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Q&A: How do you get stuff for free at drugstores?

Lynn-Ann emailed in a great question this morning:

As I’ve received your e-mail updates, I’ve been a bit frustrated about the ECB/RR stuff. I will share with you what I mean: in the April 4, 2011 e-mail you share the following:

Buy 1 Colgate Maxfresh, MaxWhite or MaxClean Toothpaste at $2.99, Get $3 Register Rewards
Use $0.35/1 coupon from the 4/3 SmartSource insert
Free plus overage after coupon and Register Rewards

I get so excited when I see FREE. But basically it isn’t free when I go to the register and check out is it? Since I still have to pay for the toothpaste at $2.99 and of course I can use the $0.35/1 coupon, but I basically pay the difference, because I don’t even get the Register Rewards til after my purchase is complete. Correct?

-Lynn-Ann, Kansas City, KS

Hi, Lynn-Ann!

Many times, it’s a little confusing when you first begin the drugstore game because you have to outlay cash in order to start getting free groceries and household items. However, once you invest $10 or so and start building up some Register Rewards or ECBs, then you can just use these instead of cash to pay for your groceries/household items. And you just keep rolling these and rolling these and rolling these! Meaning, you pay for your order with the ECBs or Register Rewards you earned from the last transaction instead of paying with cash.

Yes, you usually can’t get your order total down completely to $0.00 — though I’ve done it before! — but you can get it pretty close. Back when we lived where there was a CVS store, I was able to get thousands of dollars worth of groceries and household items over the course of two years and spent less than $75 out-of-pocket for everything. I typically paid around $3 out of pocket for every $100 worth of purchases because I was rolling ECB’s from my previous transaction.

For example, this week at CVS, you could do something like this:

Transaction #1:
Buy 2 GUM Eez-Thru Flossers (75-150 ct) at $2, Get $2 ECBs (Limit 2)
Use 2 $0.75/1 printable
You’ll spend $2.50 plus tax after the coupon and you’ll have $4 in ECBs to spend on your next transaction.

Take that $4 in ECBs and use it to do a second transaction.

Transaction #2:
Buy 2 Oral-B Manual Toothbrush (1 ct) at $2.99
Buy 1 Crest or Oral-B Pro-Health at $3.49
Use $1/1 Crest coupon from the 4/3 P&G insert
Use 2 $2/1 Oral-B coupons from the 4/3 P&G insert
Use $4 ECBs earned from Transaction #1
You’ll spend only $0.47 plus tax out of pocket and you’ll then get back $4.48 in ECBs.

So, for an initial monetary invstment of $3 plus tax, you’ll have purchased five items and have $4.48 in ECBs leftover.

You can do another transaction to purchase ECB deals you’ve still not done for the week yet (like a second Oral-B — it’s a limit of two — or the Complete Contact Solution). Or, you can just hang onto the $4.48 in ECBs and use them for the ECB deals next week.

Walgreens is a bit more complicated, in my opinion, and it’s harder to get your totals down to under $1 — especially with the tax we have here in Kansas! But you can still significantly lower your totals by using Register Rewards from previous transactions to take off most of what you owe.

For more information, be sure to read Walgreens 101 and CVS 101 where I explain more in-depth how to maximize the mileage of your money at both of these stores.

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  • Megan says:

    Even on the weeks where ECB-producing goods aren’t useful to you, my advice is to go ahead and roll your bucks with them and just donate them. It will help 2 people in need!

  • Jan says:

    I think it is misleading and confusing to new people to say something is “free” when you still have to pay money up front even though you get ECB or RR back. You did a good job explaing about rolling the ECB or RR- I think some sites other don’t do such a good job.

  • Sandy says:

    Agreed with Megan. It might not feel you’re saving at first, but stick with the game and you’ll see the savings!

  • Cathy says:

    Thanks for explaining that one..I thought I was the only one that was lost. I could get it down to a few dollars but couldn’t understand how people were getting it almost free

  • Candice says:

    I had the same confusion when starting with zero ECB & RR. If you don’t roll ECBs and RRs, then it won’t be free (since you have to pay out of pocket). Ahhh, but if you do start rolling, “free” will actually mean FREE. 🙂

  • Rae says:

    I refuse to shop at Walgreens. But at CVS, I pay very little out of pocket after the very first time. I don’t like doing a ton of transactions every week so I initially put about $20 into it and try to keep my ecb’s around that (of course I get above that sometimes with overage makers and sometimes dip below that if there is something I need that is not free after ecb) and only break up transactions if it will be much more than that. I also have purchased half off CVS giftcards and use them when there is an odd amount left that doesn’t match up with any of the ecb’s I have (fillers are obviously things I don’t need so I usually don’t get them). I have gotten $10 CVS giftcards for $5 for example on WeShop and another discounted giftcard somewhere else. And since I only use them on very small balances they last for a loooong time. The cost of the giftcards included, I spend less than $20 per year (if that) and that includes all of our toiletries, medicine, and some food plus sometimes I find some good gift type stuff on clearance.

    • boysmom says:

      I make sure to use my $ off certain amount purchased when I know I have things to get that have ECB with them, so then I end up paying less. At Xmas I got 12 zhu zhus for like 8$ total because of coupons and ECB. CVS is definitely worth it, not so sure on Walgreens though. I only shop Walgreens when they have a store coupon to match with a MF coupon.

