How to Shop at CVS and Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

The Hayward Coupon Queen teaches the ins and outs of shopping at CVS and how to make our dollar stretch while using the ExtraCare promotion in-store.

CVS is by far my favorite pharmacy store to coupon at. So far, I have found that they have the most lenient coupon policy and are very good to their couponers. Overall, their customer service is by far the best I have witnessed.

CVS has a great customer loyalty program called ExtraCare. You will need an ExtraCare card to participate and be able to earn CVS Extracare bucks or ECB’s as we couponers like to refer to them.

You can get this card in the stores or register online and they will mail you your card (in store is best because you can start saving right away). If you already have a card, make sure to register online and give them your email address and they will email you a $4 off $20 purchase coupon that will get you started.

They will continue to email you great coupons every week or so (I suggest going online every couple of days to see if you have any special offers that can be added to your card, directly from your online account; like $5 off $25 purchase coupons, etc. You can also scan your card at the "Magic Coupon Machine" in most stores, to get additional coupons.

The Extracare system is a customer loyalty program similar to the Safeway Club Card however, the Extracare card does not save you money off of normal prices (but you do have to have a card to get sale prices).

You always have to show the cashier your Extracare card to scan at the register in order to receive the benefits. Your Extracare card rewards you after your purchase with Extracare bucks, which print on your receipt. You can then use these on your very next purchase (including that same day). This is like free CVS money!

The products that will print the extracare bucks are listed in most CVS advertisements, and will say “free after ECB” or “get $XX ECB back after purchase”. It is using the extracare buck system that you will be “buying” everything at CVS for free.

How am I getting it for free?

Here is a shopping trip that will hopefully explain it easier…

Go into your local CVS and buy one of the free after ECB items. (The first time you do this you will actually pay real money – so for the very first time it is technically not free but from here on it will be.)

For instance, today you could go in and buy Tide @ $5.49

You pay $5.49 plus tax

On your receipt it will print an ECB for $5.49 that you can use on you very next trip.

You can even walk back to the laundry isle grab another bottle walk up to the counter, hand them you next bottle and hand them your ECB from your last purchase. You might owe a penny depending on your state tax system…and on your receipt (depending on the purchase limit), will print another ECB for the same $5.49. You can continue this cycle of handing them "play money" until you either reach your limit for the item, or the cows come home, if you keep grabbing free items.

I think you are now seeing how great this could be. But it gets better. Remember that coupon they emailed you when you signed up for $4 off a $20 purchase?

Let’s go back and re-pretend scenario #1. You walk in for your very first trip with multiple coupons in hand and a shopping list…

You buy:

4 Tide @$5.94 each

Total = $21.96 before tax

You have your CVS store coupon (from the email) for $4 off $20 and you have (4) $2.00 off Tide coupons from the monthly P&G Saver insert.

You pay $9.96 plus tax after all your coupons (being your first trip you pay with real money).

It will print the full value of the ECB on your receipt, so you now have $21.96 in ECB's!!! You can again use these right away if you like or they usually give you one month to use them before the expire. Note: When you purchase multiples of the same item in the same transaction that will give you ECB’s, the ECB’s will print as one coupon (ie: instead of it printing 4 coupons for $5.96, it will print it as a total of $21.96), and you will need to purchase a minimum of $21.96 worth of items to get the full bang for your buck when you go to redeem your ECB's.

HCQ tips:

  • Make sure you always give them a $$/off $$$ (like the $4 off $20) coupon first, before manufacturers coupons. In the example above had I used the manufacturers coupons first, the total would have been less than the $20 dollars needed to use the $4 off $20 coupon.
  • 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.
  • If you are using a $4 off $20 type of coupon, 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 your 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…lots of options.


If this does not fully answer your questions, please leave a comment below. I love doing this and will be glad to help. It truly is fun to walk in, pay nothing and walk out with $50 in stuff!!!

Question: Isn't CVS really over-priced? How can shopping there ever be a deal?

