I have to say that the most common question that people ask me, after they find out that I only spend $300 a month on groceries is, "Does that include everything, or is it just for food?" My answer is "Yes, the $300 does include everything. It includes all paper products, diapers, wipes, and toiletry items."
The secret is, that I don't pay for any of these things. I get them for free! I get them free by shopping at CVS and Walgreen's. Some of you already know all about how to work the deals at these stores, but other's don't. The best place for a beginner that I have found, is at Money Saving Mom's website. She has tutorials you can read called, CVS 101 and Walgreen's 101. They will explain everything in detail, but I will try to give a quick run down of how things work.
So, how do I get it all free? I buy the weekly and monthly deals that the drugstores offer. The first thing people usually think, is that they will pay more for items at the drugstores. I know that I used to only shop at the drugstores when it was a middle of the night emergency. Many of the items they sell are overpriced, but by working out their weekly and monthly deals you actually save money. Although I shop at both CVS and Walgreen's, I am just going to focus on talking about CVS today because Walgreen's is a little tougher to figure out.
How to make CVS work for you:
1. Get a CVS card
They are located at the cash registers. You just have to fill out the information, turn it into the cashier, and then it is ready to use instantly. All of the deals are tied into this card, so you need to have it with you every time you go in.
2. Look at the weekly ad that comes out
You either will get one in your local paper, which you should be getting at least on Sunday's for the coupon inserts, or you can get one at the store. CVS also puts out a monthly booklet that has a few free deals in it. You can only pick those up in the stores.
3. Start small
When you are just beginning, don't do any big deals, and only work the ones that are going to be free. You can work your way up to bigger, more complicated deals after you understand how everything really works, and you do a few deals.
Take for instance, this week they have Softsoap Spa bodywash on sale for $4.99. That is not a good deal for bodywash, but by buying this bodywash you will earn $4.99 back in extracare bucks. That means that the bodywash is "free!"
I know some of you are thinking, "What are extracare bucks?" Well, extracare bucks are coupons that CVS gives you for buying cetain items. They print at the bottom of your cash register receipt, so don't throw it away! You can then use that extracare buck just like cash on your next visit.
When you are just starting out you will pay for the first one to two deals. After that, though, you can use any ECB's that you have earned to help pay for your next deal. Your goal is to earn enough ECB's to cover the price of future deals so that you never pay any money out of pocket again (OOP.) This is what's called, "building your ECB's."
When I first started going to CVS I earned less than $10.00 in ECB's in the first few deals I did, but now I have over $50.00 that I can use to pay for my deals. You really do not need that many, but I would say that $20.00 is a good number to stay at to be able to keep from having to pay anything OOP.
4. Buy the items that are free
Or close to being free after you earn your ECB's. I know it is tempting to buy other things that will give you a few ECB's back at the beginning, but like I said before, you want to earn more ECB's. By sticking to the free items you can generally build your ECB's up.
So how do you build ECB's when they are only giving you back the same amount it costs? Wouldn't you just come out even? Not necessarily. You use any coupons you have to bring down the price of the item. Let's look at the softsoap again. The softsoap costs $4.99, but there are $1.00/1 printable coupons here. that would bring down the price to $3.99, but you would still earn back $4.99. If you're one of the lucky ones, in some coupon inserts there were $1.50/1 coupons, making it an even better deal. So, you are actually earning back more than you are paying for the bodywash. That's what's called building your ECB's.
There are a few websites that you can visit where people will post all of the free deals and actually put together deals for you that will earn you the most money back. You can visit Money Saving Mom or Hot Coupon World. These are my two favorite sites for deals. Now that I have been doing this for quite awhile I don't always follow the deals they offer, but for a beginner, they are great resources.
5. Buy even items you don't need and don't be brand loyal!
There are many items that CVS offers free every week that I will buy eventhough I will never use it. I will still pick up those items if they will "make me money" so that I can build up more ECB's or at least just roll them over. What I mean by rolling ECB's is that I buy things to keep the same amount of ECB's up. They expire after one month, so sometimes you have to go to the store and do a deal before they do expire. You want to do a deal that will not lose you money. I just give away or donate the things I will never use. You can read my post on what to do with your CVS stockpile here.
6. Stockpile the items you do get so that you never have to buy them again
Your goal is to be able to stockpile a few of the necessities. Things like toothpaste, shampoo, toilet paper, etc. You don't really want to run out and have to buy them in an emergency. These frequently go on special, but it's better to keep a few on hand.I want to show you one quick deal that I did today.
As you can see, I bought 5 Softsoap bodywashes. My total, before taxes was $24.95. I ended up paying $.08 OOP. I spent $16.00 in ECB's I had and earned back another $24.95. So I guess you can say that they paid me $9.00 to buy this bodywash. Not too bad!
There is so much more infomation I could give you. Working the drugstore deals can stretch your grocery budget so much. By working the deals at the drugstores, I am now free to spend more on food since I don't have to pay for anything else.
As you have found out over the last few weeks, there are many things that I do to keep my grocery budget low. It is worth it to me put a little effort into stretching the money my husband makes and still be able to provide good food for my family. If I can do it, so can you!