    • cathy says:

      I’m with you Rae! I hate shopping at Walgreen’s; their policies are just poor as far as the RR. And yes, CVS is a totally different story.

  • Mary says:

    Also keep in mind that military Commissary stores actually accept RR just like a regular coupon. This is in their coupon policy.

    I usually get the freebies (after RR) and use the RR that week on my grocery trip. 🙂

    • Chris J. says:

      They do??? I had no idea! I shop at the Commissary regularly, but thought I had to use my Walgreens RRs specifically at Walgreens. Thanks for the info.!

    • Nancy says:

      Me, too! i recently used $24 worth of RR’s at Von’s for groceries and walked out paying only $.68 for nearly $60 worth of groceries. 🙂 I hardly ever use my RR’s at Walgreens because you can’t use them with other Manufacturer’s Qs, so it’s just easier to take them to the grocery store.

  • Megan says:

    Last year I kept track of my out of pocket expenses at CVS and Walgreens religiously. I found that I spent about twice as much at Walgreens as I did at CVS. This was mainly due to their rules about how many RRs you can use in a transaction (only as many as you have items for them to “attach” to) and the fact that their RRs expire after only two weeks.

    Now that I live in the land of Rite Aid, I’ve spent less than $5 out of pocket over three months and purchased hundreds of dollars worth of products thanks to their terrific rebate and UP rewards offers. Keeping track of my outlays helped me decide to ditch Walgreens and to focus my limited time and energy on Rite Aid. I hope Lynn-Ann will start tracking her expenses at these stores to see how the savings really add up (or don’t, in some cases!).

    • Rae says:

      I did this too and it was one of (the many, MANY) reasons why I gave up Wags as well and it also helped prove to my husband that the time I spent on CVS really was worth it. When we move in the fall, I will be near CVS still (yay 🙂 ) AND near RiteAid again (woohoo! ) 😀

      • Mary says:

        Agreed ladies. Just when I think I have a good deal figured out at Walgreens, they are out of everything on my list & (at least mine) don’t work with you to make a rain check worth it. I often wonder if it would be better in a larger city versus my little town setting, or if they have the same problems? I don’t want to have to use RRs on full-price items that are over-priced to begin with, and I can’t get it to work because of all of the rules about coupon counting. So glad for those who can make it work though : )

    • Lynn-Ann says:


      Thank so much for your encouraging words about tracking my savings. I try to do that as much as possible.

      I truly love CVS and have honestly saved quite a bit, i.e. I did get 4 Listerine free, (totally Free) a few weeks ago, because I had coupons and they were on sale. Also; past week with, the B1G1 Irish Spring Body Wash @$4.99ea and CVS coupon @ $3.00 I only spent with tax $2.40 with a savings of $7.99 not bad for a drugstore game newbie.

      Again, I just truly wanted to make sure I understood the RR/ECB in detail. So that I would be prepared when I step up to the register.

      Crystal, you’ve done an amazing job explaining this and I truly appreciate it!
      Thank you so much for all of your help.

  • Mishka says:

    i had my first true “extreme couponing” experience today and i have been at the coupon game for about a month. I had a few Up+ rewards and purchased $69 worth of goods at Rite Aid. I used my coupons and Up+ rewards and only paid $16 out of pocket. I got an extra $8 Up rewards for my purchase today (good on future purchases), plus there is a $9 single check rebate on one of the items i purchased and $1 on another. When you look at all of this together – i got PAID to shop at Rite Aid today. It is a pretty good feeling when you get to use those initial rewards and see the results of all your planning!

    I was a little afraid of jumping into the Drug Store Game (as they call it), because of the initial out of pocket expense, but it is totally worth it. It just takes a little planning and is TOTALLY worth it when you get the hang of it!!

  • Crystal says:

    A good site that helped me when I first started shopping at CVS is . The website is a forum in which people like you and me share the good deals they find. People often share their scenarios that start without any ECB’s or RR’s and how they turn those into a lot of product with minimal money out of pocket. I learned a lot from the people in that forum and still check it before I go to the store to see if there are any ideas to keep my oop low or deals that I missed.

    • Chris J. says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more! Money Saving Mom and A Full Cup both help me to save so much more than I would just reading the flyers and finding coupons on my own. I often don’t realize a particular coupon is out there (like the Folgers $2 coupons recently) until I read about it on one of these two sites. I also usually check a scenario I’m thinking of doing to see how it worked out for others before I try it.

  • danielle says:

    love shopping the drug store deals!!!! 🙂 HANG IN THERE you will too!

  • Leigh Anne says:

    Im planning on figuring out the drugstore game this summer — which store (cvs or walgreens) has better long term toiletries and cleaning supplies deals? We are just a household of 2 and don’t need a lot so trying to figure out which store I should focus on.

    • Mary says:

      I don’t have a CVS, but can say that my Walgreens often has what should be great deals. They just don’t carry very many of any item and take forever to restock, so it’s hard to get the deals.

  • Carrie L says:

    I am beginning to detest Walgreens! There are just too many rules!! But CVS and RiteAid are great for rolling EBs and UPs week after week.

    • Stacie says:

      I thought I would give them one final try last week with the trial size deal. The RR didn’t print, the manager came to help, returned the stuff, rang it up a different way in separate transactions, didn’t work, returned the products again…But the money never went back to my account! So, they owe me $70ish because I bought the things 3 times. The manager kept the receipts because everything was returned. I have emailed them, but have heard nothing. GRRRR!!!

