Thursday, June 25, 2009

Making Walgreens Work for You

I got a comment from my friend Kristen on a previous post asking about Walgreens' Register Rewards. I started to answer her in an email, but I thought my answer might benefit others, too, so I'm posting it here. Here's the original comment:

Hey, so I got my first set of Register Rewards at Walgreens, and I'm confused about something. If I apply the RR to my current purchase (for example, a St. Ives body wash for 2.99, get a 2.99 RR = FREE), then I can't also then apply that FREE-ness to the item I bought later with my RR (toilet paper, for example).

Most of the websites consider the item producing the RR for free, but then they also talk about how they got free stuff *with* their RRs.

They can't *both* be considered free. Does that make sense?

What she's referring to is the blogs like Money Saving Mom and Southern Savers that put together a list each week of all the "free" stuff and deals you can get at Walgreens and other stores. Walgreens often has specials where you buy an item at x price and get x dollars in Register Rewards, which means that the item is basically free. But my friend is exactly right--you can’t really get the item for free unless you already have a RR in your hand.

What ends up happening is that the first time you go to Walgreens, you spend real money. I spent something like $50 the first time I went to Walgreens and got lots of stuff, but I messed up on some purchases. (Read that post to see what I did wrong--hopefully it will keep you from making the same mistakes!) I did end up getting about $25 back, which I was able to use on subsequent visits.

The way to “work” Walgreens is to use those RRs to buy stuff that produces more RRs. That way you rarely pay any real money. For example, here's an ideal situation:

Today you go to Walgreens and get item A for $3 with a $3 reward and item B for $5 with a $5 reward. You spend $8 in real money (plus tax!), but you get $8 in RRs back. Total spent: $8 out-of-pocket (OOP).

Next week you go to Walgreens and get items C and D that are $4 each and produce two $4 RRs. You use your $8 in RRs from the previous week, and get an additional $8 in RRs. Woo hoo! Now you're in business! Total spent: $0 (or just the tax on the items, if applicable), plus $8 in RR to use on your next purchase!

Of course, that's an ideal world. Usually what ends up happening to me is that I have a $3 RR and a $5 RR, and the only thing I want to buy in the store is a $4 item that produces a RR. In that situation, I can either use the $3 RR and pay $1 out of pocket, or I can find a "filler" item for a dollar or more, and use the $5 RR. I can't use a $5 RR to pay for a $4 item.

There are a few things you have to keep in mind when "working Walgreens":

  • You can stretch those RRs even farther by using store and manufacturer coupons. For instance, if I want to buy some M&Ms for $2 that produce a $2 RR, I can also use a coupon forM&Ms and turn it into a money-maker.
  • You can't have more coupons than you have items. If you have a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon for one item, you have to find another "filler" item to purchase so that you have 2 coupons and 2 items. RRs are considered coupons.
  • Try to only buy things that produce RRs, and stockpile them! When there is a really good deal on something, I hit one or more Walgreens throughout the week and stock up.
  • You can't use a RR to produce the same RR. For example, if you buy those M&Ms and get the RR for it, you can't use that RR to buy another package of M&Ms. It won't print out a RR.
  • I've used expired RRs at two Walgreens and had no problems. So don't panic if your RRs are expiring! Wait for a good deal, or use them to buy a newspaper.
I have shopped at CVS a couple of times now, and I have to say that I like Walgreens better. Here's why:
  • At Walgreens, you don't have to use a shopper card that tracks your purchases. When there is a CVS deal on toothpaste that costs $2 and gives you a $2 reward, you can only get the deal once per shopper card. I like that with Walgreens, I can do as many transactions at as many sotres as I want and keep getting the same deal.
  • At least in my area, if I don't hit CVS on Sunday night, the deals are all gone. I have yet to get any good deals at any CVS around here because the shelves are scraped clean when I get there. At Walgreens, the good deals are usually still there on Tuesdays or even later in the week.
Anyway, back to Kristen's question, the first trip to Walgreens is really the most confusing. Once you get some RRs in your hand, you really CAN get stuff for free and shell out very little money. On my last trip I spent only $.26 and got some high priced items, plus more RRs back. But you don't really get anything for FREE until you use the RRs you have. If you get the RRs and then don't go back to Walgreens, you didn't get a good deal at all. Walgreens has these RR programs to keep you coming back in the store.

Whenever I tally up how much I spent at a store, I calculate how much was actually out of pocket, and I note how much I got back in rewards or gift cards that I can use next time.

I hope that helps a little. It definitely is a confusing thing to write about!

1 comment:

Mandy and Jack said...

I just let a RR expire. Booooo. I don't think they last as long as ECBs.