19 products to buy at CVS - and 19 more you should buy somewhere else

CVSAP Images / Steven Senne

  • CVS Health currently operates 10,000 pharmacies.
  • At CVS, customers can refill prescriptions and buy snacks, cleaning supplies, personal care items, and more.
  • The popular drugstore has amazing deals on some items, while other products are worth skipping.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

CVS is one of the most popular drugstores and pharmacies in America.

And with nearly 10,000 locations in the US, chances are you've passed a CVS recently.

While CVS can be a quick and convenient place to shop for basic health products and food, this convenience can come with a price. Though CVS offers great deals and even more savings for their 62 million ExtraCare members, it's not the best place to shop for every necessity. In fact, many products that are a quick and easy grab from CVS can be found for cheaper at other drugstores, supermarkets, or large retailers like Walmart or Target.

With that in mind, here are 19 products to buy at CVS - and 19 more you should buy elsewhere.

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Buy: Laundry detergent

Buy: Laundry detergent

CVS has frequent sales on major laundry detergent brands, so make sure to take advantage of them. By combining ExtraCare rewards points with a coupon, the Krazy Coupon Lady bought a 40-ounce bottle of OxiClean for only $0.99.

Skip: Salon hair products

Skip: Salon hair products

Buying hair-care products at CVS or other drugstores may not get you the best bargain. In fact, they may be fueling a gray-market industry that sells counterfeit, stolen, or expired goods. This is known as diversion, and diverted products are typically more expensive and less effective than the bona fide product. Sources have even reported the presence of bacteria in diverted professional hair products.

To be safe, buy your hair products and professional shampoo at a salon. It may be at a higher price, but many salons' anti-diversion policies protect against the gray market so you'll know what you're buying is authentic.

Buy: Deodorant

Buy: Deodorant

CVS offers great deals on deodorant, too. With the right coupons and the right timing, deodorant brand names are typically bought for $1 or less and can even be free while shopping at CVS.

Skip: Toilet paper

Skip: Toilet paper

If you're down to your last roll, consider restocking at Walmart instead of CVS. A Clark.com price comparison found 12 rolls of Scott 1,000 toilet paper at CVS to be more expensive than the prices at Walgreens, Walmart, and Dollar General.

Buy: CVS Health-brand pain medications

Buy: CVS Health-brand pain medications

Ibuprofen is ibuprofen regardless of the brand it was manufactured by. CVS Health is an exclusive brand of CVS Pharmacy that aims to help you and your family "get well and be well" for a smaller price than other brand names.

In a side-by-side comparison of Acetaminophen, the CVS Health brand cost only 14.3 cents per tablet while Tylenol brand costs almost twice as much at 26.2 cents per tablet.

Skip: Advil

Skip: Advil

If you prefer to buy brand-name medications like Advil however, avoid buying at CVS. Karen Bennett, a Cheat Sheet money and career author, compared the prices of over-the-counter medications at CVS and Walgreens and found that Walgreens was a clear winner in most categories.

Buy: Milk

Buy: Milk

While CVS may not be the first retailer to come to mind for perishable goods, it's a great place to stop and shop for milk.

"When we compared the price of milk at CVS to our local, large grocery store, it was $2.20 cheaper," a Coupons.com savings expert told HuffPost. This is because milk is a traffic driver for prescription medication and other pricier items.

Skip: Yogurt and cheese

Skip: Yogurt and cheese

When it comes to dairy products other than milk, however, savings experts say they are best to avoid buying at CVS. They're usually much more expensive and only available in select brands. You'll most likely get a better bargain at your local grocery store.

Buy: Makeup

Buy: Makeup

The makeup section of CVS may not be as attractive as the ones in other beauty stores, but the price tag sure is. According to Teri Gault, The Grocery Game CEO and national savings expert, combining your ExtraCare card and coupons at the right time can get you 67% or more off your favorite makeup products at CVS.

Skip: Bottled water

Skip: Bottled water

Bottled water isn't a great purchase at CVS either. Supermarkets and warehouse stores sell bottled water for much cheaper and usually stock more brands.