  • Katie says:

    Is there actually a way to do well with RR at Walgreens? We don’t have a CVS or Rite Aid here or even anywhere close. I’ve done a few good deals with Walgreens but really wish I had the other stores.

    On a side note– Walmart is now accepting the Manu coupons that print at Kroger. Will Target or Walgreens accept them? I have a $5 off Pampers manu coupon that printed from a sale last week, but I’d like to stack it with a Target coupon.

    • Carrie L says:

      The difficult thing about Walgreens is that you can only do one of each deal per order. And if you use the RR from, say Colgate, to buy more Colgate, you will not get RR for the second Colgate. You would have to use RR from a different item to buy the Colgate in order to get more Colgate RR or just pay for cash.

      It’s possible, just takes LOTS of planning!

      • Cindy says:

        Carrie, just this week I bought Colgate toothpaste for 2.99 and got a 3,00 RR. I then bought more Colgate toothpaste with the RR and got another RR. Maybe it differs from store to store? It is confusing.

    • Rae says:

      No neither of those stores accept them according to their policies unfortunately. I have heard of some stores accepting them but if they didn’t, you couldn’t fight them on it if that makes sense.

    • karen says:

      You are talking about the extra receipt looking coupons that print at Kroger and Target, right? If it says “manufacturer coupon” at the top, all stores should accept it–just like a coupon cut from the Sunday paper. If it’s a store specific coupon, it will say “Target Coupon” or “Store Coupon”

      I haven’t had any problems using these coupons at a different store than where they printed. HTH

    • Shannon says:

      I work at Target and we are not allowed to accept them. Even though it says manufacturer coupon it also specifies redeem at______. With that wording the manufacturer will only pay the company which is stated on the coupon.

    • peever says:

      We only have a Walgreens as well. I usually read and she always describes all her shopping trips so that helps with scenarios. It does take a lot of planning, a lot of transactions, and a lot of trips to do well at Walgreens, but unfortunately, that’s all we’ve got.

    • I haven’t found a way to get down to totally free, but I average a savings rate of 80% + and it would be higher if I didn’t buy diapers. I stock up on diapers when they have great deals ($3 or less/package after coupons and rewards). We only have Wags in our area, and some stores are better than others. If you look at the Walgreens 365 Challenge on my blog, you can see how I’ve come out on tracking.

    • Emily says:

      I think it truly depends on the store/cashier/manager as to whether or not they will accept a manufacturer coupon with another store’s logo on it. I’ve had success at Target before but have also been rejected at a different Target. Cashier’s have told me they can’t accept another store’s coupon, and I kindly explain (and show) that it is a manufacturer coupon that does NOT state “good ONLY at …..” and if they scan it, it will not beep. I’ve had Target cashiers (usually young men) go ahead and take them then, and I’ve had Target cashiers (usually middle-aged women) refuse to accept them, even managers. The manager at my Kroger flat out told me they will NOT accept a coupon with another store’s logo because he said they were notified by the catalina company that they will not be reimbursed (totally not true from what I understand). I really think it just depends on who you get.

  • Melanie says:

    Adding to Lynn-Ann’s frustration may also be the fact that Kansas City, KS is currently in a test market for Walgreen’s and we are not getting hardly any of the RR deals that are posted on the deal websites. She might try logging into Walgreens website or consulting our regional ad because they are very different from what is being posted on coupon match-up websites when it comes to RR’s.

    • Lynn-Ann says:


      Thank you for your insight.

      I can honestly say, I’ve not really ever been a big fan of Walgreen’s. (though growing up in the Pacific Northwest it is extremely popular) I didn’t realize that KCK was a test market. That helps a lot.

      I do visit their website from time to time, but I will make a point to visit a bit more.

      Thank you again!

  • Shaina says:

    Ah! I’m SO glad someone asked this question! I’ve gone over this and over this in my head and have had a real dilemma thinking that it was a little misleading saying that something was “Free” when at some point you had to fork out $$$! Not saying that you’re trying to be misleading at all, Crystal…I just couldn’t wrap my head around it! I even asked my husband if he thought it was misleading as well, and I think he just didn’t feel like applying the critical thinking at the time and just gave me that, “Don’t think about it so hard” look. 🙂 Glad both you and Lynn-Anne were able to articulate your question and answer so clearly. Thanks!

  • GK says:

    Using my register rewards this week I bought 27.52 worth of things for only 3.88 at Walgreens! While it’s not free, it’s a savings of $24.00! And that’s fine by me! 🙂

  • I am currently writing personal scenarios to help people learn how to “roll” their ECBs and RRs with the least OOP. I do it each week, free of charge- first come, first served. There is a tab at the top of my page called personalized scenarios with instructions. I figured that since I can’t go with each of my readers to the store to help them, that I can help learn this way 🙂

  • I really only hit the deals around black friday. I bought all of our toothpaste, body wash, etc during that time. I only try and shop at Walgreens during black friday deals unless its an amazing deal and I really need that item.

  • Lynn says:

    I just have to say……I thought I was the ONLY Lynn-Ann around!! Saw this and was like….”Hey! I didn’t write that!” LOL! I use Lynn for short but in fact my official given name is Lynn-Ann. 🙂 (Yes, even with the dash!)

