Spending smart

By The Associated Press

Advice abounds from supermarket-shopping gurus on cheaper ways to fill your refrigerator and pantry with food, but less talked about is how to get better value when filling your medicine cabinet with pricey medications and personal care items.

Pain relievers, allergy medications, toothpaste, contact lens solution — a lot of money is tied up inside your bathroom cabinets. An American family of four spends an average of $424 a year on drugs, $143 on medical supplies, and $769 on personal care products and services, according to the U.S. government’s Consumer Expenditure Survey.

Here are a few ways to save.

– Coupons. Even if you hate clipping coupons for food, you might consider using them for medicine cabinet items. Of 1,677 usable coupons during a recent week in a certain ZIP code, 221 were for over-the-counter medications alone, said Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com, which advises subscribers on the best use of coupons.

– Buy before you need: The best overall advice for stocking the medicine cabinet is to buy items before you need them and are forced to pay full price. Many products go on sale regularly and can be had for free or nearly free. They include deodorant, toothpaste, disposable razors, ointments, cough drops, pain relievers and first-aid supplies. And when you find a deal, stock up.

“If you’re stocking your medicine cabinet and your goal is to buy before you need it, I wouldn’t settle for anything less than 70 percent off the regular price because there are so many great deals and you can just wait,” Gault said.

– Where to buy: Supermarkets often have sale items for the medicine cabinet, while warehouse clubs are likely to have generally low prices anytime, albeit with less variety. For store brands specifically, warehouse clubs usually win, Gault said. But the big winner overall is usually chain drugstores. Major drugstore chains, such as Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid have loyalty rewards programs that lead to big savings.

“Almost every week there’s something free for your medicine cabinet at these drugstores — if not three or four things,” Gault said. For example, CVS recently had the allergy medication Zyrtec on sale for $5.99, with $5.99 back in ExtraBucks Rewards, the in-store rebate that can be used on any subsequent purchase. That essentially makes it free. Add a $2 printable coupon from Zyrtec’s website, and you’ll pay $3.99 to get back $5.99 in rewards that you can spend on anything in the store, said Jill Cataldo, a coupon expert and blogger at JillCataldo.com.

The example features the concept of “stacking” coupons with sales for big savings. And with drugstores, you can stack coupons and sales with loyalty rewards as well. Walgreens recently had a special on St. Joseph aspirin, charging $2 and giving back $2 in Register Rewards, making it free.

Cataldo said savvy coupon shoppers love those deals. “It is rare to pay anything for pain relievers like aspirin, Tylenol and Excedrin after the combination of a coupon and loyalty deal at the pharmacies,” she said.

Deal stacking at drugstores also might be your best bet for personal care items, such as shampoo, soap, deodorant and body wash. And when buying razors, you’re likely to find that deals on a package of a razor plus blades costs less than blades alone because coupons usually apply to the razor, Cataldo said. “While getting new razors over and over may not be the environmental thing to do, it is the economical thing to do,” she said.

– Prescription drugs: Foremost, you want to listen to your doctor and pharmacist about prescription drugs. But you have ways to save money. For example, you can ask your doctor about whether a less expensive drug would be just as effective, or maybe even an over-the-counter medication. Those on health plans can sometimes buy regular prescriptions in bulk by mail at significant savings.

– Pill splitting: Another way to save is to buy prescription medications at double strength and split the pill in half, taking half a pill to get the correct dosage. Often the price of medication is the same regardless of dosage. So, you end up paying half-price. A plastic pill-splitting tool can make the task easier. However, some pills cannot be split, including time-release drugs and capsules. For the record, the AMA generally supports pill splitting. It encourages manufacturers to score tablets to make them easier to cut properly. Consumer Reports has a guide to pill-splitting: http://www.tinyurl.com/crpillsplit.

Read more: There are plenty of ways to save when stocking medicine cabinet – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/health/s_787654.html#ixzz1q8FsMPC7