CVS 101

Here’s a quick 101 in CVS. I post scenarios for newbies every week, but you can look here for the getting started basics.

Step One: get an Extra Care card. It doesn’t cost anything to get. Pick one up at the store or order one online at If you do it in store, then you can start using it right away.
Make sure to always have the cashier scan your card with every purchase you make. Without it, you don’t get the sale price, and you don’t earn ECBs.

Step Two: Call 1-800 Shop CVS and register your card with your name, address, phone and email. They will email you a $4 off a $20 purchase or more. Plus, they send out more of these types of coupons every so often, depending on your spending/the last time you received an emailed coupon.

Step Three: Plan out your first trip. Check out my newbie scenarios each week for help with this. Start small so you don’t overwhelm yourself, and so you can begin to understand how it works. Biggest newbie mistake is trying to do too much on your first trip. My first trip was $5 out of pocket (OOP), and I haven’t spent more than that in the store since.

ECBs – What are they?
ECBs = Extra Care Bucks. Extra Care Bucks print at the bottom of your receipt, and you can use them like cash in the store. Some exclusions apply. Like you can’t use them to buy stamps, alcohol, and prescriptions. See the fine print on the ECBs for full details.

There are certain items that earn you Extra Bucks. There are monthly Extra Bucks, and there are weekly ones. Be sure to pick up the monthly ad at your store, and you can get the weekly one in the store, mail, the newspaper, or you can always see it each week on the CVS website.

Some items are free after ECBs, or will be free or really cheap if you use a coupon. You want to get these items to start out with. Once you earn ECBs, you can use them to buy more things that earn you ECBs so you will just continue to get things for free if you do it this way.
Each item that earns you ECBs does have a limit though. For example, the monthly deal Children’s Advil is 5.79 earn 5.79 ECBs. The limit on this is 2 per card. So you can only get this deal twice for the entire month.

Transaction Example: Zippfizz is 5.99 earn 5.99 in ECBs this week, so Free. You buy this and then want to get some Children’s Advil. Children’s Advil is 5.79 this month, earn 5.79 ECB. So Free after ECBs. But wait, there is an online coupon for $1 off Children’s Advil. Use that coupon, that makes your Advil 4.79. But your ECB you have from getting the ZippFizz is for 5.99. You don’t want to loose that money, so you ad in $1.20 in whatever you want, hand them your 5.99 ECBs, and you walk out just paying tax. Plus you’ve earned 5.79 ECBs, from buying the children’s Advil, to use next time you go shopping.

ECB Rundown:
* You can use your ECBs right away, as soon as you get them. Just tear it off of your receipt and use it on your next transaction.
* If you don’t use it, you loose it. Each ECB you have says “up to,” and then whatever your amount is. If your total isn’t over the amount of the ECB, then they can just reduce the value of the ECB and you walk out paying 0.00. But, then you have lost some ECBs.
*ECBs expire a month after they were issued to you. So you want to keep getting items each week, or at least every other week, so that you don’t loose your ECBs. If you keep getting free items, or close to free after ECBs, then you are doing what is called “rolling” your ECBs. Every time a new ECB prints the expiration date is farther away. So you “roll” those ECBs so that you never loose them.

CVS Coupon Basics:
*You can use one Manufacturer(MFR) coupon per item.
*You can save even more by using the coupons CVS puts out. For example, CVS emailed out a $3 off a $15 (3/15) to many customers last weekend. You work this by getting your pre-coupon total up to $15, use your 3/15, use your MFR coupons and your ECBs, then you walk out with more Free stuff.
*If you use an x/xx (2/10, 3/15, 4/20, 5/30), this is an amount off of your pre-coupon total.
*If something is on sale Buy One Get One Free (BOGO), you can use two $1 off coupons because you are getting two items.
*If something is on sale Buy One Get One Free (BOGO): buy two items, use a BOGO coupon, and get both items FREE!!!!! The sale pays for one item, and with the BOGO coupon the MFR pays for the other.

