Falling Out of Love With Online Deals

Dollars & Sense on 07.24.12
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Photo Credit: Diloz/Creative Commons

Thanks to online deal websites like Groupon and Living Social, I've been massaged, waxed and spray-tanned (for twelve dollars!). My kids have also benefited from my obsession with online deals. We've tried yoga, music, hip hop and violin lessons.

I fit solidly into the online deal demographic. I am an educated white female who spends a lot of time online and considers herself a "savvy shopper." I love the idea of joining together with consumers across the country to drive a retailer to offer a deep discount. Watching the deal "tip" -- as Groupon says -- feels powerful. 

Experts say the Groupon/Living Social business model makes sense in a recession because salons have empty seats, and if you like their product you might come back and pay full-price. It's also a great opportunity for cash-strapped moms like me to try out services they couldn't normally afford. 

But not all of my online deals have been worth it. I bought a deal for three Brazilian waxes for $40 before bathing suit season. What a steal! Before this, I'd only tried a few bikini waxes and assumed it would be easy enough to ask the salon technician to downgrade from Brazilian to bikini. It wasn't. 

My Eastern European waxing technician, whom I'll call Olga, described what she saw in my nether-region as "a very serious problem."  I hadn't shaved before my appointment because, well, it was a rough winter.  Olga said I was not taking good care of myself for my husband. I know I should sleep more, eat less junk food, and take more time out to exercise, but wax? I tried to remind Olga that I only wanted a bikini wax, but she forged on, with my legs wrapped around her neck to stop me from kicking her. The worst part about the story was not the horrible red bumps that appeared the next day or the way they itched and burned. The worst part was that I forced myself to go back to Olga to use the other two waxes before they expired.

Somewhere in between my initial skepticism that the deals were real, to which my mother still clings, saying, "Come on, you know something fishy is going on when they are practically giving the haircuts away," and my exuberance to try new things, something went wrong. 

Online shopping turned less fun.  Part of this could have been our overall tightening of household finances; a class I usually teach got cancelled.  But whatever the reason, I grew more serious about my deals, fretting about expiration dates and unused classes.  I made a chart of all the deals I'd bought and taped it above my computer screen.  Then I proceeded to badger my then 12-year-old stepdaughter, Ava, about her remaining three ballroom dancing classes, which she loathed. Next I forced my then 4-year-old daughter, Maia, to go back to an animal music playgroup where there were no animals, just a hipster girl playing the guitar and nannies with babies swaying in a circle. 

After the second class, Maia and I ducked into Starbucks for a snack.  "Only three more to go," I said, glassy-eyed and sad. 

"Mum," Maia huffed.  "Why do I have to go back if I hate it?  You said it was just to try." 

My first reaction was to say that finishing was part of the deal. We weren't quitters, damn it. Then I realized how crazy this sounded and how, in this case, my little girl sounded so logical. So I agreed we could stop dragging ourselves to animal music. I do not want my daughters to lose their sense of adventure or, in the years to come, to feel pressured to endure horrible waxing ordeals for the sake of a husband or a deal.

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