  • Mary says:

    I honestly don’t shop at Walgreens. I may go once or twice a year if I really want something that is on sale. They don’t make it easy there. I like CVS fine and Rite Aid (although less convenient to me) isn’t bad either. I have to say, though, that after doing this on and off for 1 1/2 years, I have plenty of certain things to last me through the end of the year (body wash, shampoo, conditioner, dental floss, toothpaste, etc.), so I haven’t gone much lately. I did get two bottles of body wash at CVS a couple of weeks ago for 49 cents each. Some HBAs are less (literally free) than at the drug stores when combining a sale with coupons at my local supermarket.

  • Nicky says:

    I can’t take the stress of multiple transactions in one trip so I just save my ECBs & RRs for the next trip. It works just as well, you just don’t see the reward right away.

    My first attempt at Walgreen’s was unsuccessful as the Assistant Manager refused to accept my manufacturer coupons on top of the store coupons. I didn’t have the printout of the store’s coupon policy so I couldn’t convince her otherwise. I contacted Walgreen’s about it and haven’t heard back. I haven’t been back since.

    • Rae says:

      Yeah I have NEVER gotten a response back from Wags. Which is one of the reasons I reduced my shopping there to 1-2 times per year. Then recently I had major trouble with them, had to come home, get the policy (and call customer service) and go back. When I went back with the policy they still couldn’t figure it out and basically told me there was nothing they could do. I called back again to add the additional information to my case file and they apologized saying that the manager was in the wrong and that they were sorry I had to waste my time and gas and still didn’t get my products, and that I would be contacted by the correct people within the next couple days and they would take care of it for me. Yeah I never heard back at all so I am washing my hands of them completely. It’s a shame though because I used to go there at least once per week back when they had the ESR program. Now I won’t be back ever.

    • When you write to Walgreens corporate it is helpful to tell them that you are taking your business to CVS or RiteAid, if you have those in your town. It shows them that you mean business and are not just complaining. I have gotten phone calls from store managers on the day following my two written complaints over coupon issues (one this year and one about 4 years ago). Both managers apologized profusely and made the situation right.

      • Rae says:

        I have told them that in one of my email complaints as well and didn’t hear back from them on that occasion either. I think it really all depends on your region. Ours apparently doesn’t care. The ladies I spoke with on the phone were really nice and flat out told me that the manager was wrong and he should have called in to the help desk instead of just telling me there was nothing he could do and she said it should never had even come to me having to drive all the way home (to print out the policy that they should know) and back again. She assured me that somebody would be calling to make it right… they didn’t. I’m glad that some people have wonderful walgreens and I hope they continue to have good service though 🙂

      • Jen says:

        I wrote a complaint letter to the manager of a Walgreens regarding coupon use issues, and I sent a copy to Corporate as well. I did mention that another Walgreens in the area and CVS were much more pleasant to shop at, and always accepted my coupons without hassle, so I would take my business there in the future.

        While I didn’t hear a peep from the local manager, I did receive an apology letter from corporate that explained one of my issues was valid, and the other was at the discretion of the store manager. The letter also included a $20 gift card! I felt better about the problem (I had been enraged), but I still never shop at that particular Walgreens.

  • Tina says:

    It works. for a $10 investment I have “rolled” ECBs at CVS and I just keep getting items. I think what is key is planning before you go, being realistic in what you want to get in the first trip, read the ad, get your coupons ready, plan the bucks you’ll spend. Thank you MSM for all your hard work each week. its saves me lots of time by giving me the heads up. you’re the bomb! Tina in Texas

  • Sheila says:

    I think the thing that bothers me about most of these things is the multiple transactions. It appears that you just to multiple transactions in one visit to the register. It just seems to me that even if the checker will allow you to do it, the register rewards are stated to be for the ‘next’ visit. Can anyone address this?

    • Wendy says:

      I never had a problem with it. I could buy one item, walk out the door, turn around and come back in the store and technically that would be my next visit, but it would also be pointless. I explained this once to a teenage boy at McDonalds when I was using 2 coupons to get 2 free ice-creams for my kids. He looked at the coupon and said, “It says one coupon per visit.” I asked if he wanted me to buy one, go to my car and come back in for a new visit. He just smiled and said no, that wouldn’t make sense and gave me the 2 cones. Of course this is just my take. Others my disagree with my logic.

      • Chrissy says:

        I like your logic! I have never thought of that before…I usually just take my family along with me and give each person a coupon…it’s seperate “visits” for each of us

    • Carrie L says:

      Actually, I have a RR right here and it says off “your next purchase.” 🙂

    • Andrea Q says:

      When I get to the checkout, I just say “I’d like to do two separate transactions.” None of the CVS cashiers (there are two stores in my town) have ever declined my request. They always assume that I’m using my ECBs for the next transaction and often rip them off the receipt for me!

      However, I don’t do multiple transactions if it is really busy at the store.

  • Freebies says:

    My daughter’s name is Lynn Ann!!

    I have a little tip about “not paying” out of pocket cash/tax. At some point when you have a decent amount of Up’s or Register Rewards or Extra bucks (maybe $30 worth), start doing more of the cash rebates these stores offer. Make sure you pay for for with the above and wait for the check to come. Cash it out and store your rebate cash with your register coupons. If you can keep yourself from spending it you can always use this cash to pay for tax or any real out of pocket expense.

