Saturday, January 1, 2011

The secret to shopping for FREE at CVS!

A few years ago, I wrote a tutorial on how to shop at CVS, with little to no money out of pocket. Recently, I've been asked by numerous people, to explain how it works. So, in order to help all of my fellow freebie seekers and deal finders, I am republishing my "how to" tutorial.

You'll want to make sure to set aside some time as this is a long read.

Step 1 is to signup for an extra care card. This is a discount card used at CVS. Without it you will NOT get the sales prices listed and you will NOT earn rewards!! You can signup in the store and instantly get your card, or you can signup online at and wait about 2 weeks for your card to arrive.


OOP= Out of pocket
MIR = Mail in rebate
ECB = Extra care buck(s)
HBA = Health and beauty aids
Bogo or B1G1 = Buy 1 get 1 free
YMMV = Your mileage may vary
FAR = Free after rebate
MFR = Manufacturer

The above are commonly used abbreviations when posting about CVS.

What is an ECB exactly?
An ECB is a reward that you earn. There are weekly ECB deals and monthly ECB deals. The weekly deals are found in your sunday paper (the CVS sales ad) and the monthly deals are found at your local CVS (usually at the front of the store). Another GREAT place to find the deals in ADVANCE is by going to

In order to earn ECB's, you must complete the necessary requirements for the qualifying purchase(s). Let's say one of the deals this week is for Dawn dishsoap (this is just an example). For every 2 bottles of dawn that you buy, you earn $1 in ECB's, but there's a limit of 5. That means you can earn $1 in ECB's, 5 times. So, if you want all $5 in ECB's you would have to purchase 10 bottles of dawn.

I'm sure you're thinking "but that would cost me way more then I would earn. What's the point"? Well, here's how you play the game...

It says in the cvs ad that dawn is $1 a bottle. You'd have to spend $2 to earn $1 in ECB's. Well, you now look through your coupons (save EVERY COUPON...even ones you would NEVER think to use). Wait, you just found $1off of 1 bottle of dawn.. even better, you have 2 coupons for $1 off!! Not only will you get both bottles of dawn for FREE, but you'll earn $1 in ECB's! Note: You can check ebay in advance for bulk coupons that match up coming sales.

ECB's print at the bottom of your receipt as SOON as you earn them. You do NOT have to buy all qualifying items at one time to earn the ECB's. As long as you fulfill the requirements within the time frame (a week if it's a weekly ECB deal or a month if it's a monthly ECB deal) then you will be rewarded with ECB's. They will print as soon as you complete the requirements.

Don't have coupons to go along with the sale? No problem. You can do a google search for coupons that accompany the items you wish to purchase. You may (or may not) find printable coupons. Most printable coupon websites only allow you to print the coupon 2x. So if you want to buy coupons in bulk I recommend

Again the above product deal was just an example. This was a deal they ran a couple weeks ago. Each week there are different ECB deals..and each month there are additional ECB deals.

What can I do with my ECB's I earn?
This is the best part. You can use them on ANYTHING in the store except prescriptions, tobacco and alcohol.

How soon can I use my ECB's?
You can spend them the SECOND you earn them. ECB's DO expire though. You have 30 days to use them from the date you earn them. There will be an expiration date printed on them for your convenience.

How can I keep getting things without using all my ECB's?
This is what we CVS'ers call "rolling". In order to "roll" your ECB's, you want to use them towards other deal's that earn you ECB's. Here's an example.

Let's say that this week CVS has revlon blush for $9.99 and you earn $9.99 in ECB's for that purchase. Now let's say you have $10.00 ECB. You would pay for your revlon blush with the $10 ECB. You would now have your blush AND $9.99 in ECB's.

So to break it down, you get FREE makeup AND you earn ECB's. Since your $9.99 ECB just printed, you now have another 30 days before it expires. You just "rolled" your ECB to last longer.

What about tax?
You will be required to pay sales tax on your purchases. Each state has a different % that they tax but it's never more then pocket change.

CVS's coupon policy
You are allowed to use one manufacturers (mfr) coupon and one CVS coupon per item. So, if Huggies diapers were on sale for $8.99, and you had a manufacturers coupon for $3 and a CVS coupon for $3 off, you can combine them together and only spend $2.99.

To make it even sweeter though, you can also use your ECB's too. Here's another example:

Let's say your total after coupons is $4. You have a $3 ECB and a $5 ECB. What do you do? Well that's really up to you. You can pay with the $3 ECB and then pay the difference OOP (out of pocket), or you can give them the $5 ECB and pay nothing out of pocket.

VERY IMPORTANT.. If you decide to use the $5 ECB, it is in your best interest to ad an item to your order that is worth about a dollar. The reason for this is that you do NOT get refunded the difference. So if your total is $4 and you pay with a $5 ECB, you're gonna lose out on $1. So your best bet is to find something in the store worth about a dollar.

