Lazy CVS rewards shopping

I read quite a few blogs, several of which have at least some focus on personal finance. So I keep reading here and there about how people are using rewards programs and coupons to “save” money and get great deals.

When it comes to using coupons, I am a really poor performer. Way back when I started living independently and shopping for myself, I tried using coupons as much as possible. In practice, I used very few coupons and stopped doing it. The reasons I found coupons such a unrewarding time suck were because I wasn’t really loyal to brands and shopped for really basic items. I would usually find the store brands cheaper, and as a single person I didn’t go through toiletries and cleaning products very quickly.

Even now there are only two people in the household and we don’t share very many products. B and I have distinct preferences in personal care products and so we purchase these items from our own budgets and rarely use each other’s items. I personally don’t use that many toiletries at all. The only ones I use on a regular basis are bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, moisturizer, and deodorant. I don’t use cosmetics or hair styling products, and only occasionally need to buy moisturizer for my body or face.

I like shampoos and conditioners that don’t have sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in them, but other than that I’m not picky about brand. (I tried using baking soda instead of shampoo for a while, but found it a pain to do so with my long hair.) I’ve never seen any coupons for the SLS-free products.

For toothpaste, I like ones that don’t use saccharine as a sweetener, which narrows down the possibilities quite a bit and eliminates entirely major brands like Crest, Colgate, Aquafresh, etc. (It’s the sweet taste I object to in toothpaste; I gag and can actually get sick when trying to use those super sweet toothpastes, which sort of negates the purpose of brushing one’s teeth.) Taking into consideration both ingredients and cost, my favorite brand of toothpaste is actually Trader Joe’s, but I can’t always find it when I need more toothpaste so I’ll often buy Tom’s of Maine. I think I’ve found coupons for Tom’s products in the past, but they are few and far between.

I like deodorant and not antiperspirants because I don’t want aluminum in my pores and pretty much all antiperspirants have aluminum in them. Also, I’ve never found *anything* that will keep me from sweating when it is very hot or I’m very active, so I just give in and decide I’m going to perspire a bit and do my best to not be stinky. So, that limits the number of those products I’m going to buy, too.

Is it starting to become clear why I use few coupons? From my perspective the rewards programs from pharmacies are really the only thing worth my time.

I have a monthly maintenance medication that I fill at CVS so I joined their CVS Rewards program. I only half-way use the coupons and rewards they give me, but I’ve decided to try a little harder at making them work for me. Yesterday I took the two CVS store coupons I had on hand with me to do some shopping. I had one coupon for $1 off any purchase, and another coupon for $4 off $20 or more in purchases. Of the items I needed to buy this weekend, I suspected that only the following could be purchased at CVS: laundry detergent, facial tissues, and facial tissue “pocket packs.” Unless I bought a lot of facial tissues, these items weren’t going to add up to $20 or more, so I needed to get a bit creative, forget about using the coupons, or decide to use only the $1 off coupon.  I was going to try to be creative by adding to my list items that I needed eventually, but could purchase later if necessary.

Once I stopped at the store, I went first to check the aisle where they had facial tissues and laundry detergent. Unfortunately there were no sales on facial tissues, but there was a “buy one get one free” offer on 50 oz bottles of Purex laundry detergent. The price of the detergent ($6.29 for a total of 100 oz) seemed reasonable, so I went for the laundry detergent and only put one box of facial tissues ($2.19) and the pocket pack tissues ($2.49) in my little cart.

I next looked in the cosmetics aisle for pointy tweezers. I find pointy tweezers work better for me than the slanted ones, and the pair I had bought several years ago were lost somewhere. While there was a really nice pair of pointy Tweezerman tweezers hanging in the display, there was no way I was going to pay over $30 for a pair of tweezers. So I added the next best thing I could find — a two pack of slanted and pointy tweezers for $5.49 — to my cart. Now I was only up to $16.46.

I wandered the aisles trying to think of items that I’d find useful in some way and finally settled on a tube of lip balm ($2.99) and a very small container of milk ($1.59).  I’ll use the lip balm at some point in the coming months, and I’ll probably use the milk for baking or cooking, since I can’t drink it. Now I was at $21.04, and had crossed the all-important $20 minimum. My purchases totaled $16.04 after the coupons were applied, and $17.57 once tax was applied. That’s not too bad, but I would have been happier to find a sale on facial tissues since I really like to have at least one extra box in the house.

