Trying Out CVS Madness
Last night was a typical action-packed Saturday night. Once the kids were in bed and a glass of wine was firmly in my hand, I went online to check out this MoneySavingMom I had heard so much about with her $35 a week grocery shopping budget. What I really wanted to know was how on earth did MoneySavingMom afford wine and other spirits on that budget?
I didn't find out, although my guess would be that households with that kind of shopping budget are teetotalers.
Instead, I was instantly fascinated by MoneySavingMom's explaination of how she plays the CVS ExtraBucks system to get hundreds of dollars worth of goods for free. I had heard about this before, but I assumed it had to do with sending in for a rebate on a $2 pair of knee high stockings or the like, and I figured it wasn't worth my time.
In fact, I'm ashamed to say that although we have lived just steps from a CVS for nearly a year, I still hadn't applied for the CVS card, which you need to participate in this ExtraBucks racket. To me, store cards were mainly for getting merchandise at a discount, and whenever I bought something on sale at CVS, an employee always scanned a "courtesy card" for me.
MoneySavingMom explains the whole ExtraBucks game in great detail here. A brief summary: CVS awards ExtraBucks as a kind of cash-back coupon, with an expiration date. In addition to its regular discounts, CVS offers bonus ExtraBucks on certain items or groups of items as a special. When you meet the requirements of the deal, the bucks print out on your receipt, and you can spend them on your next transaction almost like real money.
MoneySavingMom doesn't just explain the ExtraBucks system, she even publishes lists of which weekly and monthly specials are the best deals and points out where you can find coupons that make the reward-generating items cheaper. Coupon clipping is necessary to transform the ExtraBucks program from a nice bonus to a way of actually getting free stuff. By combining manufacturers' coupons and CVS coupons that offer money off your whole purchase, lots of shoppers are reporting great hauls of free stuff, and MoneySavingMom links to their stories on her site.
Reading these stories fascinated me. At first, I looked over the goods these people were getting free and thought, But I don't want any of that crap! There was soda and chocolate, some kind of dietary supplement drink and a ton of shampoo. I bought a two-pack of huge shampoo bottles at Costco last year and we are not even halfway through the first bottle. Moreover, some of the shoppers admitted that they didn't want some of the things they bought either, and they were just buying them because with a coupon or two, the purchases generated more ExtraBucks than they cost. Next week or tomorrow or whenever, they'd take those new ExtraBucks and spend them on more ExtraBucks-generating deals, building up a bigger and bigger pile of CVS currency.
I wondered, if I started doing this, would I just spend a lot of my already-scarce time clipping coupons and arguing with CVS clerks, and end up with a bunch of stuff I didn't need?
This morning I looked over the Sunday CVS flyer with curiosity and trepidation. Sure enough, there were the deals that MoneySavingMom listed. But there was also something that I personally needed very much: Neutrogena hand lotion. I have really dry skin and these pricey little tubes of lotion are the ony thing that make my hands feel OK after washing. CVS was offering 5 ExtraBucks if I spent $15 on Neutrogena skin care products. Oh boy, I thought, this is it! I'm gonna play the CVS game!
However, it was not clear if the hand cream was actually included in the promotion. The hand cream was listed on a separate page from the promotion ad, which was shown with a bunch of face products. Clearly, this whole thing was going to be challenging. And I had already given myself one handicap: I was not going to go on a CVS ExtraBucks trip without at least one of my children in tow. If this thing was so complicated that I had to use my scarce child-free time to do it, even substantial savings was not going to be worth it.
Instead of reading the Sunday paper, I spent perhaps an hour (with interruptions) preparing for my first CVS trip. I filled out the card application I'd picked up on my last visit. I read the CVS flyer carefully. I decided to prepare to take advantage of a different ExtraBucks promotion -- for toothpaste -- in case the lotion didn't pan out. I printed out and clipped coupons for my two planned purchases.
Then I got my 3-year-old dressed, grabbed a disc of photos I needed to have printed while I was at CVS, got us bundled up, and walked over to the store. Fortunately, it was a nice quiet Sunday morning and I was able to ask one of the clerks about the lotion as I turned in my card application and set up my photos for printing. She said it wasn't included, but since it was on sale and I had a coupon, I got two tubes anyway. It was still better than what I usually pay at Target. I carefully picked out the four tubes of toothpaste I needed to generate my first 5 ExtraBucks, collected the photos and checked out with my small stack of coupons.
Now, I knew another potential handicap was that the employees at our particular CVS have never been exactly on the ball. There are often mistakes in our prescriptions and on prices. But my daughter was getting antsy so I was not able to focus on reading my receipt until we were out of the store.
The first thing I noticed was that I did not get the 5 ExtraBucks. It said I had to spend $10 on Colgate toothpaste to get it and that I had only spent $7.50. After studying the receipt, I realized that one of the tubes of Colgate I bought was not part of the promotion.
However, I was happy to see that your purchases can be cumulative. That is, I could go back another time and exchange the fourth tube and get the bucks then. AND, the receipt also said I was halfway to getting another 5 ExtraBucks for Neutrogena products, so the clerk was wrong abou the lotion not qualifying.
But then I noticed that she had majorly overcharged me on my prints, so I had to drag my kid back in the store anyway. The clerk turned me over to a manager to get the prints fixed, I went back to get the tube of toothpaste I needed (studying the sales flyer to figure out what I had done wrong), and by the time I got back to the front a huge line had appeared at the counter.
I was nervous that the staff was going to be annoyed with me and my damn ExtraBucks problem when they had a rush to deal with. But they were very nice, did the exchange, and sure enough I earned my first 5 ExtraBucks.
With two different returns on my receipt, it was difficult to figure out what I spent versus what I earned. I think I spent about $10 (not counting my photo prints), for which I got four 6-ounce tubes of toothpaste and two tubes of lotion. That's a good deal in itself, but I also have $5 to spend on my next purchase, which will be more lotion, and if I use coupons on that purchase as well, I can probably pay little or nothing out of pocket and come out with another $5 to spend on my NEXT purchase.
Yes, it was a lot of hassle, but I am hoping most of that was learning curve, because I see now how addictive this CVS game is.