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CVS 101 for Newbies: The Drugstore Game

by Tara Kuczykowski on June 15, 2008 · 206 comments

When you play the Drugstore Game, utilizing the program to its fullest, you can literally save hundreds of dollars for a very small investment of time to research the CVS deals each week. In fact, I've saved over $700 just in the past month-and-a-half.

Learning the ins and outs of the CVS ExtraCare Program may seem a little daunting at first, but it's really quite simple when you break it down into the following steps.

This post will just tackle the basics of the program to get you started:

Verify that you have a CVS close to you. The easiest way to do this is using the CVS Store Finder. This seems pretty obvious, but with the price of gas these days, you won't be doing yourself any favors if you're offsetting your savings by spending a significant amount of money on fuel.

Sign up for your very own ExtraCare Card. This can be done on CVS.com, or you may sign up in a store. Your best bet is to do it in a store so you can begin using your card immediately. If you choose to sign up online, it will take approximately two weeks to receive your card.

Configure your scenarios. You'll need to pick up a weekly store ad, as well as a monthly store ad. You can find the highlights of the weekly and monthly store ads, along with detailed weekly scenarios, posted right here on Deal Seeking Mom, or you can find the full lists on SlickDeals.net. You do need to be careful with the weekly ads, as they can vary between locations. Scan both ads to find the ExtraCare Bucks offers that most appeal to you. The most lucrative offers are usually the ones that are already free after ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs).

Your ultimate goal is to attempt to create transaction scenarios that actually earn you a profit in ECBs. You can achieve this by reducing your total amount spent out of pocket (OOP) with CVS dollar off coupons (ex. $3 off a $15 purchase), CVS item coupons, and manufacturer coupons. You can actually "stack" one CVS store coupon and one manufacturer coupon per item, and use both in conjunction with a $/$$ coupon.

A great example of this is a recent Adidas Deodorant offer. The deodorant was free after ECBs for the month of May, and there was a coupon available to purchase the deodorant for free in All You Magazine. Even though you aren't paying OOP, you still earn the ECBs on the transaction. So you paid with the coupon, getting the item for free, and still earned $3.99 in ECBs to be used towards a future transaction.

Learn how to roll your ECBs. Once you've mastered the art of earning a profit on ECBs, you'll want to move on to learning how to "roll" them, which is just another way of saying that you're using them to pay for for items that earn more ECBs thus greatly reducing your OOP spending after your initial outlay. Learning how to effectively roll your ECBs will save you the most money in the long run.

Occasionally this may mean purchasing items that you don't really want or need, but think of the many things you could do with these items. Glucose monitors are always a welcome donation at nursing homes. Toiletries can be donated to shelters. Use items as stocking stuffers, create gift baskets, or even sell them in garage/yard sales. You can find a use for just about everything if you think creatively.

Now it's time to go shopping!!!

At the store, the first thing I do is grab all of the items I've incorporated into my scenarios. It's not at all unusual for some items to be out of stock, so it helps to have a few backup items in mind if possible. I always bring my calculator and coupon keeper in case I have to do some on-the-spot configuring.

You may want to group your purchase into multiple transactions. Often I'll do multiple transactions in one trip, so I group each transaction and organize my coupons before approaching the cashier so as to make checking out as efficient as possible. There are a couple of reasons for doing multiple transactions. One is to maximize your savings from $/$$ CVS coupons when they're available. For example, if you have a $2/$10 purchase coupon, it makes more sense to do multiple transactions as close to $10 so you can get $2 off each one. A second reason would be to roll your ECBs that print from one transaction and use them to pay for your next transaction to minimize your actual OOP expenses.

Learn the proper order to present your coupons. When you're ready to check out, first make sure the cashier scans your ExtraCare Card. Then it's important that you present your coupons in exactly this order to maximize your savings – CVS dollar off transaction coupons, CVS store coupons/manufacturer coupons, and finally your ECBs. If you present your dollar off coupons after your manufacturer and store coupons, your total transaction amount may not be high enough to allow the system to accept the coupon.

One very important thing to mention about ECBs is that you will not get change for them, so make sure you use them to their fullest. If I have a dollar off transaction coupon, I generally try to stay as close as possible to the minimum transaction amount to maximize my savings, but if my total after coupons is less than the ECBs I have to pay with, I'll pad my transaction with a few filler items so I'm not wasting the difference between the transaction amount and the ECBs.  Filler items are just inexpensive items that you add to a transaction to get it above a certain subtotal.  Trial size items are great, or in a pinch at the register you could grab a pack of gum.