While in the supermarket picking up the rest of the items on my list I checked their price for the Purex laundry detergent. They priced the 50 oz size at just under $4, which goes to show the “buy one get one” deal wasn’t a big bargain. (I’m sure they rarely are.) However, I still paid less for 100 oz than the supermarket charged for it, whether I bought two 50 oz bottles or a single 100 oz one for just over $7. Factoring in the $5 “saved” by using those coupons, I definitely came out ahead here.

One thing I’ve noticed but haven’t seen mentioned on the sites that detail the “drugstore game” is that it can work in my favor if I split up my purchases while I’m there. In other words, if I need to pick up a prescription and also need some cough drops and facial tissues, I’ve noticed that if I just buy the prescription at the pharmacy counter I’ll often get a receipt with a coupon attached that I can use right away. So I no longer automatically pick up the other items I may need at the same time I fill my prescription. I don’t think I’m going to be saving super bucks by being more diligent with my CVS Rewards, but it’s worth putting a small amount of planning into.

As a reference into my shopping habits, here are the other things I bought yesterday at the supermarket and a small fresh market I was running errands near: mustard greens, rapini, a green bell pepper, 3/4 lb organic zucchini, fresh ground pecorino romano, a small wedge of Humboldt Fog cheese, a small slice of Midnight Moon cheese, 1 lb organic grass-fed ground beef, four cans of various types of beans, a 32 oz bag of dried beans, 1/2  lb ground in-store bulk coffee, four individual sized frozen pizzas, a container of chili powder, and a “build your own” six-pack of beer. The pizzas, beer, chili powder, and cheeses are the few products that are processed in any way and for which it may have been possible to find coupons.  (In the case of the fancy goat cheeses and build your own beer pack, however, it’s very, very unlikely to find a coupon for them. That definitely makes them luxuries.) That’s pretty typical of my approach to shopping.

But it’s possible I’m wrong about coupons and rewards shopping. If you have any tips or suggestions on how someone like me who buys minimal processed products, toiletries, cleaning products, and cosmetics could take better advantage of them, please add a comment!

Help! I need a parka!

I really, really hate shopping. I don’t enjoy browsing at clothing and shoe stores, so I only go into one when I absolutely must. That means I go in with a mission: buy a pair of black work pants, for example, or get some new gym shoes.

This is one reason why I don’t usually visit thrift stores for clothing. It’s possible to find some really great items at thrift stores, but it usually involves lots of browsing through the racks. Same thing for places like Marshall’s, Ross, and TJ Maxx. While I do go into these types of stores for housewares, I rarely need that stuff so visits are few and far between.

I pay enough attention to retail to know which stores are likely to carry what I want to wear, so that helps me keep my shopping time down to a minimum. And once I’ve gotten a good feel for a retailer’s clothing line, I will order online as much as possible.

So I really, really hate that my beloved Lands’ End has dramatically changed their classic Squall parka in all the wrong ways. I have a Squall parka that I bought several years ago. It’s awesome. I have a different Lands’ End coat — referred to as a “sleeping bag” by one of my colleagues — for the super cold days, but for most late fall/winter days between 35 and 0 F here in Chicago I can get by with the Squall parka.

Last winter, this coat seized up on me, though. The zipper completely jammed and I had to crawl out of my parka after I got home. There is no way to fix this zipper jam, although I have thought about replacing the zipper. The chance in finding a tailor who could replace the double zipper with a reasonable match in color is slim, though. I got a good recommendation from someone, but I have my doubts that schlepping this well-worn parka to a tailor nowhere near where I live or work will have the result I want.

I’ve already tried on their “updated” Squall parka and find it sadly lacking in some critical features. Such as being just slightly over-sized so I can wear a sweater under it. (Seriously, one should be able to layer up under a parka!) Also, having pockets that allow one to place objects like hats or gloves inside them. The “new” Squall parka has pockets that only accommodate a slender hand. I just don’t understand how a company that is based in Wisconsin could make such changes to their winter wear.

But because Lands’ End does guarantee their clothing, I’ve decided to try once more to exchange my broken down Squall for a workable Squall parka.

Women's Squall parka

Women’s Squall parka with offending area noted

Men's Squall parka

Men’s Squall parka with a better pocket design!

