Cold and flu season: Stock your medicine cabinet for less

Though our family has already had one sneak peek, cold and flu season is about ready to really get started.

Because I would like avoid as many sick visits to the doctor as I possibly can, I decided to check out our medicine cabinet and make sure it is ready for this winter — and beyond.

What you should include in your medicine cabinet

Obviously, what you should include in your medicine cabinet depends on your needs, but here is a list to get you started. Oh, and I am not a doctor. Obviously. Read the labels. Use common sense.

  • Pain relievers/fever reducers. Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are popular items. Aspirin can’t be used for children, and ibuprofen shouldn’t be used for babies under six months old. My husband only has one kidney and, because of that, can’t take ibuprofen. So your family could be like mine. To cover Mr. One-Kidney, a four-month-old, a seven-year-old, and an 11-year-old, we have a motley selection of all three. A digital thermometer is a must-have tool, too.
  • Decongestants. Congestion is my least favorite part of a cold. If I’m feeling well enough, I bust out my best Elvis: I’m all stuffed up, uh huh, yeah, yeah. I’m all stuffed up. Decongestants work by constricting blood vessels inside the nose and decreasing swelling. Because of the risk to my husband’s remaining kidney, he has to avoid decongestants. A natural option? He uses a Neti pot (it looks like a genie’s lamp) with filtered salt water. He thinks it helps for a day, so you could try that too.

For congestion, we also use saline nasal drops. And for babies, a bulb syringe can be used to get the mucus out of the nasal passages. We use a nasal aspirator called the Nosefrida.
(For some free entertainment, read the reviews on Amazon. Hilarious stuff!)

  • Antihistamines. While there are both prescription and over-the-counter allergy medications, Benadryl is an antihistamine that can be used as a sleep aid, if needed. If you get itchy eyes associated with your allergies, eye drops may also be useful.
  • Infection control. For minor scrapes, infections, etc, you need to stock up with some of the following: gauze, Band-aids, medical tapes, antibiotic ointment, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, tweezers (for splinters), etc. At my house, even the boring Band-aids are a hot commodity. The box gets raided frequently, so sometimes I consider locking them up. But maybe it’s a small price to pay. Here’s a tip: one of my kids stepped on a nail this summer. I cleaned up the small, minor wound, covered it with gauze, and then used some medical tape. I told him to keep it clean. Ten-year-old boys in the summer don’t understand how to keep anything clean, and I was genuinely concerned that it was going to get infected. One of my friends told me the genius idea of wrapping his gauzed-up food with electrical tape. It worked so well that electrical tape is now my tape of choice.
  • Antacids. Tums and Maalox are handy to have on hand after a big Thanksgiving dinner puts too much pressure on your stomach.

Alternatives to the medicine cabinet

Don’t forget about other home remedies that may help you save. First, drinking hot fluids or eating chicken noodle soup may decrease congestion. Insect bites may lose their itch when rubbed with the cut surface of an onion. For sore throats, gargle with salt water — or drink hot tea with a bit of honey in it, which has antibacterial properties. Speaking of drinks, serve up yourself a hot toddy to treat a cough or a cold. Take the opportunity to rest.

Fill up your medicine cabinet without emptying your wallet

Buying store brand food can definitely save you money over buying name brand food. But buying generic over-the-counter (or prescription) medications versus name brand medications can save you a significant amount of cash, sometimes up to 50 percent or more.

Both medications should work equally well. However, the FDA does allow for slight variability between generic and brand name medications. For instance, one study quoted on the FDA website said that medication absorption into the body varied by about 3.5 percent between generic and brand name medications.

For prescription medications, about five million Americans are filling their prescriptions through Canadian pharmacies. And they are crossing the border for good reason: US pharmacies may charge over 50 percent more than their international counterparts. Uh, apparently, it is illegal for Americans to buy medications from international pharmacies, but usually it isn’t enforced. If that doesn’t scare you, go forth and save!

Some pharmacies also have awards programs. While I don’t save on prescriptions, I do get pharmacy cash that I can use on gauze, medical tape, and things like that.

Because I love practical gifts, I’ve often thought that a medicine kit stuffed with baby-appropriate goods would be a great gift for first-time parents. Baby clothes are cute, but they don’t help you with a middle-of-the-night fever.

