Read This Before You Shop At CVS Again

The store we know and love as CVS today began as "Consumer Value Stores" in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1963. All these years — and name changes — later, CVS has nearly 10,000 stores in the United States and is one of the best known retail pharmacy brands in the country, with millions of customer visits each and every day. But as convenient as CVS locations may be, the store is notoriously overpriced, leaving customers wondering if the convenience is really worth it, and how to make their buck stretch a little bit further at the store. 

If you're one of those customers trying to find the most cost efficient way to shop at CVS, we've come to the rescue. Here are all the things you need to know before you shop at CVS again. From special rewards and coupon tips, to little known money savers and promotions, we have everything you need to make the most of your next trip to CVS.

Don't skip using your CVS ExtraCare card

If you're like many of us, your keyring is full of subscription and rewards cards for various stores (some of which you haven't used in years). So it's understandable if your first instinct is to skip signing up for the CVS ExtraCare card, but it would be a mistake. It's one of the easiest ways to save money and earn perks at CVS. 

The reward program tied to the card is called ExtraBucks. If you shop at CVS and scan your card (or enter the phone number tied to your account), you'll get two percent back in ExtraBucks on your purchases with a few exceptions (like purchases of alcohol, postage stamps, gift cards, and other items listed in the ExtraBucks exclusions). The two percent back ExtraBucks accumulate and are paid out quarterly in January, April, July, and October. 

The ExtraCare card is also how you'll get sale prices that you see online or in CVS stores. Plus, when you use your card you'll get coupons printed on your receipts that are customized to your past purchases. Yes, those hilariously long CVS receipts actually serve a purpose.

You don't have to save your receipts to get CVS coupons

While those long CVS receipts make them easy to keep track of in theory, it's not always as simple as you'd think. But if you tossed that receipt with the great coupon on beauty products, or you just can't find the one that had your $2.00 in ExtraBucks, you can still access them in-store. 

You've probably seen those red kiosks in CVS while you're shopping and they're your savior in this situation. Those coupon centers allow you to scan your CVS card (or enter the phone number associated with the account) and print personalized coupons, ExtraBucks rewards you've earned, and even additional savings on things that are already on sale that day. There are a few restrictions, like needing to be an ExtraCare card member for at least seven days to get coupons, so the sooner you sign up, the more you'll save.

It's worth signing up for the CVS app before you shop there

Even though the coupon centers make it easy to access your coupons and rewards in-store, CVS is like virtually all companies in that they also have an app, and it's worth downloading (we promise). Not only will you get special promotions that are only available for app users, but the app will also let you know if your ExtraBucks are about to expire.

Still not sure the app is worth cluttering your iPhone or Android? Other perks of downloading the app include reordering and tracking your prescriptions, ordering photos, the ability to pay from your phone, adding coupons to your order, and even holding your place in line at the CVS MinuteClinic. On top of all that, if you time it right you may even get rewards for downloading the app. CVS sometimes runs a promotion to get additional ExtraCare Bucks for first-time app users. That's basically just free money for downloading an app!

You can make money on your CVS purchases

Experienced couponers know that the best way to get the most savings on your purchases is to stack your coupons. Lucky for you, CVS allows customers to stack manufacturer and store coupons. For couponing newbies, what does that mean? If you have a coupon from Dove for $2 off body wash and CVS has a coupon for $1 off Dove body wash, you can stack them and get $3 off; if the bottle retails for $2.99, you'll basically get the bottle for free. You will still have to pay tax, and the value of the coupons is rounded down to $2.99, so you can't make money on your purchase. That is, unless you have an additional app like Ibotta that offers rebates on purchases. 

If Ibotta has a rebate of $2 available on that same hypothetical bottle of Dove body wash, you can stack the manufacturer coupon with the CVS coupon and pay just the tax on it, then upload the receipt to the Ibotta app and get the $2.00 rebate on the body wash. In this case you'll actually earn money for your purchase! As always, read the fine print because there are some restrictions.