Check your receipts and verify that all ECBs you earned printed correctly. It's much easier to have issues resolved before you leave the store, but CVS Customer Care is generally very helpful as well. And make sure to put your ECBs in a safe place. Treat them like cash because trying to get them replaced is near impossible if you lose them.

Please feel free to email me or leave a comment if anything here was too ambiguous. I'm here to help you get started, and I definitely don't want to leave anyone feeling overwhelmed right from the start!

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{ 206 comments… read them below or add one }

1 CJ April 2, 2010 at 4:46 am

When you have a $/$$ (i.e. $5/$25 purchase) coupon - - does the $25 purchase have to be the total price of merchandise before or after the CVS card is scanned? A lot of times, my purchase doesn't come to $25 with the sale prices, but I figure, if it is calculated before the sale prices and then have my card scanned...my total would be greater. Then I would give them the $/$$ coupon, then whatever other coupons, ECBs, green tag. Please confirm if this is accurate...thanks!

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2 CJ April 2, 2010 at 12:46 am

When you have a $/$$ (i.e. $5/$25 purchase) coupon - - does the $25 purchase have to be the total price of merchandise before or after the CVS card is scanned? A lot of times, my purchase doesn't come to $25 with the sale prices, but I figure, if it is calculated before the sale prices and then have my card scanned...my total would be greater. Then I would give them the $/$$ coupon, then whatever other coupons, ECBs, green tag. Please confirm if this is accurate...thanks!

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3 Mary May 28, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Thanks for the great 411 article on shopping at CVS. We will be sharing it with our readers too!
http://www.4our2cents.com/2010/05/never-pay-for-toothpaste-again.html

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4 Mary May 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Thanks for the great 411 article on shopping at CVS. We will be sharing it with our readers too!
http://www.4our2cents.com/2010/05/never-pay-for-toothpaste-again.html

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5 Jennifer July 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Maybe this is stupid...but how do you know what items will print out ECB?

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6 Tara Kuczykowski July 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm

You'll find most of the deals in the ad, Jennifer. Occasionally there will be monthly deals and "hidden" deals in store, and I'll post about those to let everyone know about them.

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7 Jennifer July 2, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Maybe this is stupid...but how do you know what items will print out ECB?

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8 Tara Kuczykowski July 2, 2010 at 1:39 pm

You'll find most of the deals in the ad, Jennifer. Occasionally there will be monthly deals and "hidden" deals in store, and I'll post about those to let everyone know about them.

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9 kim July 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

I was just at my CVS yesterday and tried to use the b1/g1 coupon for the stayfree that were on sale b1/g1 and the girl said that I couldn't use it. Is it just my CVS or has anyone had a similar problem? I've done it before and she took it. I thought 1 package was a free bee from the store's sale and the coupon was a free bee from the manufacturer.???? Am I wrong? I was so annoyed.

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10 kim July 4, 2010 at 10:22 am

I was just at my CVS yesterday and tried to use the b1/g1 coupon for the stayfree that were on sale b1/g1 and the girl said that I couldn't use it. Is it just my CVS or has anyone had a similar problem? I've done it before and she took it. I thought 1 package was a free bee from the store's sale and the coupon was a free bee from the manufacturer.???? Am I wrong? I was so annoyed.

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11 Jodie August 19, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Hi - sorry but I seem to be not understanding one key bit of info. Do the ECB print out at the register? Or do they come to me in the mail? How long fo you generally have to use them?

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12 Leslie August 22, 2010 at 12:47 am

The ECB print on the bottom of the receipt when you make the purchase. I am not sure if the time to use them is always the same, but the ones I got today (8/21) expire on 9/20, and the ones I got last Sunday (8/15) expire on 9/14, so looks like 30 days.

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13 Jodie August 19, 2010 at 10:46 am

Hi - sorry but I seem to be not understanding one key bit of info. Do the ECB print out at the register? Or do they come to me in the mail? How long fo you generally have to use them?

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14 Leslie August 21, 2010 at 8:47 pm

The ECB print on the bottom of the receipt when you make the purchase. I am not sure if the time to use them is always the same, but the ones I got today (8/21) expire on 9/20, and the ones I got last Sunday (8/15) expire on 9/14, so looks like 30 days.

