Monday, October 23, 2006

Eating Out with A Coupon: Mixed Savings

It was a modest meal to celebrate a small family occasion. To defray costs, my husband and I tapped into -- an online vendor of restaurant coupons -- to check out local discounts.

My test run provided insights about how we often mindlessly spend money when using gift certificates, coupons and other promotions. We saved plenty, but we also overspent during our recent dining trip. I plan to apply those lessons to other areas of spending.

On the positive side, I was quite pleased with the savings and dining options offered by Our order was specific: My husband and I sought a kosher, vegetarian restaurant in South Beach and we found an excellent choice. For a fee of $10, we purchased a $25-off gift certificate, based on a minimum food purchase of $35.

Net savings: $15.

The online registration and purchase procedures were painless. The service accepts standard credit and debit cards or PayPal, a secure online financial service affiliated with eBay. Our gift certificate, with a coded confirmation number, arrived within minutes via e-mail.

The restaurant graciously accepted the coupon. Another diner -- who received a $25 dining certificate as a birthday gift -- also had a pleasant bill-paying experience.

The food was great; the service was fine. But we would have saved more if we had followed our usual dining-out procedures: Order sensibly and avoid expensive beverages. (At $2 to $3 per serving, a round of drinks can easily exceed the cost of an entree or salad).

Lured by the prospect of free dollars, we deviated from our habits and followed the advice touted on the gift certificate: ''Try a new entree! Order dessert!'' (Translation: Spend! Spend! Spend!). As a result, we ordered extra food because we mistakenly viewed every dollar as a gift.

Excluding the tip, our dining total was roughly $50, or just $25 after applying the coupon.

But a little voice in my head argues that if we had not ordered so many extra items, we could have eaten our cake and saved roughly $15 to $20.

But it's not the money, it's the process. Lavish spending often leads to more extravagance. I packed that lesson into the doggy bag that we carried home.

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