Separate your CVS transactions to save money

Saving money when you shop at CVS is all about knowing how to get the most ExtraBucks for your purchase, and sometimes that means making multiple transactions on the same trip. Before you shop at CVS, check out the weekly ad online and pay close attention to anything that gets you ExtraBucks back on your purchase. If you plan it out in advance, you can split your CVS purchase into multiple orders to use the ExtraBucks you earn in the first purchase for the second transaction. 

So if you see an ad for $10 in ExtraBucks when you spend $40 or more on Valentine's Day items, for instance, you can buy all your Valentine's Day items in your first transaction, then use your $10 in ExtraBucks on your second. This is because ExtraBucks work like cash at CVS and are available to use instantly. The online flyer also alerts you to the likelihood of manufacturer's coupons available for certain items (like in the Sunday paper), so you'll know when to combine those with your ExtraBucks, too.

Join the CVS ExtraCare Beauty Club

If you are a CVS beauty guru and spend most of your money on things like skincare, makeup, and hair care, the ExtraCare Beauty Club is the reward program for you. Tazi Phillips for RetailMeNot's "The Real Deal" called it "every beauty lover's dream" and that's a pretty accurate description. 

When you join the club, you'll get 10 percent off your next purchase (as long as it's at least the next day, so you can't sign up right before walking in the store). In addition to that 10 percent off beauty products on your next purchase, you'll earn $3 in ExtraBucks Rewards for every $30 you spend on beauty products that meet the restrictions and qualifications, for the year. Members in the club also get a birthday gift (typically $3 additional ExtraBucks), samples, and member-only deals. But make sure you keep track of your rewards, because they expire on December 31 each year, so use them or lose them.

While you're at it, enroll in the CVS ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards

Shopping for beauty products as a club member isn't the only way to save money at CVS through a special program, especially if you fill a lot of prescriptions every year. CVS is, after all, a retail pharmacy, so of course there's a pharmacy reward program too, called ExtraCare Pharmacy & Health Rewards

The way it works is that for every ten credits you earn through the program, you'll get $5 in Health ExtraBucks. You earn those credits by buying prescriptions and getting vaccinations, and different purchase amounts award different credits. For instance, getting a 30-day refill on your prescriptions earns one credit, while getting a 90-day refill on that same prescription will get you three credits. 

There is a limit to how many ExtraBucks you can earn (it's $50 each calendar year), but that's for one person. The program lets you connect your whole household, so you can get credits for your family members' prescriptions too, including your pets! Like the Beauty Club, the Pharmacy & Health Rewards expire on December 31, so make sure you use them before then.

Go ahead and splurge when you shop at CVS, just keep your receipt

How many times have you walked into a CVS to pick up a prescription or toilet paper and realize you need razor blades and moisturizer too? Then, as you're making your way up and down the aisles, you spot some new beauty products that you're curious to try? We've all been there. But what if you buy that funky eyeshadow and end up hating it? Just bring it back!

While CVS will refund almost any unopened product with a receipt, there's a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee on all beauty products. That means that as long as you have your receipt, that eyeshadow can be returned for any reason, even if it's been opened and used. The same applies to all CVS Health brand products, so if you can go ahead and splurge while you're making your CVS run — just hold on tight to that receipt.

Use your flu shot to make money at CVS

Getting a flu shot is an important way to help protect yourself and your community, and pharmacies like CVS are a convenient option for getting it. It may feel strange to get a flu shot outside of your regular doctor's office, but Lisa Kroon, professor and department chair of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California San Francisco told ABC7's Michael Finney that getting a flu shot at a pharmacy like CVS is "absolutely safe" and added, "I would absolutely encourage anyone considering or needing a flu shot to go to their local pharmacy." 