Buy: Toothpaste

Buy: Toothpaste

There's no reason to stock up on toothpaste at warehouse stores to get the best bang for your buck. According to Mary Potter Kenyon, author of "Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America's Extreme Obsession," couponing at the right time is the key to getting the best deals on toiletries and other everyday necessities like toothpaste at CVS.

Other savings experts have also claimed that "toothpastes are all no more than $0.50 or free" when "bought on great sales with coupons and sometimes in store rebates as well."

Skip: Hair styling tools

Skip: Hair styling tools

CVS has hair styling tools available for purchase, but most likely not a large variety of brands to select from. At the time of writing, CVS is currently selling only three brands of hair dryers on its website while other retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond are providing 20 or more brands to choose from.

Though CVS has a variety of different Conair hair styling tools, they are usually met with unfavorable reviews complaining of hair damage and faulty products.

Buy: Canned soup

Buy: Canned soup

As reported by the Krazy Coupon Lady, CVS usually has a few stock-up deals on Progresso and Campbell's soup each month. According to their report, Campbell's Well Yes! soup prices can dip as low as $0.25 per can.

Skip: Housewares

Skip: Housewares

Anything from stem glasses and Tupperware to cookie sheets and cooking utensils are best to avoid while shopping at CVS, the experts say.

"You're more likely to find a [better] deal on these items at stores like Target, Walmart and Sears," Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing at DealNews.com says.

Buy: Seasonal candy and snacks

Buy: Seasonal candy and snacks

The day after Halloween and Valentine's Day candy and chocolate goes on sale at most retailers. But, believe it or not, at CVS you can find a great discount on seasonal candies before the holiday due to limited shelf space.

Skip: Holiday decor

Skip: Holiday decor

Unless it's a post-holiday clearance sale, it's best to shop for holiday decor at other retailers before CVS. Discount stores like Kmart, TJMaxx, and HomeGoods are known for having great discounts on holiday decorations and a bigger selection of items to choose from.

Buy: Peanut butter

Buy: Peanut butter

CVS has your back when it comes to peanut butter. To get customers into the store, CVS often runs specials on a variety of grocery items. In a price comparison by Thekitchn.com, peanut butter was $0.30 cheaper at CVS than at Walgreens.

Skip: Soda

Skip: Soda

Soda is another item you should never buy at CVS or other drugstores, The Cheat Sheet said. This is because drugstores rarely run discounts on soft drinks while supermarkets do regularly. Even without a discount, the regular price of soda is reportedly higher at CVS than at other supermarkets.

Buy: Alcohol

Buy: Alcohol

While other beverages may not give you a good discount at CVS, the alcohol sure can. Top brands are usually on sale and customers report earning cash back on liquor purchases when using an app like Ibotta.

Skip: Planters peanuts

Skip: Planters peanuts

While it won't necessarily break the bank to pick up a jar of nuts from CVS on your way home from work once in a while, it's not a financially smart habit to fall into. A Clark.com comparison test found that Planters dry roasted peanuts were just under $2 more at CVS than at Walmart.

Buy: Gift cards

Buy: Gift cards

While you'll pay $20 for a $20 gift card just about anywhere, Dustyn Ferguson of Dime Will Tell says that buying that $20 gift card at CVS will get you rewards points for future purchases. Before your next CVS visit, check which gift cards qualify and maximize your future savings.

Skip: 'As seen on TV' items

Skip: 'As seen on TV' items

If you like an "as seen on TV" product, you're more likely to find a deal on Amazon than at CVS, Sakraida said. Although it's common for CVS to sell these items, they are almost always at retail price.

Buy: Flu shot

Buy: Flu shot

Next time you're in the market for a flu shot, consider stopping by a CVS MinuteClinic. According to the GoBankingRates, CVS offers a 20% discount off your total purchase after getting a flu shot.

Skip: Generic prescription drugs

Skip: Generic prescription drugs

Surprisingly, CVS is not the best place to purchase prescription drugs at a competitive price. In a 2013 Consumer Affairs study, CVS was found to have the highest prescription prices for all drugstores in the study.

