Groupon: What I learned by living off Internet coupons for seven straight days.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
June 28 2011 7:04 AM

My Groupon Week

What I learned by living off Internet coupons for seven straight days.

A Groupon deal. Click image to expand.
Can you live only on Groupons?

We live in a Golden Age of Coupons. Every morning when I open my email, I see offers from Gilt City, Daily Candy, Living Social, and Groupon scattered among news briefings and actual correspondence. I signed up for these missives because I love a good deal, but for the most part I delete them unread; I can't forget my mother's folk wisdom: You can go broke buying wholesale.

I guess not everyone's mother told them that: Groupon, the best known of the Internet-discount services, was valued at $30 billion in its June IPO. Intrigued by this ludicrously large sum, I resolved to stop ignoring Groupon's emails and to see what all the fuss was about. Because I'm fitfully prone to extremes, I also decided to test the usefulness of Groupon on a micro scale. For one full week, I spent money on only Groupon deals. Groupon was, effectively, my sole currency. 

First I implemented a few ground rules: I limited my spending to $200, a number meant to encapsulate all my non-rent/non-recurring-payment expenses, including food, and to be roughly equivalent to what I spend in a normal week. (I did allow myself a few emergency purchases like a subway pass, toilet paper, etc., and loaded up on groceries beforehand.) I could use only newly purchased Groupons, not stockpiled ones, and my goal was to spend them all within the seven-day period. One of the genius/terrible aspects of Groupon, depending on your perspective, is that people often fail to use them before they expire—resulting in a burgeoning secondary market. I wanted to avoid this particular kind of suckerdom.

1_123125_2218862_090529_pep_divider_568
Advertisement

The first day was disappointing. For my area (New York City), my options included a dance performance I had no interest in seeing, a guided tour of D.C. or Philadelphia, a Web-based laundry-pickup service, and a box of local coop organic produce, deliverable by mail. I'd been hoping for something indulgent, and Groupon was literally advising me to eat my vegetables.

Yet I went ahead: I spent $20 for $38.98 worth of greens that, when they arrived a few days later, didn't seem all that seasonal. I also decided to go for the laundry service: Like produce, I normally wouldn't consider getting it delivered, but the Groupon deal (this time, $15 for $30 worth of services) tricked me into thinking I was making up for the convenience surcharge. (In fact, as I realized a few days later after bothering to do some basic math, doing my own laundry and going to the supermarket would have been cheaper.)

On day two I took a bye. Groupon offered me yet another show I didn't want to see, a random deli sandwich far from where I work and where I live, and exercise programs that couldn't be completed during my week of Grouponing. (Here I should note that, in the past, I've gotten excellent deals on otherwise pricy yoga studios. Though I suppose coupon-yoga only works for me because I'm not picky about my "practice.")

The following morning I resisted the very, very brief urge to purchase 14 hours of tarot-card instruction to the tune of $50, stared longingly at a helicopter tour of Manhattan that would have exploded my budget, and instead bought a $10 coupon for $20 worth of lunch at a Thai restaurant in a faraway Brooklyn neighborhood. It may seem pathetic, but a midday, sit-down meal requiring more than an hour away from my desk counts as adventurous, and so later that week (you have to wait a day until your purchases are active) I met a freelance friend for a leisurely lunch. The food was average, the restaurant was empty, and any sense of grandeur I might have felt by treating him was spoiled by the moment when I had to root around in my bag for a crumpled coupon, only to have it momentarily rejected by the waiter because we hadn't spent quite enough.

Still, fairly pleased with the novelty of that experience, I met another work-from-home friend a couple of days later for $15 worth of lunch at an upscale noodle place, purchased for a mere $7. When the waiter figured out that we were using a Groupon, he whisked away the specials menu. Ouch. It seems my dignity can be bought for the low, low price of $8.

I also ventured out one day that week with several officemates to a "nearby" coffee shop—a 20-minute walk each way—where I had a Groupon for $8 worth of lunch. My sandwich was fine, but a 20-minute sandwich ought to be a work of near-art (weird that there's all this talk of an obesity crisis). The whole "time is money" concept hadn't occurred to me when I clicked "purchase," and yet after lunch I rushed back to the office full of anxiety that didn't seem worth the savings.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 16 2014 5:47 PM Tale of Two Fergusons We knew blacks and whites saw Michael Brown’s killing differently. A new poll shows the gulf that divides them is greater than anyone guessed.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.