How to Save on Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medication

You can save money on prescription drugs by asking for samples, buying generic, and signing up for discount programs.
generic prescription drugs

If you take medication on a regular basis, then you know the costs can be steep. But if you're willing to put in a little research, you can usually save on both over-the-counter and prescription drugs — the savings on prescription drugs in particular can be dramatic.

So if you're looking to cut your monthly health care costs, here's our best advice for saving on medication.

Always Buy Generic Drugs

While they don't come with fancy packaging or big advertising campaigns, generic drugs have the same active ingredients as their name-brand counterparts. Before generics can get FDA approval, drug companies must prove they work just as well as name-brand medications. The only difference is the price you'll pay.

A 30-day supply of the common cholesterol drug Lipitor could cost less than $10 if you buy generic — and as much as $500 if you opt for brand-name pills.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Buying generic is pretty straightforward when you're looking at over-the-counter (OTC) medication. You can find what you're looking for on your pharmacy or grocery store shelves by simply searching for the plain-packaged alternatives to branded drugs. Check the active ingredients to be sure they match what you're looking for, then walk away with your savings.

Prescription Drugs

Start by asking your doctor to prescribe the generic version of your medication. If a generic isn't available, there may be an alternative drug or therapy you could try — you won't know without talking to your doctor! Just don't expect doctors to discuss specific pricing with you; they won't know a given medication's price.

If you have insurance, familiarize yourself with your drug coverage before you go into the doctor's office. Many plans only cover specific medications and have tiers of pricing that depend on the drug. Making sure you find a medication that's both covered and sitting on the lowest tier — typically a generic — will help you save. If you don't have insurance, generic drugs can save you even more. For example, a 30-day supply of the common cholesterol drug Lipitor could cost less than $10 if you buy generic — and as much as $500 if you opt for brand-name pills.

Woman shopping for over-the-counter drugs

It Pays to Shop Around for Medication

While you're probably used to checking prices on OTC meds, you may not realize that the cost for prescription medications can also vary depending on which pharmacy you go to.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Though you may only find minor savings, checking the prices of your OTC meds at different pharmacies could save you a few dollars — and that savings will add up over time.

Prescription Drugs

Even if you have health insurance, shopping around could find you a lower price than your usual prescription copay. If you don't have health insurance, shopping around can save you a lot of cash.

Start by checking GoodRX, which lists the cash prices for prescription drugs at local pharmacies. Using generic Lipitor as an example again, you could pay as little as $8 or as much as $150 for a 30-day supply — it pays to pick the right pharmacy. We found that Walmart offers some of the best deals, with prices as low as $4 for a 30-day supply of some medications. One caveat: The drug has to be on this list — our example of generic Lipitor doesn't make the cut, sadly. Still, you'll find a number of common drugs at common dosages.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You CAN Shop Around and Haggle for Medical Procedures

Price-checking similar medications can also save you a bundle. For example, the most common dose of Lipitor is 40mg — and as we mentioned earlier, buying a generic 30-day supply can cost as little as $8 at some pharmacies. However, if you get 80mg pills and split them in half, you can get a 90-day supply for as little as $12. Definitely check with your doctor to find out if your pills can be split before trying this. (You'll need to get a prescription for the new dosage, too.) Another way to save? Avoid combined medications, which are more likely to be name brand. Sometimes taking two medicines is actually cheaper than taking one.

However, doing the research is on you; even your pharmacist may not be able to tell you what your cheapest options are.

prescription drug coupons

Look for Coupons and Discount Programs

As with any other shopping trip, you should always be on the lookout for discounts when buying medicine.

Over-the-Counter Medication

While clipping coupons isn't likely to save you a ton, buying OTC medication when there's a deal can save you a few dollars.

Prescription Drugs

It's extremely common for brand-name drugs to offer rebates or discount programs to help you afford them. Going back to our example of Lipitor, Pfizer offers a discount card that lets you get a 30-day supply for as little as $4 if you have health insurance, or $30 if you don't.

Check out the websites of drug companies to see if they offer any discounts. Pfizer, for example, offers a discount card that'll cut your medication costs.