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15 Stephanie Crosswhite August 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm

CVS had BIC razors B1G1-50% off, I also had manufact. coupons, B1G1Free, they argued with me that they would take my coupons and give me the half-price pkg. free, but not an additional pkg. of razors. I wanted to buy the half-price AND get one free. Was this correct? We have a brand new CVS in my neighborhood so I would like to continue to shop there, but frankly, I am not treated like a cheater at Walgreens, we don't have a Rite-Aid and Target is convenient, as well.

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16 Stephanie Crosswhite August 28, 2010 at 10:59 am

CVS had BIC razors B1G1-50% off, I also had manufact. coupons, B1G1Free, they argued with me that they would take my coupons and give me the half-price pkg. free, but not an additional pkg. of razors. I wanted to buy the half-price AND get one free. Was this correct? We have a brand new CVS in my neighborhood so I would like to continue to shop there, but frankly, I am not treated like a cheater at Walgreens, we don't have a Rite-Aid and Target is convenient, as well.

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17 Andrea September 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I was wondering if you could use multiple manufacture coupons for the same product for the same amount if they have different expiration dates. For example if I have 2 / $2 coupons for a razor and one coupon expires on 10/31 and one on 11/30..can I use them both on one razor to get $4 off? Or one coupon per item?

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18 Tara Kuczykowski September 27, 2010 at 5:17 pm

No, you may only use one manufacturer's coupon per item. If your store allows store coupons (CVS does), you may use one manufacturer's coupon plus one store coupon on a single item.

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19 Brittani October 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Where can you get CVS coupons from? the ad? i know that might sound stupid but i really dont know.

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20 Tara Kuczykowski February 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

You'll generally only receive them at the bottom of your receipt or when you scan your ExtraCare card at the red scanners in store.

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21 Corley turner December 29, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Ok, I new to couponing and to CVS. I've read a lot of tutorials and am ready to get started. My question is, how do I figure out the best deal scenarios for the items I need. Is there a formula you use to figure out your multiple transaction scenarios? Any advice is most appreciated!

Thanks!

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22 Tara Kuczykowski February 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Since CVS rarely offers $/$$ purchase coupons anymore, the only thing you really need to take into account is any ECBs you're planning to apply to a transaction. Your total after coupons has to be higher than the amount of ECBs you're using or you will lose any remaining balance.

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23 Sandi January 29, 2011 at 11:51 am

What does CRT mean?

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24 Tara Kuczykowski February 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm

A CRT is and abbreviation for the coupons that print at the bottom of your "cash register tape" -- you'll also get them when you scan your coupon at the red scanners in the store.

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25 Katherine February 13, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Our CVS opened today! Yay! It says in the ad for some of the ECB deals, limit one per household. Do they track this by your Rewards Card? So can you only do the deal once in the whole week, or only once per transaction? Like this week, I like the Huggies deal 2/$17.98, get $4 ECBs when you buy 2. But it says 1 per household. So can I only do it once total? Or a couple times, as long as it's separate transactions?

Also, since it tracks things by Rewards card, can you do multiple transactions for a deal that requires buying several items and it will still print out the ECBs when you finally get enough? Or does it have to be all one transaction? (Hopefully that question makes sense - I don't have a specific scenario in mind).

Thanks for your help!

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26 Tara Kuczykowski February 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Yes, the limits are by card for the entire week. And yes, you can do multiple transactions to fulfill the requirements for an ECBs offer. Everything is tracked by the ExtraCare card.

Be sure to take a reusable shopping bag and purchase yourself a Green Bag Tag too!

http://dealseekingmom.com/cvs-green-bag-tag-earns-you-ecbs/

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27 Cheryl March 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

When the ad says "spend 25 and get 10 ecb", what about using coupons on those items? Does that mean you cannot use a coupon that would bring your final total under 25?

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28 Amanda March 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Cheryl- after all the items are scanned, hand your coupons over. You should still get your ECBs even if the items go under $25 after coupons.

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29 Mari-Anne March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

How do you print so many coupons from one site? For example, you are to use four coupons of one item. I always get the "sorry, you have printed the limit" image pop up. Does anyone know how to counter this?

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30 Amanda March 28, 2011 at 9:07 pm

There's no way to counter it. Maybe a computer programmer could, but then that would totally be cheating! However, a lot of times I find the same coupon available in multiple places, (i.e. smartsource.com and on the manufacturer's website) and then you can usually print 2 from each source.
I don't have two computers, but I think a lot of people do, and print 2 from each computer.

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31 Emily April 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I see it said a lot that if you buy something for .99 and you get .99 ecb it's like getting it free. But for the first time going in, you will have to pay the regular price oop, correct?