Answer: Yes, compared to stores like Walmart, CVS is over-priced on a lot of items. The key to making CVS'ing a deal, is to combine coupons and ECB’s. If you do this successfully, then after some initial OOP (out of pocket) expense, you will be able to start buying some things you want, and more toothpaste, razors and deodorant than you'll ever need, for very little money.

Question: What are ECB’s?

Answer: ECB’s = ExtraCare Bucks. These are earned by purchasing certain products during a promotional period. Some promotions last a week (the sale ad week), and others last for the entire month. They will print on your receipt immediately after the necessary purchase is made. These can be used “like cash” on most items sold at CVS. Be careful with your ECB’s. If they are lost or destroyed, CVS may not be willing to reset them and even if you do get lucky, they will come back as one large ECB (which can be difficult to roll). The register tape CVS uses can turn completely black if left in the heat, making your ECB’s unusable, so keep them in a safe place and don't forget to use them before they expire!

Question: What is rolling ECB’s?

Answer: Rolling ECB’s means using the ECB’s you have already earned, to buy items that will give you more ECB’s. The purpose of this is to make sure you always have ECB’s to spend at CVS so you will spend less “real” money OOP.

Question: There's a promotion that says I need to buy $20 of a certain item to earn an ECB; is that before or after coupons?

Answer: Unless otherwise noted in the fine print, it is always before coupons.

Question: Do I have to finish a promotion in one transaction?

Answer: Not usually. The weekly sales ad should mention it if you have to complete the promotion in one transaction.

Question: Are there limitations on how I use my ECB’s??

Answer: ECB’s cannot be used to pay for prescriptions, gift cards, tobacco products, alcohol, stamps, and milk. Please ask at your store if you are allowed to buy these items before attempting to do so, as some may allow you to do it. Many CVSers have successfully purchased milk, stamps, and alcohol with ECB’s. Be aware that any of these items could be prohibited, depending on the individual store's policies.

Question: How many ECB’s can I use per transaction?

Answer: As many as you want. However, the register will usually stop accepting them if they will make your subtotal (pre-tax total) negative.

Question: What are quarterly ECB’s?

Answer: These are earned based on the amount you actually spent (OOP) at CVS and from prescriptions you've had filled. You will get back 2% of what you actually spent and a $1 ECB for every 2 prescriptions you have filled online or in store. This does not include the ECB’s and coupons you use. If you get a gift card (or possibly stamps), your total amount spent in that quarter will decrease.

For example, if you spent:

$0-24.99 dollars ............................. you get $0.00 in ECB’s.

$25-49.99 dollars ............................. you get $0.50 in ECB’s.

$50-74.99 dollars ............................. you get $1.00 in ECB’s.

$75-99.99 dollars ............................. you get $1.50 in ECB’s.

The quarters run from January to March, April to June, July to September and October to December. Your quarterly ECB will print on or after the first day of the month following the end of the quarter.

Question: Can I use my ECB’s on cvs.com?

Answer: You can only use your quarterly ECB online.

Question: Can I use my ECB’s on someone else's card?

Answer: No, ECB's are tied to your personal card and card number.

Question: Can I buy something for $4 and use a $5 ECB?

Answer: You can, but you would lose money. You have to use the full amount of the ECB because you will not get money back.

Well, I hope I haven't completely confused you on how to shop at CVS and make it work for you. I love CVS and think that their ExtraCare promotion is a great reason to shop at CVS. If you are interested in doing a shop-a-long with me at the Castro Valley CVS in the future, please let me know. I would love to shop-a-long with you and help you understand a little better.

~Hayward Coupon Queen Helping you save money, ‘cause every penny counts!

Don’t forget, if you haven’t already, check me out and Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and/or check out my website for more information on couponing and saving money!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Analisa Harangozo June 12, 2012 at 05:16 PM
These blog posts have been really helpful for me Sarah :) Thanks! Also, I can't stress enough how much I love the magic red coupon machines that gave me a boat-load of coupons to use over the weekend!
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