CVS: How to start CVSing– and start getting TONS of household goods and toiletries for FREE!

CVS is one of my *favorite* stores and last year alone I saved over $1700 there(!)  I rarely pay anything out of pocket for any of the following–in fact, oftentimes I “make” money buying the following:

-Shampoo
-Conditioner
-Hair styling aids
-Razors
-Toilet Paper
-Paper Towels
-Air Fresheners
-Toothpaste
-Toothbrushes
-Makeup
-Moisturizer
-Skin Cleansers
-Sunscreen

Now, it does take a little bit of time and planning to shop really well at CVS– but, in my opinion, it’s well worth it.  Also, it does take a little bit of time to completely understand how CVSing works– I’m going to try to explain it as clearly as possible– but inevitably there will be questions– feel free to post any questions here in the comments section and I promise to answer them in a timely fashion.

Okay, ready? Here’s how it works:

What to do before you get started:

Step One: Go to your local CVS store and register for a CVS Extra Care Card– they’re FREE and you’ll get one instantly– you MUST have an Extra Care Card in order to get the sale prices advertised in the Sunday circular.

Step Two: Register your CVS card online and attach your email address in order to start receiving emails (including coupons–yay!) from CVS– you can register your card HERE (click on “create an account”)

You must present your card to the cashier each and every time you purchase an item or fill a prescription in order to get credit all of your purchases and in order to receive ECBs.

Step Three: You do NOT have spend ANY time hunting  for deals, they will ALL be spelled out for you, including links to any printable coupons– just check the matchups HERE or here: www.livefabuLESS.com/matchups

Step Four: You are going to buy the items that you regularly need and use when they’re at a fabuLESS price and stock up (just a little bit!)– you might have to go to CVS fairly often at first, but once you’re stocked up you’ll rarely have to go to CVS at ALL!

Okay, here’s how to rock it at CVS:

What the heck is an Extra Care Buck and how does it work?

Extra Care Bucks (generally referred to in the couponing world as ECBs) are issued at the register at the bottom of your receipt and they can be used as cash at CVS with a few restrictions: they cannot be used on prescriptions, alcohol, gift cards, lottery, money orders, postage stamps, pre-paid cards and tobacco.

Your name will be printed on the ECB and your ECBs can ONLY be used with YOUR card– they’re not transferrable nor will CVS replace lost or stolen ECBs, so keep them in a safe place as they’re as good as cash.  You also won’t get cash back if you buy an item that’s less expensive than the face value of the ECB (I’ll explain more how to best use your ECBs in just a moment.)

ECBs expire approximately 30 days after they’re issued– it is VERY important to use the ECBs before they expire as CVS will NOT reissue them (though some stores will accept them if they’ve *just* expired– you don’t want to run the risk of losing them.)

fabuLESS tip: Keep your ECBs in your wallet (with your cash!)– because they’re essentially money– and note on your calendar, or better yet set a reminder on your phone, for when the ECBs expire so you don’t miss out!

Items that earn ECBs are found BOTH in the weekly flyer– found in your Sunday paper, online and in store– AND in the monthly flyer, found in store.  Each deal has a limit per card– generally between 1 and 5 deals per card– you can find the limits listed in the flyers AND at the bottom of your receipt once you’ve purchased the item.

In addition to earning ECBs from purchasing specific items, each quarter you also get 2% of your quarterly CVS spending back as ECBs and you also earn $1 in ECBs for every two prescriptions that you fill at CVS.  Again, be sure to present your card to the cashier to ensure that you’re getting credit for all of your purchases and to earn your ECBs.

Overview of how to start CVSing:

Okay, you have your card and you know what ECBs are– let’s explain how to *really* start CVSing and maximizing your savings.

If you buy an item that is free after ECBs (i.e. buy Aussie shampoo for $2.99, get $2.99 in ECBs) you will then use the ECBs you’ve earned on Aussie to buy ANOTHER item that will earn you ECBs– say, Colgate toothpaste for $2.99 (and get ECBs back)– you don’t have to buy the second item on the same day or even in the same week, as long as you buy that second item before your ECB(s) expires.  This is referred to as “rolling your ECBs”

Allow me to demonstrate:

Transaction 1:

Buy Aussie shampoo: $2.99
Out of Pocket Spend: $2.99
Get $2.99 in ECBs

Transaction 2:

Buy Colgate toothpaste: $2.99
Use $2.99 ECB from Aussie, out of pocket spend is $0
Get $2.99 in ECBs from Colgate

The second item (in this case, the Colgate toothpaste) is completely FREE (NO out of pocket cost)–PLUS you still have $2.99 in ECBs to spend.

So, if you do this right, you will have an initial “investment” that will generate ECBs and you can keep rolling the ECBs over and over and over (and over) again.

