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Q&A: Making CVS work for you

Crystal, Thank you for
teaching us how to shop better. I love your ideas, but I’m having
trouble creating ones that work for me. Our original money strategy was
to buy generic because it can be several dollars cheaper.

At first glance, CVS seems expensive compared to our generics. We don’t seem to use many of the items that are on often on sale.  Our
first try we only bought the NB Vitamins. B1G1 for $12.99 and another
for $9.99 (we thought it was $6, oops). We used a $2/$10, a $2/1 MC and
$3 ECBs. We still paid 17.24 and got $6 ECBs. Now we have $6 ECBs (exp
1/30) to work with, but I have no idea where to go from here. We don’t
need anything on the ECB reward list this month.

husband hates buying things we don’t need. He says it is just clutter.
Do you ever buy fillers that you don’t need to round out your purchase?
For example candy, we don’t eat it. Actually, we do need diet pop and
toilet paper but I think I will come out with less ECBs if I figured it
  Does this make sense?  Can you help me? I am hoping to get this figured out. -Jennifer

off, thanks for a great question. I’ve been wanting to write up a post
further explaining how to make CVS work for you so you have given me
the incentive! Here are some thoughts:

1) Make a game plan for your CVS shopping
– My purpose for shopping at CVS is to greatly reduce our grocery bill
by getting mostly all of our household products (medicines, paper
products, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, feminine products,
cosmetics, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.) for free and then using the
overage I’m able to come up with in ECBs to buy anything else off our
grocery list I can buy and pay for diapers, wipes, and extra fun stuff
or treats (See how Catherine used some of her CVS overage to pay for
most of her daughter’s birthday gifts here.).

order to accomplish this, I’ve found that usually every week I’ll buy
at least a few items which we might not use or need but which I can
donate to charity, give away to friends and family, or sell in our
twice-a-year garage sales. These help roll over our ECBs so that I can
always have at least $15-$20 ECBs to work the deals with.

2) Base your shopping trips primarily around what you need.
Although some of my shopping trips might seem like random purchases, I
usually have a calculated plan for buying what I do. I plan my shopping
trips based upon what we need first of all.

look over the list of deals each week and decide which items we could
use most. For instance, we’re running low on toothpaste and
toothbrushes and shampoo right now, so buying the Colgate deal and the
Fructis deal was first on my list. I also needed to buy some sandwich
bread and a pack of Pampers and was hoping to work these purchases in
with my ECB overage.

With this in mind, I sat down and briefly
looked through my coupons and ECBs and wrote up a simple game plan for
what I needed to buy and how to best work the deals based upon that. I
added in fillers, as needed, to roll over my ECBs and help accumulate a
few more.

If there are enough good deals, like this week, I
might break my shopping list up into two trips. If there are not hardly
any good deals and nothing that we need, I’ll just skip a week.

The CVS "game" is first and foremost about making it work for you and your family. Think about what your purpose for shopping at CVS is and what your needs are and then plan your shopping trips accordingly.

3) Stock up with 3-6 month’s worth of household items when you can get them free. For those who are saying, "I look at those lists of deals and don’t see anything we need,"
let me stretch your thinking a little bit: Do you use shampoo,
conditioner, or hairspray? Do you use toothbrushes? Do you use
toothpaste? Do you use deodorant? Do you use feminine products
(tampons, pads)? Do you use medicine? Do you use make-up? Soap? Body
wash? Lotion? Batteries? Hand sanitizer? Tissues? Mouthwash? Baby
wipes? Razors and shaving cream? Dish detergent? Do you eat cereal,
crackers, chips, chocolate? Drink soda, bottled water, energy drinks,
or flavored water?

You probably don’t use all of the above, but
I’m guessing there are at least a few things on the list above (and
probably more than a few) that you use regularly. If you never paid
anything out of pocket anymore for any of those things, would that help
reduce your grocery budget? If so, then shopping at CVS is definitely
for you because the above list is just a sampling of some of the things
you could have gotten free or more than free in the last 6 months.

secret is that you start stocking up on items you need or will need in
advance – while you can get them for free or more than free. That way,
when you need them, you won’t have to add them to your grocery list,
you’ll just go get another bottle or box or container out of your small
stockpile stash.

Instead of thinking that you shouldn’t buy
shampoo until you’ve used up the entire bottle and then buying the
generic brand at full price, plan ahead a little bit try to always keep
at least a few extra bottles on hand. Think about the savings to be had
by a little planning ahead. It adds up very fast, especially since some
of these free items are some of the costliest purchases in the grocery

4) Have a budget for your time and money allocated to CVS-ing and stick within these parameters.
I can’t stress this point enough. Getting bargains can be a whole lot
of fun – so much fun, sometimes, that it begins to consume too much
time and effort. If your house is falling apart because you’ve been
running to CVS three times a day, you need to step back and reevaluate

We have a $35/week grocery budget. All of our CVS
purchases are included in this. Since I rarely pay more than $1 out of
pocket for our CVS trips, it doesn’t really dent the budget much. But
knowing I only have a few dollars to work with every week really helps
me to keep my spending in check and maximize the savings.

personal rule of thumb is that I rarely go to CVS more than twice a
week. Normally, I only make one trip per week – these keeps things
simple, helps me be efficient, and saves time. If the deals are
exceptional, like this week, I might make more than one trip. However,
even though our CVS is just right down the street, I try to never go
more than three times a week. This just ensures I don’t get out of
balance in bargain shopping.

I love getting great deals and I
love saving money, but I want to have my priorities in order and not
devote too much time, thought, and energy to this.

5) Purpose to stick with CVS-shopping for at least 3 months before giving up.
When you first start out CVS shopping, it can be really overwhelming.
Believe me, I well remember. When I first stumbled upon this whole
phenomenon on a deal forum over two and a half years ago, I spent about
four hours researching and reading and studying about how the program
works. It was daunting, to say the least and it took me a number of
shopping trips to really get the hang of it. My CVS store was an Osco
Drug store just changing over and no one in there had a clue
about the ECB program and none of the deals were advertised anywhere.
To make things more difficult, I didn’t know anyone else who knew
anything about it either. So, I just read the forums and started
testing things out to see how it worked. Little did I ever know that
someday I’d be introducing thousands of people to it!

any rate, it takes time to learn and understand and time to figure out
how to best work the deals for your own family’s needs. So I recommend
you don’t just try it once and decide against it. Stick with it for
three months and then reevaluate whether it is working for your family
and saving you money.

