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Beginners Guide to CVS

I have been telling family and friends (as well as the occasional stranger who notices my strange couponing ways) about the CVS game and referring them to my blog. And then one of them pointed out to me that while my site does a great job of convincing them that CVS is definitely something to get into if you want to save money and get all of your toiletries and paper products for next to nothing, it doesn't do a good job by itself of explaining just how to go about getting those great deals.

Until now! Here it is, everything you need to know to walk into a CVS store today, pay a few dollars out of your pocket, and be all set up to purchase future transactions in the amounts of $15, $20, $30 or more for less than a dollar out of pocket. Every time.

The key to shopping at CVS is their Extra Care program. When you sign up for an Extra Care card, that card allows you to save money at the store and earn "Extra Care Bucks", or ECBs, on the purchases that generate them. Have the cashier scan your card before every purchase, and these ECBs will print on the end of your cash register receipt and can be used like cash on your next transaction at CVS.

Every month, starting on the 1st of the month, CVS puts out a monthly Extra Care booklet, which you should be able to pick up in your store, usually by the front door. This booklet details all of the items that will generate ECBs that entire month. A different sales ad also comes out each week on Sundays, and has additional ECB offers.

Each month (and sometimes weekly), there are at least a few items that are "free after ECBs". For example, a tube of Colgate Total toothpaste is on sale for $2.99, earning $2.99 in ECBs. That means when you purchase it for $2.99, at the end of your receipt will be a portion that says you earned $2.99 Extra Bucks for purchasing Colgate Total. You cut off that portion of the receipt and save it to use on your next purchase.

Now let's say you had a manufacturers coupon for $1 off of that Colgate Total. You purchase that toothpaste for $1.99, and earn $2.99 ECBs. That's now a one dollar profit.

But wait. Let's also say the limit for the Colgate Total ECB reward is 5. That means you can have $2.99 ECBs print out five times before you have reached your limit. So here's an easy scenario:

:buy 2 Colgate Total toothpastes for $2.99 each
:use 2 $1 off coupons
:pay $3.98 out of pocket (oop) +tax
:earn a $5.98 ECBs

Now you take that $5.98 ECB coupon and do this scenario:

:buy 3 Colgate Total toothpastes for $2.99 each
:use 3 $1 off coupons
:total will be $5.97 plus tax
:pay with your $5.98 ECBs (you don't get money back if your ECB is more than your total. The cashier can adjust it down)
:total will be $0 +tax
:earn $8.97 ECBs.

So there you have it. The CVS game in it's simplest form. Combining coupons with sale prices on items that earn ECBs. And then using those ECBs to purchase items that earn more ECBs (called "rolling" your ECBs), and possibly "growing" them by utilizing manufacturers coupons.

You got 5 tubes of toothpaste and were able to turn an initial investment of $3.98 into $8.97. I like to say that, essentially, CVS paid YOU to take that toothpaste home with you! :)

Occasionally, CVS issues store coupons that make your deals even better. Some will be for a dollar amount off of a specific product. The best ones are for a dollar amount off of a specific purchase amount (abbreviated as $/$$), for example: $5 off a purchase of $30 or more ($5/$30) or $4 off a purchase of $20 or more ($4/$20), or $3 off of a purchase of $15 or more ($3/$15), etc.

When these $/$$ are issued, the potential for rolling your ECBs and growing them can be endless. It also allows you to get your needed household items that may not be generating ECBs that week for nothing oop.

Here's an example scenario of that (from this week's ad, and the June ECB book):

:Buy 3 Listerine Smart Rinse for $3.49 (monthly deal, earns $3.49 ECBs, limit 4)
:Buy $4.53 worth of additional products of your choice.
:Total will be $15.00 before coupons
:Use $3/$15 CVS coupon
:use 3 $1 off Listerine coupons, available to print online (limit of two prints per computer) or from the Sunday newspaper inserts on 4/27.
:Total after coupons: $9
:Use your $8.97 ECB from previous order, and pay $0.03 oop +tax.
:Earn $10.47 ECBs!

I usually like to keep at least $20 ECBs on hand to work my deals with. Anything over that can usually be spent on extra items that you need and still leave you with enough to keep the game going.

Right now I have about $40 on each of my 2 cards. CVS allows you to have one per family member, I have one for my husband and one for myself. Having 2 cards can be confusing at first, because if I use my husband's card on an order, the ECB coupon for that order prints with his name on it and can only be used in the future on that same card. So it can be confusing to keep them separate and organized. But having two cards allows me to stock up on twice the amount of diapers when they are on sale and generating ECBs, and since we have two little girls in diapers right now, we really need all the free diapers we can get!

Now that you have the information you need to be successful, here are a few tips worth noting:

:: ECBs expire about a month after they print, so it is often necessary to "roll" them by buying items that you may not need at the time you're purchasing them. If you have $5 ECBs expiring soon, and there is a bottle of medicine on sale for $5 that generates $5 ECBs, but you don't need or use that item, purchase it anyways because you'll be able to get rid of your expiring ECB and a new one will print with 30 more days in which to spend it. You can give away your unneeded/ unwanted items to family or friends, donate them to churches, womens shelters, or other charitable organizations, or save them to sell at a garage sale.

