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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 Angel April 5, 2009 at 3:35 am

I am now to CVS. I will be testing it out tomorrow but I was just wondering if you can roll ECB's. For example. If I buy huggies diapers and get a $10.oo ECB, can I use the $10.oo ECB to do the huggies deal again on the next transaction. I know you can't roll them at Walgreen's but I don't know about CVS. I hope this makes sense.

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2 Angel April 4, 2009 at 10:35 pm

I am now to CVS. I will be testing it out tomorrow but I was just wondering if you can roll ECB's. For example. If I buy huggies diapers and get a $10.oo ECB, can I use the $10.oo ECB to do the huggies deal again on the next transaction. I know you can't roll them at Walgreen's but I don't know about CVS. I hope this makes sense.

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3 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Angel, yes, you can roll your ECBs at CVS. However, the Huggies deal this week has a limit of one, so you can only earn the ECBs on it once. You were probably just using that as an example, but I wanted to make sure you knew!

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4 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2009 at 7:28 am

Angel, yes, you can roll your ECBs at CVS. However, the Huggies deal this week has a limit of one, so you can only earn the ECBs on it once. You were probably just using that as an example, but I wanted to make sure you knew!

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5 Angel April 5, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Wow, Thank you for the information. I thought it was just one per visit. I didn't realize you could not go back at the end of the week and do it agian. Good to know.

You do a wonderful job. Please keep up the great work you have saved me hundreds of $$$ since I started couponing in Feb.

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6 Angel April 5, 2009 at 11:27 am

Wow, Thank you for the information. I thought it was just one per visit. I didn't realize you could not go back at the end of the week and do it agian. Good to know.

You do a wonderful job. Please keep up the great work you have saved me hundreds of $$$ since I started couponing in Feb.

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7 Elise April 5, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Tara,
So I went to CVS and signed up for my card, and got 5 of the Similac ready to feed bottles worth $25, to get the $10 ECB deal. I had 2 $5 coupons and 3 $1 coupons, bringing it down to a $12 total.

I was able to use our EBT card (food stamps) and still have our ECBs print out. I then used the $10 ECB to get a package of free Huggies. Not too bad for my first transaction!! I'm sure I could have got things rolling, and saved even more. I'm satisfied anyways, and can't wait to get going with more!! Thanks again!

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8 Elise April 5, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Tara,
So I went to CVS and signed up for my card, and got 5 of the Similac ready to feed bottles worth $25, to get the $10 ECB deal. I had 2 $5 coupons and 3 $1 coupons, bringing it down to a $12 total.

I was able to use our EBT card (food stamps) and still have our ECBs print out. I then used the $10 ECB to get a package of free Huggies. Not too bad for my first transaction!! I'm sure I could have got things rolling, and saved even more. I'm satisfied anyways, and can't wait to get going with more!! Thanks again!

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9 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2009 at 11:48 pm

That's wonderful! Thanks so much for the updaet, Elise.

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10 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2009 at 7:48 pm

That's wonderful! Thanks so much for the updaet, Elise.

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11 Dizzy Mommy April 6, 2009 at 1:53 am

I know at Walgreens you can only use as many RRs and coupons combined as you have items... for instance 3 RRs and 2 Manufactor coupons you cant have less them 5 items. Is this different at CVS, I'm planning on doing the baby items deal buying diapers, I have $3/$15 purchase CVS coupon, 2 MF, and several ECBs from last weeks specials.
Also I was wondering if you final total is what prints your ECBs on specials like the baby items, where your final total must be greater then $25, or is it as long as it origenally rings up over $25 then you get the EBCs. Where if I purchase 3 packs of Diapers and my total after MF and CVS coupons is only $22 for instance will I not get the EBCs, and would ECBs count towards this also....hope its not too confusing...

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12 Dizzy Mommy April 5, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I know at Walgreens you can only use as many RRs and coupons combined as you have items... for instance 3 RRs and 2 Manufactor coupons you cant have less them 5 items. Is this different at CVS, I'm planning on doing the baby items deal buying diapers, I have $3/$15 purchase CVS coupon, 2 MF, and several ECBs from last weeks specials.
Also I was wondering if you final total is what prints your ECBs on specials like the baby items, where your final total must be greater then $25, or is it as long as it origenally rings up over $25 then you get the EBCs. Where if I purchase 3 packs of Diapers and my total after MF and CVS coupons is only $22 for instance will I not get the EBCs, and would ECBs count towards this also....hope its not too confusing...

