Does this scenario sound familiar? You need something in a hurry — whether it’s aspirin, a phone charger or lipstick — so you run to the nearest drugstore and grab what you need, plus a dozen or so extra items you didn’t intend to buy: candy, soda, air freshener, pens, a magazine, toys and so on.
Don’t feel bad if you’re guilty of drugstore impulse buys. In fact, some of these purchases are actually good deals at stores such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. However, there are some items you should avoid when shopping at both stores. Keep reading to learn how to become a savvier shopper.
Last updated: Nov. 23, 2020
10 Best Drugstore Deals
Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens are probably top-of-mind when it comes to convenience. You can run in and fill a small bin with necessities in a matter of minutes — a major bonus when you’re trying to keep shopping trips short and sweet during the pandemic.
And believe it or not, sometimes convenience and rock-bottom prices go together. Check out these 10 examples.
Contrary to what you might think, CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are great places to grab that great American staple: milk. A price comparison between CVS and a large supermarket showed CVS milk price to be competitive, according to consumer reporter Jeanette Pavini.
Why the deals? “Shop Smart, Save More” author Teri Gault said it’s because milk is a traffic driver for prescriptions and other pricier items. Who knew drugstores can help you save money on your groceries?
2. Beauty Products
Drugstores might not be as attractive as salons and department stores, but the prices on makeup, skin care products, nail polish and more sure are. Gault said if you play your coupons right at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, you can get products at 67% off or more.
3. Toothpaste and Deodorant
If you thought you had to buy cases of these things at warehouse stores to save money, think again. Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS are good places to stay smiling and odor-free, Gault said.
“My pantry is full of brand names on these, all for $1 or less, and even free on deodorant,” she said. “Toothpastes are all no more than 50 cents or free. All were bought on great sales with coupons and sometimes in-store rebates as well.”
4. Laundry Detergent
Sense a theme here? Yep, Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS can help you keep your clothes cleaner and whiter for cheaper, too. Gault said when laundry detergent goes on sale with in-store coupons or rebates, it’s time to stock up.
“Drugstore laundry detergent deals beat club stores prices and any other game in town, except for some supermarket deals,” she said. “I buy it all in advance of running out, which I call ‘investing.'”
5. Brand-Name Razors
Do you prefer brand-name products — razors in particular? CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid might be a good place to help shave your budget, said Regina Conway, consumer expert for SlickDeals.net.
“Wait for coupons, but CVS regularly features 20% off deals,” she said.
Watch for ExtraBucks rewards, too. A recent promotion on shaving products offered a $10 reward shoppers could use toward a future CVS purchase.
6. Flu Shot
Not only can getting a flu shot save a ton of money on medication, doctor visits and time off work, but getting one at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid could save you on store items, too. In most states, CVS is giving a coupon worth $5 off a $20 purchase when you get a flu shot. Rite Aid has a similar promotion.
Getting a flu shot is especially important this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The shots are free with most insurance.
7. Holiday Candy and Snacks
We all know that the best time to buy bagged candy is right after a holiday, such as the day after Easter or the day after Halloween. But you could score a sweet deal pre-holiday at CVS or Rite Aid, Conway said.
CVS and Rite Aid both advertised steep discounts in mid-November. Taking advantage of such sales could save you 25% to 50% on Christmas candy.
8. Brand-Name Body Wash
If there’s no sale going on, you might find brand-name body washes cheaper at Walmart or Target. But if you can, hold out for the CVS or Rite Aid markdowns, Conway said. “Set a deal alert with Slickdeals, or download the CVS or Rite Aid apps,” she advised.
9. Groceries and Pantry Items
You probably don’t think of a drugstore as the place to buy your everyday groceries such as cereal, sugar, flour, crackers and cake mix. But Gault said you might want to consider CVS or Rite Aid. To get customers into the store, they often run specials on a variety of grocery items.
“The best deals on groceries at drugstores usually coincide with a store coupon found in the circular,” she said. “Stock up on two to five different grocery deals weekly, and your pantry will be full.”
Check Out: How to Save Money on Other Monthly Expenses
10. Paper Towels
When it’s time to clean up, CVS has your back, said Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com. “Paper towels are typically found at a low price at CVS, and their store brand is highly rated in quality,” he said.
Just be aware that paper towels might be in short supply due to the pandemic — and stores might limit the number of packages you can purchase.
10 Worst Drugstore Deals
Now for the not-so-good news: There are some items you might want to avoid buying at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. In these 10 cases, the convenience of a quick stop might cost you.
1. Dairy Products (Other Than Milk)
Remember this: Milk, good — other dairy products, bad. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but Gault suggested you might want to remember it when shopping at CVS or Rite Aid.
“In the dairy case, there are other items like yogurt, cheese and sour cream. But unless they are on sale, you’ll want to pass on those,” she said.
2. Generic Prescription Drugs
A GOBankingRates search for several generic prescription drug prices on GoodRx.com found that CVS and Rite Aid consistently ranked as more expensive than supermarket and big-box pharmacies. “If you are prescribed ongoing medications, comparison shopping can make a huge difference in your budget,” Conway advised.
3. Small Appliances
Don’t expect to snag a deal on coffee makers, irons, toasters or any other small appliance at the convenient CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid, Conway said.
“Barring an outfit emergency — such as a wrinkled tuxedo before your wedding — stay away from small appliance purchases at these stores,” she advised. “The best time to make any small appliance purchase is around Black Friday at merchants such as Walmart and Target.”
While we’re on the subject, you might as well stay away from most things tech, said Lindsay Sakraida, former director of content marketing at DealNews.com.
“Any electronics sold at a drugstore are going to either be overpriced or extremely low quality,” she said. “Replacement cables and cords might be convenient, but if you can wait a few days for delivery, you’re more likely to find a better deal online for these items.”
5. Pet Supplies, Toys and Treats
If you want Fido healthy and happy, CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid might not be your best bet. According to Gault, you can find better deals at Target and club stores.
6. Soft Drinks
The everyday prices of soda at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are higher than those at supermarkets, Gault said. “And supermarkets run big soda deals regularly.”
She said if you’re looking for a drink deal at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid, your best bets are cans or bottles of green tea or other specialty teas.
7. As Seen on TV Items
It’s tempting to buy those As Seen on TV items that you saw, well, on TV. But Sakraida advised against it.
“It’s common for drugstores to sell As Seen on TV items, but these are usually sold at retail price,” she said. “Amazon is more likely to offer a slight discount on such items.”
8. Cleaning Supplies
Avoid CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid when it comes to buying cleaning supplies (except for paper towels, of course).
“Unless they’re on sale with a coupon, the prices for cleaning supplies are usually quite a bit higher than supermarket prices,” Gault said. “Plus, supermarkets regularly have super great sales, coupons and even instant rebates and other deal stacking on cleaning supplies.”
That said, you might have a better shot at finding cleaners at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid than at the supermarket — if you can beat pandemic bulk shoppers to freshly stocked store shelves.
Everything from food storage containers to wastebaskets are best passed up at CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, the experts said.
“If you’re in a bind and have nowhere else to turn, perhaps you can take the chance,” Sakraida said. But, you’re more likely to find a good deal on these items at stores such as Target and Walmart, she added.
“Trash cans and storage bins are handy to pick up at a drugstore as you’re passing through,” acknowledged Gault, “but these items cost less at hardware stores and discount stores.”
10. Holiday Decor
If you’re in a festive mood for the holiday season, don’t let Rite Aid, Walgreens and CVS bring you down.
“Unless it’s after-holiday clearance at the drugstore, which is fantastic, there is a markup over discount stores,” Gault said.
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.