Those were just some general thoughts
which I hope will be helpful to you, Jennifer, and anyone else
struggling to figure out the CVS "game." I’d love to hear others’ input on this and how they’ve made CVS work for them.

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  • Original comments posted on my other blog:

    Sarah said…

    A few weeks ago I heard from a friend about the freebees she gets from CVS. After a little explaining, I decided to try it myself. My first trip to CVS I spent $45 and got $0 ECBs! We don’t yet have kids and both work outside the home full-time so that wasn’t much of a shock to me or the budget. But my friend was certainly shocked. “How did you spend $45 at CVS?”
    A few days later I found this blog and decided to try one of the *Deal Ideas*. We don’t need bottled water – but of course we would drink it. I paid $7 and got $5 ECBs. My thrid CVS trip is planned based on another Deal Idea to spend $1 and get another $5 ECBs.

    I had to get past the same thoughts about generics being cheaper and not buying what we don’t need. But then I realized, after 3 trips it’s almost all FREE. So why not stock up on name brands. Crystal’s “CVS 101” tip about starting with just a couple of items and, as mentioned, the Deal Ideas helped me a lot.

    January 10, 2008 4:29 PM
    Blogger Lisa said…

    Crystal, you really provided great information on CVS shopping! I was overwhelmed at first. I just did not know when to stop. But now, since I have been CVSing (about 3 months) I am more comfortable at deciding when enough is enough. I also budgeted a certain amount for CVSing and when those dollars are gone, well I have to stay out of CVS until payday. But, I can always go and use the ECB’s if I need a CVS “fix”!!

    January 10, 2008 4:41 PM
    Anonymous okaliedokalie said…

    I just started CVSing this week. My New Years resolution was to clip & save coupons (and use – lol) and save receipts for the enitre year.
    Little did I know that I would start on a week with SIX coupon inserts. I managed to scrounge up 7 copies of the paper from friends/family/coworkers, so I’m off to a great start.
    So far, I’ve managed to cut our expenses by 45% – this includes husband’s fast food for lunch & gasoline… which means I’m saving A LOT on my grocery / household needs… even DOG FOOD.
    But I’ve only been doing this 12 days, so we’ll see if I can keep it up.

    **My biggest issue with CVS (I’ve been to 3 different stores this week – a major feat for someone who has never stepped foot in a CVS before) is that not all of the products are marked… and it’s a pain to try to figure out what is actually on sale & what isn’t.
    I made a $7 mistake on one visit (okay it was only $6 because I had a $1 coupon) … and a $13 mistake on another…

    But so far, I’ve spent $48.92 at CVS & saved over $150… on things that we will actually use… over the next 6-12 months, of course.

    My biggest savings so far was Target, though – 6 boxes of electrosol tabs & a bottle of A&H detergent . . . . for 11 cents.

    I ROCK!

    Oh, this is awesome & highly addictive.

    THANK YOU for your blog, encouragement, and hand holding. I couldn’t have done this well without you.

    January 10, 2008 4:53 PM
    Blogger jeni said…

    I have been so blessed with shopping at CVS. I feel it is a gift from God 🙂 and a way to provide more for my family. I am a single mom of three children, and this helps so, so much. I stockpile the things Crystal listed for current and future use, and the money saved can go towards other things. I was even able to get a bunch of Christmas presents this year for my kids which was a huge blessing. If I have a week where I’m running low on groceries, I will use the ECBs to buy some extra food items to get us through. I can’t say enough about CVS!!

    January 10, 2008 5:18 PM
    Blogger Bridget said…


    Thanks for this post. I have been reading your blog for a few months now and was getting out of balance on this CVS thing.

    I have been spending too much time planning and shopping there this week with all the deals and the great coupons from last Sunday’s paper. The guideline of not going more than 3 times/week regardless is a good limit. I think I have been 3 times already this week and planning another trip Friday.

    I need this kind of accountability.
    God Bless, Bridget

    January 10, 2008 5:19 PM
    Blogger Amity said…

    Hi Crystal!

    I also use CVS to stockpile on the things that I normally use.We are a family of 7 and can benefit from stockpiling.Like you, necessites are priority. There was a wweek when I only bought one thing. I treat ECBs like money and I don’t like them wasted. I also have had the opportunity to spoil myself with makeup that is really not a neccessity, but a wonderful luxury and have it cost pennies!

    With my extras (tylenol, robitussin, soaps, shampoos, facial cleansers, paper towels, toothpaste, etc.) I make a care package for sister-in-law who is on a fixed budget. She was soo blessed and excited, and it made my husband really happy!

    I also was able to stock up on batteries for free-they made a great stocking stuffers for my kids! The Reeses whips I’ll save for a Valentine’s Day treat. I always pack them a special school lunch that day and I know they’ll be excited to see those in there.

    It not only enables me to purchase the practical, but also special fun things as well.
    This week I purchased a whopping $116.00 worth of items for $0.88! (this includes ECBs) I stocked up on the Motrin, Tylenol, neosporin, deoderant, I replenished my shampoo and mascara, diapers, and laundry soap. As a bonus I picked up Christmas cards for the next 2 years :)!

    January 10, 2008 5:27 PM
    Anonymous Carole said…

    One quick idea is that milk is often 50-60 cents cheaper than at Publix (in FL, there tends to be a CNS right next to Publix), and our family loves milk, so I use a lot of ECB’s on that.

