I first posted about Groupon in July, 2010. At that point I had purchased one offer. Fast forward a year and a half, and I’m up to a whopping seven deals split between two sites. I’m not exactly a Groupon addict, that’s for sure! So, first my deals, then my tips on avoiding wasting money on them.

These are the deals I’ve bought:
Wine Insiders – I saved over 50% on twelve decent bottles of wine. That was my first steal, but it required some finagling.

Amazon – $20 for $10. I order from Amazon a lot, so of course I took this deal. Frankly, I don’t know why Amazon did it, but I suspect it was designed to put Living Social on the map and Amazon may not have paid a commission on the deal.

Whole Foods – $20 for $10. I shop at Whole Foods a lot, too. I spend at least $200 a year there. So, I snagged the deal. They even thanked me for coming. That was nice, but again, I’m not sure why WF felt the need to offer the deal. It seems like they’re pretty busy most of the time.

Yoga – $30 for 10 classes (normally $130). This was a really sweet deal. Then the business went the extra mile to make me a repeat customer. Shortly before the 10 classes expired, they sent me an exclusive offer for renewing Groupon customers – $99 for another 10 classes. Not as sweet a deal, but still cheap for yoga. So I renewed. They didn’t offer another deal after that, but I was a loyal customer by then and happily bought another package at full price. I think part of the reason Groupon’s work for yoga studios is that the class is held regardless of the number of students. I’ve had classes with 9 students, and classes with 2 students. Same teacher, same class. By offering the Groupon, the studio was introducing their classes to new students without incurring any additional cost.

Amoeba Music – $30 for $15. Amoeba is an amazing independent music store (used and new) in Los Angeles (and a few other cities). Again, I’m surprised they even offered a deal. I bought one for me and one for my husband. Amoeba is typically packed on the weekend, and the weekend we went was no exception. This offer was clever because it expired the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so customers couldn’t use it during the even busier holiday season. Maybe it helped boost sales during the pre-holiday lull. When I checked out, they gave me a special Groupon coupon for $5 off my next $30 purchase. Since Amoeba customers are fairly loyal (it’s not as if there are a lot of other physical record stores to compete with anymore), that’s just a nice thank you that doesn’t much hurt their bottom line. My husband and I both spent a little over $30, so we saved just under 50%, not a bad deal.

Garden Center – A garden center chain with a store near my house offered a $50 for $25 (I think) deal. I visit this garden center occasionally, most often for advice. It’s the sort of place where you can take a leaf and ask “What is wrong with it?” and they’ll actually know the answer. Not only that, but they have the product you need to fix it. Service is excellent. The prices are rather high, though. I ended up spending way more than the Groupon, probably around $70 because I lose all control in garden centers. But, I was able to stock up on fertilizers, plants, and tools and save a little bit, so I don’t regret the deal. I continue to go there with my plant problems, too.

Old Navy – $20 for $10. I love Old Navy. They have great deals already. When I read about this deal on a coupon site, I snagged it. I like to buy a few new tops each summer and winter, and I needed new jeans, so using it would be no problem. I also happened to have a $50 gift card that I needed to use. I tossed the gift card in my purse and just kept the Groupon expiration date in the back of my mind. This was the first time I used the Groupon app to use a deal. I didn’t have the printed version with me when I found myself needing to kill time near an Old Navy. But my smartphone came to the rescue. I ended up paying about $10 cash after the gift card and the Groupon.

To be honest, I don’t spend a ton of time looking at deal sites. I found out about the Amazon, Amoeba, and Whole Foods deals when friends posted about them on Facebook. I found out about the Wine Insider and Old Navy deals on a coupon blog. The Yoga deal I spotted myself because I was actively looking for a yoga deal at the time.  I happened to spot the Armstrong deal in my email because I shopped there already.

How to Avoid Wasting Money on Daily Deals
I’ve been satisfied with all my deal purchases, and haven’t let any of them expire without using them. Here are my tips for avoiding waste:

1. Know what sort of deals you’re looking for. I was looking for a yoga class when I found that deal. I’ve been looking for a decent facial deal for months, but I haven’t purchased one yet because I haven’t liked any of the offers. I’m not going to buy a spa deal just because it’s a good deal if the services don’t appeal to me.

