Couponing at CVS can be intimidating. What are Extrabucks? What are CRTs? How do you get CRTs? How do you even start? I’m here to help!
CVS has become one of my favorite places to coupon on a weekly basis. I find that they give me a lot of really good deals and I come home with crazy amounts of items each week. When I first started, I had no idea where to start. This guide serves as a foundation (and not the end-all, be-all) on getting started.
Check out my CVS portion of my FAQ for common questions that are asked.
Getting Started on Couponing at CVS
Before we start, you need to know what ECBs and CRTs are. ECB’s are ExtraCare Bucks, or essentially CVS “gift cards” that you can use back at CVS to pay for your next transaction. It’s their reward program currency, and it expires 1-3 weeks after you receive it. CRT’s are cash register tape coupons or CVS Store Coupons. CRTs are personalized to every user based on their purchase history.
The first thing you should do as a new CVS Coupons is signing up for their free membership program called the ExtraRewards program. You can sign up via the app, on their website, or even at the cash register. It is free and costs nothing to you. ExtraRewards enables you to track your coupons, CRTs, access manufacturer coupons, and earn 2% back in ExtraBucks every quarter*. It’s a pretty nifty program.
After you sign up for the ExtraRewards program, I highly recommend downloading the app. The app shows you the ability to view all of your CRTs (or CVS store coupons) in one place, your ExtraBucks, and even how much money you are tracking towards different programs within CVS.
Beauty Club = Money Makers
Second, you need to join the ExtraCare Beauty Club. The Beauty Club is a free program within CVS for members that allows you to earn $3 in ECB for every $30 spent on Beauty. Beauty includes these categories: Cosmetics, Fragrances, Hair Care, Hair Color, Facial/Skin Care, and Hand and Body Lotion.
The best part about the Beauty Club is that you do not need to spend $30 in one transaction to get the $3 ECB. CVS tracks your purchases. Tracking is having your purchases rack up in separate transactions. If you spend $10 on beauty in one transaction, you can spend $5 on the next one, then $15. It will go towards your rewards. Once it hits $30, it will reward you the $3. This applies to Beauty Club and all of CVS’ offers.
The Beauty Club is what makes many of your deals become moneymakers. If you don’t sign up for Beauty Club, you are losing out on money. My BBs help pay for the other items I have to make it free.
CVS Couponing Policy
The CVS Couponing Policy is intimidating. There are many different rules to follow.
You can read my How To Coupon for Beginners Guide to gain a better understanding of how manufacturer coupons work. Essentially, how CVS, other drugstores, and retailers operate with coupons is one manufacturer coupon per item/offer limitations. CVS differs as they allow you to use as many CRTs per item, as long as it meets the minimum threshold.
You can use as many ECBs as you’d like to pay for your transaction. There is no limit on ECBs. However, I always calculate how many ECBs I want to use. Even if you have a total of $8, if you use $9 worth, you will not get that $1 back. All ECBs will be used and do not carry a balance like real gift cards.
You should calculate how many ECBs you use. They don’t work like gift cards and do not carry a balance. If your total is $8, and your ECB is $9, it will use all of the $9.
Additionally, most CVS stores follow the 98% rule. Check if your store does by testing it out on a small transaction. For CRTs and purchases, you need to meet 98% of the total in order to have it work and to receive your ECB. For example, if I have a $5 off $15 CRT, I need to meet 98% of $15, which is $14.70. Like I said, be very careful calculating for this rule and make sure your store follows it first. CVS Online follows this rule.
Using CRTs/CVS Store Coupons
These are two ways to find CRTs. CRTs are printed at the Red Box machine inside stores. CRTs are found on the CVS app every Sunday at 12AM EST. You can clip coupons on the CVS app or print out CRTs at the Red Box.
The threshold is essentially what dictates how many CRTs you can use per item. Don’t be confused by the “you can only use one time-, brand-, or category-specific CVS Pharmacy coupon…per item” . Reading further on the CVS Policy page, it states you are able to use multiple CRTs per item. That clause above is a deterrent for those who try to stack coupons when it will not work, or meet the threshold.
Like above, you can use multiple store coupons per item at long as it meets the threshold. “$3 off $15” coupons are purchase-coupons as you need to reach a certain purchase amount in order to use it. If you have a $3 off $15 Maybelline coupon and a $5 off $10 Maybelline coupon, you need to meet both thresholds to use it. That threshold is $25.
There’s another type of CRT, which is brand or category coupons. These look like “$2 off Oral B” or “$10 off Crest Whitening”.
You are able to use all types of CRTs together.