In any case, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Try to be healthy in the first place: exercise, get enough sleep, decrease stress levels, eat right, wash your hands, and avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose, places where germs can easily enter your body.

What do you have in your medicine cabinet? Any other ideas to fill it cheaply?

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There are 23 comments to "Cold and flu season: Stock your medicine cabinet for less".

  1. Millionaires Giving Money says 10 November 2014 at 04:36

    Excellent list. I really think its important to have a fully stocked medicine cabinet to prevent loss of productivity. In the past I’ve gone without spending money on medicine to save money but the days lost in terms of productivity was becoming counter productive. I now have a well stocked medicine cabinet as well as supplement cabinet to keep me firing on all cylinders. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sarah says 10 November 2014 at 04:51

    I can’t believe you left out the best preventative measure one can take…get your flu shot!

    • Lisa Aberle says 10 November 2014 at 10:06

      What?! I can’t believe I forgot to mention that, especially since I have “flu” in the title.

    • Carla says 10 November 2014 at 10:33

      Not everyone can and should get the flu shot (my doctors recommend that I don’t), but it may not be a bad idea for the masses.

    • Matt @ Your Living Body says 12 November 2014 at 06:39

      Getting the flu shot is debatable. Most of the research out there stating its success is research financed by pharmaceutical companies. The actual best preventative measure you can take is: hand washing. Hey, it’s also the cheapest.

      A couple of other things. Vitamin-D deficiencies run rampant during the winter season – weakening our immune system. Find time to get at least fifteen minutes of sun each day – also free.

      On the Benadryl note – it also works as an anti-emetic – most people think it works only for allergies but give it a try next time you’re feeling nauseous.

      • Ace says 12 November 2014 at 08:26

        “most research is financed by pharmaceutical companies” — The same could be said of nearly all research proving the efficacy of any drug. That’s because drug companies are required to foot the bill for researching, developing, and proving the effectiveness of their own drugs before they can obtain FDA approval. Who else do you think will pay for it? You have been reading too many conspiracy articles on Facebook.

        The better question would be to ask if the studies showing the effectiveness of the flu shot stand up to scientific scrutiny. Third-party peer review consistently says they do. However, because of the nature of the flu virus, the rate at which it mutates, and the number of strains floating around out there, the effectiveness of the vaccine in any given person is typically only around 60%. See:

  3. Mr. Frugalwoods says 10 November 2014 at 05:03

    Costco is the cheapest we’ve found for OTC drugs. Even assuming we will lose half of the package due to eventual spoilage (check those expiration dates) we still come out way ahead of buying them at normal drug stores.

    Anytime you need to buy any OTC drug at a CVS or Walgreens, you’re going to get ripped off.

    • lmoot says 10 November 2014 at 06:27

      “Anytime you need to buy any OTC drug at a CVS or Walgreens, you’re going to get ripped off.”

      Not necessarily. Drug stores frequently have buy one, get one deals (often because they don’t have the room to hold large inventory). I’m a CostCo shopper, but I’ve never seen deals on their med drugs/ supplies that beat the BOGO deals.

      • Mike says 10 November 2014 at 08:48

        I have gotten so much stuff free or they have paid me to buy it at CVS its ridiculous. I bought 2 bottles of foundation $24 worth for $2 yesterday. I had 6 coupons for 2 items. You have to know how to stack multiple store coupons, with the manufacturer coupons and then get extra buck coupons for you next purchases. For ex: the sent a $5 off $15 and 20% in the same week, which you can combine. Plus I had another generic $3 extrabuck they had sent me and another $5 extrabuck I had earned the week before plus 2 $4 manufacture coupons. After the sale I earned $5 extrabucks for my next purchase as advertised plus I belong to the Beauty club and for every $50 (amount prior to coupons, i.e. $24) you purchase you get another $5 extrabucks, mind you extrabucks are like cash and can be used on anything in store, no min. purchase, except for a couple things like rx, giftcards, etc..

        That being said most people, if they don’t use the sales are better off shopping at walmart or warehouse stores. because they will save money. My wife used to spend $50 every 2 weeks at CVS, now I spend about $150 a year for all of our cosmetics, household goods, personal care items, most of which is free. I have about 20 years worth of free razors..

