Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stacking 'em up

Visit any couponing site, and one of the main points you're sure to see made is the importance of "stacking" sales with coupons. The idea is this: all manufacturer coupons, and many store coupons, are for name-brand items, which are generally way more expensive than store brands. Thus, a coupon for a full-priced item, even if doubled, is unlikely to reduce its price to the point where it's cheaper than a store brand. However, sales on name-brand items can often reduce their price to this point. If you wait for such a sale before applying the coupon, you'll maximize your savings. And the biggest savings are gained with taller stacks—e.g., a sale plus a manufacturer coupon plus a store coupon plus a rebate. It's like putting your Q on a Double Letter square in Scrabble, and then getting the whole word to hit a Triple Word bonus.

I don't achieve this kind of stack often (in shopping or in Scrabble), so I always feel a certain glee when I can pull it off. I managed it earlier this week at the drugstore, and I thought I'd share my joy with you—and in the process, provide a handy illustration of how "stacking" works.

This stack was an unusual one because it actually involved a store-brand product. Name-brand Prevacid capsules (which I take as a maintenance drug) costs $28.99 for a six-week supply, while the store-brand equivalent costs only $22.99. So choosing the store brand saved me $6, or 26 percent, right off the bat.

I also used my Wellness Plus card. This gives me a point for every dollar I spend at Rite Aid in a given year, and once I reach 250 points, I get 10 percent off all Rite Aid store brands for the rest of that year. I hit the 250-point mark last month, so the card took an additional $2.30 off my purchase, reducing the price to $20.69. Total savings: 29 percent.

The particular box I bought had a $3 peel-off coupon that could be applied at the register, knocking the price down to $17.69. Total savings: 39 percent.

Finally, I applied a $3 UP reward from an earlier purchase. UP Register Rewards are part of the Wellness Plus program: when you buy certain products, your receipt includes a reward that can be applied as a discount toward a future purchase. (Some people like to count savings from UP rewards when they get them, but the way I see it, you haven't actually saved the money until you've spent the reward—especially since an UP reward that isn't used within a month will expire and become worthless. So I count these savings whenever I use them.) Final price: $14.69. Total savings: 49 percent.

Now, if I'd been shopping at the grocery store, these savings wouldn't have been enough to celebrate over. Brian and I actually play a game when we shop supermarket sales, in which we compare our "savings" at the bottom of the receipt (the total amount taken off via sales and coupons) with the amount we spent, and if the savings are greater, that means we "won." But at the drugstore, it's rare for me to get more than 10 or 20 percent savings, so a "stack" that gets me to nearly 50 percent is enough to send me out the door with a big, smug smile on my face.
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