As costs rise for tuition, books and dorm-living, you'd think students would want to spend less on everything else. Think again. According to a 2010 report, the nearly 16 million college students who fill campuses this academic year will each drop about $361 more than last year in discretionary spending, including $22 to $25 a month on personal care products.
But cash-strapped students who learn to use mega-rebates at chain drugstores can stretch their dollars by scoring plenty of freebies. So they can order that extra pizza with friends, guilt-free--and without skimping on hygiene."CVS or Walgreens or Rite Aid--they're all over college campuses and across the country," explains Erin Gifford, one of Savings.com's DealPros and a savings-savvy blogger behind CouponCravings.com. Drugstore discounts abound at large chain stores like these, Gifford says, enough so that "at least once a month you can get free-after-rebate toothpaste, and you don't even need a coupon."
But it's not just toothpaste, says the blogger and working mom of four. Contact lens solution, body wash, dental floss and deodorant can be free or nearly free by shopping when the price is right. CVS customers even snagged free Phillips-brand earbuds on Black Friday.
Here's how it works, says Gifford: Find your store's advertising circular in the Sunday paper or pick up a copy in the store. Look for items labeled "free after rebate." After you buy those items, the store gives you their full value back as a cash-back rebate printed either on your receipt or a separate coupon. These rebates--CVS calls them "ExtraCare Bucks" while Walgreens calls them "Register Rewards"--work just like cash the next time you buy something at the same store. Bottom line? Instead of breaking the bank, you break even.
Savvy savers can even turn a profit, using coupons from manufacturers or other circulars to reduce the item's cost below the full value that you get back in rebate bucks. This results in what Gifford calls an "overage" (like these).
Be diligent, she recommends, since offers expire quickly. And stock up on essentials when they go on sale, rather than when you need them--even if that means filling your closet with enough shampoo for everyone in your bio class.
Gifford admits that stocking up on products "is hard when you're a college student, because you're definitely limited in the amount of space you have in your dorm or apartment." But, she adds, "If you have the space, even if it's storing the extra toothpaste under your bed, I think it would be worthwhile."
"Now that you know this," Gifford said, "you'll never buy toothpaste again."
Never Buy Toothpaste Again (and Other Freebies)