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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 Marcela August 13, 2009 at 3:11 am

I cant think logically this week or something....but this week there is a deal for BOGO on toothpaste. lets say the toothpaste cost $2 each. and i have two coupons that are each worth $1... is it even logical to use two coups or should i just use one.

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2 Marcela August 12, 2009 at 11:11 pm

I cant think logically this week or something....but this week there is a deal for BOGO on toothpaste. lets say the toothpaste cost $2 each. and i have two coupons that are each worth $1... is it even logical to use two coups or should i just use one.

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3 Tara Kuczykowski August 13, 2009 at 3:15 am

CVS will allow you to use both coupons, Marcela. And even better, if you have a BOGO coupon that matches up with a BOGO deal there, you'll get both items free!

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4 Tara Kuczykowski August 12, 2009 at 11:15 pm

CVS will allow you to use both coupons, Marcela. And even better, if you have a BOGO coupon that matches up with a BOGO deal there, you'll get both items free!

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5 marshelle August 18, 2009 at 6:31 am

How does the raincheck work does it stay the same price for when the next time you come in and it is available or is it free the next time you come in and it is available because it was not there when you were going to purchase to begin with

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6 marshelle August 18, 2009 at 2:31 am

How does the raincheck work does it stay the same price for when the next time you come in and it is available or is it free the next time you come in and it is available because it was not there when you were going to purchase to begin with

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7 Tara Kuczykowski August 18, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Marshelle, it varies by store. I've had some stores just ring the item at the price it would have been after ECBs, and other stores will ring it at the advertised price from when the raincheck was created and force ECBs to print for it. And I've heard others have had the put the ECBs amount on a gift card. There doesn't seem to be a standard way of doing it.

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8 Tara Kuczykowski August 18, 2009 at 10:13 am

Marshelle, it varies by store. I've had some stores just ring the item at the price it would have been after ECBs, and other stores will ring it at the advertised price from when the raincheck was created and force ECBs to print for it. And I've heard others have had the put the ECBs amount on a gift card. There doesn't seem to be a standard way of doing it.

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9 Kristie August 30, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I might have missed this - but can you use ECBs right away, and could you buy the same item and get the ECBs again? Ex. the Glade candles this week?

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10 Kristie August 30, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I might have missed this - but can you use ECBs right away, and could you buy the same item and get the ECBs again? Ex. the Glade candles this week?

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11 Kristie August 30, 2009 at 9:48 pm

by 'right away' I meant same day - different transaction?

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12 Kristie August 30, 2009 at 5:48 pm

by 'right away' I meant same day - different transaction?

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13 Wendy August 31, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Hello,

This may have already been asked/explained, but...When the ad says limit 1 does that mean even if I go back the next day to get an item with a ECB attached to it that I wont get the ECB? Do they track it by your card? I am specifically asking about the Glade candles this week. 6.99 ECB. I bought one and got the ECB and went back the next day to get another one and got no ECB.

Thank you SO MUCH for helping us all save money!!!

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14 Wendy August 31, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Hello,

This may have already been asked/explained, but...When the ad says limit 1 does that mean even if I go back the next day to get an item with a ECB attached to it that I wont get the ECB? Do they track it by your card? I am specifically asking about the Glade candles this week. 6.99 ECB. I bought one and got the ECB and went back the next day to get another one and got no ECB.

Thank you SO MUCH for helping us all save money!!!

Reply

15 Lisa McCoy September 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

When or where do you get the $ off coupons from CVS? I have received ECB's and know about the store and manu. Q's but have never gotten a $ off coupon. I am still just a month in and have learned more in the last 4-5 days from your site. I am sooooo excited!!

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16 Lisa McCoy September 27, 2009 at 10:36 am

When or where do you get the $ off coupons from CVS? I have received ECB's and know about the store and manu. Q's but have never gotten a $ off coupon. I am still just a month in and have learned more in the last 4-5 days from your site. I am sooooo excited!!

Reply

17 Tara Kuczykowski September 27, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Wendy, that's correct. The limit is per Extra Care Card.

Lisa, you can find coupons a variety of ways. Sometimes they'll issue them in the newspaper. Sometimes they'll print at the end of a transaction or when you scan your card at one of the coupon machines. Sometimes they will email them to you, so make sure you register your email address with them.

Right now you can get one by taking a short quiz on CVS.com.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/cvs-5-off-25-purchase-coupon-for-flu-survey/

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18 Tara Kuczykowski September 27, 2009 at 11:58 am

Wendy, that's correct. The limit is per Extra Care Card.

Lisa, you can find coupons a variety of ways. Sometimes they'll issue them in the newspaper. Sometimes they'll print at the end of a transaction or when you scan your card at one of the coupon machines. Sometimes they will email them to you, so make sure you register your email address with them.

