Part Six: CVS

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Now that you have gotten your feet wet with drugstore shopping, you are probably anxious for more!  After tackling Walgreens and trying to wade through all those crazy rules, you will be relieved to know that CVS is, for the most part, a lot more straightforward.

(If you are new to my blog or new to couponing, I strongly recommend that you start with Part One of my Beginner’s Guide to Coupons before reading any further.  It will all make a lot more sense that way!)

Like Walgreens, CVS features a variety of sale specials each week that will earn you ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs) to be used on other items.   Most weeks there are at least one or two items that are free after ECBs.

The nice thing about ECBs is that they are much less restrictive than the RRs at Walgreens.  However, in order to participate in the ECBs program, you must sign up for an ExtraCare card.  It is free to sign up, but it allows CVS to put limits on the number of items you can buy to earn ECBs.

(If there is no CVS in your area, I apologize.  We will be covering Rite-Aid next week.  In the meantime I still encourage you to read this week’s post, since next week will continue to build on this week, as well as participate in the non-CVS related part of the assignment below.  Or, if you prefer, you can skip ahead to next week’s lesson.)

As I explained last week, drugstore shopping is a little more complicated than grocery shopping because you usually need to plan multiple transactions in order to maximize your savings and minimize your OOP (out-of-pocket) costs.

I love shopping at CVS, and if you follow my weekly shopping results, you already know that I save a lot of money there. But there are a lot of extreme coupon shoppers out there who save even more, and for this article, I thought I would seek out the advice of a true CVS expert.

I asked Cheryl of Simply CVS to share some of her vast knowledge on getting started at CVS, and she was sweet enough to oblige with a ton of great information.

Cheryl’s website, www.simplycvsshopping.com, is an amazing CVS resource. If you have a CVS in your area and would like to get serious about saving money there, you should definitely check it out for even more tips.

Here is what Cheryl had to say:

1. Sign up for a CVS Extra Care Card. 

The card is necessary to receive sale prices and to participate in the CVS extra care buck program. You can either do this online at CVS.com and they will mail the card within two weeks, or you can pick up a form and a card at any CVS store and start saving the same day.

As soon as you get the card register it online with an email address and you will receive a $4 off a total purchase of $20 or more coupon in your email. You will then receive emails throughout the year, often with coupons.

2. Extra Care Bucks, or commonly known as extra bucks, are the basis for the large savings possible for shopping at CVS.

Extra bucks are coupons received at the end of the receipt and are like extra “bucks” when shopping at CVS (they must be used with the card they were issued for).

There are a few restrictions for what they can be used on: stamps, alcohol, prescriptions, tax and tobacco all the ones I know of. Extra bucks can be used on other extra buck deals and even on the same deal if the limit is more than one.

Extra bucks are earned in three different ways and usually expire within 30 days.

  • Quarterly extra bucks are issued four times a year and are calculated on the shopper’s spending. Two percent of the amount spent on most items is earned in extra bucks (some restrictions apply). This is after coupon price—the total paid on the receipt. They are also issued in 50 cent increments so the shopper must spend $25 to get any quarterly extra bucks and then it increases in $25 spending increments or $.50 in extra bucks.
  • Quarterly extra bucks are earned for prescriptions filled. Along with the 2% quarterly extra bucks, shoppers receive $1 for every two prescriptions filled.
  • Weekly deal extra bucks are issued immediately when a shopper buys an advertised “extra buck” item. These range from “free after extra buck items” like “buy Toothpaste @ $2.99 get $2.99 extra bucks back” to “buy $15 worth of products listed and receive $5 extra bucks back.” There are limits, usually one or two, for weekly extra buck deals.

3. Manufacturer coupons and CVS coupons can be combined.

CVS accepts manufacturer coupons (including internet printables if they will scan) as well as issues their own coupons.

CVS coupons are emailed, sent in the mail, found in various publications or tear pads, issued at the Kiosk where shoppers can scan their cards, and printed at the end of receipts.

You can use one CVS coupon and one manufacturer coupon per product. Extra bucks do not count as coupons so can be used on top of these. It is actually possible to “make money” shopping at CVS by using CVS and manufacturer coupons to pay for an item that will issue more extra bucks back than cash used to pay for the product.

CVS also often issues total order coupons such as $5 off a total order of $30— the $30 is pre-coupon price.

4. Numerous transactions are helpful in spending the least out of pocket cash.

Using extra bucks on other extra buck earning deals is commonly referred to as “rolling extra bucks.” The beauty of rolling extra bucks is it helps you spend less out of pocket cash.

You can check out numerous times each week, using the extra bucks earned from transaction #1 on transaction #2 and so on. This is also the way to keep the expense down from week to week.

As you continue to shop at CVS your extra bucks will slowly build up and you will be able to virtually keep spending the same extra bucks over and over again, because each time you use them on new extra buck deals you receive more with a later expiration date.

