Shopping Smart at CVS
This article shares tips from the newest episode of Dealista, our podcast that'll help you get more for less.
Maybe shopping at CVS doesn’t seem that frugal, but — if you play your cards right — there is a guaranteed way to get stuff there for free (or really, really cheap). We teamed up with Tara at DealSeekingMom.com to get the scoop on this national pharmacy chain, and how you can play their ExtraCare Bucks game to your advantage!
What are ExtraCare Bucks?
These are the method of savings that CVS employs for its customers. Similar to Walgreen’s Register Rewards, these are coupons that print out at the end of a qualifying promotional purchase. They are good on future purchases and can equal free stuff!
How do I get signed up?
It’s easy. By visiting the CVS.com website or signing up in store, you can be part of the ExtraCare Program. Tara suggests that you do it in-store, if possible, as this gets you instant access to a card and the savings that go along with it. (Otherwise, you’re looking at 2 weeks to receive it in the mail.) Note: Before signing up for the program, be sure there are stores in your area. Sadly, many would-be shoppers are nowhere near a CVS, and wouldn’t be able to take advantage of any of their offers.
How Do I get free stuff?
It takes a combination of planning and purchasing, but ultimately, you can save big money and get products for free by buying other items. Sites like DealSeekingMom.com and SlickDeals.net offer weekly updates on the products you should buy, combining sale prices, ExtraCare Buck promotional deals, and manufacturer’s coupons to get them deeply discounted (or for nothing). By looking at the OOP (out-of-pocket) price, you can see just how much you’ll have to spend up front to get your items. Sometimes, you’ll pay nothing, other times, you’ll reap your reward on future purchases made with those ExtraCare Bucks.
Using earned ExtraCare Bucks (or ECB’s) for future promotions that earn ECB’s is called “rolling,” and it’s what separates the serious CVS shopper from the hobbyist. By taking advantage of an offer like the one below, you can stock your pantry for little to nothing in total out-of-pocket dollars:
I purchased Adidas deodorant as part of a special CVS ECB promotion. The deodorant earned me ExtraCare Bucks for the month, and there was also a coupon available to get the deodorant for free in All You Magazine. Even though I wasn’t paying anything out of pocket (after the coupon), I still earned the ECBs on the transaction. So I paid with the coupon, got the item for free, and still earned $3.99 in ECBs to be used towards a future transaction.
Pretty slick, huh?
In addition to remembering that ECB’s expire within 4 weeks (so use them up!), you’ll want to keep these extra tips in mind while shopping:
- Some CVS stores will give you a rain check on any item that is out of stock. This is great for that extra good deal that causes the store to be wiped out. Just ask for a rain check, and the cashier should give you one good for the item at the current price, minus the amount that the ECB would have been good for!
- ExtraCare Bucks have some restrictions, and can't usually be used to purchase the following items: Prescriptions, alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, stamps, gift cards, money orders, and prepaid debit/phone cards.
- You cannot receive change from an ECB. If your ECB is good for $5 off a purchase, and you only buy something that cost $4, you’re out a buck. Use ‘em or lose ‘em!
- Present your coupons in this order to ensure maximum savings:
- CVS dollar off coupons ($5 off a purchase of $25, for example)
- CVS store coupons
- Manufacturer’s coupons
- ExtraCare Bucks
You may not think you need all the items that go on sale with ECB’s every month, but if there is a chance to score a quality product for free, you may want to go for it, anyway! Local shelters and many charities would love your gift of free shampoo, healthcare supplies, and diapers. You can use your CVS know-how to give on a tight budget this year!
If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.