-saving information I've gathered.
Rebates are offers you have to apply for and rewards are offers that give you store credit. If you do it right, you can save so much at the drugstore that you will have more money to spend at the grocery store. It's such a smart strategy. I mean, wouldn't you rather put your money into T-bone steak than toilet bowl cleaner?
I will detail programs at CVS and Walgreen's in this column, because they are the biggest. Rite-Aid has similar savings programs, and you can apply many of these principals at regional drugstore chains, too.
Rebates are a pain. There, I've said it. But they are also full of possibility. That's why we're going to talk about them anyway. Rebates are those offers where you have to mail in your proof of purchase and other paperwork and the company sends you a check.
That's the pain. Here's the possibility: Because you can often combine rebates with coupons or sales, you sometimes make money on them. If your purchase price was low enough, then your rebate check represents a profit. That, I like! If you don't pursue rebates you are leaving money on the table.
But I am ever mindful of the need to save time as well as money. So is it worth it to apply for rebates? Maybe. It depends how much time you have. A personal story, my eye doctor recently suggested that I hold a warm wash cloth to my eyes for two minutes every evening to help my dry eyes, and I told her, "I'm sorry. I can't do that. I don't have two minutes to spare." Really.
If your life is crazy like that, set a threshold for yourself. Decide how generous a rebate has to be before you'll apply: $5? $20? $50? Whatever amount is meaningful to you. Forget the rest. It's small stuff. Savings.
Where to Find Rebates
If you're going to cash in on rebates, learn to look for them. Some are obvious, because they're advertised or they show up on your register receipt, but there are other rebates available that you may not know about. Here are some sources of rebates:
Sunday manufacturer circulars.
Your grocery store customer service desk. All you have to do is ask.
Drugstore rebate books.
Rebate Web sites
Rebate Web Sites
Rebate Web sites are a source of rebate offers, but they also provide other valuable services. Some allow you to apply for your rebate online instead of doing the endless cutting and pasting and mailing of forms. These sites also help you track your rebates.
It's great! You are putting the company that made the offer on notice that you are watching. They can track that you are tracking them. This helps solve the common complaint that rebate checks never arrive.
Stephen B. of Maryland sets up computer networks for people. He buys a lot of equipment eligible for a lot of rebates. He's a friendly, funny guy but he is serious about getting his rebate money. Stephen says he has never failed to get a rebate returned to him because he always registers his rebate application online. Guerilla Grocery Shoppers can do the same with pricey grocery items.
Here are some Web sites that list rebate offers, let you apply for them and then track their progress. Some are geared toward groceries, others toward electronics.
Rewards programs are easier to take advantage of than rebate offers because you don't have to apply. I define rewards programs as those that give you a store credit for making certain purchases. Your credit is usually in the form of a register receipt. The key is to vigilantly use the credits you receive this month to make your purchases next month. Don't let them expire on you like I sometimes do. Duh!
Rules for Walgreen's and CVS
At Walgreen's, the bonanza continues with "Register Rewards." These usually take the form of a buy X and get Y deal, like spend $30 and get $5 in Register Rewards. These Register Rewards are a credit that you can use on your next shopping trip. They spit out of the register when you make your purchase. You don't have to do anything special to get them. All you have to do is pay attention to make sure you use them. Walgreen's Register Rewards do expire, so keep track of the date.
A couple of rules you should know about:
1.One reward per item: You're only allowed to use one Register Reward for each thing you purchase. So if you are buying a $10 makeup item, you would not be able to apply both a $3 and a $2 Register Reward to it.
2.No change: You do not get change back when you spend a Register Rewards credit. So, for maximum impact, you should buy something that is just a tiny bit more expensive than your Register Reward.
If this is possible, CVS Rewards are even more over-the-top than the Walgreen's ones. Savvy shoppers report cutting their drugstore costs 75-percent by learning the ins and outs of CVS offers. CVS calls its rewards "Extra Care Bucks." Like at Walgreen's, they print out at the end of your receipt. A CVS Extra Care reward is almost as good as cash on your next visit to CVS. Guerilla Grocery Shoppers who use these Extra Care Bucks strategically can get loads of merchandise for free or even earn money back.
There are three ways to get Extra Care Bucks:
1. First, CVS gives you a reward of two percent of your spending each quarter. You don't have to be a regular. As long as you have a CVS Extra Care card, you can earn this credit.
2. The second way is to take advantage of offers listed in the monthly CVS Extra Care catalog. For example, one frequent offer is buy $20 worth of products and get $10 in Extra Care Bucks.
3. The third method is to buy specific products advertised in the Extra Care catalog that are eligible for an Extra Care Bucks reward. For example, the offer could be that if you buy a four-pack of GE lightbulbs for $4.99, you will be awarded $2 in Extra Care Bucks.
The CVS Extra Care Catalog is different from the CVS circular. It is available only in CVS stores. But here's a hot tip: the Web site www.BeCentsAble.net scans the CVS Extra Care catalog and posts it online so you can look for great deals from the comfort of home.
Here are the rules you need to know to take full advantage of CVS Extra Care Bucks:
1. Expiration date: CVS Extra Care Bucks expire a month after the register spits them out.
2. No change: Like at Walgreen's, you don't get change back when you redeem one. So it's important to plan a purchase that is slightly over the amount of Extra Care Bucks you want to redeem.
3. Higher purchase: Your total bill must be more than the amount of your Extra Care Bucks. If it is less, you need to add another item to your purchase to make it higher.
Combining Savings Strategies
There are also some CVS policies that work in your favor. You can combine them with sales, with manufacturer coupons and even with other CVS store coupons for a quadruple whammy! Here are a couple of examples where I've combined four different savings strategies for a deep discount. First, one for the ladies:
Clairol Perfect 10 Haircolor
Regular price: $11.88
Sale price: $9.99
Manufacturer coupon: $3
Extra Care Bucks: $2
Final Price = $4.99
BIG SAVINGS = 58 percent
Now, another for the guys:
Schick Intuition Razor Cartridges
Regular price: $9.06
Sale price: $6.99
Extra Care Bucks: $2
Manufacturer coupon: $2
Final Price = $2.99
BIG SAVINGS = 67 percent
The amazing thing at the drugstore chains is that Guerilla Grocery Shoppers can actually make money on their purchases, in the form of a store credit. Here's a really basic one. Oral B Mouthwash costs $2.99, but when I looked CVS was offering $2.99 in Extra Care Bucks if you buy it. Great, free mouthwash. But wait! There is also a one dollar manufacturer coupon for Oral B Mouthwash. Since the two savings opportunities come from different sources, you can combine them and get money back!
Oral B Mouthwash
Regular price: $2.99
Extra Care Bucks: $2.99
Manufacturer coupon: $1
FINAL PRICE = $-1
There you have it. You can actually pay negative $1 for a bottle of mouthwash. You get money back! Guerilla Grocery Shoppers who work the angles at CVS end up with $15 to $20 in credit each month, which they use to make their next purchases. If those purchases are also eligible for Extra Care Bucks, the cycle of savings continues.
I once did a "Good Morning America" segment with Kristin McKee and Chrissy Pate, the two Missouri moms who founded BeCentsAble.net. Now, they teach others how to SAVE BIG. We loaded up a table full of a hundred different groceries that would normally cost $369.75. Then, we asked our studio audience to try to guess how much Kristin and Chrissy paid for the entire pile.
Not one person got the answer right. You know why? Because their cost was better than free! They actually got a store credit of $6.20! That's right. The store paid Chrissy and Kristin to take all those goodies home! And it was drugstore rebate and reward purchases that made this little coup possible.