the happiness project

30 Days at a Time project: How to live off of daily deals for an entire month

30 Days at a Time project: How to live off of daily deals for an entire month

Austin Photo Set_News_Veronica Castelo_Grupo Fantasma  Concert_September 2011
Austin dances at CultureMap's free concert at the Long Center Kevin Benz
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_living on less money_October 2011_acl
Author Shelley Seale and Keith Hajovsky attend the ACL Music Festival on a discount. Photo by Shelley Seale
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_living on less money_October 2011_cooking class
Author Shelley Seale (right) with Keith Hajovsky and Jam Sanitchat of Thai Fresh after a cooking class. Photo by Shelley Seale
Austin Photo Set_News_Veronica Castelo_Grupo Fantasma  Concert_September 2011
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_living on less money_October 2011_acl
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_living on less money_October 2011_cooking class

Has the economy got you down? Finding it hard to afford those $50 haircuts and dinners out? Cranky from foregoing massages and high-priced, exciting events?

Me, too. But I've got a little secret to share: It's not that hard to live well for less money—in fact, a lot less money. With a little creativity and planning, and armed with email subscriptions to a number of discount websites, you can get all of these things and more at savings of 40, 50, even 80 percent.
 
I know, because I did it. As part of my 30 Days at a Time project, where I take on a new lifestyle experiment every month in 2011, I recently completed 30 days of living on a discount. I figured if a guy like Josh Stevens could live off Groupon for an entire year, I could do it for a month. And you know what? It wasn't that hard. Due to the wonders of modern technology, all it took was a couple of hours of setting things up, and I was rocking and rolling with paying way-less-than-retail all month long. 
 
For my particular project, my rules were that I exempted certain fixed, non-negotiable expenses such as rent, utilities, insurance, gasoline and groceries. For everything else, I could only buy something if I was getting a discount of at least 30 percent—that included eating out, shopping, gifts, happy hour, recreation, activities, salon services and more.
 
And even though I exempted groceries because you're not always able to use a discount or coupon, I was still able to save money many times at farmers markets or the grocery store. I was even able to score tickets to the ACL Festival for more than half off!
 

Here's how I did it.

Part 1: Sign up for the Deals

This is the most time consuming part, but I'll let you ride the coattails of my previous research. I had already used, pretty regularly, services like Groupon which offer amazing deals at 20-80 percent savings off retail. All I had to do was find as many similar types of services as I could, and sign up for their email lists so that I could get daily notifications of what deals were out there. Many of them also have smartphone apps, making it even easier to scout the discount. Here are the major ones that I used:

And to keep up with them all, a handy service called YipIt.com will track and email you an aggregated list of all the daily deal sites. If you don't want to receive emails from so many sites, I would recommend installing the phone app for several of the big ones and then subscribing to YipIt.

Part Two: Watch for deals you want and will use regularly

I had a two-pronged approach toward using my deals, which was very effective. First of all, when I would see deals that I knew I would use, I would buy them on the spot. Discounts for my favorite restaurants or ones I wanted to try, for the massage I felt overdue to get, movie tickets, oil changes for my car.

The second approach was to look for and buy a deal after I had something in mind I wanted to do. Throwing a baby shower? Why, there's a half-off cupcake bakery offer. Looking for a new yoga studio to check out? Yes, there's several of those too. This was surprisingly easy to do. For example, one weekend my boyfriend had booked us in a Hill Country retreat outside Spicewood for the night, for a little relaxation getaway. Because I was bound by the parameters of my experiment, if I wanted to contribute anything such as treating him to dinner, I had to find something that fell within the deal guidelines. I got onto the Restaurant.com website and sure enough, found $25 gift certificate for a restaurant in Spicewood that I paid $2 for. Ca-ching!
 
Some technologies make this a lot easier than others. For example, Groupon has a service called Now! Deals, where you can find all sorts of deals that are available to use that day, usually within three to six hours. From restaurants to shopping, spa services, museum tickets, local tours, golf lessons, smoothies and coffee shops, dozens of special deals are available. Rather than buying up front, you just buy it when you want it for that day and can even buy it on the spot just before you use it. In fact, if you buy a Now! Deal that for some reason you don't end up using before it expires that day, Groupon will automatically refund your money.
 
Scoutmob is another service I used a lot for last-minute deals. You don't buy anything directly from Scoutmob; rather, they have an ongoing offer of many 50 percent off certificates to restaurants and food trailers around town. Just pull it up on your mobile device when you're ready to use it!
 

I used these methods to buy a lot of fabulous things during my discount month. In addition to fantastic meals, I scored the ACL one-day tickets by using a KGB Deal for 50 percent off event tickets through SuperStar Tickets, and then signed up for a trial there to get another $25 rebate. Total net cost for the Sunday ACL pass was $26 including shipping - a savings of two-thirds.

Part Three: Take advantage of local free and low-cost offerings

Not everything has to come from a coupon or discount deal, however. When you're paying attention, you'd be surprised at how many free and low-cost things there are to do around town. One night, my boyfriend and I took advantage of a free Grupo Fantasma concert at the Long Center, co-hosted by your very own CultureMap. We also enjoyed the thrilling and innovative Trash Project performance created by Forklift Danceworks, also presented for free (we did make a donation to the worthy organization at the event).

 
I won two free tickets to a preview movie screening of The Debt from the Austin Chronicle, and took my nephews to see a free movie at Alamo Drafthouse courtesy of the Alamo kids club that offers free summer movie screenings. I enjoyed several yoga classes during Austin's semi-annual Free Day of Yoga on Labor Day. We were even able to participate in a fantastic cooking class at Thai Fresh, through the Sustainable Food Center foodie group. Tickets were $35 through SFC, a savings of nearly half of what classes at Thai Fresh regularly go for.
 
Here are a few resources that can help you find such awesome local offerings:
So why pay retail? You can live large for much less.