Monday, May 18, 2009

Drugstore Shopping

Or . . . why "CVS-ing" is a verb!

As I have mentioned, our current monthly budget for groceries, including all toiletries, paper products, and diapers, is $350. What I have not mentioned is my little secret - how I get most of our toiletries, as well as some household products and other items, for free! I do this by shopping at drugstores, primarily CVS, and taking advantage of their loyalty programs. In the case of CVS, it is through their "Extra Care" program.

Since I started making weekly CVS trips last July, I have been able to keep my family supplied with more than enough toiletries and plenty to share. I have not paid more than literal pennies for lotion, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, makeup, and feminine products for months. Upon occasion, I have also gotten such varied items as laundry detergent, air fresheners, diapers, wipes, cereal, snacks, candy, seasonal decorations, and batteries for free or for a fraction of their value.

The basic idea is this: each week, CVS puts certain items on a sale where if you buy the item, you receive a certain number of "Extra Care Bucks" (ECB's). You can think of ECB's basically as money that you can only spend at CVS or as a CVS coupon for a certain number of dollars. Most weeks, there will be one or two items that are "free after ECB's," meaning that for buying the item you receive Extra Care Bucks equal in value to the purchase price. So if you buy an item for $4.99, you receive $4.99 in ECB's.

How you end up getting items literally for free is by "rolling over" your ECB's. Most simply, if you spend your ECB's on another item of the same price, you have just received an item without paying anything out of pocket! If you use them to buy an item that also generates ECB's, not only have you gotten a free item, but you have the ability to do the same deal over again! That is, if you spend your $4.99 ECB from buying your first product on another item that costs $4.99 and generates $4.99 ECB, you have now

spent $4.99 on product #1

received $4.99 ECB
used ECB's to purchase product #2 at $4.99
received $4.99 ECB

You now have purchased one product, gotten one product for free, and have $4.99 to spend on a future product! Obviously, it can get more complex than that, since not all items are the same price. Also, not all the ECB items are "free after ECB's"; some only give ECB's equal to part of the purchase price. However, that is the basic idea. By constantly rolling over your Extra Care Bucks, you continually get items for free!

To those who regularly read couponing blogs, CVS-ing is no secret, but to the uninitiated, it may be unfamiliar and seem complicated and vaguely illegal! For the last one, I assure you, it is totally honest and above board. :-) As for unfamiliar and complicated, I hope to demystify the process for you. I considered writing my own detailed post with step by step instructions for CVS-ing, but instead I decided to just direct you to the excellent tutorials already written by Frugal in Virginia here and Money Saving Mom here and here. These cover all the specifics to get you started on CVS-ing.

However, email me or leave a comment if you have any further questions about shopping CVS or about how I personally do it, and I'll do my best to answer them. I plan to start sharing my CVS trips each week as well.

Happy CVS-ing!

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