Right now you can get one by taking a short quiz on CVS.com.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/cvs-5-off-25-purchase-coupon-for-flu-survey/

Reply

19 patty October 4, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I'm very excited to have found your site. I'm still trying to understand the rules. In your explanation "CVS dollar off transaction coupons, CVS store coupons/manufacturer coupons, and finally your ECBs. " What is a CVS dollar off transaction coupon? Also, a while ago I tried using my EBC coupon on a second transaction and the cashier told me I couldn't use it. I had to wait until the next time I came in. How would you handle that scenario? Thanks again, this service is invaluable.

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20 patty October 4, 2009 at 10:59 am

I'm very excited to have found your site. I'm still trying to understand the rules. In your explanation "CVS dollar off transaction coupons, CVS store coupons/manufacturer coupons, and finally your ECBs. " What is a CVS dollar off transaction coupon? Also, a while ago I tried using my EBC coupon on a second transaction and the cashier told me I couldn't use it. I had to wait until the next time I came in. How would you handle that scenario? Thanks again, this service is invaluable.

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21 Tara Kuczykowski October 4, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Patty, an example of a dollar off transaction coupon would be these $5 off any $25 CVS purchase coupons that are available right now.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/cvs-525-flu-survey-coupon-3-links/

Sometimes the ECBs won't scan right away for some reason, but the cashier should just be able to push them through. I have the CVS customer service phone number programmed into my phone for problems such as this. They'll take care of it for you.

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22 Tara Kuczykowski October 4, 2009 at 11:26 am

Patty, an example of a dollar off transaction coupon would be these $5 off any $25 CVS purchase coupons that are available right now.

http://www.dealseekingmom.com/cvs-525-flu-survey-coupon-3-links/

Sometimes the ECBs won't scan right away for some reason, but the cashier should just be able to push them through. I have the CVS customer service phone number programmed into my phone for problems such as this. They'll take care of it for you.

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23 Dawn K October 20, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Does CVS have a limit to the number of coupons allowed per item, similar to Walgreens? Two examples:

I currently have the $5 off of $25 purchase, and 2 manufacturer coupons of the $3 off Prilosec. If I go and buy two Prilosec (which I have a raincheck for at last week's sale price with ECB, woo!), I technically have 3 coupons for two items.

Example 2 (I know this happens less often, due to the rarity of CVS ad coupons to clip):
I have a MF coupon for item A, as well as a CVS clip coupon. Item A is the only item I'm buying, so I again have more coupons than items.

Thanks for this awesome website!

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24 Dawn K October 20, 2009 at 10:46 am

Does CVS have a limit to the number of coupons allowed per item, similar to Walgreens? Two examples:

I currently have the $5 off of $25 purchase, and 2 manufacturer coupons of the $3 off Prilosec. If I go and buy two Prilosec (which I have a raincheck for at last week's sale price with ECB, woo!), I technically have 3 coupons for two items.

Example 2 (I know this happens less often, due to the rarity of CVS ad coupons to clip):
I have a MF coupon for item A, as well as a CVS clip coupon. Item A is the only item I'm buying, so I again have more coupons than items.

Thanks for this awesome website!

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25 Tara Kuczykowski October 20, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Dawn, in these instances you wouldn't need a filler item. CVS is much more flexible than Walgreens when it comes to this!

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26 Tara Kuczykowski October 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Dawn, in these instances you wouldn't need a filler item. CVS is much more flexible than Walgreens when it comes to this!

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27 Kelly October 27, 2009 at 1:17 am

The other day I had a manufacturers coupon for $2, a $2 CVS brand coupon, a $5 off $30 coupon, a $10 of $50 coupon & then my quarterly(?) points coupon worth $9. They took all my coupons but the $2 cvs brand coupon. And I had 2 CVS brand items. I asked why and she thought it was because I had already used too many coupons. I didn't argue because may savings were huge($26). Plus I bought conditioner on sale, that ended up being a an additional $10, for a total of $36! So I was pretty happy with my shopping trip that day. However, this happened once before, but the cashier punched it in manually for me. Can you have too many coupons? Just wondering if this was typical? CVS in our city is only a few months old, so maybe there is still a learning curve. Thanks!

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28 Kelly October 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm

The other day I had a manufacturers coupon for $2, a $2 CVS brand coupon, a $5 off $30 coupon, a $10 of $50 coupon & then my quarterly(?) points coupon worth $9. They took all my coupons but the $2 cvs brand coupon. And I had 2 CVS brand items. I asked why and she thought it was because I had already used too many coupons. I didn't argue because may savings were huge($26). Plus I bought conditioner on sale, that ended up being a an additional $10, for a total of $36! So I was pretty happy with my shopping trip that day. However, this happened once before, but the cashier punched it in manually for me. Can you have too many coupons? Just wondering if this was typical? CVS in our city is only a few months old, so maybe there is still a learning curve. Thanks!

