The CVS Chain Reaction

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 11.23.45 AMIt started with Frosted Mini Wheats. It ended with laundry detergent and paper towels. It all happened so fast. Well, not really – it took a few months.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been caught up in what I like to call the “CVS Chain Reaction.” Not really caught up I suppose, but more: “taking advantage of an available and advertised system that happens to string you along.” Let me explain.

Some time ago (I’ve forgotten precisely how long) I noticed a CVS ad. Specifically: “Frosted Mini Wheats = 3 for $7.” I happen to like Frosted Mini Wheats and that seemed like a reasonable price, 3 for $7 = 1 for $2.33. Oh and the deal had an additional feature: “buy 3 get $2 in “Extra Bucks.” So it was really “3 for $5” or 1 for $1.67. Now I wasn’t certain what “Extra Bucks” were, but I like any bucks, so extra ones sounded fine to me. Plus, I had a $1 coupon to boot.

So I go into CVS, grab three boxes and present my $1 coupon. I pay $6 out of pocket and get a nifty receipt with stats like a baseball card. The “retail price” for those three boxes was $14.07. Yikes. I guess some people out there pay that, but not me. The sale price was $7. My out of pocket was $6. Then the receipt also had $2 in “extra bucks” along with a $1 CVS coupon for cereal. Of course the catch is that you don’t get those “extra” two dollars until you buy something else. Like I said, they string you along.

So, never having thought about purchasing anything from CVS, what was I to buy? Why, more Frosted Mini Wheats of course. This time was even better. 3 for $7, another $1 coupon, a $1 CVS coupon and $2 in extra bucks = $3 out of pocket. I get another receipt, same cool stats, and the same $2 in extra bucks.

Having fulfilled my cereal quota for the quarter, I now have $2 to spend on other stuff. Each week I strategically plan an item or couple of items to “buy.” Sometimes they are free, sometimes it’s just a dollar or two – but in each instance additional “extra bucks” accompany the purchase. And so the chain goes on and on – each time buying an item with extra bucks that gives me more extra bucks. It’s a vicious cycle.

Eventually I get tired of this sequence (14 separate purchases) and decide to buy some, wait for it and then gasp, non-“extra buck” items. It started with Frosted Mini Wheats, it ended with laundry detergent and paper towels.

Here’s a list of items that I gathered through the “CVS Chain Reaction”:

8 boxes of Frosted Mini Wheats

3 liters of mouthwash

7 tubes of toothpaste

3 bottles of body wash

2 deodorants

2 shampoos

3 liquid soaps

4 cans of soup

3 large bottles of laundry detergents

1 roll of paper towels

In total I collected 36 items. How much do you think they cost and / or would have cost? Go ahead, take a guess. I don’t know if what follows will be impressive or not, but its fun to guess anyway.

Here’s the punch line:

Retail Price = $156.44

Sale Price = $99.87

Out of Pocket = $34.35

Some people out there paid $156.44 for the same 36 items that I happened to accumulate. Perhaps not literally the exact same shopping list, but nonetheless full price for the items described above. For the thrifty among us, taking advantage of sale prices, those items would have only cost $100 or so. For me, it came out to just $34.35 – less than $1 per item. A feat that would have been, in my opinion, impressive for just one of those items much less 36 of them.

Personally I would have settled for a $1 box of Frosted Mini Wheats and been on my way, but they insisted.

7 thoughts on “The CVS Chain Reaction

  • April 14, 2015 at 8:18 am

    My main question is what the heck do you do with 7 tubes of toothpaste!?! Have a different one for each day of the week? Save up for a rainy day? Enjoyed the article. Thanks for the insight and advice!

    • April 14, 2015 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks frugal gal I appreciate it!

      Although there is no definitive recommendation as to “how much toothpaste is right for you” there is a general and odd vegetable comparison: use a “pea sized” amount (granted this might be more geared towards children, my research was incomplete). Of course there is little guidance as to what exactly constitutes a “pea sized amount.” The important part is delivering a reasonable amount of fluoride, such that you actively fight the bad stuff but don’t accidentally ingest. It’s been suggested that 0.25 grams is roughly “pea sized” but then again many people over dispense. I would personally classify myself as an over dispenser (like ketchup, better to have too much than not enough). So let’s call it 0.5 grams. Your typical 6 oz tube is equal to 170 grams. Expressed differently, your typical tube might have 340 “servings” but be cautious not to eat it. Brushing 3 times a day is advisable, but certainly you might slip up from time to time. Call it 2.833 times per day. That means one tube equals a 4 month supply. Personally this seems a bit long, but to be honest I haven’t been keeping track. So 7 tubes of toothpaste might last 28 months (with a skeptical amount of variance included). A tube bought today would carry with it a 2017 “expiration,” although we all know that this is more of a manufacture “best buy” date and not the exact cut off of when it turns from good to bad. Regardless, a tube bought today still fits in the “best buy” date as well -whew, that was close. So to answer your question, I take solace in the idea that my toothpaste needs are more or less covered for the next two to two and a half years 🙂

      • April 15, 2015 at 6:58 am

        Outstanding response! Well said. Thanks for the laugh. 🙂 I very much enjoy your writing! Happy you are finding solace in knowing your toothpaste needs are covered. Have a great day!

  • May 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    There is no problem using toothpaste two years after the posted date, but it’s best to rotate your inventory, marking each box with the “best by” date. Beware that sometimes sales feature short dated products, especially diet soda.

    Enjoyed and will visit your site soon.

    • May 21, 2015 at 10:38 am

      Hi Andre, thanks for your comment and kind words. Noted with the shelf life. All the best!

  • Pingback: Monthly Expenses (February, 2015, Taipei, Taiwan) - Go Curry Cracker!Go Curry Cracker!

  • November 11, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Have been reading your articles on Seeking Alpha for some time and finally broke down and decided to access this website. This explains the tardy response to this blog topic.

    “Extreme Couponing” featuring Eli Inkrot. 🙂

    Everyone featured on this show has a sickness. It is called hoarding.

    I don’t know who is sicker. The people featured on this show or the people who watch this show (I don’t even know if it is still on).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *