Financial Diva University: How to do a "proper" CVS shop

Many of my friends and family know that CVS is one of my favorite stores. A little over a year ago I became a CVSer when I realized the incredible ways to save money. I'd always assumed that the increased prices at drugstores meant that I would not save money at these locations. But thanks to a little trial & error with my new favorite store, I will likely never pay for deoderant, toothpaste, shampoo or candy ever again!

For many of you in the blogging community, this post will be nothing new, per se. What I am writing about today is the way to shop at CVS, including how to find deals and make money using their reward system. Newbies to CVS shopping will find lots of useful information in how to snag the best deals and why we get so darn excited about sales and CVS coupons. CVS pros will glean some insight into how to roll Extrabucks & look for upcoming deals. Read on...

The Glossary
To begin, we will be using some terms a lot. To make sure we're all on the same page, here's a quick reference:
  • Extracare card- CVS uses a loyalty card system that tracks your purchases and spending at all of their stores. You can get a CVS card on their website or right away in the store by simply asking any cashier. I'd suggest getting the card in the store so you can start shopping right away.
  • Extrabucks -aka ECBs- are CVS' reward cash. These bucks print automatically at the end of your receipt when you make a qualifying purchase. They are usually good for 2-4 weeks and can be used for most things in the store (excludes alcohol, tobacco, lottery, gift cards, money orders, postage stamps, pre-paid cards, prescriptions, and special order Home Health Care items, including footwear etc.)
  • Extracare rewards- In addition to ECBs, CVS gives you 2% back with every purchase in-store and online at CVS/pharmacy after every three (3) month period. This also prints out automatically after every quarter at the bottom of your receipt. This amount is calculated on how much you actually spend on items not associated with extrabucks. You also earn (1) ECB for every (2) prescriptions purchased in-store and online at CVS/pharmacy.

  • Register coupons- sometimes known as CRTs- these are CVS coupons that print off at the bottom of your receipt or ones that are emailed to you directly from CVS. These are often randomly generated and can be used in addition to other manufacturer's coupons.
  • CVS coupons- Occassionally, CVS issues coupons that print off at the end of your receipt or appear magically in random locations. These coupons are awesome! They typically say "save $2 of any $10 purchase" (2/10), "save $3 of any $15 purchase" (3/15), "save $4 of any $20 purchase" (4/20), "save $5 of any $30 purchase" (5/30), or "save $10 of any $50 purchase" (5/10). More about these coupons in the order of preseting coupons section.

Begin the Deal Hunt

1) A good CVS shop begins with gathering a LOT of coupons. You'll want to build a small stash of coupons in order to snag the best deals. Some deals work best if you purchase more than one of the same item. For these instances, it is best to have more than one coupon. To learn more about how I get multiple coupons, you can read my post on how I get all my coupons. CVS accepts up to (1) CVS coupon in addition to a manufacturer's coupon and as many ECBS as you'd like. This is what makes CVS so awesome so let me explain... For example if CVS has a sales for x shampoo, say $5. You received a CVS coupon for x shampoo, a CRT, at the bottom of your receipt the last time you shopped for $2 off. You also have a maufacturer's coupon from the Sunday paper for $1/1 x shampoo and $2 in extrabucks (ECBs), you can you all of these coupons/ CRTS/ ECBs together to get the product for free! Let's see: $5 shampoo- $2 CVS CRT -$1 manufacturer's coupon -$2 ECB = free

2) Once you have your coupons in order, it's time to see what's on sale. The idea at CVS is to combine store sales with manufacturer's coupons like we already talked about, but there is another very important point... We are on the hunt for ECB deals. In each sales flyer, you will see sales and items that produce more ECBs when you check out.

In order of importance, we seek first to find ECB-generating deals, good sales second or free items, and miscellaneous items third. This order will make more sense a little later.

3) So looking through the sales paper is not always as cut-and-dry as it might seem at first. Here's a sample ad:

On any given week, there are a number of good deals & a few really great deals. I consider deals good when items are free or when I make money from the transaction. For example, in this ad, Pert Plus shampoo is on sale buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO). I have a BOGO manufacturer's coupon which means I get (2) shampoos for free. If the CVS sale was BOGO and get $2 extrabucks back, I would have used my BOGO manufacturer's coupon to get both for free and got $2 ECBs back. All in all I would have two free shampoos and would make $2 bucks! Or CVS might have photobooks on sale for $8 which generate $8 ECBs, making them free. However, I have a $2 manufacturer's coupon which means I pay $6 for the photobook and get $8 ECBs. That is free plus I made $2 ECBs. So when I say make money, I mean make CVS bucks.... works for me.

When you are searching through the ads, do a little math. Some sales say "spend $20, get $10 back in ECBs." If you think about it, that shakes down to be a 50% savings. Use more CVS & manufacturer's coupons and you could increase your savings.

Here's the deal: not all CVS sales and ECB deals are worth it. Often, if the savings percentage is too low, if you can't find a coupon, or don't really need the item, it just isn't worth it. Searching the ad is almost always about using your best judgement. Remember, we look for:

  1. ECB deals first

  2. Good sales/ freebies second

  3. Miscellaneous deals third

4) Jot down your potential deals. I like to carry a 3x5 index card with me to the store or a printout of my own blog where I post the weekly CVS deals. I either slip the index card in my coupon binder or paper clip it to the coupons I plan to use.

I find it helpful to jot down all of the potentail deals as I have had to rework deals right on the spot in the store. During really good sales, lots of shoppers turn out. Particularly if you shop later in the week or if the item is free, the product might be sold out. You have to account for this when you work up your potential deal scenarios.

You're Ready to Shop (finally)!

You've done all of your homework, collected and organized your coupons, you're ready to go. Off to CVS you go.

1) If you do not have a CVS card, go right to the cashier and ask for one. After filling out your personal information, you'll get one right away assuming they have some on hand. While you're there, make some conversation with the cashier. I have found that friendly chatter is a great ice breaker and relief when you need some special assistance.

2) Get to it. Starting with the best deals first, peruse the aisles for your deals. Most CVS stores have signs with the weekly ECB sales on the shelf but not all do. You'll want to carry a copy of the sales flyer with you. This is because in order to get the sale/ ECB, you have to purchase the exact item specified. Be careful to get the right size, style, etc. of the item that is advertised or your rewards will not print.

As you shop, put the coordinating coupon to the side so that you are not flustered during the checkout process.

If all of the items you came for are not in stock, take a moment to rework a deal. Is there another item you can purchase? Does it have a coordinating coupon?

3) Most importantly, get organized before you reach the counter for checkout. Don't rush... this next check out part is critical!

Yep, Believe it! The Checkout Process

Whew! It's finally time to checkout. The important thing to remember is the order of how you present your coupons is critical.

1) First, give the cashier your CVS card. This ensures all of the sale prices ring up correctly.

2) Next, ring up all of the items in your cart.

3) Hand the cashier any CVS coupons first. This is any of the 2/10, 3/15, 4/20, 5/25, or 10/50 coupons you have. This is important because the total is before coupons.

4) Hand the cashier any CVS CRTs second. Remember, CRTs are the coupons that print at the end of your receipt, usually on a specific item in the store. Sometimes these are free or sometimes these are a $ off a specific item.

5) Give any manufacturer's coupons third. Any internet printable or coupons you've clipped should be handed over after all CVS coupons.

6) Pay the remaining balance with ECBs. Pay as much as you can without going over the amount due. You can use more than one ECB toward one order up to the sales tax. In many cases you can end up paying less than a few dollars and, in some cases, only the sales tax on your items.

7) Rinse and repeat :)

I found when I was first starting out, that it was best to break up my orders into many smaller purchases so that I put the least amount of money out of pocket. I would use one ECB right away toward my next purchase. Assuming that you've truly found some good deals (ones that also produce more ECBs), you should be best set for your next trip to CVS. At least in the beginning, try not to use all of your ECBs on items that don't give you ECBs. You'll have lots of time to by the items you'd like later. I know that sounds backward, but trust me here or you'll be putting out a lot more money than you need to.

A Few Tid Bits & Words of Wisdom
  • Start CVSing small. Don't overdo things with your excitement. If you start small, you can build up a nice stash of ECBs.

  • Decide early what kind of shopper you'll be. This may seem kind of odd to you, but can you handle good deals? Some weeks there are ECB money makers but it will require you to purchase items that you might not need at the moment. Late last year, for example, CVS put diabetes monitors on sale for free after ECBs. I think the price was $15 or so & you got $15 in ECBs back. Thing is, there was also a $10 manufacturer's coupon out. So if you bought this product and had enough ECBs, you could have made $10 bucks. The store shelves were cleared with folks who did not have diabetes. Some people donated the monitors, others found someone who could use them. Thing is, you'll want to decide early on if you have enough gusto and space in your home to stockpile items. If you can buy 5 items for free, would you buy all 5?

  • Message boards and other blogs can alert you to the best upcoming deals. For the first few months, simply check out others' blogs by searching "CVS deals". They often combine the best deals and corresponding coupons. This takes a lot of the guesswork out of shopping. My favorite blogs are Money Saving Mom, Deal Seeking Mom & Sisterly Savings.

  • Try to use your ECBs in the order they expire. I have only gofed once by letting a few ECBs expire. I was bummed because the total amount was $18 which I worked hard to accumulate. I called the 800-number on the back of my extracare card & the very kind representative reissued my ECBs.

  • If you have issues, call the 1-800 customer service number. I had a difficult shopping trip once when the cashier wouldn't take a BOGO coupon of mine. I called the customer service rep while I was in the store. She called the store right then and spoke with the cashier to clear up the CVS policy. I have also found the reps to be more than helpful.


Tara said...

Thanks so much for the link. You've got a great site here – keep up the great work!!!

Tara @ Deal Seeking Mom