How to figure out what your Out of Pocket (OOP) will be:
Taxable Item Total
(-) CVS B1G1 Sale
(-) CVS Q’s
(-) ECB’s Used
= NEW Taxable Total
(x) Tax Rate
(-) Manu Q’s
= Total OOP


Can I have more than one card? The cards say one per household. However, many people shop with more than one card. For instance, I use my mom’s card, and my card. This way I am able to shop for her, as well as myself.

Is there an certain order I should hand everything over to the cashier? YES! I have tested this and discussed it with people on HCW and DS. It is clear that you always do lower OOP, and don’t waste your ECBs, by doing it in this order:
x/xx or other CVS coupon (Q)
ECBs (the exact amount you need, not all of them – see How to figure out OOP)
If you go in the negative have them zero it out, or throw a candy bar up there as a filler.

What are fillers? Fillers are either Free or really cheap items you use to get your total up so that you can use an x/xx, or so you don’t loose ECBs.

I keep using all of my ECBs, what can I do so I don’t loose them? Roll them. Use them to get things that give you more ECBs.

What does moneymaker mean? Meaning you make money after Qs and ECBs. Like with the Advil. Use the $1 off coupon, and it becomes a $1 moneymaker. Obviously you don’t make actual cash in your pocket, but you do make ECBs to spend at the store. You’re spending practically nothing, and increasing your ECBs.

How do I know when I’ve reached an ECB limit on my card? It will show you on your receipt the ECB deals you have done for that week and the entire month.

-I don’t need all these things, so why should I do this? I don’t need all the things I get. But because I do moneymakers, and continue to roll my ECBs, I am able to get the things I do need for Free or really cheap. Plus I am able to take a bag full of great things over to the local battered women’s shelter. Just because you don’t need some of these things, doesn’t mean no one does. It will make you feel good to provide for your family, and be able to give to others!

Sometimes you have to get things you don’t need, so that you are able to get the things you do need.

Where’s that Coupon Machine????

crystal collins signature
  1. I need help. I can not install the coupon printer and having problems printing some of the coupons. I have disabled my firewall and pop up blocker and it just keeps saying it was installed and loops me back to install again.

  2. Hey Crystal,BR/BR/I have a question about CVS. I just got my first coupon in email,$4 off 20. Can I print and use this on two separate transactions, or do they track that on my card?BR/Thanks for all the great info you’ve blessed me with!

  3. Erin – You can keep using it up until it expires. They take it each time, so you just print it again. But I wouldn’t use it in multiple transactions with the same cashier. When I got mine I used it about once maybe twice a week until it expired. BR/BR/Anonymous- are you printing in Firefox or Internet Explorer? I always have trouble in FF, but success with IE. Try either or and see which one works for you.

  4. Hi Crystal- Do all stores have the coupon kiosk? I haven’t noticed one in my store. Thanks!

  5. CVS is slowly getting them in all stores, so there are some that still don’t have them. I believe some have them behind the counter and you can ask the cashier about it. Maybe they can scan your card and you get the coupons.

  6. Hi. Thanks for all the info on your blog :) I wanted to let you know that when you say “go to to register your card”…when I did that last night, I kept getting error messages that said “last name and phone number not valid”. I called today and they said we have to 1st register the ECB card by phone (and give them a list of items from a recent purchase on the card)… THEN register online for an account. I did this and was able to complete the online registration. Don’t know if this is something new they’re doing, but thought I’d let you know. Karen M in Florida

  7. May I ask you a question. I am new to CVS and was wondering if I would get multiple ecbs if I buy multiple items of a product that gives ecbs. i.e. There is a 5 item limit for irish springs 8 pack soap and you get 2 ecbs back. If i buy two irish springs, will i get 2-2 ecbs? I hope this makes sense and thanks for your help!

  8. Good question! I was waiting for someone to ask that. If you do the two of the same deal in one transaction, like if you got two packs of soaps that earn 2 ecbs each, then your ECBs will print off as $4.BR/BR/If you do it separate you’ll get $2 each time, but if together the total adds together.

