Never pay for toothpaste

Couponing can have customers smiling at cash registers

One of the phrases you hear in couponing circles and on blogs is ‘never pay for toothpaste.’

No one is suggesting that you should do anything illicit to get supplies for your dental needs. Toothpaste companies offer so many promotions at drugstore chains that, if you buy when the time is right, you should be able to periodically stockpile enough tubes of toothpaste that you’ll never have to pay more than 25 cents per tube.

Many are surprised to learn that I shop at drugstore chains for more than just medicine. Actually, they’re a great place to get groceries, cosmetics, toiletries and even home décor. Seriously. Most drugstores have rebate or store credit programs that, when combined with coupon deals, can score you numerous freebies each week.

The main drugstores that offer these money-saving programs are CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid. Since we only have CVS and Walgreens stores in Blount County, I’ll focus on those. Each program requires a little explanation, so I’m going to spend two columns detailing their ins-and-outs, starting with CVS this month.

There are a number of ways to save money at CVS, but you’ll want to start by signing up for a frequent-shopper card, called an “ExtraCare” Card. CVS tracks your spending (before coupons) and every quarter they’ll give you a percentage of what you’ve spent back in the form of ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs). These are CVS’s version of store credit.

There are also items that they feature each week that are inexpensive or free after ECBs. So, you might purchase toothpaste for $2, but receive $2 back in ECBs which you can then use to purchase another item. The best part is that you can still use coupons when purchasing ECB items. Using the toothpaste as an example, if you had a $2 coupon, you could present it to the cashier, pay nothing, and still receive $2 in ECBs. That’s how to play the coupon game.

Another fun aspect to shopping at CVS is using what I like to call the Magic Coupon Machine. In each CVS you’ll see a red machine near the front of the store. Many people think these machines are just for checking prices on items, and they can be used that way. However, when you scan your ExtraCare Card under the price scanner you’ll also receive CVS store coupons. In fact, you can scan your ExtraCare Card multiple times and receive multiple coupons.

These are store coupons and can be what couponers refer to as “stacked” with manufacturer’s coupons up to the price of the item, which often makes for freebies. Stacking is where you combine a manufacturer’s coupon with a store coupon. So when buying that $2 tube of toothpaste, if you had a $1 CVS store coupon and a $1 manufacturer’s coupon, the item would be free. (If you had a $2 manufacturer’s coupon, there would be no need to use the CVS store coupon as their coupon policy won’t allow them to give you cash back.)

So, you’re thinking, “This sounds great, but who has time to match up all those coupon deals?” Well, you’re in luck, because there are a number of coupon bloggers around the country who are glad to do it for you. Let them do the work. Each week on my website, I feature a link to CVS and Walgreens deals from national coupon bloggers I trust. You can also find this post each Sunday on blountmomstoday.com.

Does all of this sound overwhelming? My advice is to start small. Sign up for an ExtraCare Card. Try out a few purchases that involve ECBs. And whatever you do, don’t let those ECBs expire. Before you know it you’ll be telling all your friends, “You know, you should never pay for toothpaste.”

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