When my son turns 12 in August, he wants to take a few of his friends paintballing for his party. A couple of weeks ago, there was a deal site that offered a good deal at a nearby paintball site, one that will save us a significant amount of money. Before we bought the discount coupon, however, we not only read the fine print, but we also called the establishment to make sure we were reading the fine print correctly.

Not reading the fine print for restrictions is a problem for deal website users. Another problem seems to be that some establishments are putting restrictions on the use of the deal coupons that aren’t spelled out. ABC Action News in Tampa, Fla., interviewed some consumers who were not happy with the restrictions placed on Groupons they had bought.

After being an active Groupon user for more than a year now, as well as a user of several other deal sites, I’ve come up with some rules that coupon buyers should follow to avoid the downfalls that both the consumer and the business can experience.

  1. Wait a few hours between reading the deal and purchasing the deal. Chances are, you get the deals delivered to your inbox first thing every morning. Probably three-quarters of the email that arrives between when I go to bed and wake up are from deal sites. Usually, you have an entire day to purchase the deal. Unless there are limited quantities of a deal that’s for something you already intended on purchasing, relax. Give yourself time to decide if you want it.
  2. Read all the fine print. Every last inch of it.
  3. Take note of expiration dates. Some deals don’t expire. Some have a short shelf life. If you don’t know if you can use the deal before the expiration date arrives, don’t buy it.
  4. Call the establishment offering the deal if you have additional questions. When I bought the paintball coupon, I had questions about age restrictions and the ability to bring our own paintballs. Calling gave me the confidence to know that the deal would work for our situation.
  5. If the deal is for a restaurant or event that you’ll be going to with someone else, check with that person first. I’ve got a deal coupon to a restaurant that is going unused right now because my husband is uninterested in going there.
  6. Honor the restrictions that were placed on the deal before you bought it. If you didn’t read the fine print, that’s your fault.
  7. When using a restaurant deal coupon, always tip on the amount the meal would have been before the coupon was applied. Your server shouldn’t get the shaft just because you got a deal. In fact, I often tip a little extra when using a coupon because I got such a good deal, but that’s not necessary.
  8. Call ahead if you have questions about using the coupon with other discounts. For example, if you see on Facebook that the restaurant where you have a coupon is offering a one-night-only price fixed menu, you’ll want to check if they’ll accept the coupon that night.
  9. Be patient. A small business or eating establishment simply might not have expected the onslaught of business that the deal coupon has brought in.
  10. Use your coupon before it expires. Don’t let your money go to waste.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

10 tips for using Groupon
To get the most out of sites like Groupon and other deal sites, follow these 10 rules so you won't waste your money or have a disappointing experience.