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Monday, March 31, 2008

CVS: How To Save

If you're new to the blogosphere, or new to Going Frugal, you may be wondering about the amount of posts, blogs, and forums devoted to deals at CVS.

Below, I will briefly detail how targeted shopping at CVS can save you hundreds of dollars a year.

1. Find your local CVS Drugstore.

If you're unsure, check their website here; go to the "Store Locater" and enter your zipcode to find the closest CVS.

2. While you're at the CVS site, click the header tab marked "Extra Care."

The Extra Care program at CVS is their shopper card program. You apply, either here online or at the store. You'll be assigned an Extra Care account number and will receive your cards by mail if you apply online; if you apply at the store, you'll receive a wallet card and two key fob cards with the same account number on each.

Whether you receive your cards by mail or in-store, be sure to visit the Extra Care Rewards page online at CVS here to create an account linked to your Extra Care Card number and register your email address. You will receive two separate $4.00 off $20.00 purchase CVS coupon by email for doing each of these. And you will also receive other dollar off coupons and special deal coupons in the future from CVS by email.

The Extra Care program works two ways:

*By giving you instant sales prices on items that are on sale that week in-store (much like any Store Shopper Card); and,

*By allowing you to earn rewards called Extra Care Bucks (ECBs) on certain items each week (as found in the weekly ad) and each month (as found in the monthly Extra Care booklet).

ECBs are coupons generated at the point of sale when you purchase items that earn ECBs. These coupons entitle you to a certain amount of "Dollars Off" your next purchase at CVS. ECBs are in essence "CVS money" that you can use toward your next purchase to get it for less or for free.

3. Pick up a copy of the CVS Weekly Ad at the store along with a copy of the CVS Monthly ECB Deals booklet.

These are generally located right by the front entrance of the store in the newspaper rack.

(You can also view the CVS Weekly Ad here and search for the CVS Monthly ECB earning items list at Slick Deals - you can view April 2008's ECB Deals at Slick Deals here.)

Go through both the weekly ad and the monthly ad and note the products that are offering "Extra Care Rewards" back as ECBs. Many times, there are a few Free after ECB items - items that offer back the full amount of purchase as ECBs. For example, this week at CVS, you can purchase Soft Soap Spa Radiant Body Wash for $4.99 and will receive $4.99 back in ECBs.

Take note of the Free after ECB items and also the items that generate a good pecentage of the purchase price back as ECBs (ie: earn 3 ECBs on a $6.99 item - almost 50% back).

4. Make a small ECB earning purchase at CVS.

Be sure to get the best deal possible by using Sunday newspaper coupons or printable coupons. CVS will work best for you if you are diligently using coupons (which I will post about tomorrow) to reduce your total bill.

For instance, this week (March 31, 2008) you can earn $4.99 ECBs on Soft Soap Radiant Spa Body Wash. There is a coupon in the Sunday inserts for $1.50 off 1 Radiant Spa Body Wash. You would pay only $3.49 + tax for the Body Wash with the coupon, but would earn back $4.99 to use in the future at CVS, a net gain of $1.50. I detail this deal here.

5. Using the ECBs you earned, buy more items that will generate more ECBs to use in the future.

This takes time to do, but happens a bit more quickly if you:

1. Always try to use coupons to lower the cost of the items; and

2. Take advantage of the emailed dollars off coupons from CVS.

Ultimately, you're snowballing those ECB dollars into more every transaction so that you'll have them for the future. If you simply use your ECB dollars to buy non-ECB earning products, you'll be back at square one with no ECBs to use.

6. Carefully plan your deal scenarios with the Weekly Ad, the Monthly Extra Care Reward booklet, and with any CVS coupons, manufacturer's coupons, and your current ECBs.

This is the most time-consuming part of saving $$ at CVS - you must sit down with your calculator and work out the best deals possible. By using CVS coupons and manufacturer coupons, and by paying close attention to the Weekly Ad (along with reading about other people's deal scenarios in the blogosphere), you can create scenarios with "overage" - situations where you actually "make" money within the transaction.

For example, using the Soft Soap Radiant Spa Body Wash deal above, let's say I bought 1, used the $1.50 coupon off the Soft Soap, paid $3.50 and earned back $4.99 in ECBs.

What if I turned right back around and did the exact same transaction again, using another coupon for $1.50/1 and the $4.99 in ECBs I earned the first time - what would it look like?

Buy 1 at $4.99

Use $1.50/1 coupon

Final total: $3.49

Pay with first ECBs of $4.99

Earn $4.99 in new ECBs

But the ECBs from my first transaction are for $4.99 and my total for the second transaction is only $3.49. I now have an overage on my transaction of $1.50 I can use to purchase something else I need for that price or less, something that may not earn me ECBs but that I need - like paper towels or tissues. I'll still earn back new ECBs on the second transaction ($4.99), along with getting a great product for free and getting a household item for free.

How to use the oveages you create in your scenarios is up to you to decide; that's the beauty of using the ECB system at CVS. Creating scenarios like this one, ones where you have overages within your transactions and still earn ECBs back overall, are how you maximize your savings at CVS and get non-ECB earning items for free.

Two more points to consider:

1. Ethical Couponing

Using your brainpower to get items for free is ok; having multiple CVS Extra Care Cards for one household is not.

Using several coupons gleaned from different sources to get great deals is ok; using reproduced or scanned coupons, or coupons not directly emailed to you from CVS is not.

Bottom line: fraud isn't frugal, it's illegal.

2. Start Small

CVS and the ECB rollover system may take you a while to master. That's ok. You may have some mistakes; if you stick with it and keep up with the deals online and on blogs, you will succeed overall. The blogosphere will be an immense resource for you in this savings quest.

You may also encounter some CVS employees who have never dealt with so many coupons for one transaction. Be courteous and kind, and remember that if you plan to shop there in the future, you want to leave a good impression. Do what I did: point the employees to the blog or site where you learned how to get such great deals. They'll thank you for it, I assure you!

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Much of what I have learned about saving at CVS has been through the blogosphere. To the many bloggers out there tirelessly posting information on deals, coupons, and sales, thank you.

And to the blogger who started me down this road, Crystal at Money Saving Mom, I thank you immensely! Please visit her blog - she's a frugal diva!

If you want an even more detailed description of how to make CVS work for you, visit Money Saving Mom's CVS 101 post here.

Happy Savings!