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!