  9. In this week’s cvs ad, there is a special with covergirl. Buy $10.00 worth of covergirl and get $3.00 ecbs. My question is this, say I have exactly $10 worth of cg stuff and I want to use some manufacturer’s coupons (i.e. total is $10.00 but I have 3.00 worth of coupons), would I still get the ecbs after they subtract the coupons? Thanks!

  10. Just a “What Happened to Me” warning — Someone asked earlier about reusing the $4/$20 coupon. I attempted to use a 2nd copy I had printed on a separate day, and on my second attempt, the manager checking me out said, “You already used this coupon on October 18th.” *blush*BR/BR/Also, a question…this week there is a spend $25 get $10eb on baby products. Must you spend all $25 in one transaction to earn the ecb’s or will separate transactions be added together all week to earn the ecb’s? Does that make sense?BR/BR/Thanks! I love your blog! It has been so helpful to me! :)

  11. Thank you for sharing that. I have never experienced that, so I’m wondering if it is something new? Hmm….BR/BR/You are correct about the baby products deal. It will add up over the coarse of the week.

  12. Raincheck? my cvs was out of $3.99 toothbrushes which would have produced a $3.99 ecb. If they don’t have the toothbrushes on saturday after the truck comes and I ask for a rain check, how does that work with the ecb?BR/BR/Thanks!

  13. I just wanted to let you know that I signed up on the CVS site and registered my card and did not get an email offering me $4 off $20. It would seem that they are no longer offering this deal.

  14. Hi,BR/As you suggested, I tried to register my ECC but it says “Sorry, there was an error processing your information.BR/ Sorry, Your ExtraCare Account is locked.” ” A valid ExtraCare Card number is required in order to attach the card to your account. Please check the number and try again.”BR/I just got this card today and haven’t used it CVS yet. Can I still register this card (link with CVS Account)? I don’t know what’s wrong…

  15. Kim – go ahead and call 1-800 Shop CVS and register it. If it’s a brand new card it takes a while for the system online to recognize it. Just call, and it will happen quicker that way anyway. They should send you a $4/20 right away if you call. If you don’t get it, call again. When I called, I received the coupon within a half an hour.

  16. Hi Crystal, nI’m wondering when or if I’ll get my CVS $4/20 Q ever? Do you know how long it usually takes them to send it to me via email or snail mail? nThanks!

  17. Is there a spot on the blog that lays out the order I should give my coupons and ebs?

  18. I was wondering the same thing about using ECBs before Manufacturer Q’s? I have been reading about these deals for a while, I finally prepared myself to give it a shot. The way I see it , with my x/xxx, MFR Q’s, $4 in ECBs that I have (I’m new to ECBs)I should be spending $7.94 OOP and get back $ 9.98 in ECBs. We’ll see if I got it right.

    Do you think you can use a B2G1 MFR Q along with 3/$1 MFR Q’s at the same time?

    I love your site!

    • You can use a BOGO coupon and another coupon since you are buying two items. Looks like you have it planned out good. ECBs should be handed before Manufacturer coupons. It just works out better. You are welcome to experiment with it to see what happens. :)

  19. Not only did it work, but it worked great, even though I had to change my list. When I take off the amount of ECB’s I got back, I spent $1.47 for about $37.00 of merchandise. Plus no fusion razors available, I got a raincheck for 4 @ $4.00 each, and I have 4/$4.00 coupons, which makes them free!
    You have me hooked! Thanks so much!

  20. I am wanting to start trying these deals at CVS, but am a bit confused on one thing. The CVS website said the ECB’s only print quarterly, and I asked a co-worker of mine who I know shops at CVS and she too said ECB’s print quarterly, and not with each transaction. I am very confused here. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!! (and I think I am addicted to your website!!! :)

    • ECBs print out after your transactions. There are also quarterly ECBs the print. YOu get back 2% off your actual spending in quarterly ECBs. But these are separate from regular ECB deals. Don’t worry! ECBs will print right on your receipt from your transaction.

