CVS 101

If you’re serious about cutting your grocery bill, you’ll want to take advantage of the weekly freebies and cheapies available at CVS.  Once you become familiar with the store, you should be able to get all your shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrushes, body wash, deodorant, razors and cosmetic items for just pennies on the dollar – virtually eliminating them from your budget!  Here’s how:
Get yourself an Extra Care Card HERE. I got mine at the register, filled out a quick form and got my card to use on that very visit! The card is free, and is necessary for taking advantage of advertised sale prices and earning Extra Care Bucks (ECB’s).
What are ECBs? ECBs = Extra Care Bucks. These are earned by purchasing certain products during a promotional period. Some promotions last a week and others last for the entire month. They will print on your receipt immediately after the necessary purchase is made. These can be used “like cash” on most items sold at CVS. Be careful with your ECBs. If they are lost or destroyed CVS may not be willing to reset them and even if you do get lucky, they will come back as one large ECB (which can be difficult to roll). The register tape CVS uses can turn completely black if left in the heat, making your ECBs unusable.
Be sure to hand your card to the cashier before ringing up your transaction.  You’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases which are paid quarterly in the form of ECBs that print at the end of your receipt (shown above).  You’ll also earn $1 ECB for every two prescriptions filled in-store or online.

Each week, the sale ad will specify certain purchases that will earn you more ECBs.  This is how you’re able to get items for free, cheap or sometimes even make a profit!  In the example above, select Colgate toothpaste is offered for $3.79 with a $3.79 ECB.  There is also a $1/1 manufacturer’s coupon available!  Keep in mind that ECBs are like getting your money back in store credit, so you’ll pay $2.79 after coupon and get a $3.79 ECB.  Voila!  Free toothpaste and a profit!

Think of your ECBs as you would store credit, with just a few exclusions.  You can use them on your next in-store purchase, and you can even use them to purchase items that will produce more ECB’s.  We couponers call that “rolling”. You can also “roll” ECBs  in the same trip but you will have to have the cashier ring up separate transactions. I won’t do this several of times if there are people in line behind me or if the store seems busy while I’m there. If the store is relatively empty (like early in the morning) the cashier won’t mind in most cases. If you pass a CVS say on your way home from work everyday, you could always pop in more than once a week to roll your ECBs ….that will save you special trips and gas!  😉

Things to Remember:
  • Be sure to read the fine print for purchase limits.  In the Colgate deal above, each Extra Care Card is only able to do this deal twice.  If you try to do it a third time, the ECB won’t print.
  • You’ll also want to keep an eye on the expiration date on your ECBs.  They generally expire 4 weeks from print date and if you don’t use it, in most cases you lose it!
  • ECBs are not considered “store coupons”.  Since CVS allows one store coupon and one manufacturer’s coupon per item, you may use the two in combination with an ECB if you have it.
  • Use as many ECBs as you like in one transaction. Just remember that if your pre-tax purchase is lower than your ECB face value, you will forfeit the extra.  So it’s a good idea to get your transaction amount as close to your ECB value as possible.
In the above deal, you can get a $5 ECB when you spend $15 on Maybelline cosmetics.  Since this particular deal says “any Maybelline” keep your eye out for clearance items!  The $15 is calculated before coupons, and can be done over multiple transactions.  So if you buy $5 worth today, you have until the end of the sale period to purchase another $10 and get your ECB.  Check the bottom of your receipt for details on how close you are to reaching it.

The CVS Magic Coupon Machine…

Be sure to scan your Extra Care Card at the coupon machine each time you visit. You’ll get store coupons that can be combined with manufacturer’s coupons and sometimes even used on travel sizes!  We call these CRT’s – short for cash register tape.  Here’s what they look like:
Keep Your Eyes Peeled!
CVS often has “advertised sale prices” that are higher than regular prices in other stores.  Remember, just because it is listed in the sale flyer does not mean its a bargain!

A few tips:

  • Make sure you always give them a $$/off $$$ (like the $4 off $20) coupon first before manufacturers coupons. In the example above had I used the manufacturers coupons first the total would have been less 20 dollars.
  • Always have a list of exactly what is free, sometimes it is very specific items and you want to make sure you are getting the right things.
  • If you are using a $4 off $20 or type of coupon like that make sure you have a few backup plans to hit your $20 in case your CVS is out of something.
  • Take in a calculator to help you quickly add up your total to make sure you are going to have the right amount for you ECB’s to cover it.
  • You need to always make sure that what you are buying is equal to your ECB’s or a little more (pennies). You can pay for $4 worth of items with $5 in ECB but you are losing money that way and don’t really want to do that. So find some filler items that you like, $1 disposable razors, a pack of gum… lots of options.

