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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Start Saving Part 5: Shopping at CVS

In this Start Saving series, I'm trying to share some of my experiences and advice with people who are new to the couponing world. If you missed the first four parts of this series, you can catch up HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
CVS was such a mystery to me for so long. I've had my CVS Extra Care Card for years, and I used to get the Extra Care Bucks for picking up prescriptions. But I'd just spend them the next time I was in to pick up a prescription. I'd pick up something I needed anyhow and pay part or all of it with the Extra Care Bucks. Then they were gone until the next round of printing.

Now I view these little slips as so much more than something I should rush to spend. They are my ticket to getting health & beauty items and household items free or almost free. But how?

Let's walk step-by-step through the goldmine of CVS together.

Step 1: Get a CVS Extra Care Card.
You can get an Extra Care card by applying on the CVS website (HERE) or at your local CVS store. I recommend getting your card at your local store, because you can use it immediately. This Extra Care card is your ticket to getting rewards for certain items you buy. Without the card, you don't get the rewards.

CVS rewards come in the form of Extra Care Bucks (ECBs). These coupons print at the bottom of your store receipt, and they can be spent like cash at CVS. ECBs are earned when you purchase specific items. We'll talk more about how to earn these later.

Step 2: Register your Extra Care Card online.
You can register your card at the CVS website (HERE) to get extra coupons and deals via email. I've found that they email coupons every other week. I also haven't gotten spammed from signing up for this program online.

Step 3: Check the weekly sale ad.
Each week you will see items that are advertised as ECB-generators. For example, this week's CVS ad shows that you can buy Garnier Fructis shampoo for $2.99. When you buy this shampoo, you will receive $2.00 in ECBs at the bottom of your receipt. You can spend that $2.00 on anything in the store (except gift cards, prescriptions, and a few other restricted items).

Step 4: Pair coupons with ECB-generators.
If you're a coupon-clipper, you have a better chance of getting items free or almost-free at CVS. If I buy the Garnier shampoo for $2.99 this week, I'll use the $1.00 off coupon that I have for this item. I will pay $1.99 for the shampoo, and I'll get $2.00 ECBs back.

Step 5: Roll your ECBs.
To sweeten your ECB-generating deals, you'll want to "roll" your ECBs. That means that you pay for items with last week's ECBs. In the Garnier example, I would get the $2.99 shampoo, use my $1 coupon, and end up with a total of $1.99 when I check out. Rather than paying for this out-of-pocket, I would pay with $2-worth of ECBs from last week. That means that I wouldn't pay anything (or maybe just tax) out-of-pocket for the shampoo, and I'd get my $2 ECBs back. I get my shampoo without much cost.

Step 6: Pair ECB deals with CVS store coupons.
As you check out at CVS or sign up for their email alerts, you'll start receiving CVS store coupons. Sometimes these are similar to manufacturers' coupons, and they are good for a certain amount off of a specific product. The beauty of these coupons is that you can pair them with manufacturers' coupons.

If I had a Garnier $1 off CVS store coupon, I could use it along with my $1 off manufacturer's coupon. That means that I would get the $2.99 shampoo, use my $1 CVS store coupon, use my $1 manufacturer's coupon, and end up with a total of 99 cents when I check out. I would still get the $2 ECBs back. Technically I would have "earned" $1.01 on this transaction! (I don't get actual cash, but I can spend the ECBs like cash at CVS!)

CVS also offers dollar off your order coupons from time-to-time. Some of the ones you'll most likely see are $3 off any $15 purchase or $5 off any $30 purchase. These will print at the bottom of your receipt, and they will come via email. These are like GOLD! Use them wisely!

Let's use a $4 off any $20 purchase coupon as our example. To use this wisely, you'll need to find $20-worth of merchandise that you need. (Remember, you may not need it right now... You may need the items in the future.) This $20 total is BEFORE coupons! For example, this week you might buy the following items:
1 Garnier Fructis shampoo for $2.99
2 All laundry detergents for $7.49 (They're buy-one-get-one-free this week.)
2 Crest Cavity toothpaste for $1.99 each ($3.98)
2 Lady Speedstick deodorants for $6.00

Your subtotal would be $20.46.
You would immediately hand the cashier your $4 off any $20 purchase coupon, bringing your total down to $16.46.

Now it's time to hand over your manufacturers' coupons. Here's what you may have from recent newspaper inserts:
- $1.00 Garnier shampoo coupon
- $1.00 All coupons x 2 (Use 2 when you have a buy-1-get-1 deal.)
- $0.75 Crest toothpaste coupons x 2
- $.075 Speedstick coupons x 2
You have used a total of $6.00 in manufacturers' coupons, bringing your total down to $10.46.

When you pay, you will find several ECBs at the bottom of your receipt. They are:
$2.00 from Garnier shampoo
$2.00 from the 2 Crest toothpastes
$3.00 from the Speedstick deodorants

You would pay $10.46 out-of-pocket and get back $7.00 in ECBs to spend on your next trip.

