Monday, May 05, 2008

CVS: Why roll over ECBs?

Last week, I shared my shopping trips to CVS and Walgreens, which prompted Dayna to ask some very good questions:

What does "rolling over ECBs" mean, exactly? Is it using ECBs to buy other items that generate ECBs? And is this done because the ECBs expire and you want to keep them going, as it were?
I thought the question deserved its own answer, so here we go:

"ECBs" stands for "ExtraCare Bucks" and is a coupon that CVS prints out at the end of a receipt if you've made a qualifying purchase. For example, this past week, I bought 2 Aquafresh toothpastes for $2.99 each. They were free after ECBs, meaning that at the end of my receipt, there was a CVS coupon for $5.98 that I can use on a future CVS purchase.

As I understand (and use the terminology), rolling over ECBs means that you use ECBs to buy items that generate more ECBs, such that you never run out of them. ECBs do have an expiration date, but they are valid for a month (I think - I've never had the problem of expiring ECBs). So rolling them over to avoid losing them to expiration is not really a concern.

The real purpose of rolling over ECBs is to minimize out of pocket expenses. The real pros, like Money Saving Mom, have built up a substantial stash of ECBs and plan out their purchases so that they pay only $1 or $2 out of pocket and leave the store with at least as many ECBs as they came in with.

The trick is to find a balance between buying what you need, and buying what you don't need simply because they are money-makers after ECBs. For example, I used $2.50 in coupons when I bought the Aquafresh toothpaste I mentioned earlier. But I got $5.98 in ECBs. If I had paid in ECBs (and not bought anything else), I would have spent $3.48 in ECBs and gotten $5.98 in ECBs back - a profit of $2.50 in ECBs, which is simply more money I can spend on my next purchase.

Of course, everyone needs toothpaste, so that deal was a no-brainer. I've had much more trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of buying things I don't need. But two weeks ago, I bought a box of Alavert allergy medication simply because it yielded a $1 profit in ECBs (after coupon). I had no need for the medication, but my brother-in-law did, so I happily passed it on.

As I get more experienced at The Drugstore Game, it's easier to understand how the deals work and how to maximize the ECBs. In this regard, I think it also helps greatly to keep a price book, because you'll recognize a good sale at CVS even if it doesn't generate ECBs. You can then maximize your ECBs by buying something you need at a good price, and then round out your purchase with ECB-generating items.

Stay tuned: Next week, I'll share with you the ways in which I stay on top of the CVS deals and learn from the pros.

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