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Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Use Coupons: Pharmacies - CVS

The pharmacy is where you will be able to save the most and potentially even make money when shopping. Trust me, I understand that it makes no sense when you initially think about it. I hope that the next series of posts will enable you to do as well as I have while shopping at pharmacies.

I'm beginning my series on Pharmacy Couponing with CVS because it is my favorite store to shop at. I LOVE their customer service and there are usually great deals to be had.

Coupon Stacking

Most stores allow you to do what is called "Coupon Stacking." This means that you can use two coupons on one product: a manufacturer's coupon and a store (in this case CVS) coupon. CVS provides many places to get store coupons. You can print CVS store coupons here, you can find them in the CVS Reinventing Beauty Magazines (ask for them at the front counter, different stores have them in different places), and you can print them at the ExtraCare Coupon Center (more on that below). There are a couple of different ways to tell whether a coupon is a manufacturer's or a CVS Store Coupons. CVS Store Coupons may say "Redeemable only at CVS." Do not be fooled by those that say "Redeem at CVS" or at Walmart or any specific store; as long as it does not have the word "only" on it, you should be able to use it anywhere. Also, manufacturer's coupons almost always start with the number 5 underneath the barcode at the bottom. CVS coupons usually start with a 4. You will not be able to use two coupons that start with a 5 on one product, or two coupons that start with a 4 on one product, but you can, and should, definitely use one of each.

ExtraCare Program

The ExtraCare (EC) Program provides you with the most opportunities to save at CVS. It is a basic loyalty program with some added perks. 

If you don't yet have a CVS card, you can register for one in store or online (once you create an online account you will have to continue on to sign-up for a EC card). 

If you have a EC card but have not created your online account, you should do so now by clicking here and then attach your EC card number to your account. 

Be sure to go to the "Card Information" and then "Update Personal Information" section and check the "yes" box next to the question "Do you wish to receive valuable coupons and offers by email from ExtraCare?" If you're setting up a new account, you should receive an email with a coupon for $4 off a $20 purchase. If you already have this set up, be sure to keep an eye on your inbox and SPAM folders for coupons and special deals. 

Now that all of the sign-up logistics are out of the way, we can move on to how to use your EC card and coupons to make you money...

ExtraCare Bucks (ECBs)
Everything that is on sale at CVS is only on sale with your EC card. If you ever forget to bring your card to the store, ask them to please look up your account with your phone number. You must use your card EVERY time you shop if you want to save money.

Each week CVS puts out their ad with sale prices. Many weeks, CVS also has items with ExtraCare Bucks (ECBS), or what is basically money that can be used only at CVS. The majority of weeks have deals where an item, lets say Colgate Total Toothpaste for example (this was a deal from a few weeks ago), is on sale for $3.49. BUT, you also get $3.49 back in ECB, effectively making the Colgate Total free (+tax, in NJ). Without using even one coupon, you're already getting a great deal on toothpaste.

I've been couponing a long time now though, and I'm not willing to pay even the $.24 in tax it would have cost me to buy this toothpaste. I looked at the coupon match-ups and discovered I had a coupon from a newspaper insert for $.35 off of Colgate Total. Even better, I had a coupon from the CVS Reinventing Beauty Magazine and from an issue of the All You Magazine for $1. I couldn't use all three coupons, though, because they were all manufacturer's coupons. So I looked at the expiration dates of the two worth $1 and I used the one expiring the soonest. On top of that, I had a CVS coupon that printed from the ExtraCare Coupon Center for $1 off any Colgate Total toothpaste. 

(The ExtraCare Coupon Center, which I affectionately call the Magic Red Box, is located towards the front of each CVS store. It can be used to scan a barcode to check a price on an item or it can be used to print coupons. Every time you walk into a CVS you should scan your card there at least twice. I scan it until it comes up with a message that says "No more coupons available. Check back tomorrow." Some of the coupons it prints are good only for one day, some are good for up to 3 weeks. I throw the majority of the coupons out because they are often for products that I don't use and that don't go on sale, but sometimes they can make for a great deal. The Magic Red Box is also where ECBs occasionally print, but more on that later.)

So back to the Colgate deal...the price was $3.49 with $3.49 in ECB. I had a manufacturer's coupon for $1 and a CVS coupon for $1. So, with tax added, my total came to $1.73 (the total price of the item is always taxed before coupons are taken into account). I paid my $1.73 (though I  used an ECB from a previous transaction to bring my out-of-pocket, OOP, expenses down even further), and I got $3.49 back in ECB to use on a future transaction. So I just made $1.76 on that purchase of toothpaste.

CVS rocks because ECBs don't expire for one month after they are earned. And, while not all CVSs do, many will take expired ECBs; mine takes them for up to a month after they've expired.

