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Is Groupon Sucking You Dry?

By Tara Swords for Every Day Connected

Is Groupon Sucking You Dry?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know about Groupon. It offers daily deals, often from local businesses, at deep discounts. Similar flash-sale sites (e.g., LivingSocial) have popped up, and Google is getting into the game with Google Offers.

I’ve picked up some great deals through these sites: an Amazon coupon, a brunch at a neighborhood restaurant I’ve wanted to try, a deal at my favorite bakery and a massage. The Amazon coupon I cashed in within about 48 hours of purchasing, and the neighborhood restaurant and bakery are places that would have gotten my patronage anyway. But that massage I bought earlier this year? While I spent the summer plowing through deadlines and travel, the clock was ticking. My deal expired a month ago.

So is Groupon a waste of money? Not if you use it the right way. Here are a few simple tips to help the site do what it’s supposed to (save you money, of course):

Groupon Tip No. 1: Set a limit.
When I first subscribed to daily deal offers, I decided I would never have more than four purchased offers waiting to be used. As penance for the massage mishap, my limit is now three. But after that incident, my bar for what makes a great deal has been set much higher.

Groupon Tip No. 2: Buy what you would have bought even without a deal.
Buy deals for the products and services you already wanted to try or for businesses you already patronize. Be more careful about snatching up offers for things you hadn’t previously considered. Yes, it might be cool to get half off a series of Mandarin classes for beginners. But if you weren’t already shopping around for such a thing, how likely are you to use it?

Groupon Tip No. 3: Remember the expiration dates.
If the site offers a mobile app -- as do both Groupon and Living Social -- download it. Log in frequently to keep tabs on the deals you’ve purchased and remind yourself of the expiration dates. Mark the expirations on your mobile calendar, and set an alarm that pops up on your computer or smartphone for a week before they expire.

Groupon Tip No. 4: Read the fine print.
If your deal expires, all may not be lost. Depending on the site you used, the fine print of the coupon and the laws in your jurisdiction, you may be able to apply the money you already spent to a regularly priced product or service at the establishment that offered the original deal. (The spa that offered my currently expired deal says it will apply the money I’ve already paid to a full-priced massage and provide a free upgrade to a higher class of service.)

It’s not possible in all cases, but many daily deals are transferable. Read the fine print and, if possible, gift or sell the ones you can’t or won’t use.

Groupon Tip No. 5: Wait before cashing in.
I used the Amazon deal immediately because I knew that the site wouldn’t be disrupted by a glut of consumers. But for local businesses that can handle only so many customers at a time, I wait. I’ve heard stories of people cashing in their coupons immediately and finding long lines, depleted inventories and grumpy, overworked employees.

The bottom line is pretty simple: Daily deal sites can be a huge waste of money … if you tend to waste your money. But if you use them right, they can save you a ton on things you’d be doing anyway.

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