    The next month simply do a few more rebates and replace the cash as it runs out.


  • Christie says:

    I’d be interested to hear a defense for extreme couponing from an ethical perspective. It seems like I often hear that it’s being a good steward of your own resources, but what of the resources of those people who produce the products that you’re getting essentially for free? It feels dishonest to me, but I’d really love to be convinced otherwise. (That nagging conscience!)

    • Crystal says:

      I’m guessing you’re new here. Welcome! I don’t recommend or encourage extreme couponing here. 🙂 I encourage you to devote a little time most weeks to stock up on loss leaders and rock-bottom prices in order to buy ahead for 3-6 months. However, it should never be done to the detriment of your family/health/life/job/relationships.

      For more of my thoughts on this, be sure to check out my video from last week:

      As well as this post:

      I hope that helps! Balance is key!

    • Megan says:

      Companies release coupons (or sponsor ECBs at CVS) to promote their products. They know how much their products retail for and make careful decisions about what value coupons to offer. Their strategy is to encourage people to try a new product for a small initial cost in the hopes that that person will become a loyal customer. I think that most avid couponers will admit that they have become loyal customers of some brands after trying an item for free. I don’t have a moral problem with using coupons (according to their stated rules) to get items for very little money because the companies create this opportunity for us. If a coupon offer ceases to be lucrative for a company, they will stop issuing that particular coupon or offer. For example, the Johnson Buddies soap that so many were getting for free with the $1 J&J coupon is now no longer eligible with the $1 J&J coupon. I agree with you that we need to be good stewards and honest consumers. This is why I strictly adhere to coupon rules, don’t buy things I don’t need and impose limits on myself (you won’t find me with 20 bottles of anything in my cart!).

    • becky says:

      As far as the people who produce the products… the ones who sponsor man. coupons or drugstore rebates aren’t doing it out of the kindness of their heart. They are doing it ’cause they have determined that they make a profit in the long run. I don’t know exactly how, but I’m confident the minute the programs/coupons don’t help their profit margin, they will be discontinued. I’m sure they even account for people who “work the system.”

      I’ve been thinking about the ethical questions too. I’m not sure what “extreme” couponing is. Combining sales and coupons and stocking up seems perfectly ethical. Signing up for cards under multiple names, not so much. Still not sure where I stand on using multiple computers to get around “print limits.”

      A more significant moral question for me is where is my heart–am I greedy or hoarding or truly trying to be a good steward? Am I sacrificing kids or hubby for a good deal? I like MSM’s blog because it address those issues as well as where to find good deals.

    • JuliB says:

      I’ve felt that way about getting samples before. I give most to family or to our parish food pantry, but I actually have found a new shampoo that I might start using. I’m overly brand loyal, so for me to switch hair products is a big deal.

  • becky says:

    Thanks for this post and especially the comments. I’ve only been doing this for a month and a half, doing walgreens because it is right next to the store I usually buy food at. But the 1 RR/transaction, need to buy fillers, and other rules are driving me crazy and costing me alot (a little at a time), although I must say they do usually have the item on the shelf. I did Rite Aid last week, and it was hardly an awesome deal, but not bad for my first. But other time’s I’ve been in there sale items are out of stock–and with three kids I can’t make multiple trips to check for things. CVS is out of my way, but I’m thinking the little bit more gas might be made up for in deals.

    So any advice on this point??–When I drop Walgreens should I stick with just Rite Aid or add CVS too?

    Also, is the drugstore game worth it compared to just going into Walmart and buying their brand (which I’m mostly content with)?

    • Megan says:

      Based on my calculations, the drug store game is a much better financial option than sticking with the Walmart brands (it’s also better for my sanity as I can’t handle shopping in mega-marts!). I’d encourage you to plan out one scenario per week for each store you want to visit (I only do Rite Aid and CVS and only if their deals look good for that week). Then try to visit that store early in the week, do your one transaction and then forget about it for the rest of the week!

    • Rae says:

      I would say it is 100% percent worth it. I literally do not pay for toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, body wash, etc.

      As far as drugstores, I guess choosing RA or RA and CVS is up to you. But either choice would be a good one over Wags. Even if you didn’t have RA and had to pay a little extra gas to get to CVS, you’d make up that little extra gas (as long as its not much farther) in the amount you are spending on fillers. I almost never buy fillers at CVS and still stay with extremely low oop. And your time/stress level (at least for me) was ridiculous at Wags. I would spend so much time trying to get my transactions right before going then inevitably they would be out of one item which would throw my whole plan out the door because of their stupid coupon rules. CVS I just get the stuff I want, turn over my coupons, then just look through my ecb’s to see which would be the best fit for the total. I hear RA has also gotten awesome though I don’t have one around me right now (6 more months and I will though 😀 )

    • Carrie L says:

      Each week is different, but here are some pros and cons to RA and CVS

      CVS has more limits – 1 or 2 per customer

      RiteAid UPs can only be used for exact amount or higher so you may need a filler. CVS will let you use EBs for exact or less, but you won’t get change.

      CVS keeps a running total of deals. If one CVS has only 2 Softsoaps and you need a third to get the EB, you can go to a different CVS (or the same one later in the week) for a third and still get the EB. Typically at RA, to get UPs on deals like Spend $30 get $10UP, you need to spend it all in one order.