    January 10, 2008 5:30 PM
    Blogger angelcat said…


    Up until last week I had never heard of ‘CVSing’ and had been in the store maybe once in my life. I read your site (it’s awesome, and thank you!) and decided to try the SoyJoy bars deal. I went in with my coupons and a lot of doubt and came out with a bunch of bars and $16 ECBs. I spent $12. In the parking lot a reciept blew by and I told my son to grab it. $5 more ECBs! Later I came back for the Fructis deal, used my 3 coupons with my found $5 ECBs and paid $1.61 and walked out with 3 bottles of shampoo plus $2 more ECBs. I didn’t think it could get better, until today. I went in armed with my $18 remaining ECBs and bought Palmolive, gold, silver and red curling ribbon (.06 each on clearance), the Sambucal and a ton of Hershey brand bars, many of which will go to my Uncle in France who loves Mounds but can’t find them there. I also got $12 more ECBs, get the $12.99 rebate on the Sambucal and paid NOTHING! I almost fainted when the cashier said “It’s free!”. The best part was coming home to photo my loot for my own baby blog. When my 8 year old saw the stash he started yelling for his brother excited (it was a lot of candy, after all;) I told him it was all free, and he hugged me and said “Mama, you’re the best shopper in the world!” That’s the best bonus, knowing I’m getting things my family needs without using our resources up. All this for a total investment of $13.61 and a little time. Thank you so much for sharing CVSing with me. You are a blessing! 🙂

    January 10, 2008 5:34 PM
    Anonymous Angela said…

    My dh has also been relunctant to try the whole CVS thing, especially when on my second time there (Sunday), I bought chips, soda, Gatorade, which are items we don’t like to keep on hand. But I convinced him to trust me and I have made 2 other trips this week and have gotten toilet paper, diapers, tissues and cough medicine (things we use) as well as the Soyjoy bars (which we normally wouldn’t buy) at such ridiculously low prices or free and coming out with ECBs that he is starting to understand this. His thought though is that as long as I’m buying things we will use or need, that’s fine. This week I started with 0 ECBs (since I’m a newbie, too), but as of tonight I have 26 ECBs as well as a $13 rebate (from the Sambucol) coming my way. So I have essentially recouped the money I spent initially Sunday evening. I hope that makes sense.

    January 10, 2008 5:35 PM
    Blogger Jamie said…

    I had the exact same problem at first too…but it does work out once you get the hang of it! I remember getting my first 1.99 ecb and then not knowing what to use it on and thinking it wasn’t that great of a program. Boy was I wrong! Keep reading Crystal’s list of CVS deals and you will find things you need I’m sure! Currently I need to work on not spending too much time devoted to CVS as it can be rather addicting!

    January 10, 2008 5:47 PM
    Anonymous Courtney said…

    A heads up for anyone with a Kohl’s in their shopping area. They are running a huge clearance on their baby/toddler clothes with racks marked from 40-80% off. I was able to buy some short sleeved summer shirts for my boys for $1.20 each. Of course, I only checked out the 80% off racks.

    January 10, 2008 5:51 PM
    Anonymous Ashley H. said…

    Thanks for this encouragement!
    I just shopped at CVS for the first time last night and I’m pretty sure I saved money even though I felt like I spent a lot. I spent $28 out of pocket, but got $8 in ECBs, so I guess I “spent” $20. I did however get 6 deodorants, 2 containers of drawstring trash bags, 2 containers of locking freezer bags, and 20 bars of Irish spring soap. They were all things we really needed.
    I’m hoping to spend less money in the future and keep increasing my savings/ ECB’s. I’m also going to stock up on manufacturer’s coupons.

    Thank you SO much for all of your help with this, Crystal! 🙂

    January 10, 2008 5:53 PM
    Blogger Catherine Shaffer said…

    I hate buying things I don’t need, too. I don’t do garage sales, and I don’t buy things with the intention of donating them, although we do donate food regularly to a local food pantry. What I’ve found with CVS shopping is you just have to have patience. The ECB’s are good for2 or 3 weeks. Usually within that time frame I can find *something* to spend them on and roll over some more ECB’s. I don’t CVS shop every week, and I have made mistakes. Just the other day, I picked up three of the cottonelle moist wipe value packs for $5.98 each, to get the $9 ECB’s. Then when I was checking out, I realized I had left my ECB stash in the car, so I paid $14 out of pocket for them. Darn! But I guess that means I have $9 more ECB’s to spend on the next sale. So it is possible to make it work buying only things that you need and will use. I have had to put a moratorium on shampoo and robitussin, however.

    January 10, 2008 6:02 PM
    Anonymous Kim said…

    Crystal, you’ve hit it right on the head. As you said, look at what you use *in general* through the year, not just need at this moment & you will find amazing deals at CVS. I think that really is the key. And, also, to plan out your entire purchase to see how you can maximize all of the deals, coupons & ECBS. For instance, this week I purchased the following:

    2 packs Pull Ups 8.99/ea with 2 $2/1 coupons = 6.99/ea or 13.98

    1 bottle Fructis 2.99 with $1 off coupon = $1.99 PLUS $2 ECB

    1 tube Colgate 2.99 with $1 off coupon = $1.99 PLUS $2 ECB

    2 bottles Palmolive dish soap 1.49/ea with $1/2 coupon PLUS $2 ECB

    1 package hair clips at $2.99 (not on sale, but I need them AND, they helped me reach $30. I needed reach $30 in order to use my $5 off coupon)

    So, the total for the stuff (ALL of which will need and use now or soon)was $29.93 (I guess that they were nice & counted the tax in the $30 total!). Some of the prices on the individual items weren’t the best deals ever, but when they were combined with manufacturer’s coupons & CVS coupons, they were practically free!

    I used $7 in manufacturer’s coupons, the following CVS coupons: $2/$10, $3/$15, $4/$20, $5/$30 and $6.50 in ECB that I had from a previous week. Total out of pocket? $3.33, including tax. Total ECB given back to me? $6!


    Obviously, this took some planning & coordinating between the ad, my coupons, and the CVS coupons (links are always posted on this blog–thanks Crystal!!!). I’m not the most frugal gal there is, but I manage to get most of my toiletries & cleaning items for pennies on the dollar at CVS through their system!

    Gosh, I hope that this helps & isn’t rambling or confusing!

    January 10, 2008 6:26 PM
    Anonymous Amy said…

    I was getting CVS to work for a while, but then I couldn’t find anything with extra bucks that we used or needed. When it was working I only had $5 extra bucks rolling over. I never built up to $20 or $30. My husband likes certain brands so I can’t buy many things and I’m not spending money on things I don’t use just to earn extra bucks. I just shop there when there is a really good deal on something and if I get exrta bucks great, but I’m not trying to get them.

    January 10, 2008 6:31 PM
    Blogger Jennie said…

    I made my first CVS trip today. I loved it! The store was so bright and open and I could easily find everything I was looking for.

    I made up a game plan last night and it helped a lot. I wasn’t sure if they’d let me stack CVS coupons so I made out 3 different transactions just to be safe. (and this store did not allow stacking, so I’m glad I went to the trouble of sorting beforehand!)

