Once (Gro)upon a Time: A Cautionary Tale

On any given day you can turn on the television or computer and be treated to at least one advertisement for a local daily deal site.  They all promise the same thing:  a sizable discount on a range of goods and services.  Is it worth your time to investigate?—Absolutely.  However, not every deal will be as good as they sound.  Not to say that the fine people of Groupon, LivingSocial, and Restaurant.com are out to grift you out of your hard-earned cash; it's just easy to be seduced by a deal or discount that may not be quite right for you.

Groupon is arguably the largest and most well-known Coupon Ship on the Sea of Discounts.  In many cases, their reputation precedes itself, particular in online usability and geographic accessibility.  Long story short:  If you live in or near a big city, you’ve got Groupon.  However, just because you have this resource at your disposal, doesn’t necessarily mean you should always use it.  The two main factors you should consider when using Groupon or any other local daily deal site are Time and Budget.

Timing:  Make sure the coupon fits into your schedule.

Some coupons will be offered by merchants in an effort to generate sales in the slower season.  Case in point, I purchased 2 Groupons for paintball back in October when the weather was just starting to get awful in the Midwest.  They wouldn’t expire for 7 months, but what I failed to realize at the time was that only 2 of those months were eligible  (either too cold for them to be open, or too cold for ME to go).  Now I find myself at the beginning of May with only 6 weekends left in which to use my coupons.  Since the weather is STILL not cooperating, I might have to let them expire or be forced to take a midweek “sick day” just to keep them from going to waste.

In another example, some coupons for restaurants are only good for certain days of the week.  Most dining spots have no trouble filling up on a weekend, so they might utilize Groupon or Restaurant.com to less-crowded Sunday-Thursday meal slots.  If you do choose to use a restaurant coupon, make sure it is valid for the day in which you wish to dine.  Restaurant.com includes these details in the fine print, and is usually the best one to go with in terms of price.  While Groupon offers “50% --$10 will get you $20”- type deals, Restaurant.com has more “$2 will get you $25”-type deals.

Budget:  Are you REALLY saving money by using a coupon?

This question may seem like a no-brainer, but very often coupons are subject to a mandatory spending minimum.  A $20 off coupon is great, but not if you are required to spend $100 for it to be valid.  This is easily accomplished by a table of 6, but a table of 2 might find themselves ordering extra apps, desserts, or drinks just to meet the minimum.  If you have to spend an extra $50 just to get $20 off, then you are not saving money.  Always check the fine print on your coupon before you buy, especially if you’re no stranger to a light dinner.

Availability also has a way of messing with your budget.  As mentioned above, some coupons for dining are only good for weekdays.  If you only go out for dinner on weekends, you may find yourself creating an additional night to eat out just to utilize a coupon.  If you have to go out on a night that you normally would stay in just to save $20, then you are not saving money.

Before this sounds like a sermon, let me just say that local daily deal sites are an EXCELLENT resource to both merchant and consumer.  They allow new businesses to bring in new clients they may have otherwise missed.  They give people an excuse to stop in and try that “new place they’ve always been curious about”.  They open doors to possibilities you may not have even considered.  Groupon is taking me on a helicopter lesson this summer.  LivingSocial wants me to go sky-diving with them.  Restaurant.com introduced me to Korean food.  While these sites tend to cater more to the open-minded and the impulsive, they can still be used to accommodate the sensible consumer.  To avoid being seduced by a deal, my advice is to set your own conditions and see who meets them.  You are free to enjoy all that your particular city has to offer, but you’ll enjoy it more if it is on your terms.

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