Building CRTs & ECBs
CRTs are sent to you on your shopping history. Someone that buys a lot of baby products will get more baby-related CRTs than someone who never buys it. When you first start out, you won’t have any CRTs. You need to start with small deals of products that end up being free or moneymakers to build your CRTs.
Go at the pace and budget that you allow yourself, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s stockpile or CRTs. You will get there.
The hard truth is that you may have a high OOP when you first coupon at drug stores. However, I’ve only spent $80 to start and have gotten thousands worth of product. I haven’t gotten deep into Walgreens couponing because I don’t want to invest money into another drugstore. When I started couponing at CVS, I spent $66 on makeup products that I liked that offered great ECBs and received $73 back in ECBs. I know some people that just do $10 at a time. Go at the pace and budget that you allow yourself, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s stockpile or CRTs. You will get there.
CVS allows you to roll your ECBs. You can make small transactions and get a lower OOP by doing a deal that gives you $2 at the register, but $5 in ECB. Then you can roll that $5 in ECB into a separate transaction to lower your OOP. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you have so many ECBs that you never pay for a transaction at CVS except for tax. I’ve gotten to where I always have $60-100 ECBs and no longer have to do small transactions.
Identifying Manufacturer Coupons vs. CRTs
Manufacturer coupons are found in the newspaper, printed online, are on products, or are on the app. If it’s on the app, it will showcase the brand image next to the coupon. A good way to identify manufacturer coupons is if you see an address on the coupon, it is a manufacturer coupon.
CVS CRTs appear differently on the app/online. Some say “MFR” in small print, some do not. If there is no image next to the product, it is a CVS CRT. If it was printed at the Red Box machine in-stores, it is a CRT.
Where To Find Weekly Deals
There are many ways to find weekly deals for CVS. The CVS ad cycle runs Sunday through Saturday every week. A great resource to find early ad previews is the I Heart CVS website. You can also find early ad previews on CVS’ website and on their app on Thursdays. On their website, you’re able to search through and see what promos they have going on.
Another way to locate weekly deals is by following your favorite couponers. I post scenarios on my Instagram on Sunday morning and afternoons so you can see if you have similar coupons.
Here’s scenario #1: You have a $4 off $20 Hair Care CRT, a $5 off Pantene CRT, and a $1 off $5 Pantene CRT. You have two $5 off 3 bottles of Pantene manufacturer coupons from the newspaper. There is a deal going on at CVS where if you buy $15 worth of Pantene, you get $5 ECB (Lim 2). Each Pantene Shampoo or Conditioner bottle is $5 each. In order to use all your coupons, you need to buy $20 worth of Hair Care, and at least $5 of Pantene. You decide that you want to use all the CRTs, so you get 6 bottles of Pantene ($30). Your $4 off $20 and $1 off $5 will come off, as well as the $5 Pantene. You use both Pantene manufacturer coupons. Your total will come to $10, and you will receive $10 ECB, making it free.
Here’s another scenario: You have the same CRTs and same manufacturer coupons. The same deal of Pantene is going on, but there’s another Tresemme deal. Tresemme is on sale for 2 for $7, but when you buy 2, you get $3 in ECB (Lim 1). So you decide you get 3 bottles of Pantene ($15) and two bottles of Tresemme ($7) which brings your hair care total to $22. You use the $4/$20 Hair Care and $5 off Pantene CRT, and the 1 Pantene manufacturer coupon ($5). Your total comes out to 8, and you get $8 in ECBs back, making it free.
One great tip that I can offer is utilizing the CVS website/app to look at scenarios. If you add a coupon to your card, you can view which products are eligible. You add items to your cart and see what coupons will attach. When in stores, you can scan an item’s barcode to double-check it qualifies for the offer. I always double-check items to avoid purchasing the wrong item.
If you ever need to return anything, you can do it at the register and your ECBs will be refunded to you. It refunds in order of ECBs used, then cash.
Another tip is you can sign up for the CVS CarePass, which is $5 a month. You receive $10 in ECB each month, along with other benefits like free shipping for CarePass eligible items and 20% off for qualifying CVS Health Items. I have CarePass just for the $10 ECB alone, as that’s a free $5.
Finally, the greatest tip that anyone told me is to avoid using self-checkout for big transactions. The machines will sometimes not take a coupon if it’s a cent under the coupon value. For example, if I have a $3 off Face Mask CRT, and I have a $2.99 Face Mask, the self checkout machine won’t accept it. However, the cashier system will accept it.
In order to become successfull at CVS, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into it. The best way to learn is by doing and following scenarios. Happy couponing!