5. CVS issues rain checks for most advertised deals.

If an advertised item is out of stock, and the ad does not state no rain checks issued, CVS will issue a rain check for the sale price AND the extra buck amount, if one is included, to be used by the customer when the store is restocked.

  • CVS rain checks never expire.
  • The Extra Bucks will be printed manually by the cashier after the purchase is made.
  • Rain Checks are great to save for when a great coupon comes out for the product, you have extra bucks expiring and there is no current sale that interests you or to have when you get a $5/30 to help you get up to the $30 total needed to use the coupon.

Your assignments are probably starting to seem a little repetitive, and there is a reason for that:  successful coupon shopping requires consistency and follow-through.

If you are serious about it (which, if you’ve made it this far, you probably are), you will need to get used to setting aside a certain amount of time each week for gathering coupons, organizing your coupons and stockpile, making your lists, and shopping.

week 6 assignment:

1. Make your list, gather your coupons, and go grocery shopping according to the guidelines from week three. 

  • Like last week, since right now you are working on your stockpile, feel free to stock up on any item that you use regularly, so long as it is on sale for at least 50% off. Eventually you will be able to get more selective with your shopping and focus only on the very best deals, but at the beginning 50% is a great goal to shoot for.
  • If you feel very motivated, you can repeat this process for multiple stores. Again, the more stores you shop at, the faster you will build up your stockpile since different stores have different sale cycles.

2. Keep your stockpile organized.

  • You worked so hard to get your stockpile set up; reward yourself this week by taking care to maintain your system when you put your groceries away. A little effort each week can save you a lot of hassle and a big mess later on.

3. Go on a field trip to CVS.

  • Consider it a dry run. Go to whichever store you plan to shop at most often, and pop in for a quick visit and tour, and to sign up for a CVS card, if you don’t have one already.
  • It may sound silly, but trust me, it helps (a lot!) to know where things are. There is a lot to keep track of on a high-savings shopping trip–your shopping list, your coupons, unplanned for in- store coupons, unadvertised specials & clearance items (not to mention your kids, if you are forced to drag them along!)–and you will save yourself a lot of aggravation and time by knowing where to find things.
  • Make a mental note of the food section, the baby aisle, the supplement, shaving, eye care, oral care, & hair care areas, which are all sections you will probably need to find frequently. Also check if there is a special clearance section somewhere (usually hidden near the back of the store), and determine where the in-store coupon machine is located.
  • If there are more than one stores of the same chain nearby, do this for all the stores you plan to use, as the layout can vary from store to store.

4. Make your list. Go to www.savingwellspendingless.com to make your printable CVS shopping list.

Here are some guidelines to go by:

  • Check ALL items that are free or less than free after coupons and ECBs.
  • Check any other items that you want or need. Look for savings of 70% or more after coupons and ECBs.
  • Print your list.

5. Create your Transaction Scenarios. 

Again, for your first week, I wouldn’t recommend doing more than about 4 or 5 items or more than 2 or 3 transactions.

  • Once you have printed your list, play with the different items to come up with a way to spend the least amount of OOP money.
  • Like Walgreens, the goal is to earn ECBs on your first transaction that can then be spent on your next transaction, and so on. Always try to start with one or two items that are free or less than free after coupons & ECBs.
  • Save your last transaction for sale items that don’t produce any ECBs or any other needed items on your list.
  • Be sure when you create your scenarios that you write down how many of each item to purchase, which coupons to use, your estimated total after coupons, and how many ECBs you will be getting back.
  • ECBs are usually good for about a month, so you can save them for your next trip as well.

6. Go shopping.

  • I try to always do my drugstore shopping on Sundays, the day the sale starts. Some weeks it doesn’t matter, but when there is a really hot deal going on the stores can sell out quickly and it is frustrating to spend a lot of time creating your scenario, only to have it all fall apart because one of the items you’ve planned for is gone.
  • The first thing you should do when you walk in the store is scan your card at the in-store coupon machine to see what comes out. Be sure to scan multiple times, until the screen reads “no more coupons available today.
  • While you are shopping, take note of any items that match up to those coupons. Sometimes there are freebie deals to be had!
  • Once you’ve gathered your items, take a few minutes before checking out to organize your coupons and your items into transaction piles. Be sure to politely tell the cashier you will need to do several transactions, and be willing to get back in line if there are a lot of people in the store.
  • Unlike Walgreens, your ECBs will print at the bottom of your receipt. (If you are using the ECB for your next transaction, you will have to tear it off.)
  • Finally, be sure to check that all your ECBs print and match up to the scenarios you have prepared.

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And that is another week down–only 2 more to go!

Stay tuned for next week’s assignment and, as always, please post any questions or comments you may have below.  I do read all my comments, and I make an effort to respond and answer questions as best I can.

Click here to go to Part 7: Rite-Aid