  21. Thanks so much!! I will definately have to try doing some CVS deals. I imagine my co-worker is just doing normal pharmacy transactions and isn’t trying to find a bargain. Maybe I can convert her.

  22. Hey! I have a question. How do I figure out how many extra bucks I need to use before I give them my MFRs. I am new to CVSing. What I have been doing is taking the total MFRs from my non-taxable total and giving the cashier the amount left over in extra bucks. However, I was not able to use my MFRs on one transaction because the total became to low. I had 2 $2 coupons and my total left was $1.99. I did another transaction of the same things minus one thing and was able to use the MFRs, but bought less than before and my total was $1.48 I am not sure what I am doing wrong! I currently have $21 in ECBs. I hope my question makes sense. Thanks so much for your help! Blessings!
    The Thrifty Mama here: Use this format to calculate it beforehand: Taxable Item Total
    (-) CVS B1G1 Sale
    (-) CVS Q’s
    (-) ECB’s Used
    = NEW Taxable Total
    (x) Tax Rate
    (-) Manu Q’s
    = Total OOP
    CVS seems to be making it more complicated lately regarding the tax, so if this is just too confusing for you, try handing over your ECBs last until you can get the knack for it. Happy Shopping!

  23. So I just had my first bad experience at CVS. I had all my stuff together and handed over my Q’s, but they wouldn’t accept the internet ones b/c they aren’t in color. I thought I read somewhere that CVS policy was to accept them either way?

  24. Thanks ever so much for explaining the EBC’s at CVS.
    Now my question is. What is Q’s and where or how do you get them?
    I have an CVS card but I don’t think that they have my email addy, so I guess I need to register or whatever I need to do.

  25. Crystal, You mentioned only handing over the exact amount of ecb’s needed and not all of them, I thought they were in the form of a reciept. So if your total is 4.55 and you have a reciept w/your ecb amount of 5.99 wouldn’t you be handing over the whole amount? I’m new to CVS.

    • Belle – That’s if you have more than one set of ECBs. Like a 4 ECB and a 2 ECB. If you just needed to use the 4 ECB in order to get your total down, then you wouldn’t hand over the 2 ECB as well. You’d save your 2 ECB for another transaction. Does that make sense?

  26. I am new t this also. I cut 2 fusion razor coupons for 4.00 off each. I was able to use both coupons, but only one 4.00 ecb printed out and they said it was a limit of one per customer. So I guess I ended up spending 2.00 for 2 razors which was still good, but I have read on this site where others have purchased more than one.Does it differ in each store??

  27. terri, You probably aren’t still watching or have your answer by now, but you have to look at the advertised limit. Sometimes the limit is 1, you can buy 2, but will only earn ECB for 1, sometimes the limit is 5 and if purchased in 1 transaction the bucks will print together for the same promo (5 “razors” earning $4 ECB each would print as $20 ECB). The shelf tags and the printed ad both tell you what the limit for the deal is. Your receipt will also print that you used the deal and if the limit is reached yet.

  28. Note on big ECB deals, you might want to purchase the 5 razors in 5 separate transactions so you’ll get 5 $4 ECB printouts, you can roll each for your next purchase making them truly free or bottom line discounted, also you have to use the entire ECB amount when you utilize it, they don’t give cash or credit back – doing separate transactions would keep you from having to purchase $20 worth of post MQ merchandise in one transaction.

  29. Okay I am really new to CVS as we haven’t lived anywhere that had one for far to many years… but does Walgreen’s do the same thing? We have one near us and it would appear they have a similar program but it didn’t require a rewards card. But once again we are new to Walgreen’s as well. I do know that we got chips and soda pretty cheap this weekend plus a couple of $10 coupons for items that were on sale.
    .-= Peggy´s last blog ..Foto Friday: Growing =-.

    • Walgreens does do a similar thing but it is a lot more complicated. Register Rewards don’t always print. My best advice is to learn CVS first and then go for Walgreens.

