Over the weekend, I was thinking about the Entertainment Book. If you aren’t familiar with it, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last 30 years. It’s a book that has a lot of coupons, often of the buy one, get one free variety towards, as the name implies, entertainment activities. When I was child (we are going back over 25 years here), my parents would get the book and often use the coupons at restaurants. I was amazed at how a simple $25 purchase seemed to pay for itself in just one or two meals… and we had hundreds, perhaps thousands of coupons that we could use.
It seemed like we easily saved hundreds of dollars a year. Did we really though?
Before I get my answer on that, let’s look at the restaurant’s perspective. The reason why any establishment offers coupons is no big secret, they want to bring in more customers, even at a lower price. Restaurant margins when they get a customer in the door are particularly good, so even the buy one, get one free deals are profitable for them. That’s especially true if they can convince you through their good food and service to come back and pay full price. My eight-year old mind relished in the fact that we were somehow beating the system, getting a deal.
My 35-year old mind, definitely has a different perspective.
It is very easy to look at these coupons as saving money. Both Entertainment Book and Groupon offer discounts that seem rather large – 50% or better. The cost comes in when the deals lure you into buying more than you normally would. Even getting 50% of every restaurant meal adds up with drinks and/or taxes and tip included. It can easily cost $25 for a dinner for two (even if you are trying to save money at restaurants). It might not be as fancy, but cooking at home is just a fraction of the cost. We have to factor that into the big picture of whether we really “save money” with these coupons.
I think my parents had it right. They used the coupon book every 2 or 3 weeks on meals out that we generally would have gone out for anyway. Rather than have one particular “regular” restaurant, we went to new ones. In some ways that bit of mystery of trying a new place added to the adventure. As a child, I wasn’t included into any budget discussions, but it now occurs to me that whether my parents had a formal budget or not, the use of the Entertainment Book was worked into it.
When I look at whether these deals actually save money, I have to measure it in terms of sticking with-in a budget. If you are using the deals to lower your restaurant expenses or stretch that budgeted dollar further then you are saving money. If the deals become an excuse for lifestyle inflation, you may be better off without the temptation.
What do you think? Let me know if the comments below.
Growing up, my parents also used the Entertainment Book. I decided to buy one this year since my girlfriend and I like to try new places. I ended up getting the book for $12 after sale and through a cash back website. Since we only use it for when we were planning on going out in the first place, it only is costing us $12.
If the book was more expensive, I would not have purchased it. Also, since we live close to a major city, there are many restaurants to try. I was concerned at first when I saw a lot of fast food places that had coupons, but eventually found the treasure trove of non-chain restaurants in a different section.
One Frugal Girl says
I bought the Entertainment book a few years ago and found myself trying to go out more just to use the coupons. Before buying the book I’d think, “I have food in the fridge to make lunch.” After buying the book I’d think “I might as well pick up a sub on my way home, after all I get two for the price of one.” I spent much more because of this type of thinking and decided not to purchase the book again.
Lazy Man says
Thanks One Frugal Girl. That’s the kind of thinking that I believe I would do as well. It makes me think that we are better off resisting temptation.
Albie D @TalkingCents says
My parents would buy one of those books every year, then struggle to use the coupons. Similar to OneFrugalGirl. In my experience, the book is only worthwhile for people who would be making the purchases anyway; people who frequent area restaurants, etc. Same thing goes for groupon or any other deal/sale. If you can stick to purchases that you would have made anyway, then it’s money well spent. Otherwise, you’re spending money that you never intended to spend before you had the coupon. It’s a false sense of savings.
used to buy the entertainment book in new york. just hte mcdonalds/burger king coupons paid for the book [i had 2 small kids back then] we used the other coupons IF we were goin anyway: the circus, the ice skating shows, museum discounts. we rarely used the restaurant coupons. even now with coupon/living social et al, i only buy them if i’m planning to try a new place. i don’t use them for local shops i already frequent. i might save $5-10, but i’d rather spend a little more and support a local merchant. example: a pottery place has a $20 for 10. they also have $5 coupons in the store. i’d rather use one of their $5 coupons, give them $15 than spend $10 and they get only $5 out of the transaction.
I often buy the Entertainment book and the occasional Groupon and it’s competitors in the prepaid deals space (they are not really coupons because you’ve already paid). However I wonder if the time and mental energy I spend on them is worth it for the amount of money we save. For instance, I buy maybe a dozen prepaid deals per year, yet I look at maybe a dozen a day in my feed reader, and email my spouse perhaps a dozen times a month. It seems like a rather low hit rate for all the effort. At least I’m not wasting money on top of it, though.