I don’t profess to be a great saver or finance expert, I am sure many, if not most, of you could teach me a thing or three. So this post is more a reflection of my thoughts on saving—and the recent explosion of deal or discount website to be specific.
I grew up in a family obsessed with saving money in all ways possible. I actually wrote this post about my dad’s crazy saving antics. A treasured family bonding activity was Sunday morning coupon clipping from the ads and then lining them up with store specials. A coupon or sale on its own was not enough, the two combined was the only option, and only if it was a practical item. Those days have passed, little by little the city has broken me down and I have become much less choosey about where my money goes, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.
There are many reasons that it is not easy to be cheap in the city, I won’t point out all of them, but a choice few will give you an idea:
- Coupons are very hard to come by unless you pay for the Sunday NYTimes.
- If you manage to find a coupon, many stores and little bodegas don’t take them.
- Things are more expensive in general: read $6.99 for a box of cereal.
- City folk tend to shop at many stores, and that means you need to carry a lot of key cards to get discounts everywhere. For example, I shop at food emporium a few times a year, usually on a whim, but do I want to carry a key card around the other 363 days? Or do I take the time to sign up just for that time? See next point.
- Convenience is key, therefore, when you are always running around it becomes easy to just buy coffee out or grab a bottled drink or snack on the go.
- Bulk isn’t practical at all. Here’s why: there is little storage space, so you have not place to put 12 rolls of paper towels no matter how much you save if you buy 12 not 2! Families are small:Families are small-1,2 or 3 people don’t really eat enough to justify buying food in bulk. You carry what you buy: as you tend to have to carry what you purchase, you are limited in how much you can buy and how far you can carry it—so again bulk usually isn’t a great option. I will say reusable bags do provide ample storage and sturdy over the shoulder carrying.
- We socialize out, not in. Because people tend to have smaller kitchens and living spaces—oh and tiny kitchen tables, entertaining in the home is more of a special occasion than a common occurrence. Thus, friends tend to meet in bars or restaurants rather than cook dinner for a group at home.
You get the idea…
Even though I am not as judicious about never spending an unnecessary dime. I still have an ingrained sense of what is actually a good value and what is really only kind of a deal—like a coupon without a matching special.
I will say that when the explosion of discount and deal sites came out, I was very very skeptical. I was hesitant to buy something I wouldn’t actually use. However, over the last year, I have found a few sites I love and created a mental criteria to analyze what is a truly good deal and what isn’t.
I’ll start with my favorite savings sites:
YIPIT is my favorite discount finder because it sucks in what they determine are the best deals from dozens and dozens of popular savings sites and compiles the best deals in ONE email. This saves me from tons and tons of extra emails. YIPIT tends to alternate food, fitness, and beauty. So you’ll have a bunch of restaurant options one day, and then a bunch of fitness-related options the next.
Since it only features what they consider the best deals from many 10 or so sites, I may miss a deal once in a while, that is probably not a bad thing. And one email not 10 is priceless. It also allows you to compare options easily, so you can pick the best one or none at all.
As for individual sites, I really like:
Plus: This one is great because it only costs a $1 to get a discount of typically 30%. All you need is the passcode and your golden. You don’t need to commit to using the passcode, but it’s there if you want it.
Minuses: Occasionally there are restrictions on dates and alcohol is usually not included.
Village Vines Concierge:
Plus: The restaurants featured are usually really nice ones, like BondSt. The discount of 30% is off your entire bill including alcohol. There aren’t many restrictions on party size, etc.You can make your reservation at time of purchase, but can cancel and get a credit to your account.
Minuses: It’s $10 to book and you have to make a reservation when you buy the deal.
Sites I don’t love as much,
Restaurant.com I used to think this was great, but then I realize how many restrictions came with so many of the restaurants. You have to be very careful to make sure that your night and party size are going to work with the deal and you often have to spend a minimum amount over the actually gift certificate cost.
How I Determine Whether a Deal is Worthy:
Step One: Is this something I would use if I didn’t have a deal? For example, I go to Pure Food and Wine fairly regularly, so I knew that the Black Board Eats 30% off discount would certainly go to good use, and it only cost $1!
So if it is restaurant, salon or fitness venue I love, I see it as a good deal. If it’s a place I have been dying to try, then that’s probably worth it too.
While I try not to buy too many fitness deals, since I already pay for a gym, sometimes you can pick the best additional option and consider it an investment. For example, if I Core Fusion special comes along on Ruelala or Physique 57 DVDs go on sale on GILT ($72 for 6!!), those are things that I truly love and consider a special treat on occasion. While most of the time, I try and use the gym membership I pay for already, as long as I am only commiting to one thing at a time and I make a commitment to use each and every class or video than a little splurge is worth every few months or so. And yes, even the package discounts at Core Fusion are a splurge!
Step Two: Are there lots of restrictions? While I did get the Pure Blackboard deal, I didn’t buy the recent groupon deal to Pure Food and Wine because it had a lot of restrictions on what you had to order and how much you had to spend, and since I wasn’t positive I would go before it expire, I didn’t want to put up $15. Fortunately, the BB deal came along shortly thereafter.
Step Three: Is it convenient? This may be the most important question. If it is not something I can access fairly easily than I am less likely to utilize it. Unless, again, it happens to be one of my favorite uptown places. For example today I saw a deal for 10 Boot camp Classes for $35. This is only $3.50 a class, however, it turned out to be in Brooklyn. So even if I decided I could make the hike out there 10 times (I wouldn’t), I would be paying an extra $4.50 for each metrocard trip, $45 extra, that’s more than the deal!
Step Four: Am I sure I am going to like and use this?
Tying in step 1 and 3, I reflect on whether I am going to use it. I think the bottom line is if your sure you’ll use it and it’s something your excited about, it’s worth it.
The same goes for tiny local places I have never heard of, I generally want to know what the place is all about before I decide to invest money upfront. I am not saying don’t support the little guys, I love Liquiteria, just do some research first. Yelp reviews rock.
After all that, I have found something that meets my criteria and I am ready to purchase my worthy deal.
Here are my strategies to make sure I use it:
- Purchase with a friend and commit to going together
- Make a date to use it before purchasing
- Put a reminder in my calendar two weeks before it expires.
If you’re still with me, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on savings sites! What are your favorites? Best deal you ever got?
I actually have a lot more to say about saving and investing, but I will leave that for another day.
If you’re still here and want more, I also did short-lived Fit Recessionista series a while back:
Most where deals of the moment, but some are still relevant,
Oh, and my best Fit Deals in NYC