  30. I was also able to register my CVS card with Upromise so you can add up college savings as well.

  31. If I give the cashier the coupons in the order you say, how does she know how much of my ECB’s to use? Do I have to have it figured out beforehand and tell her? Ex: items cost $5, use ECB receipt that is $4 and have a manufacturers coupon for $2. Do I tell her to just use $3 of the ECB and if so, does the $1 left roll over? Or do I have to buy something that only costs a little so I don’t lose my $1 ECB?

  32. I love your CVS tutorial – it was one of the first I’d ever read and it has helped me so much! I was going to send a friend over here to read it and noticed that you have lose repeatedly spelled ‘loose’. Lose is when you’ve lost something, loose is how I wish my pants were fitting. 😉

  33. Took my first CVS trip today, so keep in mind I didn’t have any ECB’s for this.
    I got: Dawn Hand Care Renewal
    Bounty 6 Big Rolls Paper Towels
    Colgate Total Toothpaste
    4 Boxes Post Cereal
    Huggies Little Movers 76 Ct. Box
    Olay Total Effects Body Wash
    Gillette Fusion Proglide Razor
    2 Powerbar Pure & Simple
    CVS Brand Pain Relief 50 Caplets
    Gillette Odor Shield Body Wash
    Gillette Odor Shield Deodorant
    Ivory Soap 4 pack

    After coupons=51.23
    -$10 CVS gift card I won=41.23
    ECB’s earned=21.98
    So Basically got all this for=19.25

    So how did I do??

  34. I’m looking at the July 17 – July 24 CVS post but don’t see your scenarios for newbies (or anyone else). Are they in a different post or did I just overlook them?

    I’m also still a bit confused on the order of handing things to the cashier. First the $$ off total – got that. Then CVS Store Q’s. Then ECBs I want to use? Why not take the MFRs off first and then then use ECB to cover the rest? I figure it must have something to do with lowering my tax? Guess I have to do more math before I enter the store than I have been doing.

    Thanks for the 101 – it is really helpful.

    • Hi Camper! I’m sorry but it has been at least a year since I made scenarios for new CVS shoppers. You can hand over manufacturer coupons before your ECBs if you want to. It’s best to have it calculated out to a T first, and use the ECBs last (only the exact amount that you need to use). You tax ends up being less this way. But do it which ever way is easier for you since you are starting out.

      • Thanks. I’ve tried off and on for the past year to get into CVSing but invariably can’t seem to keep things “rolling”. My ECBs expire or I what I planned to get is out and then coming up with another scenario on the fly – especially when I have kids in tow – just frustrates me and I don’t do as well.

        When it goes right, I’m thrilled with my bargains! Hopefully with my oldest starting school, I can work it into my routine a little easier and try little trips each week.

  35. Hi, i was wondering where the “newbie scenarios each week ” were posted? Are those the ones that are listed with the posts each week (grayed out)? Or should i be looking somewhere else?

    • No, several years ago I used to write out an entire shopping example with each post. I haven’t had time to do that as of late. Now I just do the smaller scenarios to get people started :) Please let my readers and I know if you have questions. We are all more than willing to help you find a good scenario!

  36. We have a different kind of CVS card, a higher level that you get more points with, I’m thinking it is because we have CVS Caremark for our mail-in prescription service. We used to have the red card before that. I get a lot of coupons and bonus bucks now, sometimes I get bonus bucks every time I go to the store. I have four right now to use that vary from $8 to $16. The clerk’s mouth dropped open the last time I got such a long roll of tape as a receipt.

    The coupon machines are not in the same place in every CVS, sometimes you have to ask where it is. Also, consider getting the CVS “leaf” tags that cost $.99 each (unless you get one free on a coupon) and you attach it to your reusable bag. Every 4th visit earns you $1.00 on your bucks. This is better than some stores giving you $0.05.

    I saved over $65 at CVS yesterday morning, it was awesome. Take advantage of their buy one get one free sales and the buy one get another for 50% off. I love CVS.

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