Filler, it is what it suggests: you are filling something. A filler item is simply a product that you purchase will which help you make the purchase in order to get items cheaper.
There are a few types of fillers you may hear people suggest you add to a purchase. There are a few reasons for doing this so I'll try my best to explain these in this post.
$ off $$ Coupon Filler
Many times store will publish coupons that are $4 off a $20 shopping trip. You receive this exact coupon when you register your CVS ExtraCare Card. In situations where you are trying to achieve a higher shopping order (seems contrary to saving, but it does make sense, you'll see), you are using a filler to increase your total purchase amount before coupons.
As you create your scenario(s), you find that you are just $1 – $2 short of being able to use that coupon. You will need to increase your total in order to use that $4/$20 coupon. This is where you see me, or others, suggest that you add a “filler” item to your purchase.
Here's an example of a $ off $$ coupon filler scenario:
In this example, you see that the total is $19.99 which means you cannot use the $4/$20 coupon so we need to add a filler of at least $0.01. For this filler, you want to have coupons to use on the filler items too if you can. A good one (in the past) had been the Johnson's Buddies Bars. They are always $0.99 and a $1 coupon was often out making them free. The goal is to get your total to $20 before coupons THEN use all of your coupons to reduce that total.
Since I added the Johnson's Buddies Bar on, it took my total purchase amount to $20.98 which takes me to my $20 threshold to use the coupon. After I apply all of the coupons above (including the $1/1 Johnson's Buddies Bar coupon), my total goes down to $10.98 out of pocket (OOP). That makes the Johnson's Buddies Bar FREE AND it was doing me a favor!
In this transaction, I also earned $10.99 in Extra Care Bucks (ECB's) for a future purchase. When you factor in the ECB's, all of the products are essentially FREE!
Coupons:Product Ratio Filler
Walgreens has the coupon to product ratio issue. This means that you cannot use more coupons than products you have. See more tips to shop at Walgreens here. Since the Register Rewards (RR) is considered a coupon, this could prohibit you from using a RR you just earned in order to reduce your total OOP.
Here's an example of a coupons:products coupon filler scenario:
In the above scenario, you see that my main purchase was for the Luster Toothpaste and Purex Crystal. However, that is only two products and I had three coupons to use: $1.50/1 for Luster, the $2/1 coupon for Purex and the $3 RR I just earned for the Splenda RR deal (again, a RR is considered a coupon).
Since I had three coupons and only two products I needed to add an inexpensive item that did NOT have a coupon in order to use all three coupons for this transaction. By adding the $0.39 Nestle candy filler item, I was within the coupons:product ratio that Walgreens requires. In some situations, this scenario can also potentially create overage (money due back to you) so having an item that cost a little more is important.
You might be asking, “Why didn't you purchase the Johnson's Buddies Bar as you did above?” And that's a good question. The Johnson's Buddies Bar have a coupon. I would have been in the same position I was in before adding on the filler item (with too many coupons and not enough products). The goal with this situation is to purchase the least expensive item since you cannot use another coupon. Purchasing an item that has a coupon might tempt you to use it but you certainly can make the purchase without the coupon.
You could also purchase milk, or another item from your “non-negotiables” list to actually get something you need. Many of the items on my list aren't typically on sale anyway so you may as well purchase it when it's actually helping you (helping in more than a sustenance kind of way anyway :).
This is part of why shopping smarter takes work, but also requires some strategy. These situations require some simple planning. By taking a few minutes to create a list for my purchases, I was able to save that much more!
What are some good filler items you consider during shopping? List the store too if you can.
See more specific tips to shopping smarter in the Beginner's Guide to Shopping + Saving!