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Do Daily Deal Sites Cost You More?

Do daily deal sites cost you more? Do you really need that helicopter ride?Helicopter flight for two — 61% off!

Eyelash extensions  — 50% off!

Four-course dinner at a 5-star restaurant  — 56% off!

Four-day trip to Cozumel, Mexico  — 43% off!

Thanks to sites like Groupon, Living Social, and dozens of others, these “amazing deals” can be yours…if you buy today.

Daily deal sites came in vogue in the midst of a recession—at a time when bargains became cool. (We even celebrated people who took coupon clipping to extremes.) But do daily deal sites actually save you money, or do they do just the opposite? Do Groupon and Living Social actually cost you more?

We asked our Facebook fans and Twitter followers, and most people liked and used the daily deal sites, especially if one of the deals offered was something they were obviously planning to use. We conducted a poll about daily deals on our Facebook page and here’s what we learned:

60% said they would purchase daily deals if the product/service was something they already use or planned to use.

27% said they loved daily deals because they saved them money.

13% said they disliked daily deals sites or had never tried them.

On Twitter, here’s what our followers said: 

@joshfrank: Great idea, but only occasionally great in implementation. You can only get so many spa coupons. Plus their IPO mess…

@hithatsmybike: I buy then forget to use them … they expire and I just waste money.

@TheSpimTadin: I always like the fact that even after it expires, its still worth whatever you paid.

@moneymaus: I’m picky & go with places I’ve been or what I know I’ll use.

@StuffedWitFluff: I rarely buy deals from places that are unfamiliar, unless I take time to research yelp.

@LifeTuner: If I wouldn’t buy the product/service at full price, why would I buy it at all? I suppose I’d be open to scouring for places I do love, but that’s a lot of effort for not a lot of payoff.

@as_green: Love them! But you have to be careful to read the fine print and only buy things you are definitely going to use.

It looks like the majority agree – consumers of daily deals tend to go with what they know. Helicopter rides are most likely a no-go, but a deal to a salon or restaurant you frequent might truly save you 50% or more.

Instructions for Using Daily Deal Sites

Gone is the daily deal – singular – as in one deal per day. Today there are deals upon deals: massages, restaurant gift certificates, vacations, you name it. You could spend an hour a day just wading through available offers. But how do you use these daily deals to your advantage and really save yourself money instead of just throwing away money on things you’ll never use?

Obviously, restraint is key. Fact: Websites—including daily deal sites—use psychological tactics against you. When deals have a fast-approaching deadline to buy, they get us to act when we otherwise might not.

To avoid being pressured into buying something you don’t need, ask yourself these questions first:

  1. Is the product/service/establishment something I use or had planned to use?
  2. Is the deal for something I’d been strongly considering buying already?
  3. Is the location nearby and convenient? (If not, there’s a good chance you won’t get there before the deal expires.)
  4. After researching the price, is it truly a good deal?

Keeping coupons and gift cards organized is another key to making sure you get the most from your money.

  1. Install the app for whichever deal you purchased. Flashing your voucher on your phone is easier than toting a paper voucher you might lose.
  2. Add to your calendar a reminder a few weeks before the deal’s expiration date.
  3. If you’re using the paper version, print the vouchers right away and file them with the rest of your coupons.
  4. Watch for e-mails alerting you to about-to-expire vouchers from the daily deals sites.

Remember that most daily deal sites will always honor the amount you paid for the voucher – even if the voucher has expired. So at least your cash out of pocket will always be protected.

Usually, A Win-Win

I know I’ve snagged a couple really great deals in the past that have made me a daily deals believer. When used properly (read: don’t binge!) daily deals can be a win-win for you and the business. If you practice a little restraint and intentional buying with daily deals, I think they can save you money (and make life a little more fun!).

What do you think? Have you snagged any great deals on sites like these? Made any mistakes with them? Let us know in a comment.

Published or updated on June 11, 2012

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. amber says:

    I’ve had good luck with daily deals and am a fan. I am a bit contrary here to general opinion though because I like that these deals introduce me to new businesses right in my own area that I never would have known about, or even sites online that offer something I might enjoy. As long as you are “in” on the game, that they are trying to get you to spend money or turn you into a regular customer, it usually leads to a fun experience. I enjoy trying new things but I always check the math because it is true some are not a deal.

    David, I hope you went out and bought your wife another massage package after that horrible story! Poor woman.

  2. Cindy says:

    I used to purchase these deals all the time until I had a few bad experiences just trying to redeem the coupons. The fact is there is fine print that is often not even in the fine print. I once bought a deal for tango classes. When I tried to redeem it I learned that the cycle of classes started the first Saturday of each month and since it was the middle of the month, I had to wait until the next cycle to begin. The next time I tried to go, the instructor was out of town so I had to wait until the next cycle again. By the time I could finally make it, the coupon had expired. Another time I bought a coupon for a facial and it turned out that there were only four slots available on Saturdays and I had to plan out months in advance to get a time that worked with my schedule. I’m completely frustrated with experiences like this and have now just unsubscribed from all of these sites.

  3. Jenn says:

    Restraint is key with daily deal sites. Like with anything that is a deal – just because it’s on sale, it doesn’t mean you should purchase. I try to stick to purchasing deals for places and restaurants I already frequent! Great read.

