8 Steps to Save Big at CVS
By Ari Cetron
Say you want to buy some shampoo. You walk into the local CVS, pick it up, take it to the register and pay whatever price it said on the shelf. Rookie mistake.
Through a combination of coupon clipping, sale-watching and the company's rewards program, you can stack various discounts to realize a huge savings. And make sure you are thinking about more than just the pharmacy counter, or health and beauty items, there's a lot of things you probably should be buying at drug stores.
Rhode Island-based CVS Health (CVS) has more than 7,700 locations in 42 states, so it's likely there's one near you. These eight steps will get you started on a track to big savings. The basic premise is to use your CVS card and combine it with coupons to help you score a good deal. For other ideas and weekly deals and suggestions, check out www.wildforcvs.com.
1. Get and register the card. It seems as though most large stores have some kind of rewards card, and CVS is no exception. Get that card and use it on all of your purchases at the store. Make sure you register the card online. If you sign up for email alerts, you'll get a steady flow of coupons and offers. Of course, you'll have to weigh that against the extra clutter in your inbox. It's a personal choice, just know that the extra coupons are a key point of the overall savings strategy. Extra Care Bucks: Your card will track your purchases and keep a tally of them. Depending on how much you spend, and what you spend it on, you'll earn extra cash to spend in the store. Whatever the amount is, you won't get change back from it, so make sure you spend the full amount (or more) when you redeem the bonus money. The credits often must be used within 30 days, so don't lollygag once you get them.
2. Read the circular. CVS sends out a weekly circular, get it and read it. If you can't find a copy, go to www.CVS.com and read the online version. Make sure to pay special attention to the items that give you a bonus in Extra Care Bucks. Some, for example, might say free with the Extra Care Bucks. This means that you'll pay the full price at the register the day you buy it, but you'll get the same amount in extra care credit. If you have a coupon, use it, then you'll pay less for the item and still get the full amount of Extra Care Bucks -- almost like getting paid to take the item away from the store.
It might also help to pay attention to how often the deals come up for the products you buy. Say your brand of soap comes up for a special deal once a month, it could be good to stock up when it happens (soap won't go bad, after all), or it might be better for you to wait until the next time it comes around.
3. Clip the coupons. Keep an eye out for manufacturer's coupons -- the sort you might find in a newspaper or mailed circulars -- and CVS store coupons. CVS allows you to use one of each when you make a purchase, so if you have $1 off from one source and another $1 from the other, that's $2 off. If that item has Extra Care Bucks attached to it, you'll really be raking it in.
4. Keep the bucks alive. You only have 30 days to spend the Extra Care Bucks, but what if there's nothing you want or need to buy that month? Buy something anyway. Find items that will generate the same amount of Extra Care Bucks and make the purchase. This effectively gives you another 30 days to spend the money. If you really, really don't need the items, maybe a friend does, or donate them to a local nonprofit and take the tax write off if you can.
5. Get rain checks. If they don't have the item you want in stock, ask the clerk for a rain check, a slip of paper that allows its holder to purchase the item at the sale price at a later date. The Extra Care Bucks will still be part of the offer when you eventually do make the purchase. Check the expiration date. If you have time, it may even pay to wait until you have a coupon or other deal for that product before you cash in the rain check.
6. Spend it all. You won't get change back from using extra bucks. If you've got $15 in extra bucks and only $13 in purchases, those other $2 are lost, so find something to spend them on. Little items can be a good idea, like travel sized toothpaste or shampoo to bring on your next trip, or maybe a candy bar, after saving all that money, you earned a little treat.
7. Store it all. Don't be afraid to buy more nonperishable items than you need right now. Things like cleaning supplies, soaps and toiletries won't go bad. If you stock up on them when you find a deal, you'll never be out and never have to pay full price. Just make sure you have the proper space for all of the stuff you'll have.
8. Extra transaction. If you've got multiple items with Extra Bucks on them, consider not buying them all at once. Buy each one in a separate transaction, and use the extra bucks on the next item. This will usually result in a tradeoff of having to pay less that day, but then having fewer Extra Care Bucks to use the next time. So you'll need to weigh which you need more, the cash today or the cash next week.
Do you have tips and tricks for saving money on drugstore items? Share them in comments below or on our Facebook page.