Where do you go when you need a bargain on 20 units of Botox, or some half-price tapas, or a cheap spinal adjustment?
Here's how they work. Thrifty folks, craving ways to save money and still enjoy life, buy coupons on a whim while a clock counts down. They pay up front for a voucher and redeem it for discounts at businesses ranging from chains like Nordstrom Rack to small operations like Bob's Pizza.
The group savings websites get a cut of what you pay. The businesses buy in because they hope customers will discover a gem and return.
The concept of group savings is on our minds more than ever, partly due to attention from Groupon's controversial 2011 Super Bowl commercial teasing the plight of Tibet. The websites also get a lot of free advertising from social media. People tweet deals, post them on Facebook, e-mail them to friends.
It can be overwhelming to navigate the offers. It can be nerve-wracking to know if you got a good deal, or if you caved to pressure and sunk $25 into an underwater basket weaving lesson.
"I haven't paid full price for a haircut in a year thanks to these sites," she said. "And I've been going to high-end salons."
But you still have to be wise. Madhok offered some tips to ensure you get the most out of your group savings experience.
• Look at the expiration date of the coupon. "Are you going to be able to use it by the time it expires?" Madhok said. "Some are a year and some are a month."
• Make sure the business offering services is reputable. Before you buy, do a quick online search to find reviews, recommendations and complaints. Madhok almost bought a voucher for a massage before reading Web chatter from people who left the same facility grossed out by the conditions. "It's not a deal if it's a place that's not going to make you happy," said Madhok.
• Pay the same attention to the integrity of the coupon company. Will they refund your money if a place goes out of business? Or will they just offer you website credits?
• Read the fine print. Some vouchers can't be combined with other discounts, so if your cruise to the Bahamas was already on sale, your coupon might be worthless. Occasionally, businesses already offer better deals than the one that just arrived in your inbox.
• Make sure the business won't be so overwhelmed by traffic from the special offer that they can't make time to dye your hair or offer you a table for dinner.
• If all those e-mails get out of hand, try a site that herds the offers into a single page, like dealery.com or yipit.com. Madhok also compiles them on her own sites. Or route your sale e-mails into a separate folder. Review them on your lunch break when your head is clear and you can confidently decide if you need that half-price laser hair removal.