Stick to the basics and buy generic
Everyone has a home pharmacy or medicine cabinet: a drawer or cupboard or box where they stash all their over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription medications.
Bathrooms are the worst place to store medicine. The above-average temperatures and moisture cause drugs to break down faster.
My home pharmacy is a small basin in a kitchen cupboard. I purposefully chose a small container so I wouldn’t buy more products than I need, and I have to clean it out on a regular basis.
Over the years I’ve pared my home pharmacy down to a handful of basic over-the-counter products, and I almost always buy the least expensive generic brand.
I don’t always opt for the largest bottle or tube (Costco!), even though that gives the best cost per unit. Most drugs lose strength over time. If I only use a product a few times a year, such as an antihistamine, mega-sized containers lead to waste.
That’s not very frugal.
Anyway, here’s my list of what I think are the few essentials every home pharmacy should have.
Basic over-the-counter products
For pain and/or fever:
- an NSAID (aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen)
For non-inflammatory pain, such as a tension headache, I prefer acetaminophen. NSAIDs are a good choice for inflammation, such as arthritis, a sprained ankle or menstrual cramps.
All of these treat fever.
Related post: Save money on over-the-counter pain relievers
For oral pain, such as a canker sore, I keep a small tube of Orajel.
For stomach and intestinal problems:
- anti-diarrheal ( bismuth subsalicylate, loperamide)
- antacid (aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide)
- stool softener (docusate sodium)
Generic Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) is a good choice to treat mild diarrhea. It’s also a weak antacid for indigestion. Aluminum and magnesium hydroxides, such as Maalox or Mylanta, are stronger antacids.
I prefer liquids to chewable tablets. They coat the stomach and get to work more quickly.
Related post: Home remedies for heartburn
Docusate sodium (generic Dulcolax or Colace) is very gentle and fine for occasional constipation. Read the label and avoid laxatives or stimulants unless you really need something stronger.
- hydrocortisone cream
- ketofin eye drops
I keep both diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and loratadine (Claritin). Benadryl is stronger, but makes me very drowsy. I use it for more severe allergic reactions. Loratadine is non-drowsy and I use it for seasonal allergies.
A small tube of 1% hydrocortisone cream can last a long time. It works well for skin rashes caused by allergies.
Ketofin is an antihistamine for the eyes. My eyes are very sensitive to dust and pollen, so this is a must for me!
Related post: Home remedies for allergy eyes
For fungal infections:
- antifungal cream
Rashes caused by fungal infections, such as ringworm or athlete’s foot, are better treated with an antifungal cream (you can use the hydrocortisone cream, too). There are several varieties of antifungal creams, but it doesn’t matter which one you pick as long as it works. If one doesn’t, try another.
Related post: Choosing an antifungal cream
I also have a selection of bandaids, gauze pads and other first aid supplies. But I’ll talk about these in another post.
What I don’t buy
As you can see, I don’t have many products in my home pharmacy.
I no longer buy over-the-counter medications to treat colds or coughs. Decongestants work by drying out your sinus passages and I think they just make things worse. They also dry out my eyes and throat.
Cough medicines without codeine really don’t work. I find sucking on a hard candy or pectin throat lozenge more effective.
I also don’t waste my money on antibiotic ointments. Most minor cuts and scrapes don’t need an antibiotic; they just need to be rinsed with water until clean. The antibiotics in the ointment are very weak. The petrolatum base helps protect the wound and keep it moist, but plain old Vaseline will work just as well for a fraction of the cost.
Most people don’t need strong antacids for occasional heartburn, such as the PPIs (Nexium and Prevacid) or the H2 blockers (Pepcid, Tagamet and Zantac). Check with your health care provider before buying one of these.
Take time to clean out your medicine cabinet or home pharmacy. Put everything on a table. Read the labels and expiration dates. Safely dispose of old products. Then restock with the few medicines you need and use.
If you have children, include infant or child strengths.
Over-the-counter drugs are expensive and the marketing is aggressive. It’s surprising how much money can be wasted on a product that is used once or twice and then thrown into the back of a cabinet or drawer.
Shop smart and save your money.