      They are both TONS easier than Wags, so whichever you choose will pay off.

  • Trixie says:

    I prefer CVS over Walgreens. I did CVS for over 2 years and stopped over a year ago because I had so much stuff to use up. We are still using it!

    • Freebies says:

      Yup- that happened to me too. I was doing CVS and had a ton of stuff, then we adopted 2 preschool aged girls from Foster Care- and I could not handle both anymore!! So I stopped for 2 years and there are still a few things left in my closet- lol!!.

      Now I do Rite Aid


  • Michele says:

    I really need to be doing this –thanks for the inspiration ladies!

  • Teresa says:

    I discovered the drug store game about a year or so ago and I love playing it!!! Nothing is better than walking out of CVS with 10 full size items for $2.53 out-of-pocket (this week’s results). I’ll never understand people who don’t shop sales or use coupons consistently. You really can save a bundle!

  • LoriBeth says:

    I tried to do CVS today. I actually needed the eye care solution, had the $2 coupon, and my new temporary CVS card. I went in, and there were no bottles that were greater than 360 mL (coupon required this). The only bottle there was 355 mL and was priced for 12.95. As I had only run in with $10 cash (thinking they were 8.99) while hubby and baby were in a nearby store, I just left. Do the prices vary that much by region? (I’m in North Alabama).

    • Rachel says:

      It sounds like you couldn’t use your $2 coupon for the CVS deal this week due to the size restriction, but my guess is that the 355mL bottle just wasn’t marked for the sale this week but would’ve been $8.99. There is a red machine in most CVSs that you can use to price check merchandise or you can ask at the register.

    • Andrea Q says:

      The regular (non-sale) prices at CVS are high. Sales, coupons and ECBs are what make it worth it.

    • Rae says:

      I agree with Rachel, it probably just wasn’t marked. My store tends to forget to put tags up. If you scan it at the price/coupon scanner and it shows the right sale price, it most likely will also print the ecb (and if it doesn’t, just show the cashier the ad and they will manually print it for you). I also heard that the bonus double pack works which is what I am going to try when I go 🙂

      • Nancy says:

        Most of the stores in my area “forget” to put up sale tags. I make sure to bring my circular so that I can be sure to get the right stuff. If all else fails, the red scanner will at least give you the price.

        What I don’t understand is why the stores choose not to put up the sale prices. These tags drive sales, duh!

  • Becky says:

    I’m new to the drugstore game and couponing, but it’s already become second nature. I think it has really taught me good stewardship to take a long look at what I’m buying each week, and what I’m wasting. To me couponing isn’t about what I can get for free it’s about how I can buy what my family needs for less, and thus be able to give more to others. Although, I love those freebies! When I find multiple items for free I love to be able to gift them to my friends, and they love that it’s stuff they actually use! I’m not a hoarder or greedy, but just planning ahead, and always ready to help friends when money gets tight for them. I think being a good stewart with money is realizing it all belongs to God, and He’s just letting me oversee how it’s used. 😉

    • boysmom says:

      I totally agree. I have things that I give to friends when I know they are down on their luck. I always have a years worth of dish soap or bar soap. And sometimes cleaning supplies… those are the costly things that they could use. So I will voluntarily give them to them.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I dread going to Walgreens and hearing the beep when the coupon wont work. The last 5 or 6 times I’ve gone, they’ve had to call up a manager. I always feel bad for holding up the line.

    Two times last week I tried to use my $4 RR and they couldn’t get it to work. Finally I went to a different store. The manager there was very nice. She explained it wouldn’t work because for some reason the computer will only accept it if it is entered before all the other coupons. I will remember from now on to hand them the RR first!

  • Mandy says:

    I started slowing down with CVS last summer (gave up Wag’s completely after they discontinued the gift-card program), and eventually stopped once I got pregnant with this baby. I had plenty of everything, especially toothpaste 🙂 so we have been fine so far. I started getting really frustrated because it seemed like they were always out of whatever was “free” that week, no matter how early I went on Monday (I don’t shop on Sundays). I know the rain checks never expire, but with the pregnancy and two kids, it was just too much to keep track of. I will probably jump back in, though, when they start doing their Back-to-school deals because it does save a ton of money.

    • Rae says:

      CVS’s back to school sales stunk last year. I was really disappointed. Hopefully this year will be better again like the past years.

  • April says:

    I love rite aid but I still don’t understand Walgreens its so confusing that I only grab stuff from there that’s outright free like the purex this past Sunday. Its easier this way because my husband isn’t very supportive of my couponing but he likes to see me save at target and rite aid.

    • boysmom says:

      My husband wasn’t very supportive about coupons until we seperated a month ago and he had to go grocery shopping for himself for the first time in 5 years and dropped $150 on NOTHING…. He was complaining because milk is as expensive as gas. lol Now he has become VERY supportive of me couponing.

  • Sarah says:

    Ok…here’s my question, and why I have been discouraged with the drug store game. It seems like, except for very rare occasions, that the things that I can earn rewards on are strange and useless to me. Sure toothpaste and toothbrushes, but most of the products seem to be weird pharmaceutical type things…denture stuff, lots of medications I have never needed or used in my life…just weird stuff! It seems like so much work to get things free that I won’t ever use and don’t even want to clutter up my house. If I earn rewards so those things are free, I rarely find practical everyday grocery type items to roll them into. Like I said there are exceptions…maybe some feminine products, toothpaste, that great RiteAid icecream deal awhile back.
    Am I missing something?