2. Buy from businesses you already frequent. Four of the deals I bought were for places I already shopped. I knew the deal was good, because I knew how much I typically spent. I also knew where the business was and that cashing in the deal would be convenient.

3. Buy from businesses close to you. If you have to go out of your way to cash in the deal, you probably won’t, no matter how good it is. So wait for a deal from a place near your home or office. With a new deal every day, you may not have to wait that long.

4. Check schedules before you buy. This is key with service related deals. The yoga studio offered the type of class I wanted to take at a time I could attend, and it was close to my house. That made it impossible to pass up.

5. Think about it. Yes, you only have 24 hours, at most, to buy the deal. But you don’t have to buy it in the next five minutes. Take an hour or two to think about the deal. If you still want it, buy it. If you’ve forgotten about it, then you didn’t really want it.

This has nothing to do with personal finance, but I was so mad when I heard this report Tuesday, that I had to say something. Congress is pushing a bill that would continue to allow school lunch programs to count the two tablespoons of tomato paste on a slice of school pizza as a vegetable. Under the recommendations set to go into effect, pizza must be accompanied by an actual vegetable in order to be served.

What is wrong with Congress? This is just ridiculous. Pizza is NOT a vegetable. It may have veggies on it, and yes, the sauce is composed of tomatoes, but two tablespoons is not a serving of any vegetable. These new rules, which also limit starch vegetables like potatoes, are meant to improve children’s health. We have a major childhood obesity problem in this country. For some kids, school breakfasts and lunches are the only meals they have. What is wrong with serving them a healthy meal, without the influence of lobbying groups? Studies have shown that kids do better in school when they eat nutritious food. If we want to be competitive in the marketplace, our kids need to learn.

If Congress wonders why they only have 9% approval, they need only look at idiotic acts like this.

Lobbying Under the Guise of Austerity
Why is Congress doing this? Lobbying. The National Potato Council and the American Frozen Food Institute are worried that these new regulations will cut into their groups’ profits. Which they might. However, they were able to get it attached to a spending bill because the USDA rules would increase the cost of school lunches by $7 billion over 5 years, or $1.4 billion a year. When you consider how many children that feeds and how important early childhood nutrition is, that’s not a huge number. One DAY of the war in Iraq cost $720 million. So, this is two days’ worth of war. Aren’t our children worth sacrificing two days of war?

We might as well dispense with Thanksgiving altogether and just enjoy an extra day of shopping. It’s certainly not going to be a happy holiday for those poor souls who work at Wal-Mart or other popular Black Friday destinations.

After several stores announced that their Black Fridays specials would start at midnight (which is ridiculous, but still technically Friday), Wal-Mart is upping the ante. They will now open their stores at 10 PM on Thanksgiving! So, stuff your faces, then run to your car to get in line for some cheap stuff. $5 Barbie dolls are worth giving up a holiday for, apparently.

When will this madness end? Doorbusters on Thanksgiving morning? Holiday sales on Halloween? Aw, heck, let’s just roll it all the way back to July 4 now and be done with it.

Stop the Madness
When did Christmas become all about the crap and the deal? Even as a non-Christian, I recognize that family togetherness and winter cheer are far more important than a $5 Barbie or an iPod Touch or whatever other discount goodie you bought at Black Friday because it was on sale.

If your budget is tight, then buy less stuff. I get a lot of emails from people saying “I need to give my kids a good Christmas.” What your kids want is your love and time with you. The rest if just stuff that will be forgotten within a couple of weeks. They will not be traumatized for life by a Christmas or two without a lot of presents. Instead, they’ll remember that you played games with them and spent time together as a family.

Once again, I will be avoiding Black Friday sales. My husband and I have only purchased one thing at a Black Friday sale, and it was on a Sunday. We’d been looking for a new laptop, so when we saw the deal in the Sunday paper, he went to Staples to buy it. Last year we considered buying a new TV at a Black Friday sale, but actually found a better deal at Costco the week before Thanksgiving. So, we skipped the hassle and enjoyed sleeping in instead.



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