    After going thru the ad to see what all I needed, I made up a $30 transaction by writing down all of the items, their price and the ECB to be earned. I totaled it up, subtracted the CVS coupon and my manufac. coupons to see what I’d be paying out of pocket. I also added up the ECBs earned. Then I paper clipped it with the manufac. coupons and the CVS coupon.
    I did the same thing for other transactions til I had all the things on my list accounted for.

    When I went in the store, I had my transactions bundled together and shopping was a breeze. They were out of something, so I did have to tweak my transactions a bit but it wasn’t bad. When I got to the car, I compared my receipt to the prices I had written down and I made sure I got all the ECB’s I had expected. (This is when I was very glad I did the list that way!!) Sure enough, I had picked the wrong soap so I didn’t get the ECB’s and was able to go right back in and get it fixed.

    I’m sold on CVS! Thank you Crystal for all your hard work!!

    January 10, 2008 6:32 PM
    Blogger The Queen Bee said…

    Crystal, I really want to thank you for taking the time to put all the info on CVS out here for us.

    When we lived in Illinois a few years back, I discovered how to stack coupons at Walgreens and make myself some “spending money” via their rebate checks every month. It was always a thrill to get $30 or $40 in the mail knowing it was essentially free money.

    But I never knew that CVS had a similar program until I stumbled your blog. And the idea of “investment shopping” (which is what we’re all doing here) can be hard to swallow for some folks.

    First, I think folks to know that you have to give yourself an initial “buy-in” to CVS, where you decide you’ll spend $20 or so to earn as many ECB’s as you can. Then you do need to accumulate coupons which most of us do already. Last, you need to assess your needs and have a long-term outlook on what you’re buying. Getting any consumable product for pennies or free is going to seriously cut your budget. Make sure to track those savings so you can actually see it on paper.

    And if you’re hesitant to buy things you don’t think you’ll need, do what I do: get a Rubbermaid Tote, put it in the basement or hall closet, and fill it up with your “extras”. At the end of the month, go through it and keep whatever things you know you’ll need in the upcoming month, then…..

    GIVE THE REST AWAY! Friends and family, church, local food pantry…it’s limitless.

    You get to save $$ and help others…good all the way around!

    Keep up the good work!

    Marianne at Writer-Mommy

    January 10, 2008 7:44 PM
    Blogger Kristen said…


    It took me atleast 3 months if not longer to finally get it. I would spend day trying to figure out a run and I would get so stressed and confused! Finally a light bulb went off and I was able to do it! Now when the ad comes Sunday I have my plan all worked out by Sunday afternoon. I started this week with $27 extra buck and I spent .14 in two trips and came out with $66 extra bucks. Tomorrow I will go and buy up all the value deals and earn my buck for next time. Stick with it-it really pays off! I get t ton of stuff I don’t need which i store in the basement for a garage sale. More importantly-I get tons of stuff we need and pay nothing out of pocket each week!

    January 10, 2008 7:50 PM
    Blogger The Queen Bee said…

    Oh, and just for fun, the ladies at my local CVS (who are all WONDERFUL) finally broke down and asked me,

    “How do you do this?!”

    To which I answered, “Give me a pen…I gotta tell you about this GREAT website!”


    January 10, 2008 7:52 PM
    Anonymous Angela said…

    Number 5 is SO true! It is now easy for us! However at first we spent 2 hours to get nothing and pull our hair out. However we were determined and here we are. We had our van so packed of free cheap stuff that we could barely get the clothes after we went to the laundry mat. So be encouraged you CAN do it!

    January 10, 2008 8:05 PM
    Blogger Kacie said…

    Excellent post!

    I worked the drugstores really hard in October, so now I just go every 2-3 weeks or so. I haven’t let an ECB expire (and don’t plan to).

    But, we really don’t need anything, even though there’s some awesome deals going on this week.

    I showed my mom how to CVS and she loves it.

    Advice to the gal with the original question:

    Just watch the ECB deals, and if you see an item that you need or know you’ll need in the near future, get it. Then, use your ECB to buy milk or other things your familiy needs.

    So what if you don’t get bags and bags of free things? Just get what you need, and you’ll still be money ahead if you pay attention to the sales.

    January 10, 2008 8:18 PM
    Blogger NeedANap2 said…

    I would suggest starting by going when the store isn’t very busy and early in the week so the stock is pretty good. Give yourself time to learn the layout of the store and shop at one store (as long as the employees are nice and helpful). My husband thinks (and I have to agree), it takes me too long to shop there! Most of it is because I traipse back and forth through the store looking for items and trying to put together “deals”. Crystal’s layout of deals has helped A LOT!

    January 10, 2008 8:24 PM
    Blogger Mrs. Nichole Jordan said…

    Good article Crystal!!!
    It really helps people to see the full empact of what they are doing to save money.
    And you are SOOO right about using it to take money off your grocery budget. I buy olive oil at CVS!!!
    Becuse its a “EXPENSIVE” item and can BREAK your budget but I use it SOOOO much as I cant use muck corn oils becuase of being allergic to it. So whenyou can get it for free at cvs by overage or ECBS I say THANK YOU CVS. 🙂
    I broke down a few deals for next week in my blog. Nothing mind blowing but a few ideas. If it helps anyone! 😀

    January 10, 2008 8:32 PM
    Anonymous Debbie M said…

    This is my exact question. Right now I shop like Amy. (I like to, but it’s rare.) Looking at your great suggestions, I can see why:

    Do you use shampoo, conditioner, or hairspray? Just fragrance-free shampoo and conditioner; can’t find it here.

    Do you use toothbrushes? Yes! But I brush lightly and boil them periodically to kill germs, so they last a really long time, and they are often given away free at health fairs my employer has. (I did get to donate a bunch recently!)

    Do you use toothpaste? Just the plain Colgate without the extra chemicals. (Not good for this week, but works sometimes!)

    Do you use deodorant? Yes, and I got two this week! But that will last me for years because mostly I use another deodorant unless I know I’ll be sweating in the sun.

    Do you use feminine products (tampons, pads)? Yes, but only cotton (not available)

    Do you use medicine? Yes! But one bottle of aspirin, ibuprofen, cough syrup, or cough drops will last me at least a year.

    Do you use make-up? No.

    Soap? Body wash? Only fragrance-free stuff that is not labeled antibacterial – not available.

