I was having a quick lunch with a few of my closest friends a few weeks ago when the conversation wound around to the topic of Groupon.
I'm sure that by now, most of you are aware that Groupon isn't some kind of 1970s lingo for a swingin' good time. The social buying service has been around since 2008, and it's become a popular method of local advertising and deal hunting for today's cash-strapped consumer.
But for you nifty neophytes, the basic premise is that a business will agree to give a deeply discounted price on a service or product in exchange for a guarantee that a certain volume of that product or service will be purchased.
For example, today's deal was a 50% discount on carpet cleaning from a local service company, but only if at least 50 people bought the deal. As of this writing, they had sold 257 of the deals.
So you can see that for the savvy shopper, you can save a lot of money on some useful and neat stuff.
Except, there's a bit of a flaw in this plan, at least for me.
The first (and only... so far) time I bought a Groupon deal was when a new bakery in my neighborhood advertised a special. Natasha's Mulberry & Mott (which is fantastic, by the way) was selling $10 worth of pastries, coffee, ice cream or whatever for only $5. You could buy three of the Groupon's for a total outlay of $15 for thirty bucks worth of fancy pants breakfast.
Which is what I did. And apparently a lot of other people thought this was a great deal as well since they sold 1,451 of this particular Groupon. A little quick math puts the total take for Natasha's at a cool $7,255 American in just a few hours.
It was a few weeks before I made it down to the bakery to cash in on my deal. I printed out the receipt and stopped by on my way to work one morning. When I opened the door, there were about half a dozen people queued up in front of me.
And here's the thing: They all — every last one of them — were holding the same kind of Groupon receipt that I had. When I first noticed this, I kind of smiled ironically to myself. "Heh, we're all cheap bastards aren't we?"
But as I waited in line and watched everyone peruse the bill of fare, make their choices trying to get as close a possible to the $10 spending limit and then watch the harried woman at the check-out counter perform acts of mathematical heroism to get any additional money owed by the patrons, I just became more and more uncomfortable with my own cheapness.
After all, I don't need $10 worth of pastries. I don't even need $5 worth. Truth be told, my doctor would prefer I eat a bowl of oatmeal or an apple for breakfast.
And dire as the financial times are, I don't really need to save $5 on the pastries that I shouldn't really be eating in the first place. Don't get me wrong, we're not rolling in caviar and champagne. But we're gainfully employed and sticking to our financial plan, so if I wanted to drop a Hamilton on some expensive coffee and croissants it's not going to break the bank.
When it comes down to it, the only reason I bought the Groupon in the first place was because I could get for $15 something that I perceived to be worth $30. It was like getting free money.
But as I had time to stand there and stew in my guilt, I realized that another way to look at it was that I only bought the Groupon to screw the owners out of $15 worth of food (food that I don't particularly need).
When it was my turn at the counter, I ordered the items I'd been considering while waiting. Then I deliberately ordered a little bit more so that I ended up paying more than the five-dollar bottom line on my Groupon coupon, just to prove that it's not all about getting free stuff for me.
I've still go two more to cash in, and I'm sure I'll do it before they expire in January.
But the guilt will probably kill me.
tagged: Groupon, bargains, shopping, Natasha's, pastry, cheap, guilt