In Holiday Guide

There are plenty of great deals to be had online, but it's easy to lose money, too.

Get the most out of your Groupon

For many households, Christmas time can create a budget nightmare. Gifts, parties and traveling are a serious drain on finances, and December means that most people have to trim their expenditures along with their trees.

In a dismal economy, money-saving sites like Groupon and Living Social can seem like a lifesaver – especially around the holidays, when finding space for entertainment and dining can seem increasingly difficult.

But experts warn that there can be too much of a good thing.

"The popularity of daily deal sites like Living Social and Groupon has yielded huge benefits. Consumers receive massive savings on everything from dining out to teeth whitening – yet with the positive comes the negative," says money-saving expert and consumer analyst Andrea Woroch, who tells that what she calls the "troubling trend" of daily deal addiction is on the rise.

Consumer finance advocate and author of "Bounce Back From Bankruptcy" Paula Ryan agrees.

"It's not only the ease and privacy of online shopping, but it's the added prestige of limited numbers of items offered and deadlines to take advantage of the offers," she says. "It's extremely similar to what we saw with people when QVC and Home Shopping Network came into being."

We all know someone who has bought an online deal that ended up costing them more than it was supposedly valued at – or more likely, we have done so ourselves. Especially in the case of restaurants, after factoring in gas, parking and a tip, it's hard to actually save money, in the end.

The fact is, there are definitely savings to be found in the daily deals. But in order to take advantage of them, the consumer needs to be discerning, restrained and smart. Here are some tips from the experts on how to get the most bang for your daily deal buck.

Make a budget

"Every time I use a certificate, I spend way more than the required minimum," says Whitefish Bay resident and local real estate agent Mary Ritter Zaharias. Her niece, Kathleen Kirchner of Menomonee Falls, agrees.

"I've been known to spend a little more than the requisite $14 at La Chimenea when I have a Groupon," she said. "You tend to get lulled into 'Oh! I have a coupon! I'll have another drink!'"

Don't be passive about your spending, says Woroch.

"Daily deal purchases should be treated like any other expense and incorporated into your monthly budget," she says. "Consider the activities on which you spend the majority of your discretionary income, and search for deals accordingly." She also recommends splitting the cost with friends to increase your savings.

Be sure that you are actually saving money instead of spending more than you would because you were dazzled by the deal.

"You want to make sure you're not overspending," says Ryan. "If you've got $100 a month in your dining-out budget, you can stretch that to $200 or more, if you use Groupons – but make sure you stay within the $100 you set for yourself."

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