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29 Cynthia October 28, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I'm new to all of this and I'm really trying to understand but I'm just not "getting it" .... Can't seem to wrap my head around the process. Does anyone live in the High Point, NC area who would teach me how to do some of this coupon stuff??? Thank you :)

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30 Cynthia October 28, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I'm new to all of this and I'm really trying to understand but I'm just not "getting it" .... Can't seem to wrap my head around the process. Does anyone live in the High Point, NC area who would teach me how to do some of this coupon stuff??? Thank you :)

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31 MommyPaine October 29, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Today I was told that CVS does not accept Internet Printable Coupons? Anyone else have this happen?

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32 MommyPaine October 29, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Today I was told that CVS does not accept Internet Printable Coupons? Anyone else have this happen?

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33 Lisa November 17, 2009 at 3:47 am

Sorry if this has already been covered several times but I haven't figured this out...
If there is a deal for ex. Buy $20 worth of candy and get $10 ECB's. Does the $20 spent need to be before coupons? In other words, if I buy $20 worth of candy but then give them $5 in coupons and only pay $15, will I still get the $10 ECB's?

Thanks!!

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34 Lisa November 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Sorry if this has already been covered several times but I haven't figured this out...
If there is a deal for ex. Buy $20 worth of candy and get $10 ECB's. Does the $20 spent need to be before coupons? In other words, if I buy $20 worth of candy but then give them $5 in coupons and only pay $15, will I still get the $10 ECB's?

Thanks!!

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35 Tara Kuczykowski November 17, 2009 at 4:35 am

Yep, the $20 is before any store or manufacturer coupons.

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36 Tara Kuczykowski November 16, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Yep, the $20 is before any store or manufacturer coupons.

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37 Carrie November 30, 2009 at 2:32 am

Can you use both a CVS coupon - from the FLU coupon book ($.50 off toothpaste) AND a manufacturer's coupon ($1.00 off toothpaste) for the same item? I know that Rite Aid allows you to do this, but I didn't know if CVS does.

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38 Carrie November 29, 2009 at 9:32 pm

Can you use both a CVS coupon - from the FLU coupon book ($.50 off toothpaste) AND a manufacturer's coupon ($1.00 off toothpaste) for the same item? I know that Rite Aid allows you to do this, but I didn't know if CVS does.

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39 Tara Kuczykowski November 30, 2009 at 4:57 am

Yes, you can use one manufacturer and one store coupon per item.

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40 Tara Kuczykowski November 29, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Yes, you can use one manufacturer and one store coupon per item.

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41 Jeni Rickard January 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I have been told, at my local CVS, that I cannot redeem any ECBs until they give me my ECB "certificate" that prints out twice a year. This doesn't make sense with all that you are saying about CVS. Help!

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42 Jeni Rickard January 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm

I have been told, at my local CVS, that I cannot redeem any ECBs until they give me my ECB "certificate" that prints out twice a year. This doesn't make sense with all that you are saying about CVS. Help!

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43 Nancy February 4, 2010 at 2:07 am

This is probably obvious to everyone but me.. I just learned that you can't use ECB's that were earned on one CVS card (say, mine) for a purchase using someone else's CVS card (say, my husband's card). They wouldn't take the $3 off $15 coupon for the same reason either. I was hoping to get past their "limit of 2" on a sale item by using my husband's card, and then pay with the ECBs earned from an earlier purchase. No luck.

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44 Nancy February 3, 2010 at 9:07 pm

This is probably obvious to everyone but me.. I just learned that you can't use ECB's that were earned on one CVS card (say, mine) for a purchase using someone else's CVS card (say, my husband's card). They wouldn't take the $3 off $15 coupon for the same reason either. I was hoping to get past their "limit of 2" on a sale item by using my husband's card, and then pay with the ECBs earned from an earlier purchase. No luck.

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45 Nan February 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I still don't understand "rolling ECB's. I am earing ECBs, but when and how are they rolled. Is it done automatically at check out time or what?

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46 Nan February 22, 2010 at 12:05 pm

I still don't understand "rolling ECB's. I am earing ECBs, but when and how are they rolled. Is it done automatically at check out time or what?

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47 Tara Kuczykowski February 22, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Nan, rolling ECBs is basically just using ECBs you've already earned on a transaction that will earn you more ECBs. That way you're not spending much actual money out of pocket.

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48 Tara Kuczykowski February 22, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Nan, rolling ECBs is basically just using ECBs you've already earned on a transaction that will earn you more ECBs. That way you're not spending much actual money out of pocket.

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49 Kristi March 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm

I apologize if this has been asked/explained but can you tell me what it means at the bottom of my CVS receipt when it says 'Year to Date Savings' and 'Winter 2010 Spending'?
Thank you so much!!

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50 Kristi March 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I apologize if this has been asked/explained but can you tell me what it means at the bottom of my CVS receipt when it says 'Year to Date Savings' and 'Winter 2010 Spending'?
Thank you so much!!

Reply

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