A Beginner's Guide
You might be wondering the very same thing I wondered when I started the CVS game, I couldn't figure out how people actually shopped frugally at CVS. How could people get free stuff and why was it that I found CVS to be outrageously expensive? Well, now I know the answers to those questions and more about CVS. If you have not started playing the CVS game, you are missing out on a fun experience that will greatly benefit your family and those around you in need.
Starting CVS is not easy for those of us who are not rocket scientists BUT it becomes easier very quickly, so do not give up. Below is a list of things you need to know about the CVS game broken up so that you can reference and re-reference them.
- Obtain a CVS card by stopping by the store and filling out an application. You will receive your card immediately. Or, you can register on line at CVS.com but your CVS card takes longer to receive.
- Get all of your manufacturer's coupons organized. You will use many of them at CVS when you start and the more organized you are, the smoother it will go for you.
- Understand what an Extra Care Buck (ECB) is. It is a coupon generated by purchasing a particular item and prints out on the end of your receipt. It works like cash for almost everything in the store.
-Designate a special folder, envelope or section of your coupon storage container for CVS related coupons. You will also keep your ECB's in this place later. If you have an extra copy of your Extra Care Card, store it in this space as well. Your key ring card should stay on your key ring for easy use at check out.
-Find a website that lists the deals found at CVS each week. These sites are amazing because they do all the legwork for you. I have used many including Southernsavers.com and iheartcvs.com.
- Shop at CVS exclusively for the deals that are listed on your favorite website or from the CVS weekly ad. The moment you start buying your milk, baby supplies and household items that are NOT on sale, you will spend quite a bit more. CVS will not become your new store for everything. CVS will be your guilty pleasure for walking in with little and coming out with bags of products. You would rather buy your items on sale with coupons and ECB's than buy it for full price when you run out!
-I would suggest going to your local CVS store as early in the week or month as you can so that the deal products have a better chance of being there for you to purchase. You can always ask for a rain check if they are out of stock.
-You must get in the habit of handing your CVS card to your cashier to scan first since all ECB's and deals are tied to your card and account. You will not generate any ECB's without first scanning your card.
- Keep in mind, right from the start, to hand your coupons to your cashier in the right order. Always give your cashier your stack of coupons with any CVS store coupons on top starting with the largest amount off. Follow store coupons with manufacturer coupons. The last coupons that you should hand to your cashier are your Extra Care Bucks (ECB's) to pay for your items. You can pay any remaining balance with cash, credit or a CVS gift card.
-Start simple so that you understand the process fully before attempting more complicated deals. You will get the hang of it quickly.
Okay, so you are ready. You will check out your weekly ad or favorite website and decide which items you would like to purchase based on the ECB's they will generate and any manufacturer coupons that you have. For example, if a particular razor is on sale for $9.99 and will generate 6 ECB's, you will check your coupons to see if you have a coupon for that item or check your favorite CVS deals website.
Okay, that might have lost you. Obviously, the razor is not free since it will ring up $9.99, use a $4.00 off manufacturer coupon, therefore paying $6.00 out of pocket. But, you will get a $6 ECB that will print immediately on your receipt to use just like cash. It is a "coupon" worth a certain dollar amount. So, it was free in the sense that you got back all monies (in the form of ECB's) that you paid out. You will then have 6 ECB's to use in your next transaction.
The point is to roll over your ECB's again and again. The first transaction, you have to pay out money but if you learn to grow your ECB's than most transactions will not cost you anything but a few cents for tax. Let's say that you just did the razor deal and you now have a $6 ECB. You might find another deal that you like on Huggies bath products that are advertised to cost $3.99 but "free after ECB", which means you will get an ECB worth the entire amount you paid out. Let's say that there is a limit of 2 per CVS card for this item. You have checked your favorite website and your coupons and have found a $1 off coupon for each of the 2 Huggies bath products. This is how the transactions should go.
You walk up to the cashier and have her scan your CVS card, and then scan your products. When she gives you the total (around $8.54), you hand her your 2, $1 off any Huggies bath product coupons. She now give you the new total (around $6.56) and you hand her your ECB for $6. You pay her out of pocket less than a buck. Your receipt prints out a new $7.98 ECB from both Huggies bath products. You just grew your ECB's by $2 by using coupons.
Now, it doesn't always work out that easy. Sometimes, you will need fillers so that you reach a certain dollar amount. If you have a $6 ECB to use and your total with your new deals only comes to $4.00, you need to find a filler to make up the difference. You will not get ECB change back. The best thing to do is to start another weekly or monthly deal since the deal are cumulative all week or month. If you need to buy $10 worth of Garnier products to get a $5 ECB, you can break those purchases up so they best fit your needs. You will not generate the ECB's until your final product is purchased but you can work the products in on many transactions.
CVS has weekly deals and monthly deals. The weekly deals are advertised in the weekly ads and the monthly deals (which are good all month) are advertised in the monthly ECB books. Again, using a website like Southernsavers.com and iheartcvs.com eliminates the need to figure out all of this on your own. The best way to seriously grow your ECB's is to take advantage of the monthly free after ECB deals that you can stack with manufacturer coupons. You can grow your ECB's fast when you are already getting an item "free" and you subtract more off your cost by using a coupon.
Once you are able to complete simple transactions, you will be ready to perform more complicated ones. Work slowly and ask a lot of questions. Another way to gain more and more ECB'S without paying out of pocket is to use $$ off CVS coupons. CVS sometimes puts out $5 off a $20 purchase coupons or the like. These coupons are emailed to card holders and are sometimes offered at the Coupon Center in CVS. They have simple rules. You must buy the designated amount of merchandise BEFORE coupons to get the $$ off. So if you are using the 5 off 20, your bill total must be over 20 before deducting your coupons or ECB's to get the 5 off. The biggest rule about these $$ off CVS coupons is that you MUST submit this coupon FIRST to your cashier. If she sets it aside, ask her to use it first. It will not work once your coupons have been taken off and your total is lower.
It all takes time and patience. If you over spend or mess something up, ask a sales associate for help. Double and triple check your products against the ads to make sure you are buying the product that will indeed generate an ECB. Do as much CVS shopping or as little as you want. Do whatever you feel you can personally handle.
Well, I hope that covers CVS shopping in the easiest way to help you understand how it works. It always sounded much more complicated than it was for me too. Check out your favorite websites for Deal Ideas and Shopping Scenarios. Reading other people's shopping scenarios will help you understand how to shop CVS. Also, consider CVS for your prescription needs since our insurance usually makes all prescriptions the same cost regardless of the pharmacy. CVS will often send you coupons in the mail for a $25 gift card if you transfer a new prescription to them.
Please let me know if you have any questions.