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13 Tara Kuczykowski April 6, 2009 at 2:21 am

Dizzy Mommy, your total must be $25 before coupons. You'll want to hand over your $3/$15 first, then your manufacturer coupons, and finally your ECBs. You total number of items must not be greater than the number of coupons including the $/$$, so you may need to add an inexpensive filler item to balance it out.

I hope that answers your questions!

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14 Tara Kuczykowski April 5, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Dizzy Mommy, your total must be $25 before coupons. You'll want to hand over your $3/$15 first, then your manufacturer coupons, and finally your ECBs. You total number of items must not be greater than the number of coupons including the $/$$, so you may need to add an inexpensive filler item to balance it out.

I hope that answers your questions!

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15 Dizzy Mommy April 6, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Are EBCs counted as coupons at CVS as RRs are at Walgreens...

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16 Dizzy Mommy April 6, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Are EBCs counted as coupons at CVS as RRs are at Walgreens...

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17 Tara Kuczykowski April 6, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Nope, ECBs do not count as coupons!

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18 Tara Kuczykowski April 6, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Nope, ECBs do not count as coupons!

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19 Kelly June 3, 2009 at 3:56 am

New to CVS. In this weeks circular there is some deodorant with an extra buck reward. Is that extra buck applied at the time of the transaction or is it added to my card to be used at a future purchase? Just trying to understand how it works...

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20 Kelly June 2, 2009 at 11:56 pm

New to CVS. In this weeks circular there is some deodorant with an extra buck reward. Is that extra buck applied at the time of the transaction or is it added to my card to be used at a future purchase? Just trying to understand how it works...

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21 Tara Kuczykowski June 3, 2009 at 4:14 am

Kelly, they will print at the bottom of your receipt, and you can use them on your next transaction.

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22 Tara Kuczykowski June 3, 2009 at 12:14 am

Kelly, they will print at the bottom of your receipt, and you can use them on your next transaction.

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23 Meredith June 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm

I am new to the cvs game, and really all coupons in general. What does "psa" mean?

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24 Meredith June 7, 2009 at 2:51 pm

I am new to the cvs game, and really all coupons in general. What does "psa" mean?

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25 Tara Kuczykowski June 7, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Meredith, that means "prices starting at". You can find a list of all the terms here.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/Coupon-Lingo-Quick-Reference-Guide/

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26 Tara Kuczykowski June 7, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Meredith, that means "prices starting at". You can find a list of all the terms here.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/Coupon-Lingo-Quick-Reference-Guide/

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27 Susan June 11, 2009 at 10:27 pm

Here's a question I haven't been able to find an answer to: Can the ECB's from multiple CVS cards be combined on one purchase or must they be kept separate?

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28 Susan June 11, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Here's a question I haven't been able to find an answer to: Can the ECB's from multiple CVS cards be combined on one purchase or must they be kept separate?

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29 Tara Kuczykowski June 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

They must be kept separate. The register will only accept ECBs with the same account number as your ExtraCare card.

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30 Tara Kuczykowski June 12, 2009 at 2:15 pm

They must be kept separate. The register will only accept ECBs with the same account number as your ExtraCare card.

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31 Andrea June 21, 2009 at 7:07 am

I am kind of confused and I am sorry if you have explained this before! But, say I buy something and then $10 ECB print out and then I do another transaction, do I have to buy something that is worth $10 or close to it? Or can I buy a couple of things that equal $10?

And also, when you mean multiple transactions to maximize ECB profit, does that mean that you can only get one ECB offer each transaction? Or if I bought two things that are both supposed to receive ECBs they will both print out separately?

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32 Andrea June 21, 2009 at 3:07 am

I am kind of confused and I am sorry if you have explained this before! But, say I buy something and then $10 ECB print out and then I do another transaction, do I have to buy something that is worth $10 or close to it? Or can I buy a couple of things that equal $10?

And also, when you mean multiple transactions to maximize ECB profit, does that mean that you can only get one ECB offer each transaction? Or if I bought two things that are both supposed to receive ECBs they will both print out separately?

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33 Andrea June 21, 2009 at 7:10 am

and one more question about stacking coupons,

can you stack a manufacturer's coupon that says One Coupon Per Offer with a CVS coupon?

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34 Andrea June 21, 2009 at 3:10 am

and one more question about stacking coupons,

can you stack a manufacturer's coupon that says One Coupon Per Offer with a CVS coupon?

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35 Tara Kuczykowski June 21, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Thanks for your questions, Andrea. I think I'm going to do a CVS FAQs post, but I'll answer your questions quickly.

