How to Save Money at CVS {Shopping CVS 101}

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CVS is one of my favorite stores to snag cheap or FREE items. CVS has a rewards program called Extra Care Bucks or ECBs for short. ECBs print out at the bottom of the sales receipt when qualifying items are purchased and are valid for exactly 4 weeks.

How to Save Money at CVS


ECBs = Extra Care Bucks – think of as gift cards that must be redeemed in a set amount of time.
CRTs = CVS store coupons – think of as a coupon (can be stacked or used along with manufacturer’s coupons for even greater savings!)

The first step to shopping CVS is to get an Extra Care Card. Sign up for a card HERE or in store.

Next, check your weekly ad (or my site) for advertised deals. You will notice ECB promotions advertised that will either reduce the cost of an item or make it free after the ECBs. Remember to start out small and only buy a couple items that produce ECBs the first week and move up from there.

You’ll also notice 2 different types of promotions in the weekly ad. The difference is important to pay attention to because (as you’ll read later in the post) this determines what kinds of CRTs are able to be used on what types of promotions.


Crest Whitestrips are NOT on sale, but they ARE printing $10 ECBs when you buy 1.
Glade sprays ARE on sale, and they ARE printing $1 ECBs when you buy 3.

Shopping example:

Glade sprays (8-9 oz) are on sale 3 for $3, and you get $1 ECB when you buy 3 in the same transaction.

There is a $1 off ANY Glade purchase coupon (Note: this coupon excludes the 8 oz sprays so you would need to purchase the 9 oz in order to use the coupon). Remember to always read the fine print on coupons.

You would buy 3 Glade 9 oz sprays, use three (3) of the $1/1 coupons, pay tax only, and get $1 ECB for buying 3 sprays. You just made $1!**

**I’m using the Glade scenario because this is a SIMPLE starting point for readers who are new to shopping CVS.  Always start off with an easy transaction while you learn to coupon and save money at a new store.  Once you have built up your ECB’s and are comfortable with all the little tricks to save, you can start doing more complicated transactions.

Now that you have your first ECBs you can “roll” them the next week (or in another transaction) to further lower your out-of-pocket expense. Rolling is when you use your first week’s ECBs earned to pay for the next week’s purchases and receive more ECBs back. You can use more than 1 ECB in a transaction, as long as it does not go over the total amount you owe CVS.

Additionally, you can use an ECB earned from a product to pay for the same product (just be sure to pay attention to the “per household” offer limit!

For example:

Crest Whitestrips has a limit 2 per household in the image above.  You can earn the $10 ECBs for buying the Crest Whitestrips and turn around and use that $10 on another box of Whitestrips and get another $10 ECBS – but you can’t do it a third time and expect another $10 to print.

CVS allows you to use 1 manufacturer’s coupon and 1 store coupon (CRT) per item. You can also use ECBs on top of this. Play it right and you could walk out of the store with $20 – $50 worth of items for less than $1 OOP!

The best order to give coupons is:

#1 – Scan your card

#2 – Give any CVS coupons with a minimum spending limit such as $3/$15 (all other coupons will reduce the total and the limit will not be reached anymore!)

#3 – Give CVS Coupons (CRT) (This is a different order than Walgreen’s!!)

#4 – Give Manufacture Coupons

#5 – Give ECB’s

Note on CRTs – purchase based CVS coupons (Example: get $4 off a $15 deodorant purchase) can be used on any item in the store, at any time. Percent off CVS coupons (Example: get 20% off a deodorant purchase) CANNOT be used on items that are on sale. See the the pictures above of different deals to learn to tell the difference between sales and non sale ECB promotions.

Notes for ECBs:

– Valid for exactly 4 weeks.

– ECB offers usually have a limit of 1-5; make sure you read the fine print. The limit 1 is for the entire week or month (whatever the particular promotion period). The tags on the shelf under the item will have the dates of the promotion listed in fine print. The limits will also be listed in the sale ads.

– If you lose them, you might as well throw away cash!

