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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 craftymom June 17, 2008 at 8:17 pm

I've been wanting to start saving with CVS and didn't know where to start. Thanks for the detailed information! I'll have to find out how many ECBs I have, surely a few since I use my card every time I fill an RX.

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2 craftymom June 17, 2008 at 8:17 pm

I've been wanting to start saving with CVS and didn't know where to start. Thanks for the detailed information! I'll have to find out how many ECBs I have, surely a few since I use my card every time I fill an RX.

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3 Anonymous July 17, 2008 at 2:48 am

Can I do all the Scenerios at the same store or at the same time?

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4 Anonymous July 17, 2008 at 2:48 am

Can I do all the Scenerios at the same store or at the same time?

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5 Robin Jones Gifford July 29, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Thank you so much for this information. However, I may be the slowest one to "get it".

I visited CVS today for the first time. I started with just a few of the items I really needed. Used coupons and bought the BOGOs. I still paid $20 OOP and I don't see any EBCs on my receipt.

Am I missing something?

Thanks.
Robin

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6 Robin Jones Gifford July 29, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Thank you so much for this information. However, I may be the slowest one to "get it". I visited CVS today for the first time. I started with just a few of the items I really needed. Used coupons and bought the BOGOs. I still paid $20 OOP and I don't see any EBCs on my receipt. Am I missing something?Thanks.Robin

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7 Tara July 30, 2008 at 2:21 am

Robin, I'm going to email you to see if I can help out. ;)

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8 Tara July 30, 2008 at 2:21 am

Robin, I'm going to email you to see if I can help out. ;)

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9 Cindi-Moomettesgram's Musings July 31, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Thanks for the primmer. I'm going to have to try this again. I always use my card, I'm just slow to get the hang of the ECBs.

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10 Cindi-Moomettesgram's Musings July 31, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Thanks for the primmer. I'm going to have to try this again. I always use my card, I'm just slow to get the hang of the ECBs.

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11 Cindi-Moomettesgram's Musings July 31, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Thanks for the primmer. I'm going to have to try this again. I always use my card, I'm just slow to get the hang of the ECBs.

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12 Cindi-Moomettesgram's Musings July 31, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Thanks for the primmer. I'm going to have to try this again. I always use my card, I'm just slow to get the hang of the ECBs.

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13 Tara August 5, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Feel free to ask questions. I'd eventually like to compile an FAQ to follow up on this!

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14 Tara August 5, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Feel free to ask questions. I'd eventually like to compile an FAQ to follow up on this!

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15 craftymom August 17, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I've got a question for you.

I was looking at my Extra Care Rewards on the CVS site and it shows a balance for your spring spending or summer spending and says the summer spending rewards will be issued on Oct. 1st and redeemable in-store or on line.

My question is, does this balance get applied to my Extra Care Card and how to I redeem them?

Does this make sense?

The spring rewards shows I received them on July 1st, but I don't recall seeing them anywhere.

Sorry if this is confusing!

Hope you enjoyed your vacation...I missed your deals this week!

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16 craftymom August 17, 2008 at 3:36 pm

I've got a question for you.I was looking at my Extra Care Rewards on the CVS site and it shows a balance for your spring spending or summer spending and says the summer spending rewards will be issued on Oct. 1st and redeemable in-store or on line. My question is, does this balance get applied to my Extra Care Card and how to I redeem them?Does this make sense? The spring rewards shows I received them on July 1st, but I don't recall seeing them anywhere.Sorry if this is confusing!Hope you enjoyed your vacation...I missed your deals this week!

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17 Tara August 17, 2008 at 4:41 pm

The quarterly rewards from the previous quarter will print out as an ECB at the start of a new quarter. You may have received it and spent it without even really noticing.

I believe that the new update on the website now allows us to reprint the quarterly ECBs at home if they haven't been used, and hopefully they will be implementing this feature for all ECBs soon.

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18 Tara August 17, 2008 at 4:41 pm

The quarterly rewards from the previous quarter will print out as an ECB at the start of a new quarter. You may have received it and spent it without even really noticing. I believe that the new update on the website now allows us to reprint the quarterly ECBs at home if they haven't been used, and hopefully they will be implementing this feature for all ECBs soon.

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19 craftymom August 17, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Thanks!

Now I'll know to keep an eye out for them!

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20 craftymom August 17, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Thanks!Now I'll know to keep an eye out for them!

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21 beth September 8, 2008 at 6:16 pm

I am very new to this and need a little clarification. Do you get ECB's for everything you buy or do you have to buy certain items? I just went for my first trip to CVS yesterday and did ok I guess, I only paid $5.43 OOP and got 6 items, however I didn't see any ECB's on my receipt. Also the quarterly earnings that will print out in Oct., are those all ECB's that I can use? One other question, can you use more than one manufacture's coupon in a transaction, for ex. if I buy 2 tubes of Colgate Toothpaste and I have 2 $1.50 off coupons can I use both of those or only one?