So not only is CVS a convenient and safe place to get a flu shot, with most types of health insurance the shot is actually free, according to CVS. On top of that, you'll also get a CVS coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase just for getting your flu shot, and if you're a Pharmacy and Health Rewards member, you'll earn three points for the shot as well. That means even more free money.

The CVS CarePass gives you freebies and discounts for shopping at CVS

If you're a CVS super shopper already, it may be time to boost your game by joining the CVS paid membership, CarePass. It may seem silly to join a paid membership to save money, but hear us out. The membership is $5 a month (or $48 a year) plus tax and gives members benefits for online and in-store shopping. Not only will you get 20 percent off all CVS Health brand products, the membership also comes with free delivery (including prescriptions) for online orders, and a pharmacy helpline that's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

While you'll pay $4-5 a month for the membership, depending whether you choose the monthly or annual membership, according to the CarePass terms you'll get $10 credit added to your ExtraCare account each month. Yes, your math is right, that means the CarePass membership pays for itself and then some. Just make sure you spend at least $10 when you use it, because you'll lose the remaining balance if you don't, according to the CarePass frequently asked questions.

Get paid to give CVS your opinions about shopping

Like any company playing the long game, CVS no doubt wants to keep their customers happy, and one of the best ways to do that is listen to what customers have to say. You may have noticed that along with your ExtraBucks and rewards on your CVS receipt, there's often an experience survey, as well. These surveys are tied to a specific store and specific cashier based on the code on the receipt, but there's another way to give your opinions too, and it offers rewards.

To give general feedback to CVS, join the CVS Advisor Panel through Opinion Insight. You'll need to fill out an initial survey to pair you to the most relevant surveys about CVS and their products, but then you'll be eligible for the Advisor Panel surveys. When you complete one of those surveys, you'll get ExtraBucks on your ExtraCare account that you can use to save even more when you shop at CVS.

Shopping at CVS for products to donate is a win, win, win

There may be some weeks when you look through the CVS weekly ad and don't see anything you really need, but there may be items that plenty of others would need. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that "there are an estimated 553,742 people in the United States experiencing homelessness on a given night," citing a 2017 national estimate

From pantry staples to personal care products and baby formula, many of the items you'll find in the CVS weekly ad are the same ones that could be used by local shelters. While donating to those in need is a reward in itself, as long as you use your ExtraCare card, you'll also earn toward your quarterly ExtraBucks. On top of that, you can also write off your charitable donation on your taxes. Always check with your local shelter to see what they need most and always check with your accountant or another tax professional for tax advice.

Bundle your CVS and UPS trips

Let's be honest, one of the best things about CVS is the convenience. You can pick up your prescriptions, grab a few groceries, and get a birthday gift for a kid in your son's fifth grade class in one trip. It's one of the reasons we're willing to pay a little extra to get all of our purchases in one place. And in 2020, CVS announced a new way they're making your shopping trips a one-stop shop at their stores. 

Thousands of CVS locations are now also UPS Access Point locations, which lets you take care of your shopping and shipping in one place. A 2020 tweet made by the company announced a promotion in which customers who sign up for a UPS My Choice account and then redirect six UPS packages to CVS will get a $10 gift card. If you're not a big shipper, the tweet also clarified that redirecting three packages would result in a $5 gift card. You can also drop off packages at the UPS Access Point locations and packages will be picked up and trackable within 24 hours.

Get social with CVS for promotions and giveaways

These days, social media is everything when it comes to building and maintaining a brand, and even established companies like CVS know it. Why bother following a brand like CVS on social media? Because as great as saving money is, getting things for free is even better. Plus you'll get important and helpful information while you're there.

On their social media accounts, CVS not only shares important news about things like flu and COVID testing and vaccines, alongside information about current sales and promotions, it can also be a source for giveaways! Both the main CVS brand and the CVS Beauty brand run giveaways on their respective Facebook channels. Make sure you keep an eye on all the various CVS Twitter accounts too, because CVS has rules on hand for giveaways across its platforms and you never know when something might pop up. Every penny counts!