The Drugstore Game
Sounds like something that might be on the edge of the law, huh? I promise you though, what I’m about to teach you is perfectly legal, legit, and won’t hurt your status as a law abiding citizen.
Walgreens and CVS
The two drugstores I have here in Houston Texas are CVS and Walgreens.
Both CVS and Walgreens have a rewards program that can be used to your advantage with just a bit of strategy.
I’ll try and explain each one as simply as I can because it can be a bit confusing. I hesitated starting it for years even though I saw the excellent savings people brought home. And the first few times, it will be confusing, and it will make your heart race.
After awhile though, it will just be old hat and you’ll be able to not only get the great deals, but also speak the CVS/Walgreens lingo of RR’s and ECB’s and OOP.
Why do you want to play the drugstore game?
Oddly enough, drugstores are the best place to buy most paper products, healthy and beauty items and cleaning supplies! Drugstores like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid have rewards programs that can be used to stack savings to get truly unbelievable deals.
Let’s Start With CVS
CVS has a rewards program that uses a card called an Extra Care Card. You can get it for free at any CVS and I highly encourage you to. In fact it’s the only way you can get the good deals at CVS.
CVS puts out a weekly ad and throughout it you will see many items that have 2 prices. One is the sale price and the other is the price “after” Extra Care Bucks (or ECB’s as they will be called from here on out).You pay the sale price and when your receipt prints out; you will see your ECB’s print out on the bottom.
These can be used as “cash” on your next purchase.
Tide Laundry Detergent is on sale for $9.99
You pay $9.99
When your receipt prints out an ECB for $9.99 will print out to use on your next order, which makes the item you just bought “free” after ECB’s.
Now ECB’s aren’t always that generous. Sometimes it’s buy $15 worth of items and you get $5 back. Or buy $10 and get $3 ECB’s back.
The key to really taking advantage of CVS’s rewards program is to use coupons and to “roll” your ECB’s.
Let’s start with coupons
You know that Tide Laundry Detergent I told you about earlier? Well how about this? In this Sunday’s paper there was a $3 off coupon for this product.
This means you only pay $6.99 at the register.
Here’s the beautiful thing:
Even though you used a coupon, the ECB will still print out for $9.99. This doesn’t just make it free after ECB’s; it makes it a $3 money maker!You can use one manufacturer coupon per item (unless it’s a buy 2 get $x off coupon…than that one coupon applies to both) and one store coupon.
Now you want to “roll” your ECB’s. Rolling means that you buy products to get ECB’s and roll those ECB’s into more products that give you ECB’s and so on and so on.
This often requires you to make several different transactions within a given week.
Please be kind and considerate when doing back to back transactions and try to not do too many at a time.
Remember, your shopping trip is actually paying YOU money, so you can afford to step aside and let someone else who just wants to buy a bottle of water go ahead of you.
Sample CVS Scenario
Here is a sample CVS scenario that involves rolling:
Tide Laundry Detergent $9.99
total out of pocket (oop): 6.99
receive back $9.99 ecb
Lysol Healthy Touch Soap System $9.99
Huggies Pull Ups $9
Huggies Wipes $6
-$3 coupon for Lysol
-$1.50 coupon for Huggies
-$9.99 ecb from previous transaction
total oop: $10.50
receive back $3 ECB’s from Huggies Buy $10 get $3 ECB
receive back $5 ECB’s from Lysol Healthy Touch
Now you can stop there or you can just keep rolling.
If you break that scenario down you purchased $34.98 worth of product for $9.49 after ECB’s.
You could roll that $8 into something that gets you more ECB’s or you can use it to buy your milk for the week or some medicine you need (not prescription).
Now how is that for savings!
A few things to remember when you shop CVS:-
- There are limits to the amount of times you can receive ECB’s on an item. Lately it seems like for the really good ones the limit is 1. You can of course buy the product again, but you won’t get ECB’s for it again (a note on this, sometimes the advertised limit ends up not being the actual limit…check the bottom of your receipt, if it says limit reached you cannot do the deal again, if it doesn’t you can do the deal again!)
- register your CVS card on CVS.com. Sometimes you’ll get emails with money saving coupons. $4/$20 or $5/$30. If you get one of these, make sure your PRE COUPON total is over the total needed to use the coupon. Give the cashier the $x/$xx coupon FIRST. Then give your coupons.
- There are kiosks in many CVS stores that you can scan your card to get money saving coupons. Sometimes you’ll even get an $x/$xx coupon there!
- ECB’s DO expire. Keep them safe and always know when one is about to expire.
Now for Walgreens. Walgreens just recently changed their rewards program in 2012. You WILL need a special Walgreens Balance Rewards Card to take advantage of Walgreens Balance Rewards program now.