Thanks!

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22 beth September 8, 2008 at 6:16 pm

I am very new to this and need a little clarification. Do you get ECB's for everything you buy or do you have to buy certain items? I just went for my first trip to CVS yesterday and did ok I guess, I only paid $5.43 OOP and got 6 items, however I didn't see any ECB's on my receipt. Also the quarterly earnings that will print out in Oct., are those all ECB's that I can use? One other question, can you use more than one manufacture's coupon in a transaction, for ex. if I buy 2 tubes of Colgate Toothpaste and I have 2 $1.50 off coupons can I use both of those or only one?Thanks!

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23 Tara September 13, 2008 at 3:16 am

Beth,

Not every item generates ECBs, but you do earn quarterly ECBs of 2% on most items. To see which items are generating ECBs in a given week, check out my weekly deals post and also the monthly deals post. You can absolutely use more than oone coupon in a transaction.

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24 Tara September 13, 2008 at 3:16 am

Beth,Not every item generates ECBs, but you do earn quarterly ECBs of 2% on most items. To see which items are generating ECBs in a given week, check out my weekly deals post and also the monthly deals post. You can absolutely use more than oone coupon in a transaction.

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25 Bijaydi October 13, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for the helpful info! I'm waiting for my CVS card to arrive in the mail. In the meantime I'm curious: how long do you normally have before ECBs expire?

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26 Bijaydi October 13, 2008 at 11:25 am

Thanks for the helpful info! I'm waiting for my CVS card to arrive in the mail. In the meantime I'm curious: how long do you normally have before ECBs expire?

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27 Deal Seeking Mom October 13, 2008 at 3:31 pm

Good question, Bijaydi! ECBs expire 4 weeks from the date of issue. They actually expire at the same time of purchase on that day (i.e. if your purchase was at 4:00pm, it would expire at 4:00pm), but cashiers generally push them through until the end of the day.

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28 Deal Seeking Mom October 13, 2008 at 11:31 am

Good question, Bijaydi! ECBs expire 4 weeks from the date of issue. They actually expire at the same time of purchase on that day (i.e. if your purchase was at 4:00pm, it would expire at 4:00pm), but cashiers generally push them through until the end of the day.

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29 Sharon December 19, 2008 at 9:59 pm

tara: can I use both a $4/20 coupon as well as a $2.50/10 on pain meds in one transaction? (assuming I've met both the $20 threshold and I have at least $10 of pain meds)

I am relatively new to this and I didn't want to find out in the store that my scenario won't work!

Thanks - I really appreciate your blog!

Sharon

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30 Sharon December 19, 2008 at 4:59 pm

tara: can I use both a $4/20 coupon as well as a $2.50/10 on pain meds in one transaction? (assuming I've met both the $20 threshold and I have at least $10 of pain meds)

I am relatively new to this and I didn't want to find out in the store that my scenario won't work!

Thanks - I really appreciate your blog!

Sharon

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31 Tone January 5, 2009 at 11:00 am

Hello,

I have to say that the ECB's do not expire 4 weeks from issued, at least not in my case. I do not usually shop CVS but was there on Christmas Eve and earned 5.00 in ECB's. However, they expired on January 2 just a couple of days later and I was never able to use them.The CVS here also does not have their own coupons as they are clipless like most of the supermarkets.

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32 Tone January 5, 2009 at 6:00 am

Hello,

I have to say that the ECB's do not expire 4 weeks from issued, at least not in my case. I do not usually shop CVS but was there on Christmas Eve and earned 5.00 in ECB's. However, they expired on January 2 just a couple of days later and I was never able to use them.The CVS here also does not have their own coupons as they are clipless like most of the supermarkets.

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33 Heather February 1, 2009 at 1:51 am

Just a comment about EB expiring- I was told by a cashier that EB never expire and have used expired ones on several occassions. This could be due to MA state law or something, but please check with CVS rather than tossing them! I usually use mine quickly, but had found a couple that migrated to the bottom of my purse ;-)

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34 Heather January 31, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Just a comment about EB expiring- I was told by a cashier that EB never expire and have used expired ones on several occassions. This could be due to MA state law or something, but please check with CVS rather than tossing them! I usually use mine quickly, but had found a couple that migrated to the bottom of my purse ;-)

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35 Kristin February 6, 2009 at 6:15 pm

What is a CVS Dollar off coupon & where would I found them? I have looked but have not found any in the CVS fliers or the monthly ads? Thanks

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36 Kristin February 6, 2009 at 1:15 pm

What is a CVS Dollar off coupon & where would I found them? I have looked but have not found any in the CVS fliers or the monthly ads? Thanks

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37 Amy February 23, 2009 at 8:27 pm

My cashier makes me apply my ECBs before my $4 off/$20 coupon. Wah!

