Tuesday Tips: CVS vs. Walgreens

I often have people, particularly those who are just getting started using coupons, ask me which is “better” – CVS or Walgreens?  The answer, at least for me, isn’t very easy or cut and dried, so I thought I’d share a comparison of the two!

REWARDS PROGRAMS

CVS and Walgreens both offer “rewards” for purchasing specific items (these are highlighted in the weekly ads).  The rewards are CVS are called “Extra Care Bucks” (ECBs) and the rewards at Walgreens are called “Register Rewards” (RRs).

At CVS, the Extra Care Bucks are tied to your card and cannot be used by anyone else. They print off on the bottom of your receipt when you make qualifying purchases.  You also earn quarterly Extra Care Bucks for filling your prescriptions at CVS (you’ll receive 1 ECB for every 2 prescriptions you fill) and based on your out of pocket spending (you’ll receive a quarterly ECB for 2% of your purchases during that quarter).  The Extra Care Bucks typically have an expiration date that is one month from the date of your purchase.  These are also considered “store coupons” and you can use multiple ECBs in one transaction regardless of the number of items that you are purchasing.  This makes it easier to “roll” them into other deals (if you’re not familiar with the concept of “rolling” this basically means that you use your rewards to pay for other items that earn rewards so that you are not spending much, if any “real” money out of pocket)

At Walgreens, the Register Rewards are basically a catalina coupon that prints out after you make a qualifying purchase (similar to the coupons you receive at the grocery store).  These are considered manufacturer’s coupons, so they are not tied to any one person.  Because they are considered manufacturer’s coupons and you can only use one manufacturer’s coupon per item, it makes it more difficult to “roll” these into other deals if you also have a manufacturer’s coupon for the item you are buying.  For example, if there is a deal on Gillette razors and I have a Register Reward that I want to use, but I also have a manufacturer’s coupon that I want to use, I will have to add a “filler” item so that I can use both coupons.  The good news is that they have cheap “filler” items every week which typically include things that I need anyway such as spices, Hunt’s tomato sauce, canned mushrooms, and seasonal items.  Register Rewards also have additional restrictions.  For example, if you use a Register Reward from a promotion to buy that same item, another Register Reward will not print.  Also, if you use a Register Reward from a different promotion but the same manufacturer that is the same amount of a Register Reward you would earn, another Register Reward will not print.  For example, if you have a $2 RR from buying Crest toothpaste and there is also a $2 RR offer for Herbal Essences shampoo, a new RR will not print if you use the Crest RR to buy the shampoo because both products have the same manufacturer (P&G).

Both rewards coupons have some restrictions which typically exclude them from being used on items such as gift cards, postage stamps, prescriptions, and alcohol.


CVS

Pros:

-Unlimited use of ECBs per transaction, which makes them easier to “roll” into other deals

-Longer expiration dates for ECBs

-Purchases are “tracked” on your card (so, if you are taking advantage of a promotion such as “Spend $25 on X item, get a $10 ECB” and one store doesn’t have enough, you will be able to go to another store and the purchases will also count toward your $25)

-ECBs can be used on almost anything in the store!  If the limit is more than one on an ECB-earning item, you can use the ECB from purchasing the first item to buy the second item.

-When you scan your card at the red scanners in the store, you get additional store coupons that can be combined with manufacturer’s coupons for greater savings!

Cons:

-ECBs are tied to one specific card

-Household limits on ECB-earning items

WALGREENS

Pros:

-RRs are manufacturer’s coupons and can be used on almost anything in the store!

-You can use more than one RR per transaction

-You can combine store and manufacturer’s coupons and there are usually store coupons in the weekly ads, monthly coupon books with store coupons (found at the front of the store) and special coupon booklets with store coupons.  Combining the store coupons and manufacturer’s coupons results in greater savings!

Cons:

-RRs are manufacturer’s coupons so you sometimes have to add “filler items” which makes it harder to “roll” your RRs and typically results in more out of pocket expenses

-Expiration dates are shorter (usually about 2 weeks)

-Promotional restrictions make it difficult to “roll” RR because you cannot use a RR from a promotion to buy another and still earn RRs and sometimes cannot use RR from the same manufacturer

Overall, I think CVS is easier to learn if you are a newbie, but I prefer Walgreens because my Walgreens stores tend to have more items in stock and because there are not household limits (as long as I can figure out how to “roll” the RRs between different items)

If you are new to shopping at CVS or Walgreens, make sure you check out my store guides here:

-CVS Newbie Store guide

-Walgreens Newbie store guide