Are vouchers and "hot" deals really worth your time?
If you’re watching your spending these days – and who isn’t? – you probably use any number of “price modifiers”, which are practices and promotions that theoretically reduce the price you pay for things. Vouchers and web promo codes are perhaps the most popular, as witnessed on HUKD. They may or may not be worth your time. Consider these points:
1. Vouchers are pickier now than ever. Remember the good old days when you could find a coupon for a discount of 50p fair and square? Today it’s more like you get 25p off as long as you buy two of the item in question along with a pound of parsnips and as long as you use a related coupon for cod liver oil and the moon is in Capricorn. By the time you’ve read through all the steps required to redeem the voucher, you’ve probably decided it isn’t worth it. But the brand may be stuck in your head just the same. Result: you see the item at the market, and you’re tempted … Not much savings there.
2. Cashback programs are good as long as you don’t need the cash back immediately, and as long as the sites aren’t inflating prices up front to cover all or part of the cash back bonus.
3. Rebates: were they invented by Satan? With the exception of instant cash register rebates, you have to go to some effort to get a rebate. Make sure the effort is worth your time. I once carefully bought bag after bag of a certain brand of cat food and dutifully clipped out the UPC codes and saved the receipts in order to get a rebate. My rebate form was ultimately refused on the grounds that some of the bags of cat food whose UPCs I sent in were 4 lb. “bonus sized” bags instead of the usual 3 lb. bags. So ultimately, I was punished for buying more cat food than the rebate required. Instant rebates given right at the register, however: those totally rock, especially if you weren’t expecting them.
4. What does "Free Shipping" really mean? It probably means that you’re paying a premium on the item to cover the “free” shipping. But with some sites, you get free shipping on orders that go over a certain amount. If you’re only a quid or two shy, it may be worth your while to add an inexpensive “filler” item that you’ll actually use in order to get free shipping. There are sites that actually help you do this. There is a Firefox extension that can do this, too.
5. Some modifiers end up not meaning much at all, like discounts on airline tickets that are immediately eaten up by whatever new surcharge the airline has come up with since the last time you flew.
6. One way to determine if a price modifier is “worth it” is to estimate the time it takes you to use it. Will you spend 15 minutes online in order to save less than £1 on an item you don’t normally buy anyway? How much do you make per hour? If you know what an hour of your time is worth, you can easily determine if the effort would be better spent doing something else, like going on a bike ride or ringing up a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. You know, things that don’t involve shopping.