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.
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
The Democrats’ War at Home
How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?
Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best
Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke
A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking
Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10
Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.
How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.
You Deserve a Pre-cation
The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.