    Lotion? Yes! I love their generic version of the Oil of Olay lotion with SPF 15 for my face. (It’s on clearance at full-price now. So should I buy two with the current buy-one-get-one half-off sale or should I hold out for a lower price?

    Batteries? Only rechargeable.

    Hand sanitizer? No.

    Tissues? Only if made from recycled paper and bleached without chlorine; not available.

    Mouthwash? Only very occasionally.

    Baby wipes? No.

    Razors and shaving cream? Blades last me a really long time. I use soap rather than shaving cream.

    Dish detergent? Already stocked up.

    Do you eat cereal, crackers, chips, chocolate? Only stuff with significant fiber or, for chocolate, only fair-trade shade-grown chocolate.

    Drink soda, bottled water, energy drinks, or flavored water? No.

    I’m just too picky in ways that CVS doesn’t supply. However, I also get their foam ear plugs (for loud places like theatres and airplanes with the speakers way too loud), energy bars (be careful and check the expiration dates), and ice cream snacks.

    January 10, 2008 8:45 PM
    Blogger Crystal Paine said…

    Debbie: I meant to say that there are a small percentage of people who don’t use almost any of those things do to allergies or other personal preferences and those would be the people who wouldn’t find many money-saving deals at CVS.

    However, *most* people would find it beneficial and helpful for their budget. And I think just about everyone should try it out for at least 3 months and see if they find it helpful or not.

    Oh and another great idea for some people who don’t use a lot of the items but love to donate things to needy people but don’t have many resources to do so, shopping at CVS provides this.

    And you can also consider selling things at a garage sale (if your local laws permit this) and using the $$ you make towards something else you need (I’m thinking about using my garage sale earnings this year to buy some grass-fed beef from a local farm – something I can’t buy very much of on our limited grocery budget.)

    Just a few more thoughts and ideas! It’s fun to put your thinking cap on and get creative!

    January 10, 2008 8:56 PM
    Blogger Crystal Paine said…

    Just a note to piggy-back off of Kacie’s comment:

    I personally do not recommend “blowing” all of your ECBs on items like milk etc. because then you have to use out of pocket cash to get started again/buy more stuff, rather than paying only with ECBs. I prefer to pay next to nothing out of pocket and roll my deals working in purchases I need with the overage. This saves a lot more money in the long-run.

    However, like I said, this is what works for *us.* I have room to store extra items and I also have lots of people I can give away extra items to as well. And I like to keep my outgo as low as possible. Plus, our CVS store is literally a hop skip and a jump away so dropping by there for a quick trip every week or two is no big deal. Like I said in the post, I’m fairly conservative in the time I spend putting together weekly deals and since ECBs don’t expire for about 3 weeks after you get them, you can usually skip a week or two here and there if the deals are lousy.

    One thing I love is to be able to share from our abundance with others. When we were living on a very meager income, I didn’t have much I could do to help others, but I could share coupon goodies and so I did a lot of that. It was so much fun to be able to bless others with things they needed without breaking our wallets to do so. I’m hoping to do a post soon with some ideas for ways to creatively use your extra freebies to bless others.

    I regularly go through our extras and make up boxes or baskets to give away. And you also often don’t leave our home empty-handed. 🙂

    Again, this is what works for us in our situation. If something else works for you – do what works for you! That’s what I’m all about here – helping you save money in the best way for your family! 🙂

    January 10, 2008 8:56 PM
    Blogger Edwena said…

    I agree, give it 3 months. I have been doing this since October and we really didn’t get much that we could use at first. We have been getting more and more things we can use recently and even things we just want (like all the wonderful lip glosses this week).

    My dc pretend they use coupons when they shop now. It’s funny to hear my 3 yr. old say, “You saved $65.00.” I love it. I want them to grow up frugal too.

    We have been able to bless so many others by doing this too. My guess is 10 families so far. It was a blessing to be able to just run up to CVS and get my best friend a netti pot for FREE!! She was just here for Christmas and she’s a missionary in Mexico. It was a need and I could do it without a second thought.

    My dh loves the extra ice cream and goodies we’ve been blessed with. They haven’t hurt him as he only weighs 125 lbs.

    My sister just went CVS’ing for the first time tonight. She was able to get about $46 worth of stuff for $23. Not too bad considering it was her first time and she had no extra coupons at all. It was just rolling her ECB’s over. I think she rather enjoyed it.

    I am so glad that I got Crystal’s e-book. It has been such a blessing to me and so many others. This blog encourages me on a daily basis to continue to be the best steward of our money as possible. Thanks, Crystal.


    January 10, 2008 10:16 PM
    Blogger Lyn said…

    Like Kacie I too was pretty stocked up but could not pass up the sale this week. I’ve been twice this week & am contemplating one more time.

    I really like what some of the ladies said about keeping track of what you spend and your savings (that would give anyone who is not sure about CVS a better idea if it’s worth it for you). Also, I think it’s a great idea to keep good tracking of what you have and what you need (Queen Bee had some very nice thoughts & ideas) so you can manage your purchases the best way possible & share the excess when you can.

    I don’t always get down as low as less than $1 at the end, but I don’t really mind at all because I am saving so much already and don’t feel badly about giving CVS something in return. 🙂

    As mentioned, I think you can make CVS work for you however you want. Oh, and CVS does have a few natural brands like Tom’s of Maine (sometimes on special too) and Burt’s Bees. I’m sure there are others.

    I don’t always get overage because they will often round down my coupon to fit the item on sale so sometimes I do “burn” ECB’s if I don’t see anything on sale I want but need something else. Of course I’m sure it’s preferable to turn over the ECB’s, but if you burn them once in a while, don’t feel too badly, especially if it’s something your family really needs.

    January 10, 2008 11:02 PM
    Blogger Lyn said…

    I’m wondering how you keep inventory of your HBA stuff & how you determine what you might need now and in advance?

    January 10, 2008 11:04 PM
    Blogger Stephanie said…

    After months of reading everyone’s ravings about savings at CVS I just yesterday decided I was going to try it, and signed up for my card on their website. So this post is very timely for me. CVS is not close to me(nothing is close to me!) but there is one right to the Aldi where I do my biweekly grocery shopping. So I am going to see what I can make work with biweekly trips. Thanks for the tips

    January 11, 2008 4:52 AM
    Blogger Cassie – Homeschooling Four said…

    Crystal, can you have another Mr. Linky so we can see everyone’s good deals this week?

