Shopping Smart at CVS

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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 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 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 and 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:
    1. CVS dollar off coupons ($5 off a purchase of $25, for example)
    2. CVS store coupons
    3. Manufacturer’s coupons
    4. 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!

Dealista is a collaboration between Wise Bread and Quick and Dirty Tips, the producer of popular podcasts such as Grammar Girl, Money Girl, Winning Investor, and Mighty Mommy.

If you enjoyed these tips you can find more in our show's archive.

Tagged: Shopping, CVS, dealista
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Guest's picture

Out of curiosity, does anyone know how this compares to Walgreens Register Rewards?

Guest's picture

If you find that a product fails while in the warrenty period, you may not be able to return it to the store for replacement. I tried to return an ice bag, under warrenty, with original packaging and receipt (as directed by label) and was refused. The Corporate office was unable to make the local store responsive.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I asked Tara, and she said this:

"The two biggest differences between the CVS ExtraCare program and Walgreens Register Rewards are you can buy more than one ExtraCare item in a single transaction and earn ECBs (ExtraCare Bucks) on both items, and you can use your ECBs on successive transactions to buy more of the same item, whereas if you use an RR that you earned at Walgreens buying Crest toothpaste to buy more Crest toothpaste, you won't earn a new RR on that transaction. Also, CVS does have a limit on each ExtraCare offer, whereas Register Rewards typically do not have a limit."

Hope this helps!

Linsey Knerl

Linsey Knerl's picture

I'm curious about your situation.  I know that many retailers (Walmart, for one) have very liberal return policies.  They won't even ask the reason why if you return within the window (usually 60 days for most items.)  Outside of the window, however, they are not responsible (as most stores are not.)

As far as manufacturer's rebates go, however, I think you have to get the manufacturer to make good on the product replacement.  (At least that's what the language in the warranty will most likely state.)  It will depend on the warranty, but this is another reason I use my Platinum Visa for purchases, not only does it extend any warranty by another 2 years, Visa will handle the replacement or repair process for me.

Sorry to hear you had such bad luck!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

There also seems to be a great deal of wasting going on with the CVS extra care rewards program.

My sister and her friend both do the whole CVS-ing thing. They end up with huge amounts of things that neither of them really use- but they've "saved" in getting them. When they review their schemes with me, it makes sense to take something for free, but not if you have no need for it. Case in point, somehow last Xmas Sis's friend ended up with many MANY glucose meters- and is not diabetic. In reviewing her schemes for getting the meters, they were in fact all free- but to what end? She gave them away as stocking stuffers for family-- none of whom were diabetic either. If it had been me, I would have found a free clinic and given them there, but again, I don't obtain things I don't need in quantity either.

Guest's picture

Sounds real similar to Walgreens. I know Walgreens just streamlined their process to make it more user friendly.

I'd say its a toss up between the two as to which is easier. I'd have to compare the items offered to see which one is better.

Great stuff though!

Guest's picture

I would add
as a web site that helps get good CVS deals.