$700 in stuff for $30 -- what's the catch?

money heartOutside the grocery store the other day, a teen-age boy tried to sell me $50 in gift certificates at local restaurants -- restaurant meals, a fast-food taco, a margarita -- for $5.

The money, he said, would go to fund high school athletics. I declined the offer, figuring I'd spend much more money by buying another meal or two with the gift certificates than I intended to, and walked away realizing the restaurants were probably making money with such discounts or free meals.

Besides, going to the six or so restaurants for the meals, or a taco here, a margarita there, seems like more hassle than it's worth. Granted, it's only $5, so it's not much of a loss and it helps a kid stay off the streets so he can play football.

I have a similar feeling about spending $29.99 on "The Big Bundle" for more than $700 worth of stuff in a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. This bundle, however, looks a lot better than the deal I was offered outside my local grocery store, and could pay for itself with one purchase.

But it raises the question of, if you get beyond good feeling of helping a charity of local group of students, is it worth it to spend $5 or $30 to save $50 or even $700? It depends on if you really have a need for the services being sold, or if they'd add up as purchases you wouldn't have made anyway.

Here are some of the things in "The Big Bundle":
  • $25 gift certificate at Restaurant.com, which normally sells for $10.
  • $20 off a $100 purchase at Gap.com.
  • Three-month subscription to Zagat.com, valued at $14.85.
  • $25 off $100 purchase at Petco.com.
  • $50 off three-night stay at Hotels.com.
  • $20 Nordstrom rebate with a $100 purchase.
  • $10 off $100 purchase at CircuitCity.com.
  • And a bunch of computer geek stuff, such as a Foxit PDF Creator valued at $29.99.
There are 100,000 bundles available until Oct. 14, or until supplies last, and organizers say that all proceeds go to the American Cancer Society.The real question is if it's worth it for a 20% discount at Gap.com if you never planned on spending money at Gap anyway. If you shop there regularly, then it's a deal. And then ask yourself if there are enough deals that you'd use to save more than $30.

If not, it might be cheaper and easier to send a check for $30 to the American Cancer Society and not have to worry about figuring out all of the deals. In the long run, you might save money by giving to the charity and not going after the bargains.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net
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