If you’re familiar with one of my favorite personal finance writers, My Good Cents, then you know the author is in love with a little drugstore chain called CVS. At least once a week, you’ll see her shopping in her local CVS, loading her shopping basket full of mouthwash, razors, and cough syrup. Does she have some sort of over-the-counter drug addiction? No no, not at all. She’s simply taking advantage of some crazy CVS deals that allow her to purchase a variety of products for super-cheap or even free!
Take a look at one of My Good Cents’ recent CVS deals. For a net total of $3.11, she walked out of CVS with the following booty:
- 3 Glucerna cereal
- 5 CVS cough drops
- 1 Gillette Fusion razor
- 1 Cover Girl lipstick
- 3 Febreeze products
- Some Pringles
- 1 box of South Beach Diet cereal bars
- Assorted cookies and Band-aids
Obviously she won’t be feeding a family of four on this stuff; but considering the razor alone retails for approximately $8,000 (stupid rip-off razors that leave my face feeling sooo good), I’d say she got quite a bargain.
Inspired by My Good Cents and in desperate need of 72 AA batteries (but not wanting to pay money for them), I decided to set off on my own journey of savings to CVS. As I was first alerted to by this discussion on FatWallet, CVS is currently offering a $5 coupon on an 8-pack of Energizer AA batteries which are also on sale for $5.29. You might be thinking, “Ooh, 29 cents for batteries. That’s a good deal.” No it isn’t! It’s a sucky deal. As you’ll soon discover, if you don’t walk out of CVS with at least $15 of free merchandise and discounts towards your next purchase, you’re getting ripped off.
My adventure started at the CVS a few blocks from my workplace. I arrived armed with the following coupons that I easily printed from the CVS website:
- $5 off a pack of Energizer batteries
- Get one free box of CVS-brand facial tissue (my wife is sick and has been using about 900 tissues a day)
- $5 off a $15 purchase
- $2 off a $10 purchase
I pulled into the CVS parking lot and parked near the exit, in case I needed to make a quick escape. A few minutes later, I was in the store, carefully loading batteries and tissue into my hand basket. I was tempted by the cheap candy in a nearby aisle, but it would have cost me money, and I was not about to spend any.
I made my way to the checkout lane and was greeted with a pleasant “next in line please” from the lady behind the photo counter. She cheerfully scanned my Extra Bucks card (the Holy Grail of CVS savings) and my items—three packs of batteries and a box of tissues—and accepted my coupons. My initial total started at about $16. She scanned the first coupon—down to $11. She scanned the next—under $10. She scanned the third—knocking me below $5. She scanned the last one—leaving me at $3 total.
Then I realized I was out of coupons. The horror. The horror!
Oh but I was far from out of coupons. Indeed, the cashier noticed what I hadn’t: $1 off coupons affixed to the front of each battery pack. $3 turned to $2. $2 turned to $1.
I was overjoyed—24 batteries and a box of tissues, absolutely free. But she wasn’t done yet.
“You also get $5 worth of Extra Bucks back that you can use on a future purchase,” said the cashier, handing me a receipt printout proudly proclaiming “$5 off!”
“Thank you very much!” I replied, grabbing my CVS bag filled with goodies.
“Not so fast.”
I looked up at the cashier. My heart dropped into my wallet. That’s it, I thought. I’m going to deal jail.
“And you get these coupons for $4 off a future purchase of $20 or more.” More paper receipts were flung my way. “And this one for $3 off $10.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” I bowed, clutching my bag and slowly making my way to the door.
“Oh, and what’s your favorite number?” asked the cashier.
“Then you also get this free jar of jelly beans. Plus it’s Monday, so you get 12 free Hershey bars and four tubes of toothpaste.”
“Uh, thank you–”
“I’m not finished yet, biotcha! And because you have brown hair, here’s a 1:16 scale replica of the U.S.S. Saratoga, three copies of the DVD Shrek, and 18 dozen eggs.”
“Uhhh. I just want to go home now.”
“You have a home! That means you get this free jug of Vaseline and two tickets to the Ice Capades. Plus this innertube that looks like Hillary Clinton. And since you’ve reached 10 free items, you also get 5,000 homemade chocolate chip cookies, a map to buried treasure, and the deed to this building!”
At this point, I ran to the car with my batteries and tissues, but the cashier was close behind.
“How dare you run before I can give you this free gift certificate for a two-hour Swedish massage.” The cashier leapt onto my car hood and transformed into a vicious monster with fangs for teeth and snakes for ears. “I just want to save you money,” came her blood-curdling voice.
As I put the key in the ignition, she punched through the car windshield. I reached into my CVS bag for something to fight her off. The batteries were ineffective. My only hope was the box of store-brand tissue. As I suspected, they were more than harsh enough to dry out her nose long enough for me to escape. In the end, I got away with my three packs of batteries, box of tissues, and $5 in CVS Extra Bucks for the low low price of zero dollars and one shattered, blood-stained windshield. Fortunately CVS has windshields on sale for $3 and a coupon for $6 off of that.
I repeated the same steps at two other CVS stores in my area and netted the 72 batteries I needed along with two more tissue boxes. All for more than free.
Does this mean I like coupons now? No, I still think they’re usually a waste of time, but I wouldn’t call what CVS offers “coupons.” They’re more like “free gift paper things.”