    • Andrea Q says:

      I have never purchased any of those “weird” things, but I only roll about $5 per week in ECBs. I have gotten some great deals on shampoo, deodorant, Easter candy, breakfast cereal and toothbrushes. Last week, I got shaving cream for pennies.

    • Rae says:

      I sometime buy things I don’t need (like never ending pain killers way more than I would need) if they will be free (or provide overage) to keep my ecb’s going. Then I share the stuff with friends that don’t have time to coupon. Some weeks it seems like I am “buying” mostly things I don’t need but it keeps my ecb’s current for the weeks when they do have things I need. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, feminine protection (the bladder control products work the same 😉 ), mouthwash, shampoo/conditioner, Easter/Halloween candy, deodorant, candy bars (I use for stocking/basket stuffers), allery/ pain medicine, body wash, air fresheners, dish soap, bandaids, etc are all things that I never pay for because of drugstores along with several products that I’m sure I’m not thinking of. I have also gotten very cheap cereal (I don’t pay more than $.70/box), bars, etc. And recently I got 3 12packs of Diet Coke (donated to church cafe) and 2 bottles of Honest Tea for $4.50 total after ecb’s and coupons (I got it free using ecb’s but that’s what it would have been if I hadn’t started out with any ecb’s). Those are just some examples of what I get that make the game worth playing 🙂

  • Jean says:

    I am in a Walgreens only town. I want to put in a little plug here in case there are any new couponers reading along and potentially getting turned off of Wags based on some of the comments. The rules may be a little more complicated, but once you get the hang of them they are easy. My single best piece of advice? Ask to be checked out at the cosmetics counter. That way you’re not clogging up the front of the store.

    It may take patience to get the hang of the system, but you can still save goo gobs of money doing coupon and RR deals at Walgreens.

    • Ann says:

      I also always try to check out at the cosmetics counter in Walgreens. For some reason, the person there is always less grouchy than the up front register person.

      I have to say that I like Walgreens a bit better than CVS. CVS is easier to run the deals, but their store lay-outs are terrible and confusing. It’s often hard to find stuff, and I wander around the store wasting way too much time trying to locate things. Just when I figure out the local stores, they rearrange things! Walgreens tend to be all pretty similar in store lay-out. I can walk through a Walgreens and find many things I could impulse buy, not so for CVS. (maybe that’s a good thing after all! LOL)

    • Rae says:

      At some Wags it is never easy. I have been couponing for years and playing the drugstore game for years so I know Walgreens policy like the back of my hand. But with the strict rules, you have to do multiple transactions, buy fillers, and at my store, at least one item will be out of stock which means I have to re work all of my transactions to get the item to coupon ratio right on all of them causing a headache in store. Then my store has no idea how to override anything that beeps (including the csm and store manager) and customer service never gets back to me.

      I’m not trying to turn anybody that shops there off. If your store is great, I am very happy for you all. And to newbies, I’d say definitely try it out to see what your store is like. I just want to point out that it is not user error that some of us hate Walgreens. 🙂

  • angela r says:

    I too guess that I’m not as impressed with the CVS drugstore game as all the comments suggest. I know couple years ago.. it was easy to get all detergent, cleaning supplies etc for free by rolling ECB’s… but lately??? seems like I’ll earn a few but then the next couple weeks nothing happens and so use them but don’t really keep rolling them. Is this anyone else’s experience? I really hope not… I must just be missing out… bc I’d love to have $10 or more in ECB each week to roll…. I must buy the wrong stuff.

    • Heather Harman says:

      Me too. I gave up CVS for that reason. I had a hard time rolling the ECBs because there would be a few weeks with nothing I wanted. Now I just do Rite Aid, which I like better anyway, although sometimes they have the same problem.

      And no one has mentioned it, but it seems as though RA is poised to discontinue the SCR. Hardly any offered now, and it’s all UP rewards, which I don’t like as much. SCR is real money that you can deposit in the bank!

      • I agree. I stopped with Rite Aid once they switched to mostly UPs. The people who work at the store I go to were a big pain about accepting them and it was just too much trouble. I liked the rebates much better.

    • Same here. I started playing the drugstore game when my husband lost his job in late 2007 and our daughter was a baby. The deals were more plentiful and there were more “moneymakers” and “free” things then. The limits were higher too. I never had trouble “rolling”. In the past year, the deals have not been good at all. I only have a couple of extrabucks and only go to Walgreens from time to time. Even still, we’re well stocked (for now).

  • Carol says:

    I am glad to see that I am not the only one that is totally fed up with Walgreens. I am sorry, but after trying to work things out and understand their policies for over 2 years I quit shopping there. I had $18 in RR’s on several receipts and everything I wanted to use them on they wouldn’t allow. Many OTC drugs are excluded. I finally used the RR’s to purchase epsom salts at regular price (something I use regularly)because I couldn’t purchase the things I needed. Having to pay regular price actually soured my feelings about the deal, to me it was no longer a bargain. I wish they would issue gift cards without expiration dates. I know the purpose is to get you back into their store and I believe the gift cards would still accomplish this but without the time constraints. I prefer CVS but I have lost $8 because they expired and another time we had a snow storm, I called the manager and she authorized them to be used beyond the expiration so long as it was before the end of the week. I actually worked for Rite Aid before it was Rite Aid and didn’t go there for years. I have however found some excellent freebies by doing the video values and stacking them with manufacturer’s. This week I plan to do my first Single Check Rebate which I will earn money on. At first I thought all the different “hoops” were too complicated but I think it will pay off. It’s all a learning process. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but, I’ve also gotten a lot of freebies and excellent bargains. Be encouraged! It gets easier the more you know.

