11 Ways to Resist Wasting Your Money on Groupon and Other Deal Sites

groupon screen shotWhether it's Groupon, LivingSocial, Redeemio or a host of other daily deal sites, those bargains for half off can be almost too enticing to pass up. Who wouldn't want half off a spa treatment or dinner at a restaurant they've been thinking of going to but never did because it was too expensive?

And that's a large part of the reason why Groupon has prospered and spawned dozens of copy-cat sites jumping into the white-hot deal space. People can't resist a deal. Trouble is, is it really a deal when it's for something you weren't likely to purchase in the first place? Most of the services offered are decidedly more luxury than necessity (unless you view those golf lessons as a necessity). One such site, CoupMe.com, has reported that 80% of new customers to businesses that offer the deals wouldn't have gone there without the coupon.

In this economy, the first lesson in how to be frugal should be how to resist the lure of offers on deal sites bombarding your inbox: Don't buy something if you don't need it. Yes, it's 50% off, but it's still money spent and might be money saved if you didn't have the deal to entice you.

Here are some other tips to keep you from wasting your money on deal sites, although "wasting" is subjective. What's an affordable deal for one person might be a luxury someone else can't afford.1. Will You Really Use it?

Lunch at a deli or movie tickets? Yes. Ballroom dancing lessons because it's something you've always wished you could do? Unlikely. That's what public relations manager Arielle Schechtman found when he bought a Groupon for a package of dancing classes. He never used it because it wasn't convenient or part of his everyday life.

Diana Yin told WalletPop that if it's something she's not 100% sure she'll use, but has a 60% chance of use because it sounds fun -- like an acrobatic lesson -- she'll skip it because the likelihood of her using it is low. Buying basics or staples, on the other hand, such as a deal on haircuts or dry cleaning services, is a much more likely buy for her.

The desperation of the daily deal clock winding down can prompt you to make an impulse decision, but it shouldn't. Deals always come around again for what you miss out on -- if not at the original site you found the deal on, then on another site.

2. Read the Fine Print

As is the case with some travel deals, Jessica Meadows Hammett learned just before buying a night's stay at a bed and breakfast inn in a town she was planning to visit that the offer was only applicable for a Sunday through Thursday stay. She was planning to stay Friday and Saturday nights, when the offer wasn't available.

Don't let the blinking "buy" button that expires in an hour get you to buy something before checking out the details first, says Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief at ConsumerSearch.com.

3. Check Expiration Date

Buyers may assume their deal is good for a year, but some deals can expire as quickly as in a few months, Frietchen says. Getting an email from the website where you just bought the deal can quickly be forgotten, so be sure to mark on your calendar when it expires and make a date to redeem it. Several Groupon customers, however, have told WalletPop that they've successfully gotten refunds from Groupon for expired coupons, although that's a service you don't always want to count on. The vouchers can also be sold, although if you're going that route you should stay away from deal sites to begin with.

Along with checking an expiration date, it's a good idea to use the coupon as quickly as you can in case the business goes out of business. That restaurant you've been thinking of going to may not be around when you want to use the coupon.

4. Beware of Overwhelmed Businesses

Groupon's success has overwhelmed some businesses that aren't prepared for the onslaught of customers and can run out of cupcakes or whatever they're selling. Customers should keep this in mind, and as Hammett points out, schedule appointments for classes, cleaning services, beauty treatments and any other deals that need to be set up, as early as possible.

Groupon customer Cheri Powell told WalletPop that after buying a Groupon for yoga and pilates classes, she was instructed to go online and sign up for a class, but only one beginning yoga class was offered, and at a time Powell couldn't attend. She told Groupon, which canceled the deal for her and gave her the dollar amount in credit.

5. Check the Company's Website

From her experience with yoga classes, Powell recommends checking the company's website to see if it offers what you want and has a schedule that fits yours.

6. Save Your Cash

Accumulating Groupons is easy, so weigh it against the value of having cash, recommends Yin, who is comfortable with the dozen Groupons she has worth more than $300. To help her decide, Yin says she always asks herself if there was $20 cash on a table next to a Groupon for a pedicure, which would she choose?

7. No Mailing Lists

Subscribing to deal sites' mailing list is easy to do and enticing because it's a good way to quickly learn if a deal is being offered that you're interested in. But being on mailing lists will clog your inbox, and could entice you to buy deals you don't want to spend money on anyway.

GroceryAlerts President Steven Zussino recommends avoiding the information overload by using such sites as OneSpout that list daily deals from deal sites for various cities, and subscribing to only its mailing list.

8. Check Elsewhere for Coupons

If a restaurant is offering a Groupon or other daily deal, chances are it also has a similar free coupon somewhere else, Zussino says. Search for that merchant, which may have a special on its website or Facebook page, or a local entertainment book may offer a better deal without much of an upfront payment.

9. Check Nearby States

If you're going somewhere on vacation, a daily deal can be a bargain for a sightseeing tour or something else that you normally wouldn't do unless you're on vacation. But such deals can be hard to find in your area.

Texas resident Rayven Perkins uses Google Reader as a blog reader so she can see deals in multiple cities at once, and has used it to find and buy a $17 Groupon for an annual museum pass in Indiana that has reciprocal privileges at hundreds of museums across the country. Perkins says she adds the various Groupon city URLs in her Google Reader and can quickly scroll through new posts.

10. Avoid Hidden Fees

Online flower companies are notorious for adding fees to orders, and the same can happen to online daily deals. Vadim Tulchinsky, search engine marketing manager at inSegment, recommends being wary of buying flowers on big "bouquet holidays" like Mother's Day or Valentine's Day because of hidden fees. Tulchinsky bought a Groupon for $35 for flowers that added up to $70 when the fees were tacked on. The regular price would have been $75.

A misleading Groupon voucher in February for $40 worth of FTD flowers for $20 caught nearly 3,300 people off guard for a deal that wasn't really a deal. High fees made the deal more expensive than what FTD charged on its own site.

11. Watch for Red Flags

Like the FTD deal or others that sound too good to be true, one red flag that Frietchen of ConsumerSearch sees is recent Groupons for medical procedures beyond such cosmetic processes as laser hair removal. Liposuction and laser eye surgery have come up recently, she said, which are areas where meeting the doctor in person before buying the service is a good idea.

"These are not procedures that you should take lightly or be out on a limb," Frietchen said.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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