:: ECBs only pay for your pre-tax total. You'll usually be responsible for the tax on every order. Rarely, it has happened that my total came to $0 after I gave my ECBs, but the cashier had no explanation for it and neither do I. I has happened though.

:: If purchasing two like items that earn ECBs (like two Colgate Total toothpastes for $2.99) in the same transaction, you will get one ECB for that purchase, totaling the ECB reward ($5.98). If purchasing two different items that earn ECBs (like the Listerine Smart Rinse for $3.49 and the Colgate Total for $2.99) in the same transaction, you'll get two ECB coupons on the end of your receipt, one for $3.49 and one for $2.99.

:: Some stores will allow you to use more than one $/$$ coupon per transaction, most will not. In the couponing world, however, this is widely considered "coupon fraud" unless the total of your order is above the total required amounts of the two coupons. For example, If you're using a $3/$15 coupon with a $4/$20 coupon, your order total should be $35 or more.

:: CVS will only allow one of the same CVS product-specific store coupons per order. If you're buying two packs of Huggies and a bottle of Pantene shampoo, and you have two CVS-issued store coupons for $2 off Huggies and a CVS-issued store coupon for $1 off Pantene, you will be allowed to use ONE Huggies coupon and one Pantene coupon per transaction. Even if you are buying two packages of Huggies. So it would be best in this instance to purchase the packages separately in two different transactions, allowing you to use both coupons, one on each order.

:: CVS allows you to stack a CVS-issued store coupon for a specific item with a manufacturers coupon for the same item. For example, if CVS issues a store coupon for $2 off Huggies diapers, and you have a manufacturers coupon for $2 off Huggies, you can use them both on one package of diapers to get $4 off! You can also use a $/$$ coupon with these other two coupons to further maximize your savings.

:: Have your coupons in order before checking out. The best order to hand them to the cashier is to give your $/$$ coupons first, and then your manufacturers coupons, and then your ECBs. I never hand the cashier all of my coupons at once. I hand them to her a couple at a time, so that I can watch the screen to make sure that they all scan and subtract as they should.

:: CVS issues store coupons randomly to members of their email list. To sign up for their email list, go here. A welcome email will be sent to you with a $4/$20 welcome coupon.

There you have it! If you have any questions that I didn't cover, comment below or shoot me an email, I'm happy to help you figure it all out!


  1. Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the detailed post. I just started CVS'ing and am loving it. However, I always wondered how to handle returns. I used my ECBs to buy a product, but it turned out that I got the wrong one. Am I able to return/exchange it w/my receipt, or am I just out of luck? Thx.

  2. Lavonne said...

    This could totally vary depending on your store policy, cashier who's handling you, manager discretion, etc. But my experience with returns is this: If you purchase an item and pay for it mostly with ECBs and just some change oop, when you go to return that item with your receipt, the register will only allow a return of the amount you paid after coupons (which includes ECBs). So your refund would be the amount you paid oop, usually less than a dollar. This happened to me with the Intuition razor last month. I bought the wrong one, and it was $8.99 (I think). I only paid $0.21 after coupons and ECBs, so the register would have only allowed me a $0.21 refund. I didn't even bother.
    I think that CVS does allow you to return things without a receipt, but I have never tried this. As much as I get for free from CVS, I don't sweat it when I make a mistake and accidentally burn a few ECBs.
    The exception is that I often exchange diapers without a receipt. I stock up so many packages when I can get them free, and if one of my daughters outgrows a size and I have unopened packages in that size, I have taken them in and asked to do an even exchange with a package of the same diapers in a different size. I have never had a problem with this.

  3. Anonymous said...

    Thanks, that makes sense, and was what I was afraid of. I'll try the exchange route then. Thx!

  4. .:+Pearlofafrika+:. said...

    Thanks so much for explaining it! It makes a big difference, because it's so complicated.
    I do have a question.. do you do multiple transactions on one visit? Like, in your example with the toothpaste, do you buy two toothpastes, get the $5.98 ECBs and then turnaround (without leaving the register) an buy the other three toothpastes, and use the ECBs? or is that awkward? I just haven't ever known how that works. And if the cashiers look at you like you're crazy.

  5. Paula said...

    Great Post. I have used your blog to give a peek and a redirect back to your post for the 411 on beginners guide. I couldn't have done it any better. Thanks for the great post.


  6. Tabitha said...

    Thank you for this post!

    When my husband started working for his employer he was handed CVS extra care cards. I had no idea what CVS was so they have sat in our important paper folder for about six months. Until today.

    Until I moved to the town I am currently living in I had never heard of CVS. I've since seen on other blogs people talking about saving money while shopping at CVS but had no idea what they were talking about.

    Now after reading your post, I remembered the cards and have one ready to use when I go check out our local CVS.

    Again, thank you! Well, I'm off to check out the rest of your blog to see what else I can learn.

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