  • Jessica says:

    I get so frustrated when I plan out my deals for CVS or Walgreens, then I arrive at the store and the majority of the items on my list have sold out! It totally ruins my plan for amounts, expired coupons, etc. I just wish they’d keep a large supply of the items that are on sale.

  • Jenn says:

    The best advice I got on drugstores was to pick one store at first and learn that one well. Then, if you want to try the other stores, to go ahead and do them. I just do Rite Aid, and it gets more then enough in free or very cheap items.

  • Steve says:

    Since the original poster is from the Kansas City metro area, I am going to tailor my comments specifically to this area.

    The Kansas City metro area is a test market for Walgreens Rewards points (along with Portland OR and Richmond VA). I rarely shop at Walgreens because the points are worth much less than competitors offerings (specifically CVS ECB’s).

    Another thing to consider in the Kansas City market is the impact of taxes. Kansas stores charge tax on the full, pre-coupon price. Missouri stores charge tax on the subtotal AFTER coupons have been taken off. Also, Missouri taxes on non-prepared foods are about 4% lower than in Kansas.

    • Lynn-Ann says:

      Hi Steve,

      As with Melanie’s post, I responded to the fact that I didn’t know Walgreen’s in this area was a test market. I moved from the Pacific Northwest in April of last year and just assumed that it was like every other one that I had experienced.

      Tax is quite high here, which I have noticed. I do see many challenges shopping at Walgreen’s and have since started doing more regular shopping at CVS.

      Thanks for your input.

  • Emily says:

    I have 2 suggestions for Lynn-Ann that might help her get more bang for her buck at CVS.

    1. Get a green bag tag and bring your own bag for your items each time you shop there. You earn $1 ECB every 4th time your tag is scanned, so basically, you are earning $0.25 each time you shop at CVS (if you remember to bring your own bag). No, it’s not a lot of money, but getting $1 ECB every once in a while helps, say, when you end up using all your ECBs and have to start over with none. This has happened to me on occasion. Sometimes I find that I have plenty of stuff and not so plenty time, so I want to take a little time off from CVSing and use up all my ECBs. It helps knowing that, when I want to get back in the game, I’ll be earning $1 ECB soon from my bag tag. Every little bit helps.

    2. If you have regular medications that you or family members use, many CVS stores will accept a competitor’s prescription coupon. Two years ago, I transferred several of my daughters and my prescriptions to my CVS when Kmart had a coupon out for a $25 gift card when you transfer a prescription there. My CVS accepted it (and I had a $10 Target one too), and so I got probably $60 worth of CVS gift cards by transferring all of our Rxs to CVS. I even was able to give away a $10 CVS gift card since I knew I had plenty to last me a long time. The nice thing was, CVS then sent me a couple of their own prescription transfer or new prescription offers, and I was able to get another gift card just by filling a prescription for an antibiotic. Of course, this strategy will only work if you have a prescription to transfer, but it’s definitely helped me get more bang for my buck there, as I don’t have to actually spend $ OOP there by having the gift cards. You can also have the pharmacy scan your extra care card each time you fill a prescription, and that really helps add up for the quarterly spending total, on which you earn 2% back in ECBs. Now, I’ve read before about people contintually transferring prescriptions back and forth between places to get these types of gift cards, but I don’t advocate that at all. I just realized one day that I wasn’t using my CVS as wisely as I could, so I transferred all our Rxs there from my grocery store little by little to start earning ECBs on them, and I made the most of it by finding as many Rx transfer coupons as I could. I actually have no intention of ever transferring them anywhere else, as I now love my CVS pharmacists and have gotten to feel very comfortable there. Anyway, just a thought if you have regular medications that you need filled.

    • Lynn-Ann says:


      What a fantastic idea! I had no idea that CVS had such a thing. THis may sound silly but could you explain a bit more about the “green bag tag”?


  • Rachel C. says:

    My husband challenged me to prove I was saving money by seeing how far I could make $100 cash last. That was January and it’s still going in April. My “complaint” about making the $$ last is the taxes! I realize there is nothing to do but pay them, but it is a little discouraging to see my “savings” being eaten up by taxes (we are taxed on the full price). It has been fun and I have enjoyed the challenge but I feel like Uncle Sam is getting most of my money. I messed up and used an $1 ECB at CVS when my total was near the bottom before taxes. It only subtracted .17 cents instead of dollar because of taxes. Lesson learned.

  • Melissa says:

    I know everyone is different but I have a negative opinion of the RR or ECB’s. I normally don’t do the deals, unless I have seen the ad for the next week. Sometimes you can google and find it. Since the time for using the RR is limited, if I don’t find a good deal I don’t use them in time for them to expire, which is a waste. I use them occasionally, but at least in my area (MI) other stores without the RR is the way to go. It just depends upon the sales and your target price for an item.

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