Since posting about my awesome clearance finds at CVS earlier this week, I’ve gotten a few questions from my new readers (hi! welcome!) asking me to explain the “whole CVS thing.” Although there are plenty of other online tutorials for playing the so-called drugstore game, I wanted to run through some of the basics here. That way, we’ll all be on the same page, and if I tell you about a deal worth taking advantage of, you will know just what to do!
Find a CVS Near You
First thing’s first: Make sure you have a CVS in your area. (Click here to find a store(s) in your zipcode.) If you have to drive an hour to your closest CVS, the savings might not be worth it.
Get a CVS Card
The next thing you need to shop at CVS is a CVS card. You can sign up for one in the store or you can do so online. The advantage to signing up at the store is that you can start using your card right away. Just be sure to hop online and register your email address with your card number so that CVS can send you a $4/$20 coupon (that’s a coupon worth $4 off a bill of $20 or more, before coupons and sales tax).
Scan your CVS Card
Every time you shop at CVS, you will need to give them your card to scan since all the sales and deals are linked to the card. Also, most of the sales have a quantity limit, and the way CVS knows whether or not you’ve reached your limit is by scanning your card.
You can also scan your card to get additional “CVS coupons,” which can be stacked (i.e. used in conjunction with) manufacturer’s coupons. When you first walk in the store, there should be a little red scanning machine. Wave the bar code of your CVS card under the infrared light and it will print out a couple of coupons for you. I usually do this two times in a row and typically the magic coupon machine prints out two sets of coupons. In the past, I’ve gotten coupons for free Dove chocolate bars (OMG!), free CVS hair products and even $5/$15 (that’s $5 off a $15 or more bill).
Review the CVS Ads
Every Sunday, CVS puts out a weekly circular in the newspaper. You can also get copies of it at your local CVS or you can view the ad online. Flip through the circular and notice which items are on sale that you may need or want to purchase. Then notice which items are on sale with Extra Care Bucks (ECBs). ECBs are like cash, which can only be used at CVS. Many weeks, CVS will have one or more products on sale that are free after ECBs.
This week, for example, Bausch & Lomb Biotrue was on sale for $2.99 with $2.99 in ECBs (limit 1). If you purchased that product for $2.99 (plus tax), you would instantly get back a coupon at the bottom of your receipt worth $2.99. So, while your out of pocket expense would have been $2.99, you would have been paid back this amount in ECBs, essentially making your contact solution free. Got it?
Now, here’s where it gets really exciting. You can combine your ECB purchases with manufacturer and/or store coupons. So, let’s say that you had a $.50 off coupon for the Biotrue. As far as I know, there is no such coupon, but for the sake of this example, let’s say there was. Now, you go up to purchase your Biotrue, and hand over your $.50 coupon. So instead of paying $2.99, you pay $2.49, but you still get a $2.99 ECB back from the store. This, my friends, is what’s known as a money maker. You aren’t making hard, cold cash in your hands, but you are essentially “getting paid to shop” since you now have an ECB worth more than your out of pocket expense.
Roll Your ECBs
Let’s say you bought that Biotrue this week. So now you have a $2.99 ECB in your wallet. Next week, you can use this ECB to purchase other products that are on sale and have an ECB on them. For example, say you buy something that costs $4, and is producing a $4 ECB. You pay $1.01 out of your pocket and $2.99 out of CVS’ money (i.e. the original ECB), and you get a $4 ECB in return. That’s called rolling your ECB.
The deal gets even sweeter if the $4 product has a coupon you can use with it. Say you have a $1 off coupon. Now you only pay a penny out of your pocket (plus the $2.99 ECB), and you still get that $4 ECB back from CVS.
Each time I shop at CVS, I try to roll my ECBs onto other products that will give me more ECBs. But these ECBs don’t last forever (I think the are good for one month, but your ECB will have a use-by date printed on it). So if my ECBs are about to expire, I will use them to purchase groceries or toiletries that I need — whether or not I get more ECBs for the purchase. That’s what I was planning to do this week, but then I hit the 90% off clearance mother load.
Keep It Simple
I spent about a month reading up on “how to shop at CVS” before I finally braved up and got a CVS card. I was so intimidated and totally obsessive about making sure every deal would work out. Eventually it got easier, but I probably made my life a lot harder than it needed to be by attempting multiple deals in my first go around.
So, my advice to you if you’re a new CVS deal shopper is to keep it simple. Pick one or two items that you will actually use and buy those, with coupons if possible. Pocket your ECBs to roll them onto something else the next week. You’ll get the hang of it quickly!
Free After ECB Deals for 7-11-10
In the spirit of keepin’ it simple, here is a great deal for you to do next Sunday, Monday or Tuesday at CVS.
5” Caliber Scissors $.99 ~ Get $.99 ECB (limit 1)
Paper Mate Pens 10-count $.99 ~ Get $.99 ECB (limit 1)
Buy both the scissors and the pens. Spend $1.98 out of pocket. Get back $1.98 in ECBs to roll next week. Free office supplies. Weeeeee!
Thanks, i heart cvs
So, have I completely freaked you out yet? Are you ready to become a savvy CVS shopper? Share your success stories in the comments section – I can’t wait to hear how it goes!