    January 11, 2008 6:17 AM
    Anonymous Anne-Marie said…

    I started about a month and a half ago realizing that some of the items I regularly purchase might be a bit more expensive at CVS than at Wal-Mart, my main spot for household purchase, but also noticing that by using coupons from register tapes or from the kiosk at the front of the store, that these same items becme cheaper than at other places, or at least comparable. Minimally, spending what I plan for regardless of store, I increase my totals for quarterly ECB rewards.

    Thanks to discovering sites like yours, I’m gaining added insite into how to best “recycle” those ECB’s. Thanks for a very helpful article!

    January 11, 2008 6:24 AM
    Anonymous Holly said…

    I try to get all the free things I can get. If it is something I can’t use or my family won’t use I bring them to church and put them in a box with a free sign. The elderly people at church can go through the box and take what they need. No one knows who is supplying the free box so it is fun to watch and listen to the comments. One thing that is a big hit is the asprin (81mg) since a lot of elderly people take asprin for their heart. Our church has a lot of elderly that live on limited income so I am sure it helps a little.

    January 11, 2008 6:37 AM
    Blogger mykellybell said…

    Ok so I am new to the CVS scene. I printed out the coupons on this site for the 2/$10 and so on. I already used them this week when I went to the store. My question is can I print out more and use them again on the same CVS card or will it reject them.
    Thanks I for the helpful advice!

    January 11, 2008 6:48 AM
    Blogger Julie aka Gigi… said…

    Hi Crystal,
    When I went to print out the online coupons you mentioned, I was asked to install a coupon activator. I am very hesitant to install anything from the internet b/c of past history of downloading stuff with viruses, etc. Have you had any problems with this coupon activator?
    I assume it is safe if you are recommending it to us, but I want to check with you first.

    January 11, 2008 7:00 AM
    Blogger Jeanne said…

    I’ve found that thinking long-term and designating an area in my home specifically for my stockpile has helped tremendously. My DH is helping me organize bins to keep track of the products that we have on hand. DH is thrilled that we have enough toothpaste/shampoo/soap/etc for the year and that it was all free! We used to shop at Costco and buy in bulk (thinking that we were saving money), but I’m doing so much better by buying at CVS.

    Also, I wanted to let you and your readers know that there are some excel spreadsheets over at in the CVS forum that can help plan your trip to CVS and keep track of your savings.

    (PS – If you don’t feel comfortable promoting the site, I understand – feel free to delete this comment. 🙂 )

    January 11, 2008 7:01 AM
    Blogger Kim said…

    What is CVS CRT? I think I’ve missed something here. Thanks!

    January 11, 2008 7:16 AM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I started about 2 months ago and at first I was like everyone else saved some but not free. But after a couple of weeks I was getting items free or almost free. I like to have a dollar or less left at the end of my total so I can charge it onto my UPROMISE charge card and get the credit for the items that count in my UPROMISE account. Then I get additionial 10% credit on the items from the UPROMISE credit card. So now I am saving tons on my groceries and saving a little money for my girls college.
    I think what helps me the most on getting the items so cheap was before the way I would be frugal was I would buy make-up, shampoo, medicine and everything else on the list but I wouldn’t hardly use it because it was expensive and if I didn’t use it then I didn’t have to buy more or I hated the product but I kept using it because I didn’t want to waste it. But now I have so much stock-pile that I use the items VERY generously. I put make-up on more then once a day which makes me feel better about myself which reflects down to my family. Also, I use the cheap bargains to test out different shampoos, conditioners and soaps. If I don’t like it I quit using it, give it away and buy whatever is next on sale that week. (I still haven’t found the perfect shampoo everything leaves my hair too dry.) Sorry this is so long but one more thing, I was going many times to CVS in a week. I would go and then check Crystal site and then realized I missed out on a good item and would go back. Sometimes I would go 5 to 8 times in a week. I started to realize the time I was spending on it and not my family and my house so I try to go only once a week or twice if like this week they have a lot of good deals. THANKS for everything Crystal. By the way my name is Christine because it will say Anonymous on the top. Don’t have a Blog haven’t figure out how to do that yet.

    January 11, 2008 8:13 AM
    Anonymous Jill said…

    Crystal, thank you so much for all your work with the CVS deals. When all is said and done, I will have actually made cash on this week’s transactions and came away with $27 in ECBs for next time!

    First Transaction:

    1 Sambucol
    I paid $12.99
    Minus 2.00 ($2 off $10)
    Minus $12.99 rebate

    Actual amount spent 11.68 but will get $12.99 in rebate, so I make a $1.31 on this deal and also get $10 ECB!

    Second Transation:

    1 Keebler Cookies 1.00 (free after coupon)
    1 gallon milk 2.99
    1 Fructis shampoo 2.99 (got $2 ECB)
    1 Aquafresh toothpaste 1.99 (free after coupon)
    4 Soy Joys $4 (got $4 ECB)
    2 Robitussin (B1G1 free) 5.99 (free, but realy earned .01 with coupons)
    2 Green Peanut M&Ms 6.98 (3.00 ECB)
    1 Cottonelle 84 wipes 5.98 (3.00 ECB)
    1 John Frieda Shampoo and Conditioner set 12.00 (5.00 ECB)
    1 Zantac 8 ct. 5.29 (.29 after 5.00 coupon)

    Total discounts (including coupons and ECBs used) 48.47

    Total paid out of pocket in 2nd transaction $.74!

    Total out of pocket in both transactions together: $12.42 (minus the $12.99 rebate) my actual output for this will be a return of +$.57! I actually made money on this deal.

    Total ECBs earned from both transactions: $27.00

    January 11, 2008 8:55 AM
    Blogger Jennifer said…

    My recommendation is to NOT be brand specific on things. If you go in thinking that you only use Head and Shoulders shampoo and they never have that on sale, then you will never be able to take advantage of all the free shampoo you could get. Keep an open mind about the brands and you will find a lot more deals are open to you.

    January 11, 2008 9:23 AM
    Blogger Homeschool Help Web said…


    Just so you know, you will not be able to use that Extra Buck you found in the parking lot. All ECBs are tied to the card account that they originated from, and cannot be used on anyone else’s account. Sorry!

    January 11, 2008 9:32 AM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Anyone ever used ‘Upromise’ at CVS? It loks like all you do is join (for free) and CVS will donate 1%-5% of your pursuce to your college. It also looks like it works @ lots of other stores.