Your doctor may be able to directly recommend programs like these. Even if they can't help, it's worth looking up drug companies online to see if they offer discounts on your meds. Your pharmacy may also have an in-house discount program; it doesn't hurt to ask. Low-income patients may be eligible for their own discounts. Search RxAssist to see if there are any discounts you qualify for.

Shipped prescription drugs

Buy Your Medicine in Bulk

You can keep most medications for up to a year after the expiration date has lapsed. We're not suggesting you buy drugs in the kind of quantities that would leave you worried about expiration dates, but you'll definitely save money if you can buy in bulk.

Over-the-Counter Medication

When you buy more pills, your cost per pill typically drops. If there's a medication you know you'll use an entire bottle of, then definitely grab the bigger bottle. This strategy especially pays off when combined with shopping for generics. Grabbing a massive bottle of acetaminophen is going to be a lot cheaper than getting a jumbo pack of Tylenol.

Prescription Drugs

Some insurance companies will give you a discount when you opt for a 90-day supply of medication instead of a 30-day supply. Check with your plan to find out what's offered. Be aware that some insurers — not to mention some laws — place strict dispersal limits on certain medications. You're extremely unlikely to be able to legally purchase narcotic pain relief medications in bulk, for example.

SEE ALSO: 7 Ways You Can Prepare for Unexpected Medical Expenses

Even if you don't have insurance, buying in bulk can still save you money. For example, the Walmart pharmacy deal we mentioned earlier charges as little as $4 for a 30-day supply of some medications, but charges as little as $10 for a 90-day supply. This tip may not save you much, but having a few extra dollars in your pocket every month never hurts.

Ask for Samples

This tip solely applies to prescription drugs. Often, your doctor will have samples of medications on hand — especially new medications. Be sure to ask for a few before you leave the office. If they have any samples of your meds around, you might be able to get a week or so of doses at no cost!

Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I agree with Costco. I have insurance, but had to replace 30 lost pills, and Costco beat Walgreen's by $120.00.
Another source of less expensive meds is There is no cost to use their free service, and sometimes they have coupons for prescriptions that are actually cheaper than your insurance coverage for the same medication. This is particularly helpful if you don't have insurance or are in your deductable.
Most mail order companies have their own app. You can price a medication and look for alternatives. While log in you'll be told which is Tier 1 and which require prior authorization (extra paperwork) according to your coverage. I just did that with my provider and we decided on a generic is appropriate for me and cost only $2-3 for 90 days. The app would save you a phone call and you can price check all you want.

You can get a price quote from an insurance company for prescriptions or any medical procedure PRIOR to it ever being written up/called in by the provider as long as you have the correct info for them to look up. I work in insurance and people can call to get a price on a medication down to the quantity and at which pharmacy. Many people with HSA/FSA et.. polices do this to find out what medication will cost before buying and may even ask for the prices at different pharmacies due to different contracted rates that apply to their deductibles.

If you have a copay policy (Uncommon and expensive these days), it's based on a tier level and it's a flat rate copay and as above can easily be told to a member over the phone of an insurance policy

There are a few grey areas like ancillary charges

It sounds like you've had some bad experiences in the past
OK, most of these don't actually work.

ALL doctors default to using generics, unless one simply is not available. The doctor has to specifically sign a line to prevent one from getting generic.

Secondly, NOBODY can tell you what a prescription will cost until it is actually prepared. Seriously! There are so many insurance plans, deductables, copays and crap that you will simply not be able to get any kind of straight answer unless you are not even using insurance.

If you aren't using insurance, at LEAST use those med-card doodads which offer discounts many times. You can use websites to look up prices for given med-cards for a particular medication. But even THOSE are not guaranteed! They literally can not tell you what the price will be until it is prepared and rang up.

It is a really crappy system and pretty much the ONLY such system where you have no idea what the cost is until checkout. But unfortunately there is not a whole lot you can do about it most of the time.
You left out Costco , which in many states has to provide access regardless of if you have a membership or not~Some locations even have a separate entrance for non-members that leads directly into the pharmacy. Call your local store to check before heading out.