  4. Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says 10 November 2014 at 07:28

    We keep the bare minimum in our medicine cabinet now, a pain reliever and maybe a couple ointments. Usually there’s a bottle of opened cold and flu medicine. I find if I stock up then things expire without us using them. We’ve been lucky that our two year old has never been sick, so we’ve never had to buy the baby versions of stuff.

  5. RLS says 10 November 2014 at 08:36

    . . . and don’t forget your flu shot. It’s so very important.

  6. Sherry says 10 November 2014 at 08:46

    A couple of notes here – the broad statement that aspirin can’t be used by kids needs a qualifier: kids with a VIRAL infection shouldn’t use aspirin because of the potential for Reyes Syndrome. Aspirin in children’s strength has been used safely for other complaints for decades.

    Another note – the Vicks thing works on the soles of the feet because they absorb anything applied to them. Doubt it? Try rubbing a piece of garlic on your sole and see how long it takes before you can taste the garlic. Reflexologists and accupuncture experts know how intimately the soles of the feet relate to the rest of the body.

    And speaking of feet, next time anybody’s kid steps on a nail, consider getting them a tetanus shot. Lots of things can happen inside a puncture wound before they look as though they’re infected.

    I hate to be sour grapes, but this article doesn’t really do a lot for the community’s knowledge base – it seems super generic in some ways, personal to the author in others that may or may not relate – and makes some generalizations that are clearly “the view of the author” and (I hope) don’t get taken too literally.

    • Lisa Aberle says 10 November 2014 at 09:23

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Regarding aspirin use in kids, I have found conflicting information. The aspirin foundation ( says it’s not recommended in children under 12. The same site also says that Reyes syndrome is usually, but not always associated with a viral infection and aspirin usage. Another site said aspirin should only be given to children under the order of a physician. Yet another site ( dosing instructions without any aspirin-to-children warnings.
      I don’t have any children’s aspirin with me to actually read the label, so this is the knowledge that I have to work with.
      Tetanus is nothing to mess around with, so I’m glad you mentioned that. My son is up-to-date on his immunizations, so tetanus was less of a concern than an infection.

      • Leah says 10 November 2014 at 19:50

        Even though an infection is a worry, be sure to not use any antibiotic ointment on a puncture wound. The ointment can’t get all the way into the wound, so there’s a risk that the outside would close while an infection festers on the inside.

        With kid meds, I default to the doctor. Our pediatrician told me very clearly to only use tylenol when needed with my baby.

      • Matt @ Your Living Body says 12 November 2014 at 06:41

        You should never give Aspirin to a child under twelve – we educate all of our patients not to. Stick with ibuprofen or children’s tyelenol.

    • Ed says 11 November 2014 at 00:14

      As for rubbing garlic on your feet and assuming it is absorbed, you might *think* you’re tasting it because you’re smelling it. A great deal of taste is smell.

  7. Sam says 10 November 2014 at 11:02

    I think relying on home remedies or adopting preventive measures is the best way. Nice post !!!!

  8. Fred says 10 November 2014 at 11:50

    The first thing I make sure I have is chewable Airborne (there are similar products out there and even generic products of the major pharmacies). I take one or two at the first sign of a sore throat or a sneeze. It works for me as a great preventative.

  9. stellamarina says 10 November 2014 at 14:49

    An Aloe Vera plant in the garden or indoors in a pot for burns from the stove or sun burn…..

    A hot drink of lemon juice with water and honey….a good night toddy before going to bed when you have a cold or flu.

    • Leah says 10 November 2014 at 19:53

      Love hot water and honey! Yum. It’s also a great go-to drink for those who are pregnant/nursing and don’t want to worry about any potential reactions or issues with teas.

  10. Grace @ Apple Store in Australia says 10 November 2014 at 16:53

    You have to really prepare medicine in your cabinet not only for flue but also for other things such as wounds especially during emergencies. A medicine cabinet should has all the necessary “first aid” things.

  11. Ace says 11 November 2014 at 10:36

    If you are looking to save money on OTC drugs, ignore expiration dates. The Shelf Life Extension Program study conducted by the FDA and Department of Defense determined that so long as drugs avoid extreme temperatures while in storage, 90% of drugs retain their potency years after their expiration date–some as long as 10 years after expiration. Google it!

  12. Lesly says 20 November 2014 at 06:24

    We keep cold medicine and first aid in our bathroom cabinets. My kids are prone to getting the flu every year. We try to stay prepared because many times we had late night trips to CVS.

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