    January 11, 2008 9:54 AM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just discovered that even if your have gotten emails from CVS before it doesn’t mean ur on thier mailing list for bonus and coupons. so make sure ur on the email list my reviewing ur account @
    (i bought pictures on-line and got emails telling me they were ready to be picked up w/out being on the mailing list.)

    January 11, 2008 10:03 AM
    Blogger Jennifer said…

    AngelCat – thanks for sharing your son’s super cuteness and your deals.

    Jeni – thank you for reminding me why I’m trying to learn this CVSing thing. We are hoping to have a family soon. And God willing I hope to be a SAHM but my husband teaches at a small private school.

    Cortney – Thanks for the heads up on Kohls. My SIL is due in April. This will help me find some great shower gifts.

    Kristen – That is exactly how I have felt.

    Crystal – Thank you (again) for such an informative post. You really got me thinking. I could find several items on your general list that we will need soon. We just got married and merged two apartments into one small 2 bedroom apt. Obviously, space is limited.

    Here’s a list of what we need from the deals (plus were we got them last).

    Things that I know we need now:
    -Diet Pepsi and Dr. Pepper 3/$10(we usually get Aldi generic)
    -Mixed nuts B1G1 (again Aldi)
    -Toilet Paper, I have a P&G coupon .25/1 for Charmin but CVS has Cottonelle on sale ECB $2 on a $9.99 purhase
    -Campbell’s soup (Wal-mart it is 2/$3)

    I can only get 2 ECB’s with this list.

    Things we have only one bottle of:
    -Hand sanitizer (dollar store)
    -Shampoo (odd lots)
    -Eye Drops (visine 1ECB)
    -hand soap softsoap 2/$3 but $4 get 3ECBs (we usually by the big jug and refill the old bottles)
    -body wash
    -sensitive toothpaste
    -Listerine 4.97 get 1ECB
    -Palmer’s Coco Butter 9.99 $2ECB

    Possible fillers
    -chocolate (but we try not to keep it in the house)
    -Baby gifts

    I really want to try the SoyJoy deal! I have 2 $1/4 internet coupons. I love Kashi granola bars (I have coupons coming in the mail thanks to one reader’s tip!!!) Since they are considered a special item we don’t have any around the house at the moment. I am hoping SoyJoy will make a good sub. If not I will give them to the food pantry or church.

    Here’s the bad news: I do not get the paper. (DH reads it online, and says we have no need for it) So the only coupons I can get are internet and the occasional mailer. I did convince DH to let me get an All You! in Nov, but I had to prove the coupons would help us save double its cost. I failed. 🙁 The coupons were name brands. However I do have the P&G coupon saver, from our family visit at Christmas time. I am trying to find the local recycling drop-off, but most people get it picked up around here.

    The good news is when we did our vitamin sale at CVS, DH said “I’m starting to see how this Extra Care system works.”

    (I just reread everything and my list seems so expensive. It maybe hard to convince DH it will work.)

    Any help would be great. We are planning our shopping trip for possibly Saturday, don’t worry if you can’t get a deal together for me. I know it is a short notice and you are very busy. 🙂

    January 11, 2008 10:25 AM
    Blogger Crystal Paine said…

    Jennifer: Here’s one deal idea:

    Buy 6 12-pks of Diet Pepsi and Dr. Pepper for $20
    Use $4/$20
    Use your 6 ECB

    Spend $10 oop
    Get $10 back for the Pepsi deal – I’m guessing this should be cheaper than Aldi generic plus you’ll make back what you spent.

    Then, you could take that $10 ECB and buy:

    -8 SoyJoy Bars
    -1 $9.99 Cottonelle toilet paper

    Use a $5/$15 (There’s a printable on which should work.)
    2 1/4 SoyJoy coupons
    And then pay with your $10 ECB.

    Your total oop should now be $0.99 plus tax and you’ll get $10 ECBs back to start with next week.

    You might be able to use a Cottonelle coupon here:

    And if your store allows you to stack more than one $/$$ coupon, you can add in a $2/10, too, for more savings – you’ll need to add in a filler, though for this – something off your grocery list.

    Total, you’d spend $10.99 out of pocket plus tax and get 6 12-pks of soda, 1 big thing of toilet paper, and 8 SoyJoy bars. AND, you’ll have $10 ECBs to use on your next purchase.

    Did you read my post on how to accumulate lots of coupons (see the sidebar for the link)? I’m guessing you did but just mentioning it in case you didn’t. There are plenty of ways to find coupons without subscribing to a newspaper. Look online and you can usually locate nearby recycling bins, too. Those are usually a gold-mine!

    And once you start really maximizing your savings, you might find – like us – that you can afford to spend $1/week on a Sunday paper. Or maybe you won’t need to because you’ll have plenty of coupons otherwise.

    Those are just a few of my idea scenarios. If others want to jump in a help, too, they can.

    January 11, 2008 10:46 AM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have always avoided CVS because I thought it was yet another stop I have to make besides being expensive. I came across this blog and thought I’d give it a try. This week was my first go at shopping there. I’m hooked! My oop may not be as great, but I know I’m coming out ahead. I made two trips this week: 1) spent $7 oop & got $7 ECB – I bought $24 worth of stuff; 2) spent $4.00 oop & got 14 ECB – got $24 worth again (a few things off Xmas clearance included).
    So I got $48 worth of stuff, spent $11 oop and still have $12 ECB in my hand! I’m pretty proud of myself! 3 of the items I purchased are also part of a rebate that I didn’t figure in!!

    In order for this to work you have to be willing to purchase in advance sometimes. I’ve always stocked up when things were on sale at my local grocery (my war surplus, as my hubby calls it). I bought toothbrushes, even though we have a few in reserves – but I know we will need them within a few months and when they are essentially free – well…

    I like the idea of purchasing something with the intent of a donation. Many of the free after ECBs aren’t things I use, but I’m sure a donation to a women’s shelter, etc. would be greatly appreciated!

    January 11, 2008 11:17 AM
    Blogger Crystal Paine said…

    Jennifer: I decided to post your situation in a separate post just for fun. I’m hoping we can come up with lots of great deals for you! 🙂

    January 11, 2008 12:32 PM
    Blogger AlabamaBrands said…

    I’m not sure if you’ve covered this before, but I’d like to see what a typical weeks menu looks like when you only spend 35$/ wk on food. (Also, how many people are you feeding?)

