Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For better or for worse... (CVS vs Walgreens)

Rumor has it that Walgreens plans to discontinue the EasySaver Catalog program this spring, replacing it with something similar to CVS's Extra Care Bucks program. Interesting...

"Imitation is the highest form of flattery!"

I'd been thinking of writing a post, giving tips on shopping at CVS and spelling out what I see as pros and cons of bargain shopping at the two pharmacies, even before I read the rumors. But consider yourself warned – I've become a CVS fan! Experiences earlier this week help to explain...

On Tuesday afternoon, I did a CVS run – primarily for the great diapers deal...

Spend $20 on Pampers products – Get $5 ECBs
(Limit 1 deal)
Buy two Pampers (or Easy-Ups) Jumbo packs at $10 each
Use two $1.50/1 coupons or two $1.00/1 coupons
Pay $17 to $18 out of pocket
Diapers cost $6.00 or $7.00 per pack after coupons and ECBs

I picked up two other free after ECBs items, used a $5 off $25 purchase CVS coupon (more on that later), paid the balance with $20 in ECBs and only $1.68 out of pocket – and earned $12.98 ECBs! (Two packs of 30 diapers for less than $2.00 out of pocket! Not bad at all!)

In contrast, I stopped by Walgreens that same evening hoping for the following scenario (after my positive experiences yesterday).

Buy two FiberOne bars at $1.99 each
Use two $0.50/1 coupons (from recent newspaper inserts)
Use $2.00 in Register Rewards (from yesterday)
Pay $0.98 with Walgreens gift card

Alas! The RR coupon wouldn't scan! And the cashier couldn't even force the computer to accept it. She couldn't figure out why... Then I remembered a common Walgreens glitch – number of coupons per transaction cannot exceed number of items being purchased!

But, the current Walgreens program has offered two major points in its favor:
  • Users get a 10% bonus when EasySaver rebates are put on a Walgreens gift card.
  • Money on said gift card does not expire.
Drawbacks of the current Walgreens program include:

  • You have to remember to "mail in" your EasySaver receipts (electronically or otherwise).
  • Rebate money is not immediately available (to be used on next month's deals).
  • Register Rewards are the exception; they are immediately available. However, besides the RR frustration recounted above, RR coupons cannot be used on items from the same manufacturer. (For example, if I get RR for purchasing Proctor & Gamble products, I cannot use those RR to pay for other P&G products, etc.)
So, how is the CVS Extra Care Bucks program better? First of all, you have to look at ECBs the way you look at any coupon. ECBs do expire (usually one month from the date of printing).

Advantages of the ECBs program include:

  • ECBs print on your receipt, so that "money" is immediately available!
  • You can use ECBs like money – they'll pay for anything you're buying (except prescriptions, gift cards, pre-paid cards, money orders, postage stamps, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, and lottery). A good list of exclusions, actually!
  • $$ off $$ purchase coupons tend to print in accordance with your typical spending. I typically "spend" $25 at CVS (mostly to keep rolling over my ECBs), so CVS keeps printing $5 off $25 purchase coupons for me. (A manager verified that's how the program works!) And that consistent 20% savings at CVS beats the Walgreens 10% bonus for getting rebates on a gift card.
  • Opportunities to "build" ECBs abound – especially when you can combine coupons with free after ECBs deals and consistently pay for purchases with ECBs.

CVS isn't paying me anything to advertise – I just love the place! I started seriously "playing the coupon game" (including CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and Publix) in August of last year. I wish I could remember when I first built up to $20 ECBs – it's been months. But just last week, I reached my all-time high of over $60 ECBs – and that's in spite of "never" paying more than $2.00 out of pocket at CVS! How can you do that?! Well, if you're new to CVSing, read these (very helpful) tutorials and tips.

Happy Bargain Hunting!

And do keep your eyes and ears open for a great Huggies diapers deal next week at Walgreens! (You did print $16 worth of Huggies coupons in anticipation of a great deal, I hope!)

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