First, I'll admit to exaggeration. None of which you're about to read is actually a secret. CVS advertises this little technique in their fliers nearly every week, scattering "free" this and "free" that on nearly every other page. If you've even glanced at one of their ads, you've seen it -- On sale, 2.99! With Coupon, $1.99... after extracare bucks, FREE!
However most people are completely missing the tiny piece of the puzzle that can work this drugstore marketing ploy into quite literally getting you that item for free. Initially, sure, you have to spend money. But once you buy that advertised, red letter item, and get the receipt print-out of the promised $2.00 extracare bucks, you are free to use that store credit on whatever you want. Including more items advertised as free... only this time they actually will be. The cycle can go on as long as you want, spending credit on items that give you back credit, and enjoying huge reductions on your purchases. You aren't even being devious or underhanded -- you're doing exactly what the CVS marketing masterminds promote so enthusiastically.
If you don't believe me, here's an example. Right before Christmas CVS was doing some heavy advertising promotions, and had an entire page devoted to this type of "free" merchandise. Having already accumulated $9 of extracare bucks, and by employing the clever clipping of strategic coupons (all that scissor time entitles me to a pat on the back...), I waltzed into CVS and came out with two bags of Natural Halls Lozenges (for the inevitable winter sore throat/cough combo...), a 20 capsule bottle of excedrin (which I refer to as "painkiller." is that odd? people tell me that's odd...), and two Revlon lipsticks (gotta look good!), all for free. Everything was on sale, I had a couple of buy-one-get-one-free coupons, and I used extracare bucks for the rest. (I did buy another item or two in addition, so to avoid a possibly uncomfortable moment at the counter when I would have had nothing to pay but the sales tax). My hour or so spent glancing through the ads and doing the initial coupon-gathering racked up to the tune of $30, with another $8 back in new extracare bucks.
It was a rush, I can tell you. :P
Helpful hints for outsmarting CVS:
1. Check out the ads and plan strategically. You want to pick up the monthly Extracare catalog too, which specifically highlights month-long extracare bonus items. Usually there will be at least a few that give you back the whole of your purchase price... and if you pair it with a coupon, you'll actually end up getting back more credit than you spent!
2. Try to start out with a purchase that will get you at least $2 or $3 extracare bucks so it might be possible to use them to pay for your next item entirely.
3. Extracare bucks ring up on the register like CVS coupons for that dollar amount, and like coupons have expiration dates, so make sure to keep an eye on that. You also don't get any return on them -- ie, if you use a $4 extracare coupon and your total purchase is only $2, you will loose that extra $2. So beware!
4. Read the fine print! There's obviously a difference between 8 oz and 16 oz... but also a difference between metallic eyeshadow and regular (this one I know from personal experience) and that will effect whether your extracare bucks are issued successfully.
5. After nearly every purchase, CVS will print out additional coupons at the bottom of your receipts -- $5 off a $25 purchase, $2 off a skincare product, and the like... and then things really get interesting!
Walgreens and RiteAid have similar programs with mail-in rebates, so the technique can be adopted for either of those places as well, its just a little more complicated.
Credit (or blame... :P) goes to my friend David for having me explain all this, and making me think that maybe other people would be interested in it too.
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