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14 Things You Should Avoid Buying at the Drugstore

Updated: Apr. 04, 2024

Picking up lots of your basic needs at the drugstore may seem convenient, but don't be fooled. Here are some things you should never buy at the drugstore—and where to shop instead.

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Shopping smart

Drugstores like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens are convenient one-stop shops for a lot of basic needs—and there are plenty of things that you should always buy at drugstores. But there are plenty of other things that can actually cost a little (or a lot!) more dough if you buy them at drugstores. Other things tend to be lower quality at drugstores, meaning you’ll probably be springing for a new one sooner than you could be. Here are the things you should skip on your next drugstore outing—and ideas for where to get them instead.

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Piles of diapers
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They’re the most commonly purchased item of any parent of a young child, which is why it’s important to save on diapers. But the drugstore should not be your place to buy them. An analysis on the diaper industry and its varying prices by Pocket Your Dollars found that Walgreens charged more than Costco, Target, Amazon, and Diapers.com in all categories.

Where to buy instead: Basically, buying your diapers anywhere else is the better option—buy them from Amazon here. Find out some other things you should always buy on Amazon.

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jugs of milk in a store refrigerator
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Milk is something that runs out quickly in any household—and restocking at the drugstore while picking up a prescription seems like a simple solution. Turns out, the answer is more complicated than that. In 2009, drugstore giant CVS was found to be selling expired milk, along with past-due eggs and baby formula, too, according to Consumerist. While the company has since ensured the freshness of its dairy products, there’s no definitive answer on whether it’s actually more cost-effective to buy milk at drugstores as opposed to grocery stores.

Where to buy instead: Milk prices vary across the country, as do discounts at both types of stores. But if you don’t have the time or energy to compare prices, grocery stores like Target are probably your best bet.

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close up pills spilling out of an orange prescription bottle
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Prescription drugs

Yes, this is the most obvious thing to buy at a drugstore, but it might be a bit of a misnomer in that there are better places to buy them!

Where to buy instead: You can get prescription drugs for less at big-box stores like Costco or Walmart, according to Consumer Reports. “Big-box stores such as Costco and Walmart use the pharmacy as a traffic builder for their stores, whereas traditional chain stores, such as CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens, make the majority of their revenue and profits from the pharmacy,” Stephen W. Schondelmeyer, PhD, PharmD, said. Check out these things you should always buy at big-box stores.

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Vitamins and supplements

OTC stuff may not be the best to buy at the drugstore, either: Consumer Reports also found that vitamins offered both at the drugstore chain Rite Aid as well as at various dollar stores had subpar supplements on shelves.

Where to buy instead: The consumer group recommends going with a store or retailer you know and trust, like GNC.

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rolls of toilet paper

Toilet paper

You’re much better off picking up your toilet paper in bulk, according to research from the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Most drugstore branded toilet paper was more expensive than other brands available in bulk sizes,” reports GHI.

Where to buy instead: Costco and Sam’s Club are obviously the go-to places for bulk purchases. Don’t want to pay for a membership for one of those popular bulk shopping centers? Both Costco and Sam’s Club allow non-members to shop online! Here’s how to shop at Costco without a membership.

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Beach chairs

When the Today show took a look at what you should buy at warehouse stores such as Costco and BJ’s, they also discovered what was important to never buy at drugstores, like beach chairs. While they may be cheaper at drugstores, the quality and lifespan will be lower, ultimately resulting in a quicker need to replace them altogether.

Where to buy instead: Spring for a beach chair from a store like Target instead. Check out the things you should always buy at Target.

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Overhead view of lipsticks
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Beauty stores like Sephora and Ulta are much pricier than the drugstore, so you’ll want to steer clear of both. The only exception is if you are a member of your preferred drugstore’s reward program; you can earn cash back for buying makeup, which can make it a better deal in the long run. For example, with Walgreens’ Beauty Enthusiast program, you earn $5 for every $50 spent on beauty products, exclusive coupons, and sneak peeks at new products.

Where to buy instead: In general, you can do better at warehouse stores. A price comparison test from Clark.com found that mascara was an average of $2 cheaper per tube at a big-box store versus a drugstore. Or, of course, you can opt for a tried-and-true spot like Target.

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Barbecuing is one of the most essential parts of summer, but don’t pay the drugstore tariff on your briquets, recommends Today.

Where to buy instead: Since you’ll go through a sizable amount, you’ll get more bang for your buck—and make fewer trips to the store—if you buy charcoal in bulk elsewhere, like at Sam’s Club.

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Chocolate and almond dipped white and dark popsicles, overhead view over a marble background

Frozen foods

The frozen section at the drugstore is enticing when temperatures rise, but the experts at Today say that when purchasing ice cream or frozen apps for your next party, you’re far better off doing so in bulk.

Where to buy instead: Sam’s Club has some great options. And if you’re looking for frozen treats in the summer, you may find prices are marked up even higher.

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Transparent brown Bottles for Shampoo or Conditioner
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Surprisingly, the drugstore has some of the highest prices you’ll see for hair products like shampoo and conditioner, especially CVS.

Where to buy instead: You’re likely to find a pretty good, inexpensive selection of hair products at Walmart. If you like to buy shampoo and conditioner together, Amazon has some good bundle deals as well.

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Gift cards in burgundy envelopes with blue bows among other gifts
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Gift cards

If you think you’re stuck paying what you have to pay for gift cards—after all, you choose the amount!—think again! In fact, there’s really no need for you to pay full price for gift cards at all.

Where to buy instead: Costco offers discounts of 20 to 25 percent on almost all of their gift cards. (The only caveat is that you usually have to buy more than one at a time to get a deal.) Learn more about the awesome perk of buying gift cards at Costco.

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Greeting cards

You’re pretty much guaranteed to find an entire aisle of greeting cards at stores like CVS and Walgreens. But just because they’re a staple of drugstores doesn’t mean that that’s where you should buy them. While they might be a little nicer and sparklier than cards you can find at the dollar store, is it really worth it?

Where to buy instead: We think Dollar Tree’s selection of greeting cards, where some are a dollar and some are two for a dollar, is totally up to scratch. You can also card-shop at TJ Maxx and Marshalls, where you can usually find higher-end cards for under $2. (Just keep in mind that you should probably make these trips well in advance of an upcoming holiday to have the best selection.) These are more things you should always buy at the dollar store.

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Full Frame Shot Of Animal Toys For Sale At Market
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A CVS or a Walgreens isn’t going to have either the quality or the selection of toys that you’ll find at an actual toy store!

Where to buy instead: Toys R Us has had a rocky go of it, but they’re still a one-stop-shop for all of your toy needs. (Speaking of, here’s what happened to the famous NYC Toys R Us ferris wheel.) Plus, Target has a solid toy section too.

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Cleaning products

Again, it’s just a simple matter of price here! The higher-end prices on cleaning products that you’ll see at drugstores can totally be beat at other places.

Where to buy instead: You’ll likely be able to find brand-name cleaning products at Walmart, saving you a good amount of money in the long run. Next, check out the 14 things you should never buy at the dollar store.