Sunday, August 8, 2010

The countdown to CVS


In honor of CVS opening in Omaha, I've hopped back onto the bargain blogging wagon. :) Yes, Omaha, CVS will be opening its first store here in exactly one week, Sunday, August 15th! What's the big deal, you ask? Read more to find out!

What is CVS?
CVS is a nationwide drugstore chain. Inside you will find items similar to what you find in Walgreens. If you like to bargain shop at Walgreens, then you are familiar with their Registar Rewards (RR) program where you earn RRs to spend later on anything you want in the store (with a few exceptions like Rx, alcohol, etc). CVS has a similar program that is called "Extra Care Bucks", or ECBs as those in the bargain world like to call them. (Side note: do not refer to them as ECBs while in the store, the employees will have no idea what you're talking about!) The ECB will print as separate coupons on the bottom of your receipt.

The first thing you want to do at CVS is to sign up for one of their Extra Care Cards. This is similiar to a Bakers card, or other grocery store card. You will need a CVS card in order to get the sale prices and ECBs offered in the weekly advertisement. You can sign up online, but it will take a couple of weeks to get a card that way. Since we're only 1 week from CVS opening, I would suggest you sign up in the store, you'll get a card right on the spot.

The Lowdown on CVS
The general idea at CVS is to use manufacturer coupons and purchase items that generate ECBs. Then use those ECBs (and more coupons) to purchase more items that earn ECBs with as little out-of-pocket (OOP) money as possible. Once you get a few weeks or a month into it, you should have a nice amount of ECB money to use each week/month to purchase the weekly ECB items. Again, the idea is similiar to Walgreens - my husband calls it "playing with the house money" - the "house money" being ECB or RR.

Walgreens VS CVS
While there are similarities between Walgreens & CVS, there are a few key differences between deal shopping at each store.

  • Walgreens RR deals are unlimited - you can buy as many as you want
  • CVS ECB deals are limited - the limit for each item/deal will be stated in the weekly ad, and on the bottom of your receipt once you purchase one of the ECB items
  • Walgreens RRs cannot be used to purchase the same item and earn more RR on that item (for instance, if you earned a RR from purchasing Dove deodorant, you cannot use that RR to purchase more Dove deodorant and earn another RR - you can purchase it, but no RR will be generated)
  • CVS ECB can be used to purchase anything (exceptions are Rx, alcohol, etc) and it will not affect any ECBs you are trying to earn
  • Walgreens RR - you can only purchase one RR deal at a time. If you purchase more than one in a single transaction, you will only receive RR for one item/deal.
  • CVS ECB you can purchase as many as you want, up to the limit stated in the ad. The ECB that is printed will be for the ECB amount X however many you bought
  • Walgreens RRs are considered manufacturer coupons and do not affect tax (at least in Nebraska).
  • CVS ECB are considered store coupons and CAN reduce the amount of tax you owe IF you give your coupons/ECB in the right order (more on this later).
  • Walgreens RRs expire 2 weeks from the day printed
  • CVS ECB expire 4 weeks from the day printed
  • Walgreens RR print from a separate Catalina machine (called as such because the company that makes the machine is named Catalina)
  • CVS ECBs print on the bottom of your receipt - much better than a separate machine b/c you won't ever forget to get them from the cashier

CVS Store Coupons
In addition to using manufacturer coupons and ECBs to pay, you can sometimes get ahold of CVS store coupons to bring your total down even further. CVS store coupons are linked to your card and can only be used by that card. For instance, if I have a store coupon emailed to me, I cannot forward that email to a friend to use, it will only work with my CVS card. There are a few ways to get CVS store coupons:
  1. Register your CVS card online here and receive a $4 off a $20 purchase coupon. This will also register you to receive other coupons via email!
  2. Most stores have a scanner in the store for checking prices on items. Scan your CVS card each time you go and you should receive a coupon or two!
  3. Some regions have occasional CVS store coupons printed in the newspaper. Since we have new stores opening soon, there is a good possibility of finding one in the OWH. If you see one in the OWH, please let me know!
CVS store coupons used to be generic (not CVS card specific) and were really easy to get ahold of. Now they are much more limited and should be treated like gold. :) There are 2 types of CVS coupons - item specific coupons and $/$$ coupons.

