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Daily deal or dud?

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Daily deal vouchers offer some of the highest discounts on entertainment, personal care and household goods. But if you don’t take the time to know what’s not included in your deal, it could end up being a dud.

On a recent Thursday evening, I wanted to use my daily deal voucher that I had purchased a year before for $25. The deal would allow me to eat $50 at a southern cuisine restaurant. I had less than seven hours to redeem the coupon that was set to expire, but I made it just in time. And was I ever glad that I did not forfeit my deal — or money.

Twenty-five dollars may not seem a lot of money, but I hate when a deal becomes a dud. And, while I am not an extreme couponer, I frequently use coupons, and have found daily deals to offer some of the highest discounts on things for myself and my family.

Here are some money-saving strategies to consider before buying — or using — any daily deal.

Know your savings threshold. I like a bargain, and I want a deep discount. So, for me, getting offered 10 percent off is a deal breaker — it’s not enough savings to justify the purchase. Now, offer me 30 percent off or more, and I may agree that the “deal” is worth having. Recent offers I spotted included a discount of 51 percent off on an item — now that’s a deal.

Keep your head. For some, daily deals are the epitome of impulse shopping, an activity that can wreak havoc on a family’s budget. So, consider your budget when taking advantage of any deal. The more you save, the better the chance your budget will be able to stand the purchase.

Know what’s not covered. Despite the heat of the moment, take time to read all details to avoid buying something with more restrictions than you anticipated. For instance, I purchased my recent restaurant daily deal in hopes of enjoying a workday lunch, only to discover once the coupon arrived via e-mail that it only covered dinner. How disappointing. Some restaurant daily deals exclude tip and beverages (especially alcoholic beverages), while some travel deals exclude taxes and resort fees. If you anticipate not having money for the extras, consider passing on that deal.

Stick to preferences. I love dining out, and getting a good deal on a nice restaurant. Since the economy slumped, I’ve been able to continue doing so — sporadically — by getting deals at upscale restaurants. You, too, will enjoy a deal more when it offers savings on something you and your family really needs — or wants — such as family entertainment daily deals to local restaurants, attractions, or events.

Comparison shop. For restaurants, it is important to know how much a regular meal costs. For products, knowing the regular price helps ascertain if you’re being offered a deal or dud. When I saw an offer for a George Foreman grill, I immediately surfed online to see if it was a good deal. It was so-so; I could get it for the same price in some venues, and slightly higher in others. I skipped the deal, but was able to shop later that month with confidence at my local Walmart, which had the same item for the same price of the supposed deal.

Know the locale. I haven’t purchased a deal for a vacation yet, but I hope to. What’s stopped me? One of my preferred destinations is New York City. Because I’m a native New Yorker, I can easily ascertain whether a “quaint hotel” is really a gussied-up dump, and whether the transportation (air or rail) is really a deal or dud. For any deal, do the math to see if you will actually save money by visiting websites like Travelocity.com, or bing.com, or ground transportation providers like Amtrak or Greyhound.

Also, consider the reputation of any seller or provider. When in doubt, ask family, friends or co-workers about their experiences with that seller or provider, or check out any print or online product or service reviews.

Buy now … or later? Ascertain how many hours or days you have to act on an offer. I’ve noticed that some daily deals repeat themselves, especially hot deals for popular restaurants, beauty packages, and last-minute vacation packages. So, you may have another opportunity even if you miss a deal.

Stick to deal limits. I confess, I went over budget and actually ended up paying another $28 for food the night I redeemed my restaurant daily deal. But, here’s why: I bought a $21 ribs dinner to take home to my son, and spent another $7 on two coffees. Since I hadn’t checked out the menu before arriving, I had no clue that a cup of coffee would cost $3.50! The good news? Without my son’s meal and the coffee, my meal would have been just $49, a dollar shy of the $50 daily deal limit.

Stay informed. These days, there are more daily deal options than ever. I’ve found daily deals online (my recent restaurant purchase was from Groupon.com), in my local commuter paper, and from recommendations from family and friends. Where possible, sign up for email alerts.

Split the costs. Save even more on a daily deal by sharing the costs. For example, had I originally split the cost of my restaurant daily deal with someone else, we each would have only paid $12.50 — way below the average cost of that restaurant’s dinner entrees. Keep in mind that only one card (some vendors allow debit card purchases) can be charged at the time of purchase, so determine whose card will be used.

My recent experience was clearly a deal — not a dud — despite the nice, but slow, wait service. I enjoyed scrumptious, succulent catfish with a side of macaroni and cheese and sweet potato fries. My sister, Carla, munched on succulent, “to-die-for” lamb chops with a side of potatoes and kale. My son, too, raved about his ribs meal — while complaining between bites that it did not fit with his wrestling team dietary restrictions. A few days later, when Carla asked, “So where are we going next?” I quipped, “Wherever you find a deal!”

Lisa A. Crayton is a freelance writer who can be reached at lacrayton@yahoo.com, or through her website, www.LisaCrayton.com.

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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