Photo: Esther Dyson
Drugstores have become a dime a dozen, growing so swiftly in numbers they’re often within walking distance of one another, and the increased competition combined with the current economic climate has spurred many a makeover.Some Duane Reades, for instance, feature sushi stations and smoothie bars, in addition to large makeup displays and, oh right, the pharmacy.
“Drugstores today are the 7-Eleven of yesteryear,” says Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumerSearch.com. “They’re designed so you can find anything you might need quickly.”
We talked to shopping experts to figure out how to score some deals.
They’re also a great place to find some discounts you may have otherwise overlooked, so we spoke to saving experts to find out the best ways to get deals at your local drugstore.
Scour the circulars
Circulars are a budget-conscious shopper’s best friend, but don’t just clip the coupons — you should also pay attention to when certain items are going on sale. Drugstores are known for adhering to stringent sales cycles, says Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com. While these sales cycles vary, depending on the particular retailer, Frietchen says they’re typically either every three weeks or once a month.
The key is to identify the patterns and capitalise on them by stocking up on certain items.
“A lot of that stuff is good forever,” Gault says, pointing out that there’s not a lot of harm in having tons of toilet paper on hand. “Buy the limit.”
Check grocery prices
To further maximise savings, Gault suggests comparing sales cycles to your favourite grocer’s, then selecting which store to patronize based on which has the better offers.
“At least once a month, each [drugstore chain] will have a wholesale on groceries,” she says.
“Common pantry staples like brand foods, spices, condiments and canned goods are often priced less at the drugstore, especially when they go on sale,” says personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi. “Try checking [deal] Web sites for updates on drugstore specials.”
Join the rewards club
Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid are all known to offer premium discounts to those who enroll in their free rewards programs, and according to Rachel Holland, of Savings.com and founder of the blog Surviving the Stores, signing up can be the key to scoring certain items for free.
For instance, the stores might advertise $3 back in rewards on a particular product via their circulars that can be put toward any purchase you make later on, Holland explains.
“You just keep rolling it over from week to week to continue to get more free things,” she says.
Sign up for the email list
To ensure that you don’t miss out on the deals and the cash back a drugstore may be offering, it’s also a good idea to sign up for their email distribution list, which Holland says will sometimes feature additional incentives not advertised in the circulars.
Although prescription drugs can be costly at drugstores, many of the services offered to get you into the pharmacy, such as free health screenings or immunizations, can help make up for it.
“Flu shots [at drugstores] tend to be about the same price or less than at your doctor’s office, and if you’re unemployed or uninsured, your flu shot might even be free,” Torabi says.
Switch your prescriptions
There are a few ways for you to score lower prices on the items you’re picking up at the pharmacy. Major pharmacy chains are known to offer incentives to those who switch their prescriptions over from another establishment. Walgreens and CVS, for instance, recently offered $25 gift cards to those who jumped ship. Gault suggests monitoring Web sites or checking store displays to see when these deals are being offered. It also doesn’t hurt to ask a clerk when incentives are traditionally available.
Holland says drugstores also offer incentives when existing customers bring in new prescriptions.
Ask for the generic prescription list
Another trick is to find out which generic prescriptions your pharmacy offers on the cheap. Each drugstore typically has a list available to consumers that can be printed out and brought to your doctor, Gault says.
“Always ask your physician if you can use the generic version of the drug,” says Derrick Kinney, a Texas-based financial adviser. “For over-the-counter drugs, always compare the active ingredients of generic drugs to brand-name [drugs]. Because the FDA regulates these drugs so heavily, frequently you won’t find much of a difference at all.”