That initial “investment” needed to earn the first set of ECBs–can and should be earned by transferring a prescription, if you have one, from another pharmacy to CVS which, if you have a coupon, will earn you a $25 gift card (CVS accepts competitors coupons for prescription transfers)

How to get started earning ECBs:

Even if you don’t have a gift card, you’re only going to spend around $20 maximum to get started.  Now, here’s the kicker– you might have to buy some things that you don’t need to generate some ECBs (if you don’t need them, please donate them to someone who can and will use them.)

It’s also best to start CVSing during a week that there is also a $3 off $15, $4 off $20 or a $5 off $25 coupon available– you can find those coupons in your email inbox (if you’ve registered with CVS.com) OR they can also be found in store from the coupon generator (more on this in a moment!) OR you can also find those coupons posted here on my blog when they are available.

The additional $s off your purchase coupons tend to be available just about every 2 to 3 weeks– and they allow you to REALLY maximize your savings since you can “stack” them on top of already discounted and sale prices AND coupons.

How to use coupons at CVS:

Ah, yes, coupons– CVS will accept ONE manufacturer’s and ONE store coupon per item, and they will allow overage– meaning that you can “make money” while buying items.  No, they will not open the register and give you cash– but you can either earn more in ECBs than you spent or reduce your total out of pocket.

For example, let’s say Colgate toothpaste is $2.99 and you’ll get $2.99 in ECBs (also referred to FREE after ECBs)– if you also have a $1 off manufacturer’s coupon for Colgate, you will only be paying $1.99 ($2.99 less the $1 coupon) for the toothpaste, but you still get the FULL $2.99 in the form of ECBs– stack on a CVS store coupon for Colgate, if you have one AND a $3 off $15 coupon, if one’s available this week and you can see how you can start getting “paid” to shop at CVS.

Again, CVS won’t be opening up the register to pay you money– but you can either grow your ECBs (meaning that you end up with more ECBs than you originally started with) OR you can get additional items for free.

Let me demonstrate both scenarios:

Here’s how to GROW your ECBs:

Let’s say that you start with $7 in ECBs and then you purchase the following:

Gilette Razor: $8 (get $4 in ECBs)
Colgate toothpaste: $3 x 3 (get $3 in ECBs x 3)
Subtotal: $17

Less $3 off $15 CVS coupon
Less $4 off Gillette Razor coupon
Less $1 Colgate toothpaste coupon x 3

Total: $7
Use your $7 ECB to pay
Your OOP (out of pocket) is $0
AND you earned $13 in ECBs(!)– a net “profit” of $6(!)

Also, please notice that I was able to use the $3 off $15 coupon even though my after coupon total was only $7– so you want to be certain to give the $s off the total coupon FIRST, before you give any other coupons.

Here’s how to get additional items for FREE while shopping with ECBs:

Again, you are starting with $7 in ECBs

Gillette Razor $8 (get $4 in ECBs)
Colgate Toothpaste $3 (get $3 in ECBs)
Makeup Case: $4
Subtotal: $15

Less $3 off $15
Less $4 off Gillette Razor coupon
Less $1 Colgate toothpaste coupon

Total: $7
Pay with $7 ECB
Earn $7 in ECBs

So, in essence, you got the additional item– in this case, a makeup case, for FREE– and you spent nothing out of pocket– not too shabby, right? Also, please note that the Gilette razor in the above scenario was also free between coupons and ECBs– so even items that aren’t out and out free can still be “purchased” with no money out of pocket.

But, how do I get CVS store coupons for items?

You can get CVS store coupons in a number of ways: they are occasionally emailed to card holders, they are found in magazines sold at CVS, they’re in some free flyers at CVS– but MOST importantly, CVS coupons are available at the coupon machine in your local CVS– the coupon machine (which I affectionately refer to as the coupon spitter outer machine) looks just like a price scanner– ’cause that’s what it is– but instead of scanning an item, you just scan your CVS card and the machine spits out coupons.

You want to scan your card at the machine FIRST– before you do your shopping– because oftentimes the machine will generate a coupon that you will want to use that day. And, unfortunately, not all CVS stores have a coupon generator– but you will still get coupons but only if you make a purchase, they’ll be printed on the bottom of your receipt, along with your ECBs.

Where to find the CVS deals:

You don’t have to do all the work yourself, others are happy to do it for you! Coupon matchups for CVS can be found posted HERE or here: www.livefabuLESS.com/matchups– and whenever there is a “moneymaking” deal available at CVS, I will be sure to let you know!

CVS coupon policy:

Click HERE to see the official policy.

Happy CVSing!

And, again, if anyone has ANY questions– or additional tips– please either email me or post them in the comments section!