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Smart Buying

What to Buy at Drugstores

With a little planning, you can usually pay less for these items at your local drugstore than at another retailer.

Typically, you won’t find the best price on most items at a drugstore. There are a handful of things, though, that you can often get there for less than at a supermarket, big-box retailer or warehouse club -- if you shop smart.

The key to getting a deal at a drugstore is to buy what’s on sale and what you have coupons for, says Howard Schaffer, a deal expert and vice president of Offers.com. Start by going to the Web sites of the major drugstore chains such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens to find the best savings and deals. Search through the weekly specials, manufacturer coupons and clearance items to determine whether the products you want are marked down sufficiently or whether you should pick them up elsewhere.

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It also pays to sign up for a drugstore’s loyalty program to benefit from personalized coupons based on your purchase history, members-only discounts or rebate rewards that can be redeemed at the store, says consumer expert Andrea Woroch. For example, members of the CVS ExtraCare rewards program can receive e-mails notifying them of special savings, get personalized coupons on their receipts, scan their member cards at an in-store coupon center to print store coupons and earn ExtraBucks rebate rewards with qualifying purchases that can be used like cash at CVS stores. Benefits vary by drugstore chain -- Rite Aid and Walgreens offer similar rewards programs -- so compare stores in your area to see which program is the best fit for you based on your shopping habits.

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Another good tip: Look for discounted drugstore gift cards to save even more, says Woroch. For example, you can find gift cards for CVS discounted up to 13% off their face value at Gift Card Granny.

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When you use those strategies, you usually can find the best prices at drugstores on the following items:

Cereal. Brand-name cereals and oatmeal can cost less than a dollar at the drugstore with just a bit of strategy and foresight, says Lauren Ward, a research analyst for personal finance site CreditDonkey.com. When cereal goes on sale at the drugstore (it frequently does), look for manufacturer coupons at sites such as Coupons.com and stack them with store coupons to further lower the price.

Milk and eggs. When eggs, milk and other dairy products go on sale at the drugstore, they typically cost $1 less per item than at the supermarket, says Andrew Schrage, co-owner of the personal finance blog MoneyCrashers. Even when these items aren’t on sale, they tend to be cheaper at some drugstores than at grocery stores or big-box retailers. Drugstores keep daily essentials like milk and eggs low in price to get more customers through the door with the hope that they'll make additional purchases, Woroch says.

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Make-up. Woroch says that drugstore beauty brands typically receive top reviews from beauty editors and cost much less than high-end brands at department stores. Drugstores typically run promotions on these items, making them cheaper than similar products at big-box retailers, she says. You also can find brands such as Cover Girl and Maybelline cheaper at drugstores through buy-one-get-one-free and buy-one-get-half-off offers, Ward says. She recommends signing up to be notified of weekly drugstore deals including make-up deals at sites such as Couponmom.com.

Brand-name hair products. You can get off-brand shampoo for just a buck at a dollar store. But if you prefer brand-name hair-care products including hair dyes, you typically can find them for less at the drugstore with a coupon or when they go on sale than you can at other stores, says Jeff Yeager, author of four books on frugal living including his most recent, How to Retire the Cheapskate Way. Being a member of a drugstore’s loyalty program also will help you get these items at a better price than elsewhere, Schaffer says.

Nail-care items. Nail polish tends to be cheaper at drugstores than at big-box retailers, says Offers.com savings expert Amber Sager. Plus, most drugstores have a money-back guarantee on beauty products if you’re not satisfied with them, Woroch says. Combine weekly sales with coupons to get rock-bottom prices. Markdowns, buy-one-get-one-free offers and buy-one-get-half-off offers are common at drugstores on popular nail-care brands such as Wet n Wild and Sally Hansen.

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