The first is an item specific coupon, such as "Save $0.50 off any Dove deodorant", that coupon is pretty self-explanatory, although it should be noted that you can also use a manufacturer coupon in addition to the CVS coupon.

The other type of CVS coupon is a $/$$ coupon, such as the $4/20 mentioned above. This is a "money off your total purchase" type of coupon. For example, if you have a CVS coupon for $4 off a $20 purchase, your subtotal of items BEFORE tax, manufacturer coupons, store coupons, and ECB must be $20 or more. Give the $4/20 coupon first, then your other coupons/ECB to reduce your total amount due as low as possible.

Reducing your Tax
As mentioned earlier, if you do it right, you can use your ECB to reduce the amount of tax you owe. I'm not sure exactly why this works the way it does, but I've done it before and unless something has changed since the last time I shopped at CVS (which was a couple of years ago!), it works. After the cashier scans all of your items, give your coupons in the following order:

  • CVS $/$$ coupon
  • ECB
  • CVS store coupons
  • Manufacturer coupons
  • Cash/debit card/visa/etc

From what I understand, you want to give the manufacturer coupons last because this causes the CVS cash register to switch into "payment" mode. Anything given before the cash register switches into payment mode will cause your taxable amount to be reduced. Let's look at it this way: any CVS coupons or ECB (which are essentially store coupons) will reduce the price of the product, similiar to if the item(s) were on sale. If you have a CVS item specific coupon such as the one above of "Save $0.50 off any Dove deodorant", that coupon is reducing the price of the item. You only pay tax on the reduced price (after store coupons/sale), not the full retail price. In contrast, manufacturer coupons are actually considered a "legal form of tender" by our government, this means it's a form of payment, which is why they don't reduce your taxable amount.

Now, that being said, sometimes it can be hard to figure out exactly how much ECB you are going to use to pay, so people tend to give all other coupons first and then pay with ECB whatever is left over. Just remember that any ECB you have scanned before using your manufacturer coupons will reduce your tax. So if you know for certain that your total after manufacturer coupons is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-12, then try and pay with $10 worth of ECB before you hand over your manufacturer coupons.

Planning your Transactions
I try to plan my transactions out ahead of time so I know exactly how much ECB I will be using to pay. But sometimes the store will be out of stock on something and it messes me all up. When that happens, I switch over to what I call "ledger mode". I get out a piece of paper and at the top I write down how much ECB I want to spend. Under that I have 2 columns, one is for the price of the item, the other is for any coupons (manufacturer or store coupons, excluding ECB I will be spending). I write down the price of each item as I put it in my cart and also any coupons I am using (including CVS $/$$ coupons at the top). I keep a running total of each column. When the difference between the 2 columns equals the amount of ECB I have to spend, I'm done shopping and I know I can hand over my ECB first to pay, then hand over my manufacturer coupons. When the cashier is scanning the items I double check them against what I wrote down to make sure everything is ringing up the correct price and won't mess up my ledger. (Sometimes I also do this at Wags if I'm trying to burn up RR.)

I know that's a lot of information to absorb, but once you get the hang of it you won't have to think twice. If you have any questions, please feel free to post a comment. I will be trying to post upcoming deals for CVS in the weeks to come. To get you started, here is a coupon to print for the first week of Omaha CVS shopping:

Blink Tears priced at $7.99 will generate a $7.99 ECB (limit 1)
Print a $1.50 off any Blink Tears coupon (Firefox link, if you're printing in IE, change the "vg" to "vi" in the link address)

This will make it a $1.50 money maker! See, you're already saving money at CVS! Stay tuned this week for Grand Opening transactions at CVS.

If you are interested in reading more about CVS shopping, here are a couple of good articles:

Helpful Tips for Rookie CVS Shoppers

CVS for Newbies (@

The Bargainista

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