How to Shop & Save at CVS

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 atΒ  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.Β  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 onΒ  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!


  1. Tziporah Mazer says

    Walgreens also have these. And sometimes their are cheaper than CVS. Always good to compare the stores πŸ˜‰

    • @Tziporah – You are so right about Wags… however, and this is just my preference, I find CVS much easier to shop at than Walgreens. All the restrictions on RR and rolling deals and # of coupons having to equal the # of products… it drives me batty. If there is an unbelievable deal, I will still shop there, but most of the time, my heart belongs to CVS!

    • I don’t sh0p at Walgreens, if I can help it. One year it was almost Hanukkah and we needed candles. My husband stopped in, and in their aisles and aisles of Christmast stuff, he couldn’t find any thing for Hanukkah – he asked and was told that they didn’t carry any Hanukkah items. (We live in a pretty Jewish area, so that is not an excuse). We were surprised and disappointed.

  2. How do you apply your ECB’s? Do you use the print-outs from the receipts or your CVS card to redeem?

    Also, this week – Dawn Dishwashing liquid on sale for .94 and Sunday coupon for .50 off = .44

    • Good question, Brenda – Yes, you use the printouts that they give you. When you buy something that will earn ECBs, it will print out on the bottom of your receipt. Make sure you hang on to these, as they are like cash at CVS. They are good for a month.

  3. I haven’t seen this mentioned and thought you might be interested in it.

    It’s the CVS Green Bag Tag:

  4. Thanks for the tips. I tried this last week for the first time, and ended up with 3 large boxes of cereal, 2 toothpastes, a bag of Dove chocolates, and two clearance boxes of valentines-which were mostly for the 36 stickers in each in one-all for $4.22. I will be making CVS a part of our normal routine!

    • Awesome, I’m glad it’s working for you! Once you start getting free toiletries, it’s awfully hard to go back to paying for it πŸ˜‰

  5. Hello again πŸ™‚ Trying to figure my way around this coupon maze. So, after reading this article, I checked out the CVS website. I see that there is a link to “in-store coupons” and “weekly store ads”.

    So I’d like to clarify…

    I would clip the coupons of interest (those are manufacturers coupons, correct?), and then hold on to them until those same items show up in the weekly store ads (which would probably be within a couple of weeks?). This way, I would add the coupon to the store sale (which can sometimes include ECB’s). Is this all correct?

    Also, I see that the in-store ads refer to coupons in sunday papers. Is this different than the in-store coupons posted on the website? I thought that the coupons come out a short while before the store sales, so you have to wait to use the coupons.

    Thank you for your help!

  6. Also, I’m googling “how to shop CVS” and keep seeing examples of ECB’s being the same amount as the sale price of the item (e.g., toothpaste is 2.99 with ECB of 2.99). However, I checked the in store ad this week, and the rewards listed are significantly lower than the sale price…hence, it’s not “free”. When shopping for a “buy it now” price, should I be looking for an ECB “price match” or is that more rare?

  7. ok, i just realized that you have coupon matchups posted…it takes so much of the work and science out of couponing! The information that people provide online is unbelievable. Your blog is saving me!!!

  8. what is wyb ? i see mara use this term and not sure what it means. i thought the cvs tutorial would explain but i just don’t know the lingo? same at walgreens where she uses RR. thanks.

  9. @rachel.. wyb is when you buy referring to something you need to get to get the deal or how many you need
    RR is walgreens version of extra care bucks … walgreens only money printed on a slip of paper to use on your next purchase

  10. Another CVS tip – get a “Green Bag Tag”. Yes, it costs $1.00 to purchase, well worthit! Every time you shop (they limit it to once a day, however), swipe your Green Bag Tag bar code and use yoru own bag, and you “earn” a 25 cents credit. After 4 swipes/uses, a $1.00 EB prints on yoru receipt. That is truly free money! I sometimes think CVS is really paying me to walk into their stores πŸ™‚

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