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38 Amy February 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm

My cashier makes me apply my ECBs before my $4 off/$20 coupon. Wah!

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39 Deal Seeking Mom February 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Wow, that's disappointing, Amy. You can control the order things are credited to a small extent by handing things one at a time. Perhaps she won't want to re-ring the whole transaction if you want to give her the ECBs last. It's worth a try!

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40 Deal Seeking Mom February 23, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Wow, that's disappointing, Amy. You can control the order things are credited to a small extent by handing things one at a time. Perhaps she won't want to re-ring the whole transaction if you want to give her the ECBs last. It's worth a try!

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41 Jodi March 1, 2009 at 7:33 pm

I have begun reading your posts, but I have been noticing more and more that coupons are being generated by "scanning" your card when you come into the store. What exactly have I been missing out on? Do you do this at the register?

Thanks for all your hard work! I am very impressed with the deals that you are able to find. I have actually let several extra bucks expire in the past because I wasn't a big CVS shopper...unbelieveable!

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42 Jodi March 1, 2009 at 2:33 pm

I have begun reading your posts, but I have been noticing more and more that coupons are being generated by "scanning" your card when you come into the store. What exactly have I been missing out on? Do you do this at the register?

Thanks for all your hard work! I am very impressed with the deals that you are able to find. I have actually let several extra bucks expire in the past because I wasn't a big CVS shopper...unbelieveable!

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43 Deal Seeking Mom March 1, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Hi, Jodi. Good for you in taking the initiative to learn how to save money at CVS! The coupons you are referring to are received when you scan your CVS card at special machines located in the stores, but not all stores have these yet. I'm not lucky enough to have a local store with them, but Alyssa at Keeping the Kingdom First did a fabulous video on it.

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44 Deal Seeking Mom March 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Hi, Jodi. Good for you in taking the initiative to learn how to save money at CVS! The coupons you are referring to are received when you scan your CVS card at special machines located in the stores, but not all stores have these yet. I'm not lucky enough to have a local store with them, but Alyssa at Keeping the Kingdom First did a fabulous video on it.

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45 Elise April 4, 2009 at 6:52 pm

I think I understand, but on the website it states that: "Every 3 months your Extra Bucks will print on your store register receipt, or visit CVS/pharmacy online to print your Extra Bucks." So to reedem my Extra Bucks, I have to wait 3 months? I'm thinking that after your first purchase, say I purchase the things that earn you ECB, I should be able to use them on my next transaction right? Or do I have to wait until they add up for 3 months?

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46 Elise April 4, 2009 at 1:52 pm

I think I understand, but on the website it states that: "Every 3 months your Extra Bucks will print on your store register receipt, or visit CVS/pharmacy online to print your Extra Bucks." So to reedem my Extra Bucks, I have to wait 3 months? I'm thinking that after your first purchase, say I purchase the things that earn you ECB, I should be able to use them on my next transaction right? Or do I have to wait until they add up for 3 months?

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47 Elise April 4, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Oh, and one more question. Say the Baby product deal this week, if I get $25 worth of Similac (i have coupons also), can I use EBT (food stamps) and still get ECBs? I usually do the grocery shopping at Walmart, but if I can get formula at CVS and get ECBs too, it would be nice to net that towards some diapers. Thank you so much in advance, I love your site I've saved so much already!!

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48 Elise April 4, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Oh, and one more question. Say the Baby product deal this week, if I get $25 worth of Similac (i have coupons also), can I use EBT (food stamps) and still get ECBs? I usually do the grocery shopping at Walmart, but if I can get formula at CVS and get ECBs too, it would be nice to net that towards some diapers. Thank you so much in advance, I love your site I've saved so much already!!

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49 Tara Kuczykowski April 4, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Elise, those are the quarterly EBCs that you earn. The weekly deals are different and print immediately and can be used immediately.

I'm not really sure about using EBT. It would seem to me that if you can pay at CVS with it, then it should generate the ECBs, but I've never investigated it. Can you please let us know if it works if you try it?

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50 Tara Kuczykowski April 4, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Elise, those are the quarterly EBCs that you earn. The weekly deals are different and print immediately and can be used immediately.

I'm not really sure about using EBT. It would seem to me that if you can pay at CVS with it, then it should generate the ECBs, but I've never investigated it. Can you please let us know if it works if you try it?

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