At left is the terrible women’s Squall parka, at right is the men’s version. Note the areas circled.

How does the men’s version of the coat differ from the women’s version? The pocket has a gusset! With a gusseted pocket, one can slip more than a single slender hand into the pocket. I should be able to stuff my hat and gloves in the pockets like I’ve been doing since I was…well…extremely young.

Yeah, the women’s parka is a bit more slim cut than the men’s but that also means I should be able to wear a sweater under the men’s parka, too. Wow. What a concept, eh? These parkas both have interior draw strings at the waist, so I could conceivably adjust the men’s parka to be a bit more fitted, too.

So, wish me luck this weekend as I venture to the Lands’ End store and attempt to have them give me a credit or exchange on my old Squall for a nice, new men’s version!

Continuing a theme

Last week I noted how my sister and I have varying values and habits when it comes to groceries. The next day I went off and did my grocery shopping. I decided to record it because I thought it may be interesting to visit the topic of grocery shopping since everyone needs to do it. So here’s what $63 worth of groceries looks like after a visit to the most rocking, awesome, ethnic-oriented market in my area.

Groceries

The grocery haul from Fresh Farms

None of these items are organic, and it’s obvious from the stack of items at the back right that there were some non-essentials purchased, too. If we ignore the extra baked goods purchased, the total bill drops to $50. (The Medjool dates were at least on special; I have no excuses for the cookies and the baklava.) It was my craving for sweet fruit that brought us into the store anyway.

Lately I’ve been craving tropical fruit badly. I tried to console myself with some bananas, oranges and (unripe) mango at from Whole Foods, but that’s not what I really wanted. Fresh Farms is the one store where I know I can get my beloved apple bananas. (See those little bananas on the left? Those are apple bananas and they were not yet ripe enough to eat in that photo. Don’t be fooled by those “baby bananas” you may see in the grocery store. They are not the same! Only little bananas with the label “apple bananas” are the real thing. Let them get really ripe and then indulge. Ahhh!) I also had this intense craving for papaya and knew that I could find it there.

As much as I love this store I avoid it on the weekends because it is packed with people. The first time we visited was on a Saturday after lunch. Wow. I’ll be sure to never do that again. As an example of how crazy full of people it was that day, when I realized I needed to go back through the produce section to pick up something I had forgotten, I found it nearly impossible to do so. There were so many people and carts in the aisles that even when I ditched my cart I found it extremely difficult to move against the crush.

What makes Fresh Farms so awesome is that it is like a mosaic of all the various ethnic groups who call Chicago home. I know that if I need an ingredient for a Filipino/Korean/Polish/Croatian/Persian/Indian/Mexican/etc. dish I can find it here. They even sell Spotted Dick in a can. All this bounty does make for a very crowded store, though, so last Sunday when I turned to Bob and said “I want to go to the crazy store,” he was quite surprised, but he knew what I meant.

While the papaya is all gone by now, I’m still working my way through the rest of the fruit. The kiwi, mango, and apple bananas had to get a bit more ripe but they’re mostly ready now. The haul in the photo is more than the two of us can eat in a single week anyway.

I roasted the chicken that night and we had two meals from it last week (one with a serving of roasted broccoli on the side), plus extra bits that were frozen as a great addition to some fried rice, and a carcass that will make some tasty stock. One of the three lamb shoulder chops was put in the freezer and the other two were broiled for another dinner, served with some Indian-spiced, sautéed okra on the side. One of the zucchini went into a frittata (along with some leftover mushrooms, onion, and linguine), and one of the red peppers was cut up and taken to work as a snack. I intend to make the cabbage into a small batch of sauerkraut some time this week (or I may just sauté it fresh), and use the scallions and yellow pepper in that batch of fried rice that I’ll likely cook for dinner tonight. (Note to self: take the chicken meat out of the freezer.)

I’ll still need to stop at a grocery store today to pick up coffee and a few other odds and ends, but I’m well set for at least a few more meals with the bits I haven’t used from this haul and things I have in the freezer (such as some fish and half of a Lesna or Forest Sausage from the Polish deli). Two things I have in abundance here at home: chard from the low tunnel, and eggs from the hens. But that last item merits its own post.

What are you cooking up this week? How does your grocery bill compare?