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32 Tara Kuczykowski April 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Right, you have to pay the first time, but then if you can keep "rolling" the ECBs, that's where the real savings kick in.

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33 Christina May 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I dont quite understand how this works. I have read it but how do you get the ebc's and do you start purchasing products before you can recieve them. What about the coupons where are we suppose to find all these coupons. I am just new and need a little advice because I have decided with the economy so bad we need to start saving in many ways.

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34 Myrna May 24, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I am new at couponing and until now I've been afraid of walking in to the store because I truly had no idea how to take advantage of this coupons. I have a big family, recently in a bad economic situation and obviously in need of lots of items and it will kill me to walk in there unprepared.
After reading this amazing detailed information, I am more than ready to start my smart shopping.
Thank you sooooo much, my family and I really needed this help.

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35 Baety June 11, 2011 at 10:43 pm

OOP does not include the tax. What do you do if the item is not on the shelf anymore?

Thanks.

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36 Monica June 12, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Hi,
I'm just wondering..can you use your ECB to purchase cvs gift cards? Thanks!!

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37 Andrea June 19, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Can I stack an ECB and a manufacturer coupon for the same item?

EX. Laundry soap B1G1
Use 1$ off 2 and 2$ ecb?

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38 Chrystal June 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I have never been to CVS before but was thinking of going. Can anyone tell me if they are offering a BOGO sale can you use a coupon on each item. Also can you use an ECB to get another ECB on the same item but on a different transaction?

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39 Cactus July 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm

You really saved my skin with this infortmaion. Thanks!

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40 n3mbe July 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I bought something using ECB but I want to return the item will I get a refund of the ECB?

Thanks,

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41 arlana August 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Can I use ecbs on the same scenarios as before and get MORE ecbs the same? For instance, buy a razor for 8.50, get 5$ ecbs. Go to a different store, buy the same razor with my $5 ecbs, and get more ecbs?

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42 Tara Kuczykowski August 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Yes, as long as the limit on the deal is more than one. But you don't need to go to another store -- most stores will let you do multiple transactions.

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43 Jenn August 15, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Am I the only one who thinks selling things you get for free at the store is illegal? You're making profit from a manufacturers expense. Does anyone else agree with me? Even if it's not illegal I think that's terribly wrong.

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44 melissa August 18, 2011 at 9:33 am

I think once you own it (and you do own it after it's free) you can do what you want. I personally would never do that. Where are people getting "free" items anyway? the stores in my areas have so tightened their policies that I am rarely ever able to do this. I don't consider "free" after ECB to be "free" because I paid money out of pocket.

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45 Jenn August 22, 2011 at 12:12 am

I guess when I say free I mean to say very cheaply or close to free. For instance getting a very cheap deal on soap then selling it out of your garage for full price. Not only morally wrong but I'm 99.9% sure that's illegal.

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46 Marie September 18, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Pelase explain me in detail how the Zyrtec deal works for this week (9/18/11). I had the cupon for $7.00 but no other discount was applied or given. Did I need to scan the actual coupon in the red machine before using it? How can I know if the Rtc will be $5 or $10? Any suggestions if I didn't get it?
Thanks.

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47 mommycoupon October 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm

What are the CVS Dollar off transaction coupons and how do I score those?

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48 Haley October 31, 2011 at 9:02 am

If you return items that contributed toward ECBs, do you lose the ECBs?

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49 Melanie December 9, 2011 at 6:50 pm

I received via mail notice that I have $42.50 in quarterly ExtraBucks Reward and sale price savings of $1.02. I took it to my CVS and asked how I used it and the store manager could not tell me anything about it. Told me to call the 1-800 number for info.
Always scan my extra card but have not ever 'cashed' it in.

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50 Myrna April 21, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Hi I have a question
CVS has toothpaste at 2.99 OOP and 2.00 back in ECB. So basically for .99 can I use those 2.00 back in the 25.00 worth of make up and 15.00 back in ECB?

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51 Maryanne Panfil April 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Does CVS offer a sneak peek look at their weekly ad and how can I get it?

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52 Carol July 30, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I have question about using ECBs at CVS. I bought $15.00 worth of items to get $7.00 in ECBs back, but what I got was $5.00 in Beauty Club EBRs and a $4 off $20.00 coupon instead of $7 ECB. Not sure what happened?? Also can I use the beauty club EBRs on anything? Thanks for any input.
Carol

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53 jane b October 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm

what does CRT mean?

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