Yet another frugal travel hack.

I just bought $40 worth of Mexican food for the equivalent of $16.92. Or rather, I’ve arranged to buy the food in January, when I visit my daughter and son-in-law in Phoenix.

I’ve written before about social buying – the art of getting deep discounts on products and services through the power of bulk buying. In this case it’s $20 gift vouchers to a Scottsdale restaurant for $10 apiece.

Companies like Groupon and Living Social make daily deals available both at hot new businesses and well-established joints that you already love.

There’s no cost to join – and it sure is fun to spend considerably less on:


  • Something you were going to buy anyway (new glasses, a yoga class, your kid’s senior picture)
  • An interesting gift: indoor skydiving (honest!), a rock-climbing class, a Segway tour of the city
  • A gift that pampers (auto detailing, maid service, maid service, wine-tasting)
  • A restaurant you always meant to try, or a new one that sounds intriguing
  • Cultural or touristy stuff – either for yourself or to entertain visiting relatives
  • Massage (I’ve paid as little as $35 for an hour’s worth) or some other indulgence

Now I’ve got a new application for social buying. It’s a two-step process.

First: When planning a vacation, join at least one social buying network in that city as soon as you’ve bought your plane ticket. You’ll start getting e-mails about food, tourist attractions and services in the area that will make your trip cheaper and maybe even more adventurous.

Second: Whenever possible buy the vouchers through a cash-back shopping site. Here’s how that worked for me:

  • The restaurant vouchers were offered through Buy With Me.
  • I signed in to my Mr. Rebates account, clicked on “Buy With Me” and was sent to the site.
  • A code good for 10% off popped up, so I actually paid $9 per voucher (the code was “hall10” – dunno if it still works).
  • I’ll be getting $1.08 back from Mr. Rebates.

You won’t find every social buying group at cash-back sites. For example, Mr. Rebates and another site, Ebates, both have Groupon and Buy With Me but not Living Social or Tippr; FatWallet has Groupon and Tippr but not Buy With Me.


A few more caveats

If you buy too far in advance, there’s always the possibility that the nice spa or the trendy new restaurant will have gone out of business. Should that be the case, your credit card company might refund the purchase price based on the fact that you never got what you bought.

I’d also be cautious about buying services such as massages or pedicures because you might not be able to get an appointment during your stay. In fact, I’m just paranoid enough to call a service before I buy, make the appointment and then buy the voucher.

There’s a slight chance that a deal won’t go through; if there aren’t enough buyers, it’s canceled. But it’s extremely unlikely that there won’t be sufficient interest in a deal like “one-hour massage for $29” (which I’m about to buy here in Seattle).

And if a deal did fall through? I’d just call the service provider and cancel my appointment.


Our frugal feast

Be sure to read the fine print – which may be helpfully listed under a section called “The Fine Print” – to see if any restrictions apply. This time I was pleasantly surprised to see that the fine print worked in my favor: It stipulated that I could use one voucher per person per visit.

That’s why I bought two $20 vouchers instead of one. Among the three of us we ought to be able to eat $40 worth, especially if we start with the queso and finish with the deep-fried ice cream. Dinner out for three will cost $16.92 plus tax plus tip (based on what it would have cost, of course).

Admit it: You know you’d like to have a one-hour massage or some tacos de lengua. So stretch your vacation and at-home dollars alike with social buying.

And if you haven’t signed up for any of these cash-back or social-buying sites? E-mail me at SurvivingAndThriving@live.com and I’ll send you referral links.

You get hot deals. I get a social-buying credit or a li’l fee based on a percentage of your cash-back deals. Win-win.

Enjoy those tongue tacos. Myself, I’m holding out for the indoor skydiving.

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  1. I am a HUGE fan of collective buying websites. While you definitely want to read the fine print and certainly don’t want to start buying items and services outside of your budget, they are perfect for items you planned to buy anyway. I use them for spa visits, house cleanings and restaurants. I had no idea Ebates was offering cash back on sites like Groupon and Buy With Me. You made my day!

    • Donna Freedman

      @One Frugal Girl: I was excited to learn that, too. And if you don’t belong to Mr. Rebates, they offer it too…I also just got 30% off an Entertainment Book ($9.60!) through Mr. Rebates.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  2. Run, do not walk to groupon for 40 at thebody shop for 20.00, LOL. that and the Gap deal are my favorite as well, although I get lots of restaurant coupons too

  3. Phoenix! January! Keep me posted!

    • Donna Freedman

      Heather: I’ll be there in the second week. If you haven’t heard from me by Jan. 7 or so, shoot an e-mail to SurvivingAndThriving (at) live (dot) com. Maybe we can do a PF meet-up; several others live there, too.

  4. Kristina

    I’ve been doing that same thing for a couple of years now. I went on vaca to Albuquerque in early december and got a speciality coffee for $2.00 during the luminary festival, specials at the zoo, movie tickets, a couple of dinners, etc. For those who have not done it, try it! Wonderful stuff can be found where you are.

  5. Nickel

    so when a GROUPON expires, do you notify GROUPON, your credit card company, who ???? and I see it disappears off my GROUPONS PURCHASED screen after the expiration date has passed even if I haven’t used them…. what’s the secret to getting a refund on my purchase price? many thanks…. I enjoy the blog

    • Donna Freedman

      @Nickel: Here’s some info I found online that should help. It’s from http://www.dealsdaily.info/daily-deal-sites-policies-on-expired-vouchers:
      “Both Groupon and LivingSocial have generous refund policies in place. Groupon says that if your voucher expires you are still entitled to the price you paid. The expiration date on the voucher only applies to the deal part of the offer, so if you paid $20 for a voucher, the merchant is responsible for giving you $20 in services or merchandise. Groupon’s terms of sale goes on to say:
      “If you have gone to the Merchant and the Merchant has refused to redeem the cash value of your expired Voucher, and if applicable law entitles you to such redemption, then please contact Groupon [and clarify your situation in writing] and Groupon will refund the purchase price of the Voucher in either U.S. Dollars or credit for buys of future Vouchers from Groupon (presently known as ‘Gs’).”
      Thanks for reading Surviving and Thriving.


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