Here’s how to get your card:
- In stores you’re able to join from specially marked kiosks or at checkout with the help of a sales associate at the checkout counter. After that, activate your card online to manage your account.
- Download the free mobile app (just search the app store for Walgreens) and join directly from your smart phone or tablet.
- Give them a call at 855-225-0400 to set up your membership.
Once you are a Member, you will earn points when you purchase specified products and/or services during specified promotion periods. You can check your weekly ad to see what items will earn you points each week.
You’ll also receive points for Prescriptions and Immunizations.
In addition, you can join their Walk with Walgreens program to earn points for walking! (more info on that program here)
In order to ensure you receive your points, you will always want to provide your membership card at check out (or your mobile phone app or phone #).
You can cash out your rewards every 5000 points or every $5. Here’s how the point system works:
- 5,000 pts = $5
- 10,000 pts = $10
- 18,000 pts = $20
- 30,000 pts = $35
- 40,000 pts = $50
If at any time you want to check your balance, you can go to Walgreens.com/Balance, use the mobile app or call 855-225-0400. You’ll also see your balance on your receipt.
In most cases, you will see your points credited immediately to your account. However, with doctor ordered and some other services, it could take as much as 24 hours.
You can also link up to 4 accounts together. So if you and your family members all shop at Walgreens, you can link your cards together so you are all earning points towards the same account. This is especially useful if you trade off shopping duties! Simply call 855-225-0400 to link accounts.
Your points are good for 3 years (unless you have inactivity on your account for over 6 months) from the time you earn them.
Now here are some of the finer points you’ll want to keep in mind for the Walgreens Balance Rewards program:
- As I mentioned above, if your account is inactive for over 6 months…you risk the chance of losing all of the points you have accrued. So try to get in there once every few months to keep your account active and moving!
- You can only redeem 40,000 points ($50) per transaction.
- You can combine this Balance Rewards program with other in store promotions, store coupons, manufacturer coupons, etc
- Unless otherwise stated, there is no limit on the amount of items you can purchase that will earn you Balance Rewards (for example: NONAME Chocolate Product earns you 1000 Balance Rewards. You can buy 6 and earn 6000 points)
- When you go to check out, if you have Balance Rewards, you’ll have the option of applying them to your purchase or saving them for a future purpose…BUT (and this next point is SUPER important):
- You CANNOT earn points on a purchase at the same time you redeem points!
What does this last point mean to you? This means that the Balance Rewards program is going to make you choose between earning or redeeming points in each transaction.
This could get a bit tricky at times because it will require multiple transactions each week if you intend to “roll” deals.
You’ll have to make all of your purchases that will earn you Balance Rewards in one transaction, and then do a second transaction to redeem your Balance Rewards.
However, you can still use coupons and other strategic shopping tools to make this 2nd transaction worth your while!
The Register Rewards program is still available as well (although on a lesser scale). Basically there will be certain products each week that when purchased will prompt a manufacturer coupon to print out for a $x off coupon on your next purchase.
The only limit to this manufacturer coupon is that you can’t redeem it on a purchase of an item from the same manufacturer if you want to earn ANOTHER Register Reward.
Clear as mud? I thought so…here’s an example
Dial Nutriskin Body Wash $3.99 total oop $3.99
receive back $3 RR
At this point, you might want to go back and buy another Dial Nutriskin Body Wash with your $3 Register Reward, right?
Nope. I mean you COULD…but you wouldn’t trigger the $3 RR to print again.
Instead, we need to “pad” our transactions with a transaction for a purchase of another product from another manufacturer.
Transaction #2: (remember you cannot do it on the Dial again with the
BioTrue Multi Purpose Solution $4.99
small piece of .50 cent candy (you must have a “filler” product to use the RR, remember it is a manufacturer coupon so it has to have a product attached to it)
-$2 coupon on Bio True (coupon #1)
-$3 RR (coupon #2) total oop $.49 receive back $4 RR
Now you can do the Dial deal again with the $4 RR from the BioTrue Deal.
Some things to remember about Walgreens:
-sometimes they will have multiple RR deals from the same company. You cannot roll any deal from the same company regardless of if it is a different product. If you try your RR will not print! An example is a big company like Proctor and Gamble. They might have 2 items that produce RR’s that week. Even though they are different items, they are the same parent company.
-have extra fillers when you go up to the register. Walgreens won’t let you go under $0 so you need to make sure that you have things to bump your total up if you need to.
-In order to receive sale prices at Walgreens you NEED to be a Balance Rewards member now. Refer to the above ways to join their program.
-You must have one item per coupon (this doesn’t include coupons that require you to buy more than one of a product) this INCLUDES your RR.
-Remember that you cannot EARN and REDEEM Balance Rewards in the same purchase! So you’ll have to make the choice with each transaction.