A Spoonful of Savings Helps the Medicine Go Down

When you don’t feel well, whether it’s a random headache, a temporary infection or a chronic illness getting you down, the last thing you want is to spend more money to feel better. The good news is that there are many ways to help save money on medications. As I’ve gotten older, and accumulated more health issues, medication has become a daily routine. It can eat up a lot of your budget if you’re not careful. Here are some ways to control the costs.

Save Money on Medications

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications

OTC medications are those that you can buy without a prescription. They include pain relievers, allergy medicine, cold & flu remedies, cough treatments, and first aid products.

Read the Label

When you’re buying OTC medicines, always read the labels to find out what the active ingredients are and how much are included. This will let you compare prices on various remedies that accomplish the same thing.

Consider the Generic

Generics, or store brands, are typically less expensive than brand name products, but with the same active ingredients. Always do the math to determine which product will save you the most.

Use Coupons and Sales Circulars

Especially for medicines you keep around the house or use regularly, check out the sales circulars to stock up when the prices are good. Just don’t stock up more than you can use by the expiration date. And don’t forget to clip coupons (or use electronic coupons)…sometimes the brand name medicine with a coupon costs less than the generic.

Find the Best Source

Shop around and be aware of the best source for buying your OTC products. Sometimes the best deal is your local pharmacy, other times it may be your supermarket, consider a warehouse club (if you’re already a member), or it could be an online merchant. But chances are the best OTC deals are at your local big-box store, such as Wal-Mart or Target.

Prescription Medications

When the doctor has written you a prescription, whether you have health insurance or not, you are likely to pay more than you would for an OTC medicine. Sometimes it’s a one-time prescription, such as an antibiotic to cure an infection, but other times it is a maintenance medication used for a chronic condition. Obviously maintenance medications have a greater opportunity for savings since you purchase them over and over.

Consider the Generic

Unless your doctor has specified the brand-name medicine only, you may have the opportunity to take a generic drug after the patent for the brand name drug has expired. These medications are chemically identical but at a much lower cost. To find out if there is a generic equivalent for your medication, consult your pharmacist or check Drugs@FDA.

Check Manufacturers’ Programs

If there is no generic available for your medication, look on the manufacturer’s website (or check RxAssist) to see if there are any assistance or co-pay programs. For expensive medications, the manufacturer will often contribute to reduce your co-pay, or in the case of government-insured patients, offer a limited amount of medication for free, such as one month’s dosage.

Know Your Formulary

If you have health insurance, knowing which drugs are in your insurer’s formulary (or list of approved medications) can save you money. While most insurers will allow an out-of-formulary drug to be covered at the doctor’s request, you will likely pay a premium for such medications.

Compare Prices

Unlike OTC medicines sitting out on the shelf with a price sticker, prescription medication prices can be difficult to compare. Use sites like GoodRx or RxPriceQuotes (or an app such as GoodRx) to find out which pharmacies offer the best prices. You may even want to compare online pharmacies, but just be sure they are VIPPS accredited.

Split Pills

With certain medications, you can safely split pills in half to save money. How does this save you money? When you take a lower dosage (let’s say 10 mg) of your medication, which is also available in a higher dosage (let’s say 20 mg), there is generally little difference in the price of the two dosages. So by buying 20 mg pills and splitting them in half, you save roughly half the cost of your prescription. However, not all medications can be safely split, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist to see if this is an option.

Find a Cheaper Medication

Sometimes the doctor would like you to try the newest and greatest innovation to treat your condition, without realizing how much it will cost. In these cases, ask the doctor if alternatives are available. An older medication may sufficiently treat your condition without emptying your wallet.

Ask for Samples

When you are starting a new medication, always ask the doctor if they have samples available for you to try. It is a waste of money to buy a month’s prescription only to find out after a week that the medicine doesn’t work for you or causes unbearable side effects. By trying the samples first, you don’t need to spend your money until you’re confident that you’ve found the right medication.

Check for Benefits

If you find your prescription medication costs overwhelming, check for benefits which may help. Use NeedyMeds to find assistance programs, or if you’re a senior or disabled, look on Medicare or Social Security.

Prevention is the best medicine, so take care of your health before you need any drugs. But if you do need medication, be sure to follow these tips, and enlist the help of your doctor and pharmacist as needed.  Saving money on medications will help keep you and your budget healthy in the long run.

Image courtesy of amenic181 at freedigitalphotos.net (with changes)


  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    Gary, I always compare prices of medications (branded vs generics). Based on experience, I always ask the personnel which OTC products are good and find myself getting the middle price in the range of choices. They say that some generic med may not work in some people. Luckily, all generic meds I bought and took have worked. Thanks for the tips Gary.

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