    January 11, 2008 1:36 PM
    Blogger Kimberly said…

    This is a great post.. I agree with the stockpiling. We have enough toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shavers, etc. etc. etc. to last us for at least 6 months probably more and have paid next to nothing for everything.

    Having the back up is great knowing you won’t run out and having the luxury of being able to wait for sales to buy again.

    January 11, 2008 2:07 PM
    Blogger Sheila Hill said…

    When I first started the “CVS Shopping,” I was feeling the same way as Jennifer’s husband. But I have finally figured it out, with the help of Crystal’s CVS101 and her blogposts.
    Check out some of my CVS deals recently at

    January 11, 2008 2:42 PM
    Blogger Mandi said…

    Here is a list of what I got at CVS tonight:

    8 boxes Aquafresh toothpaste 1.99 each (used 8 – $2 off coupons) – FREE

    2 boxes Colgate 2.49 each – (used 2 -$.75 coupons) $1.74 each ** earned 4 ECB

    2 Colgate toothbrushes 2.49 each – (used 2 -$.75 coupons) $1.74 each ** earned 4 ECB

    4 boxes Soft Baked Cookies & 1 box graham crackers $1.00 each (Used 5 -$1 coupons) – FREE

    3 bottles Palmolive 1.49 each (used 2- $.25 coupons) $4.25 for all 3 ** earned 3 ECB

    2 boxes of Excedrin 1.99 each (used 2- $2.00 coupons) – FREE **earned 2 ECB

    4 boxes of Robitussin (5.99 each) + B1G1 free (used 4 – $3.00 coupons) – FREE

    4 Reese Whips ($.50 each) (used 2 B1G1 free coupons) – $1.00 **earned 1 ECB

    4 Soy Joy Bars ($1.00 each) (used 2 free coupons) – $2.00 for all 4 ** earned 4 ECB

    2 L’oreal mascaras (9.99 each – 75% off) (used 2- $1.00 coupons) – $1.49 each

    2 L’oreal lip glosses (8.99 each – 75% off) (used 2-$2.00 coupons) – $.25 each

    2 Garnier hair care products (2.99 each) (used 2- $1.00 coupons) – 1.99 each ** earned 4 ECB

    Everything above for 16.67 out of pocket and I got $23 back in ECB’s!!! We did two transactions with two different cards…

    I can’t wait to make another trip tomorrow!!

    January 11, 2008 5:52 PM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ok, i went for the first time to try this with a friend. i spent way to much but did buy things i needed. we couldn’t figure out how to use the ECB’s and go home with some. here is what we did, where did we go wrong? I got all my stuff and paid for it and used all my coupons (the 2, 5, 10 and 15) then i used the ECB’s i earned to help pay for the next group of stuff and walked out with no ECB’s left. Can i use the 2, 5, 10 and 15 coupons on the second transaction? I am not getting this!!! PLEASE HELP

    January 12, 2008 7:16 PM
    Blogger the7gerbers said…


    Here’s an idea for a post…How about a CVS glossary? There has to be somebody besides me who does not know what “stacking” coupons means? What about all those abbreviations you use when you show us the deals? For the newere CVS-ers among us, it would be great to do a sample of that with all the terms defined. Hope that makes sense.

    Love the blog!

    January 14, 2008 4:23 AM
    Blogger Cara said…

    I’m just starting the CVS thing and was wondering – How Do You Keep It All Organized? Right now I have everything in an envelope. Any suggestions?

    January 15, 2008 5:05 PM
    Blogger Heather said…

    THANK you for your teaching us how to do this!!!!! I just made my first trip… made some mistakes, but still ended up buying $125 (non sale prices) for $42 and got $27 EBC back …. I am proud of myself and my hubby was happy!
    I will keep learning!!!!

    January 31, 2008 1:12 PM
    Anonymous Roberta said…

    I love CVS’s deals and when you sign up to receive their emails you can print an instant $4 coupon. I just received a $3 coupon in the mail for my birthday.

    Some weeks their deals are must better than other weeks which is the same as the grocery stores.

    The store I shop at wont bundle thier coupons $2off $10 order, $4 off $30 order, etc. but will take a $2off $10 order and a $2off $15 pain releiver so can get $4off a $15 pain releiver order less any manufacture coupons.

    I also make multiple orders to use the ECB’s to pay the next order instead of hanging on to it for the next trip.


    February 06, 2008 1:54 PM
    Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When I started with CVS I got a little frustrated because I couldn’t find many of the “free with ECBs” items. They always seemed to be out of stock. I kept running out of ECBs. Recently I discovered why — There is A LOT of competition for ECBs in my town (and only 1 CVS store). Also, I was usually shopping on Tuesday, but they put the items out for the next week on Saturday evening, about 6:30. Now I pick up a Sunday paper on Saturday morning and plan a CVS trip for Saturday evening. I strongly suggest checking with your local store as to when the items actually go on sale.

  • meredith says:

    I was inspired to try my hand at the CVS game last night, and I think I’m hooked! I did spend $52.15 OOP, but it was all on items we needed and as a first-timer, I didn’t have any 4/20 or 5/25 coupons on me…here is what I bought:

    children’s motrin + children’s tylenol : since I bought two of these (total of $12), I got $5 in ECBs – this would have been better, of course, had I had manufacturer’s coupons for these items but I didn’t mind because we have 2 little ones and can ALWAYS use these items

    the Colgate deal: I bought the maximum, 6, of them for $2.99 each but got $2 ECB back per tube, so $12 in ECBs and six months’ worth of toothpaste or more for $.99/each (would have been better with manufacturer coupon, etc., but I am a newbie and am still thrilled with the cheap price)

    CVS brand soap – we were out – $2.49/2 and this earned me $1 in ECBs

    also, some Robitussin and fish oil supplements, each of which were on sale, but with no additional ECBs but which we needed.

    So, I yielded $18 worth of ECBs and a $5/25 coupon out of this transaction and can’t wait to start stacking manufacturer’s coupons or just buy fun extras. I am excited to start stockpiling necessary items like toothpaste and diapers or at least having ECBs to purchase diapers, as they cost a fortune!

    Thanks, Crystal!

  • Nanasewn says:

    Where do you find the reward list for the week/month?

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