1. Yes, you have to spend at least $10 or you'll lose part of the ECBs. You can purchase multiple items.

2. You can earn more than one ECB offer per transaction, but your goal is to keep your total OOP about the same as ECBs you have on hand, so that's how you maximize your savings. ECBs from different offers will print separately. ECBs from the same offer will be compiled into one.

3. You can stack any manufacturer coupon with a store coupon because one is redeemed with the manufacturer and one with the store.

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36 Tara Kuczykowski June 21, 2009 at 10:25 am

Thanks for your questions, Andrea. I think I'm going to do a CVS FAQs post, but I'll answer your questions quickly.

1. Yes, you have to spend at least $10 or you'll lose part of the ECBs. You can purchase multiple items.

2. You can earn more than one ECB offer per transaction, but your goal is to keep your total OOP about the same as ECBs you have on hand, so that's how you maximize your savings. ECBs from different offers will print separately. ECBs from the same offer will be compiled into one.

3. You can stack any manufacturer coupon with a store coupon because one is redeemed with the manufacturer and one with the store.

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37 Liz July 4, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Quick ECB's question! :) I know that you have to spend the same amount (or more) of the ECBs you are applying to your transaction. However, are the ECBs applied to the purchase price before or after taxes? In other words, if the total before taxes is 14.95 and I have 15.00 in ECBs, will I have to buy a pack of gum to get the total over 15.00 or will taxes carry me through?

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38 Liz July 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Quick ECB's question! :) I know that you have to spend the same amount (or more) of the ECBs you are applying to your transaction. However, are the ECBs applied to the purchase price before or after taxes? In other words, if the total before taxes is 14.95 and I have 15.00 in ECBs, will I have to buy a pack of gum to get the total over 15.00 or will taxes carry me through?

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39 Tara Kuczykowski July 4, 2009 at 8:22 pm

ECBs aren't applied to taxes, so you'd have to get something else small or just eat the $0.05.

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40 Tara Kuczykowski July 4, 2009 at 4:22 pm

ECBs aren't applied to taxes, so you'd have to get something else small or just eat the $0.05.

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41 letty July 5, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Hi! I am new to CVS but, today I went and after all my purchases and cvs $ off coupons and manu. coupons I received 15.00 of ECB's. They printed on the bottom of receipt. Are they cut and used seperate or do I have to use all 15.00 at one time?

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42 letty July 5, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Hi! I am new to CVS but, today I went and after all my purchases and cvs $ off coupons and manu. coupons I received 15.00 of ECB's. They printed on the bottom of receipt. Are they cut and used seperate or do I have to use all 15.00 at one time?

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43 Tara Kuczykowski July 6, 2009 at 12:28 am

Hi Letty! I'm not really sure from your comment whether you have one ECB that's worth $15 or several that add up to $15. If it's just one worth $15, then you have to spend all $15 in one transaction. If it's several that add up to $15, you can spend each one separately to lower your out of pocket on multiple transactions.

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44 Tara Kuczykowski July 5, 2009 at 8:28 pm

Hi Letty! I'm not really sure from your comment whether you have one ECB that's worth $15 or several that add up to $15. If it's just one worth $15, then you have to spend all $15 in one transaction. If it's several that add up to $15, you can spend each one separately to lower your out of pocket on multiple transactions.

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45 letty July 6, 2009 at 12:40 am

Thank You Tara! Sorry, I forgot to mention that it was several ECB's not just one. Can't wait till my next shopping trip to CVS..............

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46 letty July 5, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Thank You Tara! Sorry, I forgot to mention that it was several ECB's not just one. Can't wait till my next shopping trip to CVS..............

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47 Jenni July 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Just wanted to make sure I am understanding this correctly:

In this week's CVS circular, there's an offer for spend $20 on Benefiber, Gas-X or Maalox and get $10 ECB. If I have coupons for those products as well, does my total BEFORE any coupons have to be $20 or is that AFTER all coupons are used?

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48 Jenni July 15, 2009 at 10:39 am

Just wanted to make sure I am understanding this correctly:

In this week's CVS circular, there's an offer for spend $20 on Benefiber, Gas-X or Maalox and get $10 ECB. If I have coupons for those products as well, does my total BEFORE any coupons have to be $20 or is that AFTER all coupons are used?

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49 Tara Kuczykowski July 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Jenni, it's your total before coupons! This is what makes the deals there so great.

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50 Tara Kuczykowski July 15, 2009 at 10:59 am

Jenni, it's your total before coupons! This is what makes the deals there so great.

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