These deals are much harder to put together if you're a novice CVSer, especially if the store is out of an item that was on your planned list. So, start small and build up to these bigger deals. As you gain confidence, you will be amazed at the scenarios that you build.

Once you have ECBs to "roll," you will be able to continue to buy other ECB-generating items for free!

Miscellaneous CVS Information
  • When CVS runs a buy-1-get-1-free sale, you can use two coupons. You are purchasing two items, and the store will be reimbursed for both coupons.
  • If the store is out of a specific item, even an ECB-generator, you can request a rain check. Not only will you lock in the sale price, but you will also get the ECBs when you use the rain check. Just make sure that the cashier notes both the price and the ECBs on the rain check.
  • CVS does accept Internet printable coupons.
  • Not all CVS stores are created equally. My local CVS is a very small store, and they often do not have the items listed in the sale ad. I can drive 10-15 more miles and get to another store that does carry those items.
  • The CVS store coupons that print at the bottom of your receipt do not expire on the date printed on the coupon. CVS will accept them up to 90 days past the expiration date. I have a separate file in my coupon book just for these CVS coupons.
  • You can earn CVS gift cards by transferring prescriptions to CVS. If you can find a competitor's coupon for a free gift card with a transferred prescription, take it to CVS and have them transfer one of your prescriptions. Keep doing this until all of your prescriptions are housed at CVS. I usually use the $25 Rite Aid coupons for this.
  • You earn quarterly ECBs when you make purchases or when you get prescriptions filled. ALWAYS have the cashier/pharmacist scan your card. You get 2% back on your regular store purchases, and you get $1 back for every 2 prescriptions you pick up. These add up and are printed at the end of your receipt at the end of each quarter.

If you have CVS tips to share or questions to ask, feel free! And stop back tomorrow when I'll be talking about buying brand name items versus buying generics.


Dene said...

You know, I've always been asked for this card, and I never knew where the savings would come in. I have never even looked at the bottom of the receipt! I guess there's no way to go back and reclaim those lost savings without the receipts, is there?

Thanks for this tip- I'll be using these in the future!

Jennifer said...

Dene - I don't know of any way to do this. They tell you to keep the ECBs as you would cash, kind of like a gift card. But you'll have the opportunity every week to earn more!

Anonymous said...

I used 5/$1 ip coupons for 5 twelve packs of coke and they accepted

Natasha said...

Hello! I've just found your blog. Thank you for the information in this post!
I was wondering, what do I do if the cashier/manager is unfamiliar with some of these policies? The reason I'm asking is because I've tried to use 2 coupons on a buy one get one deal, and was told that wasn't allowed. I was pretty sure they were wrong, but didn't know how to (politely) prove that to them. Any suggestions?
Thanks again!

Jennifer said...

Natasha - GREAT question! I've had some trouble with this at my local Rite Aid, so I emailed corporate and asked for a copy of their coupon policy. I asked specifically about buy 1, get 1 deals. They answered saying that you get them both free. I did the same for CVS and got the same answer. So I recommend emailing them, printing the answer (which comes pretty quickly), and carrying it with you when you shop. That should end the discussion with the cashier/manager! If it doesn't, leave without doing the deal. Call the corporate office, and ask them to straighten it out for you. Being calm and being armed with information will get you far!

Natasha said...

Thanks so much! I'll try that. And thank you for responding so quickly!

moochyschwag said...

Hi. Thanks for your posts. Where are you located? I'm asking because I noticed that some CVS deals are based on region and some I've gotten from blogs don't apply on the East Coast. Also, what do you mean by CVS doesn't accept internet coupons? Do you mean manufacturer's coupons (e.g. They have printable store coupon's on their website. They do accept those in store, yes? Will CVS take a Buy one get one free coupon on a buy one get one free sale item? If you have a BOGO coupon on a BOGO item AND a $1/1 coupon, will they take both? What will happen to the overage?

Jennifer said...

I'm located in Ohio, so I'm assuming that our ads should be fairly similar. I belive that CA is the only state with a different ad.

I'm not quite sure about your question about CVS not accepting coupons. They do accept coupons, including their own store coupons, Internet printables, and manufacturers' coupons from the newspaper and magazines. They do have printable coupons on their site, but not all of them are store coupons. If the bar code begins with the number 5, then the coupon is a manufacturers' coupon. Those cannot be paired with other coupons for the same item. However, if it's a store coupon, then you can use it in conjunction with a manufacturer's coupon.

CVS will take a BOGO coupon with a BOGO sale, essentially making the item free. I highly recommend emailing CVS customer service via their website to get clarification on this policy. That way, you can print the email reply and carry it with you when you shop your local CVS store. Somehow a message from corporate carries more weight!

If you have a BOGO coupon and a BOGO sale, I don't think you can use an additional $1 off coupon with those. I think the only time you can use the BOGO and the $1 off together is when the item is not already on a BOGO sale in-store. You'll have to talk with your store manager about this one, as I'm sure that can vary from store to store too.

moochyschwag said...

Hi. Thanks for a quick reply. I emailed them. I was asking about internet coupons because in your post above it says "CVS does accept Internet printable coupons."