Examples of a recent trip:

6 General Mills Cereals at 3 for $10
Total $20

Use $4 off $20
Use 3 -$1.00/2 Manufacturers coupons

Total Due $13 before tax
I paid with an 11 dollar ECB and it printed $10 ECB afterwards

Total I paid $2 for 6 boxes of cereal!!! That’s 0.33 cents a box!!

Common questions:

Isn’t CVS really over-priced? How can shopping there ever be a deal?
Yes, CVS is over-priced on a lot of items. The key to making CVSing a deal is to combine coupons and ECBs. If you do this successfully then after some initial OOP (out of pocket) expense you will be able to start buying some things you want and more toothpaste then you’ll ever need for very little money.What is rolling ECBs? Rolling ECBs means using the ECBs you have already earned to buy items that will give you more ECBs. The purpose of this is to make sure you always have ECBs to spend at CVS so you will spend less “real” money OOP.

There’s a promotion that says I need to buy $20 of xxx to earn an ECB, is that before or after coupons?
Before coupons.

Do I have to finish a promotion in one transaction?
Not usually. The ad should mention it if you have to complete the promotion in one transaction.

How do I use my ECBs?
ECBs cannot be used to pay for prescriptions, gift cards, tobacco products, alcohol, stamps, and milk. Most of these are really YMMV (your mileage may vary). Please ask at your store if you are allowed to buy these items before attempting it. Many CVSers have successfully purchased milk, stamps, and alcohol with ECBs. Be aware that any of these items could be prohibited, depending on the individual store’s policies.

How many ECBs can I use per transaction?
As many as you want. However, the register will usually stop accepting them if they will make your subtotal (pre-tax total) negative.
If store coupons pay the tax associated with them in your state then be aware that a $1 ECB is actually worth $1 + tax if you have at least a dollar’s worth of taxable items. For example: my $1 ECB would actually take $1.07 off my total.

What are quarterly ECBs?
These are earned based on the amount you actually spent (OOP) at CVS and from prescriptions you’ve had filled. You will get back 2% of what you actually spent and a $1 ECB for every 2 prescriptions you have filled online or in store. This does not include the ECBs and coupons you use. If you get a gift card (or possibly stamps) your total amount spent in that quarter will decrease.
For example, if you spent:
00-24.99 dollars ……………………….. you get $0.00 in ECBs.
25-49.99 dollars ……………………….. you get $0.50 in ECBs.
50-74.99 dollars ……………………….. you get $1.00 in ECBs.
75-99.99 dollars ……………………….. you get $1.50 in ECBs.

The quarters run from January to March, April to June, July to September and October to December. Your quarterly ECB will print on or after the first day of the month following the end of the quarter.

Can I use my ECBs on
You can only use your quarterly ECB online.

Can I use my ECBs on someone else’s card?

Can I have more than one card?
Technically no, you cannot have more than one card to your name with the same address. However, you can have a card for everyone in your household according to customer service. Some managers and other employees (incorrectly) think this is wrong, so they may question you if use multiple cards at their stores.

Can I buy something for $4 and use a $5 ECB?
You can, but you would lose money. You have to use the full amount of the ECB because you will not get money back. In this case, just grab a $1.00 filler item so you fully utilize your $5 ECB.

A Few More Notes
  • Always check the bottom of your receipt for occasional store coupons given.  These will vary based on your shopping frequency and purchase habits.  Remember, you can stack them with manufacturer’s coupons for big savings.
  • Be on the lookout for Reinventing Beauty magazine.  This is a quarterly publication found in store for $1.  It contains a number of store and manufacturer’s coupons.  Some stores even offer the coupon insert portion of the magazine for free!
  • Join the Extra Care Beauty Club and earn an extra $5 ECB with every $50 beauty purchase.  You qualifying beauty purchases are recorded with your Extra Care card.  Your purchases can be spread out over the year, and once you reach the $50 mark you’ll automatically see your bonus bucks.  You’ll also get a $3 ECB on your birthday just for being a member!
  • Ask for rainchecks.  Most of the CVS stores I frequent are famous for running out of the hot sale items, usually by Sunday afternoon.  Remember to ask for a raincheck so you can still take advantage of the deals you need!
  • Pick up a Green Bag Tag for $.99.  Each time you shop with any reusable shopping bag, have the cashier scan your tag.  You’ll earn a $1 ECB every fourth time!

Happy CVSing!

thanks to iheartcvs for some of the photos!

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