Smart Buying

What Not to Buy at Drugstores

Here are ten things you're usually better off purchasing at warehouse clubs, dollar stores, big-box retailers or supermarkets.

Drugstores offer a convenient way to shop for a variety of items, especially if you live in a big city that has one on practically every corner. However, convenience does not always mean savings, says Howard Schaffer, a deal expert and vice president of Offers.com. “I’m very cautious about buying anything from the local drugstore,” he says.

 

There are several items, in particular, that you shouldn’t purchase at a drugstore if price is your bottom-line concern because you can usually get them for less elsewhere, say Schaffer and other deal experts. In fact, some of the items you associate most with drugstores aren’t even good deals. Here are ten purchases to avoid:

Batteries. Drugstores tend to place batteries at the checkout so you’ll notice them and pick up a pack, Schaffer says. But you’ll pay a high price for that convenience. You’ll save nearly 70% per unit on batteries if you buy them in bulk at warehouse clubs such as BJ's Wholesale, Costco and Sam's Club, says consumer expert Andrea Woroch.

Cleaning products. If you have a sick loved one at home and want to do a little sanitizing, you might be tempted to pick up some cleaning products at the drugstore when you’re there buying medicine. But these items tend to be more expensive at the drugstore, says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the personal finance blog MoneyCrashers. For example, a container of 75 Clorox disinfecting wipes is priced at $6.49 on the CVS Web site, but Walmart sells 105 wipes for $5.88 on its site. The best way to save money on cleaning products, though, is to buy them at a dollar store, often for just a buck. See What to Buy at Dollar Stores.

Eyecare. You’ll pay a premium to buy contact solution at the drugstore – even if you buy the drugstore brand versus a name-brand. For example, a 12-ounce bottle can cost you $6 at the drugstore, but you’ll pay just $5 for two 12-ounce bottles of Walmart’s Equate brand, says Lauren Ward, a research analyst for personal finance site CreditDonkey.com. Similarly, drugstore reading glasses can reach up to $25, but the same prescription strength will only set you back a buck at Dollar Tree, she says.

Greeting cards. Woroch says there’s no need to spend upward of $4 on a card that gets thrown in the trash shortly after it's received when you can get one for 50 cents at a dollar store. You also pay just $1 for gift bags and gift wrap at the dollar store, versus several dollars at the drugstore.

Office and school supplies. Avoid buying office supplies such as pens, pencils, notepads and tape at the drugstore because you can get them for less at the dollar store, Schrage says. The actual savings will vary depending upon the drugstore price, he says.

Over-the-counter medicine. Although drugstore brands of over-the-counter medicine are cheaper than their brand-name counterparts, they’re still pricier than medications you can buy in bulk at warehouse clubs. Ward says that Costco’s generic version of Allegra, the allergy medication, retails for $30 for 120 tablets, while the CVS brand is $12 for only 15 tablets.

Photo prints. You’ll get a much better price on prints at Web sites such as Snapfish and Shutterfly -- unless you need them in a hurry, Woroch says. She says a drugstore was charging 50 cents for a 4-by-6 print that would have cost just 9 cents at Snapfish.

Pregnancy tests. No need to spend $10 or more on a pregnancy test at a drugstore when you can get one for $1 at a dollar store. And, yes, the dollar-store test will be just as accurate. Schaffer says that the pricing on other tests and equipment, such as diabetes tests and heart-rate monitors, also tends to be higher at drugstores. For example, an Omron 3 Series blood pressure monitor sells for $59.99 at Walgreens but just $39.88 at Walmart.

Prescription drugs. You probably head to the drugstore when you need a prescription filled. But you can save a lot by getting your prescriptions filled at a warehouse club. Schrage says that a recent study by Consumer Reports found that Costco and a few online prescription Web sites had better prices. For example, a month's supply of the generic version of anti-anxiety drug Lexapro costs $7 at Costco but $126 at CVS, according to the Consumer Reports study. You don't need a warehouse club membership to get your prescriptions filled there. Another low-cost option is Walmart, which offers a 90-day supply of several generic drugs for just $10 and will ship them for free. And several supermarket pharmacies offer antibiotics, prenatal vitamins and diabetic medications at no cost (see How to Get Free Prescription Drugs).

Toys and games. Most drugstores have an entire aisle dedicated to toys and games. But you’ll pay a premium if you buy something at the drugstore to cheer up a sick child at home, Ward says. For example, the game Apples to Apples, which retails for $39.99 at a local drugstore, goes for less than $20 on Amazon, she says. And a Play-Doh Fun Factory, $13.99 at the drugstore, is about $8 online.

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