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CVS 101 for Newbies: The Drugstore Game

Posted By Tara Kuczykowski On June 15, 2008 @ 12:25 am In drugstores | 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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