Entertainment Book vs. Groupon? Either Way, Consumers Win

Group eating out for breakfastFor years, I've had a standing arrangement to buy an annual, county-specific Entertainment Book ($35) packed cover-to-cover with coupons discounting everything from restaurants and local attractions to car rentals, mini golf, fast food, movies and more. I buy the book from a nice lady who sells them as a fundraiser for a local women's group. Lately, however, I've begun to love another -- younger, hipper and asking for less commitment.

Groupon has captured my heart, not to mention some discretionary income. I've been flirting online. Is it the beginning of the end? Will I be forced to one day choose between them?Delivered daily to my email inbox, Groupon's deeply discounted offers (often 50% to 60% or more) are upbeat and intriguing, slashing prices on services and experiences that pander to the best version of myself. Fancy restaurant: Sophisticate! Hot stone massage: Pampered Spa Girl! Segway tour: Zany Funster!

With a digital countdown displaying how many hours, minutes and seconds remain to purchase the deal (usually available only 24 hours), Groupon, unlike the Entertainment Book, preys on one's moods and impulses. There you are, sitting in front of a computer, pushing paper from one side of the cube to the other, when an opportunity to rent jet skis, half off the usual rate, pops into the inbox. A daydream ensues. Debit or credit can make it possible.

Stressed out and checking email? Look, there's a spa deal at Groupon! The fact that it's discounted increases the temptation to indulge. As a result, many do. A running tally at the bottom of the Groupon screen reports that 29,659,889 consumers have purchased Groupons as of this writing.

The Entertainment Book seems a bit stodgy in comparison, but like many tried-and-true institutions, it also doesn't air questionable commercials during the Super Bowl. The one-time cost of the hefty book buys thousands of 50%-off discounts valid for an entire year, allowing time for proper budgeting and planning. The deals are in there too, you just have to look for them -- page by paper page.

Groupon, on the other hand, just added an iPhone app that eliminates the need to print out the purchased coupons. Instead, they can be redeemed electronically. Sexy.

Still, kicking it old school and using clipped paper coupons from the Entertainment Book, consumers will not only recoup the cost of the book (and donation to the charitable cause), but rack up significant savings as well. Once the price of the book is covered, the rest of the savings are pure profit. In contrast, consumers must invest something into each Groupon they buy. The back of my 2011 book reads: "Over $18,200 in savings inside". After an initial investment of $35, that's a nifty savings of $18,165. The trick is remembering to pull it out and use it. A lot. I keep mine in my car.

In contrast, Groupon sends friendly email reminders after purchasing an offer. I have already received two reminders to book my indoor skydiving session. Which really, how could one forget.

In the giving-back department, Groupon also offers the opportunity to donate to a charitable cause and will match donations from $15 up to $200,000 through their BuildOn campaign promoting literacy and education in third world countries.

Both companies feature opportunities to save while traveling. Entertainment Book covers all of North America, while Groupon deals are offered in 29 countries around the world. Heading to Hawaii this summer? Order an Entertainment Book online and use the coupons to help plan the trip. Or, visit the Groupon website and sign up for daily alerts for the city you will be visiting.

Better yet, do both.

Double the savings, double the fun. Literally. Pick and choose from Groupon offers that best suit your lifestyle, while making the most of the thick book of coupons. Although you may not be moved to buy coupons such as a buy-one-get-one-free offer at Baskin Robbins or a discount for the Comedy Traffic School through Groupon, a Saturday night craving and a moving violation would make coupons for both items appealing if you had them on hand.

Groupon philosophy holds that, "...sometimes the easiest thing is to do is to go to a familiar restaurant, or just stay at home and watch a movie. As a result, we miss out on trying all the cool things our cities have to offer."

True, but sometimes you just need an oil change and a pizza.

In spite of the billion dollar buzz surrounding Groupon, I think Entertainment Books will continue to hold their own. This brave new world is big enough for the both of them.
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