January 15, 2009

Back to Basics: CVS Explained

Every couponing blogger worth their salt has a post detailing how the CVS Extra Care Bucks system can save you serious $$; this one is mine. I had a very detailed version on my first edition of The New Frugal Mom; alas, that version of this blog was deleted into the ether.

Here it is again, in as few simple steps as I can detail it.

Back to Basics: CVS Explained

1. Locate your nearest CVS store; if one isn't close to you, then skip reading this post. Your time is too valuable to waste! Besides, if you're not near a CVS, you may be close to a Walgreens, my other fave money-saving drugstore. See my Back to Basics post about Walgreens right here.

2. If you don't already have one, sign up for an Extra Care Rewards Card. You can do this in-store (you'll receive it right away once the very nice cashier enters your info) or you can sign-up online and wait for it to arrive by mail. You should NOT sign up for (2) cards or more for your household. I can't stress this enough: ethical couponing, meaning honesty in your use of coupons and loyalty rewards, keeps this couponing gig good for ALL of us.

My personal bottom line: using your brainpower to net fantastic deals is a-ok and legal; using suspicious coupons and multiple loyalty cards is just fraud.

3. Once you have your card, be sure to sign up online for a CVS Extra Care Account linking your Extra Care card number to your account and with an email address you check frequently. You'll receive special coupons by email (not as many as they used to send, unfortunately) and promotional emails.

4. Now it's time to do (2) things: one, grab your recent Sunday CVS ad circular, or view it online here; two, go into a CVS and grab a copy of the current month's Extra Value Book which is located at the front of the store in or near the newspaper rack. You can view a listing of the items in this month's (January 2009) Extra Value Book right here.

The Extra Value Book is filled with items that earn ECBs (Extra Care Bucks - a coupon that prints at the ends of your register receipt and can be used like cash on your next purchase at CVS) when you purchase them. The weekly circular also has items that earn ECBs when you purchase them; some of these are the monthly deals available in the Extra Value Book but most of them are deals available only for the week of the ad circular.

5. Scan through the ads and see which items you need now or could use in the future. Note ALL items that are "Free after ECBs". Pull your coupons (you have been collecting your coupons, haven't you?) and look for coupons that match up with the ECB-earning products available that you either need now, need in the future (toothpaste, soap, deodorant, for example), or are free after ECBs. (*Time-Saving Hint* Search the free (after registration) coupon database at Hot Coupon World for the coupons you need instead of flipping through all of your Sunday coupon inserts.)

6. If this is your first time trying the CVS system, set yourself a small budget for your first trip and plan to do only one or two small transactions (to maximize your learning experience and to minimize mistakes). I recommend $5.00 - $10.00 for the first trip. My blogging buddy Alyssa owns and runs a weekly linkup known as The CVS $5 Challenge that I started (then gave to her when I stopped blogging here) on my first edition of The New Frugal Mom. The CVS $5 Challenge is a great place to look for ideas on how to spend your $5-$10 dollars each week at CVS on products that will earn you ECBs. You can also check my friend Andrea at Mommy Snacks listing of each week's best deals at CVS in her Snack Summary.

7. Make your shopping list for CVS. The goal: buying items with current coupons that will earn you ECBs.

For example, if I purchase and item that is $4.99 and earns $4.99 in ECBs (Free after ECBs) and I have a $1.00/1 coupon for that item, I will pay $3.99 + tax in cash (*Note* in the beginning before you have any ECBs on hand, you'll pay cash; as you continue shopping CVS, you can pay for your purchase with most, if not all, ECBs) but I will earn $4.99 in ECBs to spend at my next trip, a net gain of $1.00. This is called a money-making scenario. Not all scenarios at CVS are moneymakers (in fact, only a few are) but the majority of items that earn ECBs that you also purchase with your current ECBs will be a tiny fraction of the retail cost or will be just about free.

8. You must use your current ECBs before they expire (generally 3 - 4 weeks from purchase). The cycle of earning new ECBs by buying items that earn ECBs with your old ECBs from your last trip is known as rolling. Rolling over (and, ideally, growing by earning more ECBs than you began with through coupon matches) your ECBs is critical to you overall success using the ECB system at CVS.

9. You can stack manufacturer coupons with CVS coupons (available online through emails, also available in-store in special booklets -- be sure to check the pharmacy and photo center and beauty aisle) meaning you will increase your savings. CVS has no limit on the number of coupons you can use per transaction so stack those coupons if you've got them! Once you have an Extra Care Card, you will also receive coupons linked to that card printed at the end of your receipt - save them!

10. Final rule: Be friendly and courteous to your CVS staff and to the other CVS shoppers. You catch more flies with honey in this life, and coupon shopping is no exception. And if you plan on frequenting a particular CVS store, you need to build good relationships with the staff there. If they have questions about your coupons, you should ask to see a copy of that store's coupon policy as it does differ from store to store (no official corporate policy). I personally have had great experiences at my CVS.

That's it! Go grab your Extra Care Card, your coupons, the ad and the Extra Value Book and start earning your ECBs! It takes time to master, but if you stick with it for a minimum of (3) months, you'll see great success!

Did I miss something important? Leave a comment and help all of your fellow Frugal Faithful!


  1. Aww, thanks so much for the shout out, Marianne! I owe the success of The CVS $5 Challenge, to you, my friend. My readers love it!

    Hope this helps more of the frugal faithful as well.

  2. Alyssa: I'm so glad you took over the $5 Challenge -- it was too good of an idea to let it die.

    Take care, friend!

  3. I may sound dumb but I did not realize the ECB was a coupon that printed out at the reciept! Live and learn right??? For some reason I thought it was on your extra care rewards card like a gift card balance and just kept on it. Woops! But I have $4.99 in ECBs and I've learned a valuable lesson! Can't wait to keep CVS'ing! Thanks for the tut!

  4. Heather: I'm glad you found this helpful. Learning how to shop CVS has saved me so much money over the past year.

    I plan on sharing/detailing more about CVS here at TNFM; there are so many people who are still new to CVS and how to maximize their savings.

    Thanks for commenting!

  5. Thanks for posting this. I'm not new to using coupons but am new at visiting CVS. There are only two in my area and couponin' is not a hobby. we're both out of a job, so they are a necessity. THANK YOU!

  6. newmami_rgv: I do hope this helps and I'm sorry to hear about your job situation. Please know that most deal/couponing/frugal bloggers are happy to help answer your questions! Just ask!!

  7. CVS just opened near our home. Thanks for all the helpful tips!


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