Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CVS--the happiest place on earth

In the next few posts, I'll discuss the various programs and policies of my favorite stores and show some examples of sweet deals. First up...CVS!

I used to work at CVS, but that has nothing to do with why it is my favorite store. I worked there years before I became a couponer and before the introduction of the Extra Care program. If you want to shop at CVS, you should sign up online or in a store for an Extra Care card. This is a loyalty card needed to get sale prices and track your purchases.

There are four CVS stores in my town, and plenty more in surrounding towns. In this area, you rarely find a CVS without a Walgreens within spitting distance, and Rite Aid stores are pretty plentiful, too. In the spirit of competition, my CVS stores will price match both of these competitors AND accept their store coupons, which can make for some awesome deals. CVS is also very coupon-friendly in general and will even accept coupons for more than the item price (ex: a $2.00 coupon on a $1.89 product). However, they will not give you cash back, so I make sure to have other items in my transaction to absorb the overage.

CVS has fairly recently installed price scanners in most stores, which are very useful. Sometimes I will read about a CVS clearance deal on a couponing website, but when I check my store, the item is not marked as clearance. I can check the price on the scanner, and often the item will ring up at the clearance price even though it wasn't marked. The scanners, usually located near the front of the store, also print store coupons when you scan your Extra Care card. Some of these coupons are product-specific (ex: $2 off Aquafresh Extreme), some are category-specific (ex: $2 off any $10 hair care purchase), and if you're really lucky, you might get a "$4 off any $20 purchase" or $5/$30, $10/$50, etc. These coupons are much-coveted but hard to come by. It seems that they are generated randomly, though some people get them all the time, and I hardly ever do. All coupons from the scanner are store coupons and can be combined with manuacturer coupons and/or Walgreens and Rite Aid coupons.

The cherry on top is the Extra Bucks program, which includes weekly and monthly deals such as "Buy $15 of Dove products, Get $5 in Extra Bucks." In this scenario, the $15 is calculated before any coupons, so depending on the sale prices and your coupon values, you could end up making profit on this deal. There are also lots of "Free After Extra Bucks" deals like "Buy Garnier shampoo for $2.99, Get $2.99 in Extra Bucks" (use a coupon to make profit). Extra Bucks (EBs) print at the bottom of your receipt and can be used like cash on a future purchase (but you can't get change back, so you must spend the whole EB amount at once). If you are new to the Extra Bucks program, you most likely will have to invest a little bit of money at first, but then you can "roll" your EBs forever, spending little to no out-of-pocket (OOP) on each transaction, and often making a profit. I should explain that when I say "profit" in reference to CVS, it generally means "an increase in Extra Bucks," which you can only spend at CVS. But trust me, once you get going, that will not be a problem. Here are some examples of my recent transactions and how to roll Extra Bucks:
I didn't have coupons for any of the items above, but I did have a single EB for $8.97, which made my OOP $0. All three items were "Free After Extra Bucks," so I received three separate EBs for $4.99, $.99, and $2.99. So I got three items for free, but my EB balance remained the same. The next transaction shows how you can increase your EBs:

So look at all the stuff I got, and by using EBs to pay, I only had to fork over $.19 OOP, and I got back $33.96 in EBs ($5.98 Colgate, $4.99 Gillette, $4.99 Instant Energy, $10 Neutrogena, $5 Boost, $3 Mylanta)! That's a $21.78 profit! This is a great example of how participating in couponing message boards can be useful--I read about the clearance deals online and knew to look for them in the store, except for the Skin Effects, which I came across myself. Someone online had reported that the Neutrogena soaps were working for that week's "Buy 2 select Neutrogena products, get $10 EB" deal and that the clearance Mylanta was working for the monthly "Buy any Mylanta, Get $3 EB" deal; same goes for the Boost, although it should have printed $6 EB instead of $5. I wasn't about to complain after the awesome deal I got! If this had been my first transaction ever, I would have had to pay the full $12.18 OOP, but I would then have $33.96 EBs to roll into later transactions. I could also have broken this into two transactions to reduce my OOP (use EBs from first transaction to pay for second transaction), and CVS cashiers are usually more than willing to split your order. The only reason I didn't split this order was that I only had one $5/$20 Rite Aid coupon and I had plenty of EBs to get my OOP as close to $0 as possible.

I know this can all be confusing, but I hope these examples help illustrate how you can use coupons to get FREE stuff and turn a profit at CVS!

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