Are there any other ways to save even MORE money? ABSOLUTELY! If you signup at and link your email to your account, you will occasionally get coupons sent to you from cvs. These are WONDERFUL!

The most commonly emailed coupon is $4/$20. This means you get $4 off your total if you spend $20. This means you have to spend $20 BEFORE coupons, NOT AFTER coupons.


You have 10 coupons for $1 off of 1 johnson and johnsons buddies bar soap. These are a dollar or less. So your total so far is about $10 BEFORE coupons. You need to add another $10 worth or stuff before you can use the coupon.

You decide you wanna get some cereal. But wait! They cereal is b1g1 AND you have coupons for $2 off per box!! That's great since the cereal is normally $4.29 each! Even sweeter deal! Turns out the cereal earned you $2 in ECB's if you spent $10 on it!

Now let's calculate this. You already have $10 worth of stuff in your cart. You need to spend atleast $10 more. You would need to buy 3 boxes of that cereal (and get 3 free). Lucky for you, you have 6 of those $2 off coupons (yes, you CAN use a coupon on a free item).

So here's your total so far..

10 bars of buddies soaps = $10
6 boxes of cereal (bigi) = $12.87 (plus you'll earn $2 in ECB's)


After the cashier rings up your items, hand them your $4/$20 FIRST!!!!!!!!! Then hand them your other coupons. Here's what will happen..

$22.87 minus $4/$20 coupon = $18.87
$18.87 minus 10 coupons for $1 off buddies = $8.87
$8.87 minus 6 coupons for $2 off cereal = -$3.13

I bet you're thinking "but that's a NEGATIVE balance". yes it is. So what do you do about it??? Remember, we talked about this earlier... You add items to your cart to fill in that balance.. Yep, MORE free stuff!! Go ahead, pick up ANYTHING you want that will fill that balance. How about a 12 pack of coke? Or a tub of baby wipes? Whatever your choice is, just keep it around the $3 mark.

All you'll be left paying is sales tax AND YOU LEAVE WITH $2 in ECB's!! You just made a profit and got 10 bars of soap, 6 boxes of cereal, and whatever item(s) you added to your cart to fill out the negative balance!

I have a BOGO coupon and CVS is having a BOGO sale. Can I use the coupon?

ABSOLUTELY! These are the best! You pay NOTHING out of pocket and get twice the amount of product. If you're wondering how this works, it's simple. The manufacturer pays YOUR portion of CVS's BOGO sale. So you pay nothing but tax and get 2 items (for each BOGO coupon you have)

You can also join the CVS advisory panel. They'll send you a survey every once in a while and pay you in ECBs! (Thanks to Nikki for reminding me to add this)

I think this is pretty much all for basic CVSing. Here are some photo's of my great finds at CVS. If there are any questions or maybe things I forgot, please let me know!



  1. I wanted to add that you can also join the CVS advisory panel. They will send you a survey every once in a while and they will pay you in ECBs!
    Here is the link

  2. oh! How did I forget that? I will get that added and credit you :)

  3. Oh my gosh I have asked people how this works a million times and I never understand it but you explain this very well and now I think I got it. I will let you know when I make my first attempt.

  4. Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for your kind words! I'm so glad that I was able to help you. It's definitely a fun thing to do, not to mention frugal. You'll find yourself with a stockpile of necessities in no time.

    Please keep in mind that there will be times you "purchase" items that you don't have any interest in. You can donate said items to a shelter so others an find use for them. Here's an example.

    I am not diabetic and don't test my blood sugar. I really have no use for a glucose meter, but I needed to get one in order to make everything I

    See, I had a coupon for $4/20 purchase but the first time I had to get a meter, there weren't many sales that matched my coupons. I happened to have an ECB for $9.99 and the meter was on sale for $9.99...and you got $9.99 back as soon as you bought it. So, I picked up the meter as well as several other items and when I got to the register I was able to use the $4/20, the $9.99 ECB and several other coupons that matched the items in my cart. My total ended up as $0 (I think I spent like $0.06) and earned $9.99 PLUS additional ECB's from other qualifying items.

    It takes a little getting used to, but you'll get a full grasp by diving in head first. We all make mistakes when we first start and then kick ourselves later on. If you plan ahead for the upcoming weeks, it's much easier.

    Here's a tip though.. ALWAYS carry your coupons with you, even if you don't plan on using some of the. You never know what's gonna be marked down. I stocked up on robitussin for FREE because of it. I have 6 coupons for $3 off of a bottle (this was a couple of years ago) and in the clearance section, was Robitussin for $2.39 a bottle. I was able to use ALL of my coupons AND throw in some extra stuff. That equaled about $3.65 (since the coupons were more then the item itself).

    If you ever need any help at all, feel free to reach out to me. I'm here to help!

  5. Don't forget the Green bag tag!!! Free $1 ECB when you use it 4 times (I got mine free as a filler item, but they are regularly 99c)