Buy: Diapers and baby wipes

Buy: Diapers and baby wipes

In a price comparison of different drug stores in June 2019, the Krazy Coupon Lady found that CVS was the better place to buy diapers and baby wipes than at Walgreens and Rite Aid. To get the best deal, the site suggests combining sales prices, coupons, and rewards offers at CVS to save at least 60%.

Skip: Toys

Skip: Toys

According to the Cheat Sheet, the markups on toys in drugstores like CVS are high. For a larger selection, take a trip to Walmart or Target.

Buy: Kellogg's Cereal

Buy: Kellogg's Cereal

Brand-name cereals are frequently on sale at CVS. With sale prices and a coupon, it's common to score Kellogg's Cereal for $1 or less.

Skip: Batteries

Skip: Batteries

Next time you take a trip to CVS, avoid the battery section and shop elsewhere. CVS's alkaline AA batteries came in dead last among nine different brands in a test performed by Consumer Reports magazine in 2009. The Panasonic Evolta was found to have the best battery life, holding charge for more than twice as long as the CVS brand.

Buy: Razors

Buy: Razors

Combining coupons with CVS rewards points is the key to scoring great deals on razors. According to Shareably, CVS regularly features 20% off deals that save you about a $1 more per refill cartridge than at other large retailers.

Skip: Electronics

Skip: Electronics

CVS and other pharmacies tend to have a lot of electronics on display, but this doesn't necessarily mean you should buy them. According to a consumer expert, electronics at CVS are usually overpriced and of low quality. To get a good deal on electronics, try shopping online instead.

Buy: SoftSoap body wash

Buy: SoftSoap body wash

With no sale going on, brand-name body wash might be cheaper at Walmart or Target. But with a CVS markdown, brands like Softsoap are sold for as low as $1.49 for 15-ounce bottles.

Skip: Dog food and treats

Skip: Dog food and treats

Although CVS offers markdowns and even a $1 store section on certain dog foods and treats, these are best to avoid. In fact, these markdowns may mean that they're not made from the best food sources or materials. Instead, experts suggest shopping at Target, Kmart, and club stores for long-lasting and safe alternatives.

Buy: Paper towels

Buy: Paper towels

According to Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com, paper towels are typically found at a low price at CVS, and its store brand is highly rated in quality.

In fact, a Consumer Reports magazine test of 21 paper towel brands found that CVS-brand Big Quilts was one of three recommended to consumers for its ability to scrub and hold water.

Skip: Cleaning supplies

Skip: Cleaning supplies

Unlike paper towels, other cleaning supplies are usually marked higher at CVS and other drugstores. A price comparison found that a 35 count of Clorox cleaning wipes were $1.21 more at CVS than at Walmart. Unless you have a coupon, savings experts suggest using the sales, coupons, and instant rebates that supermarkets regularly run.

Buy: Tampax tampons

Buy: Tampax tampons

Tampax tampons have also been reported as a great stock-up item to purchase at CVS. Keep an eye out for coupons to combine with an ExtraBucks promotion like "spend $20, receive $5 ExtraBucks."

Skip: Small appliances

Skip: Small appliances

Coffee makers, irons or toasters are all examples of small appliances sold at CVS for your convenience. These are best to avoid buying however, Regina Conway, consumer expert for SlickDeals.net said.

"The best time to make any small appliance purchase is around Black Friday at merchants such as Walmart and Target," she said.

Buy: Gold Emblem-brand food

Buy: Gold Emblem-brand food

Gold Emblem is a "better for you" CVS-exclusive brand that is typically found on sale. It's also comparable to supermarket prices and great to combine with your ExtraCare card and other coupons.

Skip: Beach chairs

Skip: Beach chairs

According to the "Today" show, while beach chairs are often cheap at drugstores like CVS, the quality and lifespan are lacking. For a beach chair that will last long and won't need to be replaced, consider purchasing at a BJ's or Costco instead.

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