– Excludes alcohol, tobacco, lottery, gift cards, money orders, postage stamps, pre-paid cards, and prescriptions (see bottom of ECB for more details)

– ECBs are tied to your Extra Care Card and can only be redeemed under that card. If your husband has a card, you can’t use an ECB earned under your card and pay for an item using his card.

– You can use an ECB to pay for an item that is less then the ECB value, but you will be forfeiting the rest of the ECB amount. (Example: Item X costs $2.50 and you have a $3 ECB, you’ll lose $0.50). Add in a $0.50 “filler” so you don’t waste money.

– CVS has a “98% Rule” in place: this means that the ECBs will print as long as your pre-coupon and pre-tax total is within 98% of the threshold needed.
Huggies Diaper CVS sale
So in this deal example, you need to spend $30 to get the $10 ECBs. You actually only need to spend $29.40 and you will get the ECBs. This makes it really easy to reach the threshold without having to go over with items you don’t actually need.

(Note: Sometimes, CVS will have ECB promotions where you can “Spend $20, get $5 ECBs OR Spend $30, get $10 ECBs”. Anytime you see the word OR in a CVS deal, the “98% Rule” rule does not apply to these deals. Note: this is not a current deal, just an example!).

Additional Ways to Earn Extra Care Rewards:

Quarterly Rewards:

You can earn ECBs based on your purchases that will print every 3 months, these are called “Quarterly Rewards”. This is in addition to the ECBs earned from the weekly advertisements that print at the bottom of your receipt. You’ll earn 2% back on every purchase in-store and online. These calculations are based on how much money you actually spent at CVS, AFTER ALL coupons and ECBs.

Example – Your total comes to $24 before coupons and ECBs you’ll be using. You hand over $10 in coupons and $10 in ECBs, making your total out of pocket cost $4. 2% of $4 is $0.08 – this will go towards your Quarterly Rewards. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can add up if you do a lot of your shopping, especially without coupons at CVS!

Prescription Rewards:

If you have your prescriptions filled at CVS, be sure to enroll in their Prescription Rewards program. For every 10 prescriptions you get filled, you’ll earn $5 ECBs. If you get 1 prescription filled a month, after 10 months, you’ll have an extra $5 to spend at CVS. Think of how great the rewards can be if you get your spouse and children’s prescriptions filled at CVS as well!

Beauty Rewards:

Once you have your CVS card, be sure to enroll in the Beauty Rewards program. When you first enroll, CVS will email you a 10% off shopping pass on any beauty products, then for every $50 you spend in beauty products (BEFORE coupons), you’ll get an extra $5 ECBs!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done makeup deals where I paid practically nothing after coupons and ECBs, got ECBs back for the weekly deal, AND got an extra $5 ECBs because I spent $50 before coupons. This is one of my favorite perks of shopping at CVS.

If you’re enrolled in the Beauty Rewards program, CVS automatically keeps track on your receipt of how much you’ve spent and how much you need to spend. Another perk of this program is CVS will email you $3 ECBs on your birthday, as long as you tell them your birthday when you register.

Note – Beauty Bucks will take 48 hours AFTER you hit $50 to show up on your account.

Magic Coupon Machine:

You’ll notice when you go into the CVS store that there’s a lovely little machine that looks like a huge red box. You can scan your Extra Card Card and store coupons (CRTs) and/or ECB’s you’ve earned from purchases (such as the Beauty Bucks or Pharmacy Rewards we discussed above) will print out the side.

I scan my card every time I walk into the store-you never know what will pop out!  My last trip I received a CRT for a $25 Gift Card with a new or transferred prescription and a CRT for $15 off a $75 purchase.

Rain Checks:

Additionally, CVS will issue rain checks for any item that is out of stock, and your rain check will note any ECBs you were supposed to receive after purchasing the required items, so when you redeem your rain check, you’ll get your ECBs as well.  Coupons can also be used with rain checks to further lower your OOP. If the item you want is out of stock, get a rain check then head back to the store the following week with your coupon to get the same deal you missed.

These rain checks never expire, so don’t lose them!

Further, you can register your CVS card with Upromise and earn more for the kids’ college fund.

*Keep a copy of the Official CVS Coupon Policy with you.

Get your full CVS weekly ad and coupon matchups HERE.


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