Saturday, November 19, 2011

But what if I can't play the "Drugstore Game"?

I'm going on 1 1/2 years of my adventure with coupons. Last spring, I braved the "deep end" in couponing and decided to play the "Drugstore Game". I chose Rite Aid as my drugstore of choice... We have several within a few miles: one by my church, one by the grocery store, and one by the mall. I wanted to see if shopping at a drugstore was actually worth it, so I kept an Excel sheet with the items, total OOP (out-of-pocket) spent, and value of the items if I purchased them somewhere like Walmart or Target (since the shelf price at drugstores can be ridiculous sometimes).

In a six month time period, I stockpiled name brand household & toiletry items like toilet paper, razors, toothpaste, toothbrushes, household cleaners, laundry detergent, paper goods, etc... When I reached a six month supply of items in a category (I do NOT want to be a hoarder), and if I could still get more for "free", I donated them to groups from our church working with homeless or people in need. After six months, I had spent $94.96 OOP (including our 6.5% sales tax) on 256 items valued at $914.18 (including 6.5% sales tax), making each item approximately $.37 each (since I still had to pay tax on "free" items and you can't use Rite Aid UPR on tax, my balance was never $.00). This made for a 90% savings on those items.

Was playing the "drugstore game" worth it for my family? Yes, for us it was.

But what if you can't play the drugstore game? Maybe you live in the country and don't have any drugstores around. Maybe you have small children who would not make the trips peaceful encounters. :-) Maybe your physical health doesn't allow it. Maybe your budget truly doesn't allow you to stockpile things right now, because every week pinching pennies just to get through that week. Or maybe there is nowhere in your home to "stockpile" right now.

I posted on this blog and talked to friends last spring about the deals I was getting at Rite Aid. I often heard "I wish I could do that... I wish I could get those deals... When I hear stories like that, I feel guilty that I pay too much for household/personal items..." As I talked to them, I saw something that I often got myself: "Drugstore Deal Envy" (you know what I'm talking about, those moments when get a little jealous at the amazing deals others get, but that we never come across!)

If you noticed above, I said "in a six month time period". When I found out that I was expecting our second child, and was battling pregnancy related sickness & fatigue, the "drugstore game" quickly started being put on the back burner. When Rite Aid changed some of their coupon policies in June, I decided it was my time to "cash-out" (bought items eligible for check rebates and used my UPR to buy them, so I got cash back at the end of the "game") and quit.

For our family personally, the "drugstore game" was for a season. I might be able to enter that game again sometime, but right now I have other things I need to focus on: cuddling with my precious little newborn girl. Reading books with my toddler son. Washing laundry. Meal plan & grocery shop. Preparing healthy snacks & meals for my family. Listening to my husband after a long day at work and encouraging him in what he's doing. Call my family that lives out of state. Take a shower (moms, you know how vital this is, but how hard it can be to have time to do it without kids hanging on you!).

Have I felt guilty about using our stockpile? No, very grateful that those items are there. Have I felt guilty about not replenishing it, as well as having to pay much more for items only a year ago I could get for "free"? Yes, I have. Do I get jealous when I hear about great deals online or from friends? Mmm-hmm. Sure do. Do I wish I could still do it? Yep, sure would!

Here's the thing: I'm learning in my many adventures as a wife, mom, & couponer that I have to focus on what I CAN do, not what I CAN'T. Here are some of the things I CAN do right now to save our family money, so that we can live within our monthly cash budget, stay debt-free, have fun, and have money to give to others in need:

- Meal plan, so I buy only the things on my list when I grocery shop
- Watch sale flyers to know who has the best price, then price-match at our local Walmart to save myself from making so many different trips
- Shop for my grocery basics at Aldi's (a small local chain store that primarily carries produce and generic pantry items)
- Still get one Sunday newspaper and clip coupons for items I need to buy ($.50 is $.50)
- Follow other money-saving bloggers for the heads-up on fantastic deals for my family or great printable coupons that are available (again, I don't have time to check my email/Facebook all day long, so I don't get as many amazing deals, but I still get some of them)
- Plan at-home family fun nights that reduce our expenses (rent a Redbox, make a frozen pizza, or just have a "pajama & play" night with our toddler)
- Trade babysitting with friends so my husband & I have an occasional date night

So if you've been feeling guilty for not getting in "the drugstore game", DON'T. Your husband, kiddos, or job (or all of them!) need you as least stressed-out as possible. And if taking the guilt off your shoulders from not playing the "Drugstore Game" lightens your mental stress any, do it. You can find other creative ways to save money and live well. I've been learning that. Maybe at some point in the future when you start having a few hours of wiggle room in your week, you can try it out. I definitely recommend it. But not at the expense of my family's or your family's sanity!

You can do what you CAN do. And don't fall prey the the "Drugstore Game" or "Deals" envy that has captured me at points during this last year!

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