WCL: The Frugalista Carrie Kirby

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ChicagoShopping.com's Carrie Kirby gives us some cool Chicago deals websites and tips on how to get the most out of the deals!

I. By now most people are familiar with Groupon and Living Social, the two main sites that short-lived steep discounts -- usually around half off -- on local businesses. Once you've tried Groupon or Living Social and realized that these savings are for real, you might be ready to move on to some of the other daily deal sites out there:

A. Family deals

Living Social recently started offering a special deal each day just for Chicago families, and they're not the only ones. I like to check the Chicago deal each day on these other family deal sites:


Or, for the non-human members of your family:

B. Ultra local deals

In a big metro area like Chicago, there are a lot of Groupon deals I pass on just because the business is an hour's drive from my home. But one site called Gleeday has deals specifically for Oak Park/River Forest, or you can select other suburbs. The Got Spot offers deals for the Northern or Western suburbs. At the same time, the big sites are becoming ever narrower in their geographical scope, too. Groupon is now personalizing deals based on zip code, among other factors, and on Living Social you can now choose to subscribe only to deals in the Western suburbs, or even just family deals in the Western suburbs.


C. Other general purpose deal sites

If you're hungry for more daily deals, there are lots of other sites offering them besides Groupon and Living Social. Here are a few more I like to check:


II. Keeping track of all these deals

If you do what I did and subscribe to the email lists of a whole bunch of daily deal sites, opening each of those emails starts to take up too much time. There are easier ways:

A. Deal aggregators put a whole bunch of deals on one page.

8coupons.com presents daily deals on a map.
DealRadar lists the offers by category. www.dealradar.com/chicago

B. Blogs, Facebook and Twitter let you know about just the really good ones

I post a few Chicago deals most days at my blog, Frugalista. I also read other Chicago-area bargain blogs, like Mashup Mom, where I sometimes get tipped off to daily deals I hadn't noticed. And I follow other bargain hunters on Twitter and Facebook who will get out the word when there's a really hot one.

Follow me on Twitter @carriekirby

III. Getting deals for free

Because all these daily deal sites are in such intense competition for subscribers to add to their mailing lists, it's surprisingly easy right now to rack up credits on these sites that you can use to buy their deals without spending any real money. All you have to do is get your friends to buy a deal, which is not nearly as icky as it sounds. With social media, it's really easy and low-pressure. Here's how it works:

1. You sign up for the deal site and get a personalized, affiliate link
2. When they offer a deal you know your friends or neighbors would want, you just post your affiliate link on Facebook with a comment letting people know about it. 3. If anyone clicks through you, signs up, and buys, you get a credit -- $10 on Groupon, $5 for Living Social. Living Social has another option where, once you buy a deal, you get it free if you can get three friends to buy it as well. This could be a really good deal for their more expensive offers.

IV. Tips for buying and using daily deals

I've bought a lot of daily deals over the past two years, and I've made a lot of mistakes that I've learned from.

A. Wait a week or more before using your voucher -- but not too long. When a popular Groupon goes out, a restaurant or salon could get mobbed at first. Then, during the last few weeks before it expires, you could again have trouble getting in. Wait awhile for the business to get its equillibrium back before you redeem your voucher.

B. Map the location and ask yourself if the distance is really worth the drive -- especially with gas at $4 a gallon -- before you hit the "buy" button. Unfortunately, I have bought vouchers for massages that I never used because the salons were too far and, with three kids, I couldn't get away long enough to drive there and back.

C. Always tip on the full cost. Your server or beautician doesn't deserve a short tip just because their bosses did a Groupon.

D. Expect restrictions. I hate this, but it often happens that businesses will restrict the use of the coupon to full-price items only. Sometimes there's a warning about this on the original offer, sometimes not. Sometimes it's actually a better deal to take advantage of a dinner special or a retail sale, and keep your coupon in your pocket for another visit.

E. Don't throw away that expired coupon. Groupon has a policy that once the expiration date passes, the voucher you bought still has value -- the original amount you paid for it. So if you pay $50 for a $100 massage Groupon, and it expires, you still have a $50 credit. Some other daily deal sites also do this, while others don't. Either way, if the expiration date is nearing, it pays to call the business and ask if they can help you out. I had one salon tell me my certificate was fine as long as I made the reservation before it expired, and another tell me that they were extending their Groupon offer for a month.