  4. Janine says:

    Great post! I only buy the deals when it’s to a place I have been on more than one occasion. I have no issue saying no to a deal I probably won’t use. Like you said they are really valuable if you are planning on going there anyways but I did have a terrible experience with a Wagjag deal to a salon where no one in the salon would perform the service for that price. The owner hadn’t checked with her employees first and she ended up with a huge liability. It took my sister and I months to get in.

  5. Laura says:

    It is all how you evaluate the value. I only get groupons (or many of the other similar websites) for something I can already sort of plan when I will use it. The restaurant has to be in my area and easy to get to.

    Yes, I buy a lot of them, and therefore, go out to eat a lot more than I would have normally. So technically, I am spending more money. However, I am really enjoying all my experiences. I moved to a new city, and getting to go out, explore,and my groupons is valuable to me. I read the deals and fine print very carefully before buying, and I never let them expire.

    I also live in a big city, so its easier to use. My father, on the other hand, lives in the suburbs. He drives me nuts because he buys a groupon for restaurants 30 minutes away from town. He ends up spending more in gas/parking that the discount. Only buy convienent groupons!

  6. Wow, already a ton of discussion on this post. I agree with the point about scouring these sites in moderation and only buying things you know you will use. It’s easy to grab these deals quickly because the purchases are exciting, but they can be a waste of money if you don’t use them and a waste of time if you have to drive across town or don’t like the “amazing” experience you purchased. There’s nothing worse than an expired deal.

    I’m doing research on a new LivingSocial Rewards Visa credit card from Chase which offers a rewards system entirely built on receiving LivingSocial discounts. It could be rewards for an amazing lifestyle or a recipe for LivingSocial addiction disaster! Has anyone seen this card yet?

  7. Amber Gilstrap says:

    By far the best deal I’ve gotten is a Groupon for $1,000 off of Invisalign treatment. I’ve seen a lot of $500 off coupons for Invisalign, but when I saw the $1k off, I snatched it up. I’d been thinking of doing it for awhile, so it worked out perfectly!

    I generally only use these sites for their restaurant deals, especially for new places around where I live and work. I also try to snag a couple of restaurant deals when my husband and I go on vacation!

  8. Janelle says:

    There are so many deals now its hard to keep up!! But I do like websites/apps, I do show restraint but I don’t always buy things I would normally get anyway, sometimes its to get things I wouldnt normally get because they are too expensive but with the discount I can afford. A good example is we are looking to move so for really cheap, we were able to get professional movers, and a person who organizes spaces — things we would never even considered buying because the prices would be too much.

    I also recommend you look at the cost of something without the deal, sometimes I wonder if the “original” price for some items is a little exaggerated. I look on the website to see if the price without the deal matches what they say on groupon or living social.

  9. Jessica says:

    I absolutely HATE these sites and their advertisements…because they prey on your weak math skills and absence of willpower. Advertisers know that if you *think* you’re getting a deal, you will actually end up paying more in the end and won’t actually realize it or even care. Case in point: I saw an advertisement on a “daily deals” website the day before Mother’s Day that read “Today Only” Pedicures 90% off! Pay only $18!” So you think “WOW! 90% OFF!! That’s AMAZING!” But do the math. Who in their RIGHT MIND would EVER pay over $100 simply for someone else to paint their toenails? And that’s just one of thousands of examples. If you’re going to buy something at a “discount” your best bet is to get a bulk package at a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club. These stores LEGITIMATELY give you a break on the overall cost of whatever it is you’re buying. They offer HONEST discounts on spa certificates, Visa gift cards, vacation packages, as well as bulk non-perishable consumables like paper towels, granola bars, and alcoholic drinks.

    • Jessica says:

      My point about the pedicures example is that $18 is NOT a deal…you can walk into ANY nail salon and get the exact same service for that precise pay point without needing a “deal” to pay that particular price. There are several other items out there that are not actually discounted, but they want you to think that they are. One of the key points to running a successful business is to mark UP your items about 20% on the “every day price”, so when they run annual sales, holiday sales, etc they can ADVERTISE a 20% reduction/sale price, but they still aren’t cutting into the MSRP and their profit margin.

      • Amber Gilstrap says:

        I have to agree with you on this, Jessica. Most of the pampering deals like pedicures, massages, hair treatments, etc. aren’t that great of a deal. They do say they’re a huge percentage off, when they’re really not. It’s just a way to get first-timers in their store. Deals like this are only good if you really were planning to get the service.

  10. Tamara Smith says:

    I recently purchased two living social deals: one for a tapas dinner for two complete with two glasses of wine and one for a class on Empanada making including wine tasting. I was visiting friends and family in Miami and both deals were a great way to find something to do without going over budget. I had a great time and so did everyone who joined in!

  11. I try to limit any purchases to things that I would otherwise normally buy, or have specifically bought in the past and would buy again. This way, you aren’t doing anything differently than you normally would, and are simply saving money instead of spending more.

    Many should try to get out of the mindset of a “hunter”, scoring deals. That’s what gets people in trouble in terms of overspending on these “deals” in the first place!

  12. David Weliver says:

    I have two funny stories about these things:

    I know someone who impulsively bought a $6,000 South American vacation for two on Groupon and immediately had buyer’s regret. Fortunately, she was able to get a refund!

    My superstressed attorney-and-mom wife recently booked a much-needed massage through Living Social. She called the salon to schedule the “Living Social” deal which they did happily. But when she arrived for her massage, she realized she called the wrong salon. While she was expecting a massage, they had run a Living Social deal for a cut and color. Lauren looked at the stylist—who had bright blue hair—and politely asked to cancel. Oops.

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