I do understand that an ECB cannot be used as cold, hard cash but I believe they are nearly as good. With the amount of shopping I do at CVS, I rarely have trouble spending my ECBs. If I am ever close to one expiring, I purchase something that does not often go on sale that I would be paying cash for anyway. 

Rolling ECBs

To keep expenses down, most coupon websites will break deals down into several transactions so that you can "roll" your ECBs. In other words, you use the ECBs earned from one transaction to help pay for the next. The goal is to walk out of the store with the least amount of ECBs remaining as possible and the least amount of actual money spent. I do separate transactions regularly and have found that as long as I have each transaction planned out with the proper coupons handy and I go to the back of the line for each, customers and employees will not give me a difficult time. There is one employee at my CVS who goes so far as to call other people over to see how well I did! 

If there are nice employees at your CVS, become friends with them. Not only will it make shopping trips more enjoyable, but usually they will be more willing to help if you ever need assistance and some will even let you in on special deals like the occasional 30% off Friends and Family discount days. I see the employees at my CVS so often that I brought them cookies for Christmas this year! I am always thankful when I walk in the door and someone I know is working the register because I know that she/he will be patient with my craziness.

Quarterly ECBs

Each quarter, you will get back 2% of what you actually spent (after coupons) and $1 for every 2 prescriptions filled in ECBs. Quarterly ECBs will print at the ExtraCare Coupon Center or can be printed through your EC online account on or after the first day of the month following the end of a quarter.

Additional Tips (Courtesy of Southern Savers)

  • Purchase a Green Bag Tag for $1 and use it (with your green bag) when shopping at CVS. For every 4 times you use it, you will get $1 in ECBs
  • Make sure you always give them a $$/off $$$ (like the $4 off $20) coupon first before manufacturer's coupons.
  • Always have a list of exactly what is free, sometimes it is very specific items and you want to make sure you are getting the right things. I always grab a flyer when I walk in the store so I can match up the ad with the products.
  • If you are using a $4 off $20 or type of coupon like that make sure you have a few backup plans to hit your $20 in case your CVS is out of something.
  • Take in a calculator to help you quickly add up your total to make sure you are going to have the right amount for ECB’s to cover it.
  • You need to always make sure that what you are buying is equal to your ECB’s or a little more (pennies). You can pay for $4 worth of items with $5 in ECB but you are losing money that way and don’t really want to do that. So find some filler items that you like, $1 disposable razors, a pack of gum, etc.

Where to Find the CVS Deals

You could spend a lot of time going through the CVS ads and using a coupon database to plan shopping trips, or you can just go to a website that already does the work for you! My favorite site for pharmacy shopping is Southern Savers. Once on the site, go to the right-hand side of the page and click CVS. Or, you can bypass the homepage and go right to the CVS posts by clicking here. Jenny (the site creator) also posted a Beginner's Guide Video and the CVS Official Coupon Policy. If you are new to couponing, definitely print out the policy and bring it with you in case there are any disputes when checking out.

I also recently starting using Living Rich With Coupons when shopping at pharmacies. Cindy sometimes posts different transaction scenarios that are more useful to me personally and you may just like her layout better.

Final Points
When you first start couponing at CVS it may seem like I'm being less of a Realistic Couponer and more of an Extreme Couponer. It will take more time at the beginning. If you're feeling overwhelmed just reading this blog post, start by purchasing only the things that are free with ECBs. Then, begin to pair those deals with manufacturer's and store coupons. After that, begin splitting your trips into separate transactions to spend less money out-of-pocket. I have been couponing long enough that my stockpile is built up and now I only purchase things that are money makers or things that are at their lowest prices that I frequently use.

And remember, although you may end up purchasing some things you may not need (you should always puchase something if it is a Money Maker to help offset the items that are not), you can always donate unwanted items to charity or even friends and family; in my experience, poor college students will take almost anything!

The Least You Need to Know
  • Shopping at CVS can save/make you money!
  • Sign up for an ExtraCare Card either in-store or online and use it EVERY time you shop at CVS.
  • Scan your EC Card at the "Magic Red Box" ExtraCare Coupon Center at least twice every time you enter a CVS.
  • Purchase a Green Bag Tag and use it and your Green Bag every time you shop to earn ECBs.
  • Start small and shop just the really good sale items, like those that are free with ECBs.
  • When you're ready, stack manufacturer's coupons with store coupons to save extra money.
  • Hold onto ECBs like they are cash! They cannot be reissued if lost.
  • Roll your ECBs by splitting your puchase into several transaction to lower your out-of-pocket expenses when making purchases.
  • Always buy an item if it is a Money Maker!
  • Use websites like Southern Savers or Living Rich With Coupons to find the best deals and to get ideas for different shopping scenarios.
  • E-mail me if you have any questions or if anything I wrote was unclear!

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