Saturday, August 29, 2009

CVS Intro - You can make it work for you!

If you are interested in getting the most bang for your buck, one of the best stores to shop at is CVS. If you’ve never played the “drugstore game” before, you might be thinking, “Really? But their prices are so inflated on everything!” Well, in many instances, that’s true. However, they also have promotional programs that often net you free products, and when you use coupons, you can often make a profit! Read on to find out more about how to take advantage of all the wonderful deals to be had at CVS…

The Extra Care Bucks Program
One of the reasons CVS is such a great place for bargain shopping is their Extra Care Bucks (ECB) program. ECB are coupons that print on your receipt tape after you pay. I like to think of them as “CVS money.” These coupons have no minimum purchase requirement, and they can be used on almost anything in the store. They do exclude things like alcohol, stamps, prescriptions, lottery tickets, and gift cards, but they can be used on pretty much any general merchandise, including toiletries, OTC medicine, household supplies, and groceries.

Each week, CVS offers ECB rewards on a number of items, and there are usually at least 1-2 things that automatically give you back the full purchase price in ECB’s, making the item “free” after ECB. Each ECB deal has a limit listed in the ad, usually somewhere between 1 and 5; this is the number of times you can do each deal per Extra Care account. For example, in the picture above, composition books are on sale for $.99, with a $.99 ECB, limit 2. If you buy 2, you will pay $1.98 and get back $1.98 in ECB. You can buy 3 or more if you want, but you will still get only $1.98 in ECB, unless you have multiple Extra Care cards. (Note: You must use a CVS Extra Care loyalty card to get any ECB; they will not print unless a card has been scanned. If you do not have a CVS card, you can get one at your local store or on the CVS website.)

Now, after you have your ECB in hand, what I do NOT recommend is turning around and immediately using those ECB to buy other random things. I have found that one of the keys to maximizing savings at CVS is to “roll” your ECB. This means that you use your ECB to buy other things that generate ECB, then use those ECB to buy other things that generate ECB – over and over and over again. I use ECB and coupons to pay for as much of each transaction as possible, usually aiming to pay less than a dollar out of pocket each time, and get back approximately the same amount (or more) as I spent. If you don’t “roll” your ECB, you’ll end up paying out of pocket with real money (not CVS money) each time, and your overall expenses will ultimately be quite a bit higher. I spent between $20-$30 on my first major CVS trip in June 2007 and have been paying mostly with my ECB ever since. I almost never pay more than $2 of “real” money.

Over time, deals on pretty much everything will cycle around at some point. Out of my initial investment at CVS, I have netted countless cleaning supplies, almost any toiletry item imaginable, household supplies like paper towels and batteries, and groceries, especially cereal and milk. If you are truly going to make the most of this program, it may require a slight shift in mindset. It may mean buying certain things at a time when you don’t really need them – I buy them anyway because there will be a time when I DO need it, and I would rather buy it when it’s free than pay full price for it later.

Using Coupons at CVS
As you saw above, it is often possible to use the CVS Extra Care program to get things for free. When you use coupons along with this program, you will see your savings multiply even more. For example, a couple weeks ago, Revlon Mineral Mousse make-up was $9.99, with a $9.99 ECB reward (= “free”). A few weeks before that, there was a manufacturer coupon in the Sunday paper for $1 off Revlon. So, with the coupon, it cost $8.99, you get back $9.99, and you make a $1 profit.

In addition to manufacturer coupons, there are also CVS store coupons. CVS store coupons are available from a few different sources, such as magazines, tearpads, and flyers found in the store. Most of mine come from the in-store scanner, which prints coupons when you scan your CVS card. Not all stores have these scanners, but they often give some pretty good coupons, so take a look around your store and see if you can find one. CVS corporate policy allows one CVS store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item. For example, when I bought the Revlon a couple weeks ago, I also had a store coupon for $2 off any cosmetics. I used both the store coupon and the manufacturer coupon, for a total of $3 off; I paid $6.99 (in CVS money) plus tax (in real money) and got back $9.99 (also in CVS money), for a $3 CVS-money profit.

Some of the best CVS store coupons are for $4 off a $20 purchase, $5 off a $25 purchase, or something similar. These are great coupons to have! The minimum purchase requirement is before coupons, so if you have a “$4 off $20” and you are already planning to get about $20 worth (pre-coupon value) of products, this coupon basically gives you an extra $4 to spend on anything else you need right then. I usually use it to buy groceries or things we use that don’t go on sale very often.

What if something is out of stock?
Stock for particularly good deals at CVS sometimes disappears quickly. If you find empty shelves at the store, ask for a raincheck. CVS corporate policy is to provide rainchecks for all regularly stocked merchandise (unfortunately, if it’s a seasonal item, you may just be out of luck). The cashier will write the raincheck for the purchase price, and will also write in any ECB that you are owed. When you redeem the raincheck, hand it over at the beginning of the transaction, and they will price adjust the item when they ring it up. Pay like normal, and they will manually print your ECB after you pay.

What if my ECB don’t print? In my experience, ECB almost always print, but there is the occasional instance where the system was not programmed correctly or I accidentally picked up the wrong item or something. If this happens, first make sure that you did in fact get the correct item. If you did, the cashier should be able to manually print the ECB for you, using the 8-digit event code listed in the ad.

Variable Policies
Some policies do vary from store to store. For example, some CVS stores accept expired manufacturer coupons; mine does not, but they DO accept expired CVS store coupons. Check with your store's manager if you have questions.


  1. Thanks for explaining this. I have wanted to try the CVS ECB but didn't really know how to jump in.

  2. Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad it's helpful :) Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.