If you want to drive a race car, scale an ice wall or learn circus acrobatics, buying a daily-deal voucher is, increasingly, the way to go. But getting the advertised 50 percent off isn't that easy.
Consumers have gotten used to looking for daily-deal vouchers, which means businesses have had to get creative with the terms to make money off the offers. A 2012 Rice University study found that 61.5 percent of businesses running daily-deal promotions made a profit from doing so, up from 55.5 percent in 2011.
One of the big secrets: The discount might not really be so steep. Before buying in, check the business' site and social media feeds for new-customer deals, coupon codes and other regular promotions that could undercut or even beat the daily-deal price.
Package deals may include extras (such as a dinner and coat check with those sold-out show tickets) that push the price higher than another shopper might pay.
For shoppers watching the runways, spring may be one of the best times to hunt for fall fashion bargains.
Spring fashion weeks in New York, Milan and other cities provide a window into designers' lines for fall, and experts say many of the trends parallel what's in stores now as well as on the clearance rack.
"There's already lots of spring merchandise coming in," said Connie Wang, senior global editor for Refinery29.com. "All of [last] fall's merchandise should be on sale."
Take shearling coats, which pop up on the runways at Coach, Alexander Wang and Ralph Lauren, among other designers.
"It's the one coat every trendsetter will own this fall," said Jeanine Edwards, editorial director of SheFinds.com.
Sites such as TheOutnet and Gilt have on-trend takes for as much as 70 percent off, such as a $2,250 3.1 Phillip Lim jacket reduced to $899.
Other easy clearance buys, per Edwards' and Wang's observations: Large-patterned plaids, hemlines that fall between the knee and ankle, and deep green or icy blue hues.
But while shopping clearances can yield better prices on pieces you'll wear for several seasons, it can be financially risky.
"Buying six months ahead, you aren't entirely sure what trends are going to stick or not," Wang said. Splurge on a hot item that doesn't make the cut, and you may not get enough wear to justify even a lower cost.
"Don't spend a lot unless you're excited about how it looks on you," she said.
With no end to winter in sight, travelers itching for a vacation to warmer climates may find that now is an excellent time to book.
Cruise fans call January through March "wave season," and it's often when cruise lines offer their best deals of the year. CruiseCritic.com managing editor Colleen McDaniel said usually anything under $100 per night is a good deal. But savvy shoppers can often snag deals under $75 per night, and occasionally, under $50.
If you're interested in a luxury cruise line, however, getting the best values requires looking for something other than price cuts. Luxury lines' offers trend more toward free or discounted airfare, extra excursions, onboard credit or included gratuities, which can be just as valuable.
(Read more: Travel trend: 'Get me somewhere warm now')
If you're splurging on Valentine's Day gifts, be smart about it.
Americans will spend $36.8 billion on Valentine's Day this year, according to American Express. The average cost per person: $213.
(Read more: The $10K question; How to buy an engagement ring)
One of the most common splurges? A dozen red roses—and no, it's not your imagination. Demand can as much as double prices this time of year, with a high-end bouquet costing more than $100. Plus delivery, which carries a surcharge if you want the roses sent on the Valentine's Day itself.
With that in mind, price-check both local florists and Web networks such as 1800Flowers.com and FTD.com. Those big players may offer special discounts of up to 25 percent, but the local florists who fill those orders have their own deals, too. Cutting out the middleman could save you as much as 40 percent.
Whether you visit the shelter or buy from a breeder, adding a new puppy to the family may be more expensive than you think.
If you're inspired by the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, be prepared for higher up-front costs. Even a quick review of breeders' sites turns up prices that range from several hundred dollars to $5,000-plus, depending on breed and lineage. That's on top of the general $1,314 to $1,843 in first-year costs for any dog, including start-up supplies and training as well as food, toys and vet care, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
This week's $ave Me video details a handful of less-anticipated costs that could pad your pet bills over time. One to budget for: doggy day care, or a dog walker. Working long hours may necessitate hiring someone to look in on your pup, and services can cost $20 or more a day. Over a year, that's roughly $5,000 if you're not taking advantage of lower-priced monthly rates or tracking down other discounts.
(Read more: 7 tech tools to make tax prep less frustrating)
When is buying a new TV an investment?
Compared to the going rate for tickets to the Super Bowl, buying a set that makes you feel like you're there can seem like the better deal.
April 15 may not be the most pressing financial deadline this spring.
For families with college-bound students, university deadlines are approaching fast for filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (aka FAFSA) and other state and private college aid forms.
Each year, billions of dollars get left on the table because families don't apply for aid, or fill out forms incorrectly, Carolyn Berkowitz, president of the Capital One Foundation, told attendees at a mid-January financial aid panel in New York City.
Getting forms in correctly and on time can make a big difference in your out-of-pocket costs for college and how much your child may receive in loans. Average aid awarded during the 2012-13 school year was $13,640 per full-time student, including $7,270 in grants that do not need to be repaid, according to The College Board. During that same academic year, the average cost to attend a private four-year college was $40,261, including tuition, fees, room and board, and $18,171 for a public four-year college.
(Read more: Coming up with $500,000 for college)
One of parents' big mistakes is waiting to file financial aid forms until they have prepared their taxes. Many colleges set January or February deadlines for aid applications. Miss them, and there may be less or no aid by the time you submit, said panelist Adam Stevens, college advisor for scholarships and financial aid at Brooklyn Technical High School.
Tardiness could even affect acceptance. "Students don't realize that [meeting the deadline] is another way to show you're serious," he said.
Taking up skiing can be an expensive hobby—but saving is no Black Diamond trail.
The ski market is shifting toward consumers with a high net worth. In 2012, 54 percent of ski and snowboard visits came from households earning more than $100,000, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Five years ago, that demographic accounted for 48 percent of visits.
If you're on the receiving end of a bad holiday gift, returning it may be a little tougher this year.
Just 28 percent of stores have special holiday return policies this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That's down from 58 percent in 2008.
(Read more: Return policies now tighter)
To increase your odds of a successful return, pay close attention to the policy details. Stores often have different deadlines and terms for different categories. At Toys R Us, for example, some electronics must be returned by Jan. 9, and most other items by Jan. 25.
(Read more: Presents that may end up on the return pile)
No receipt doesn't necessarily mean no refund, either—you'll just get store credit for the item's lowest recent selling price. That's all the more reason to brave the mall crowds before post-holiday sales kick in.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter
Typical holiday budgets go right out the window for consumers planning a Christmas or New Year's marriage proposal.
The holidays are the most popular time of the year to pop the question, with 16 percent of couples getting engaged during December, according to TheKnot.com. The average engagement ring tab last year was $5,431—although a 2012 survey of luxury jewelers by Centurion found that nearly 30 percent said $10,000-plus was their best-selling price category. (Almost 80 percent said their best-selling rings cost more than $5,000.)
Whatever you can afford, tweaking the four C's—that's cut, color, clarity and carat weight—can help you get the best stone for your budget. Jewelry experts recommend prioritizing cut, which is what makes the diamond sparkle (or not), and compromising on color and clarity if need be.
Doing so could bring a bigger, better stone into budget. On Diamonds.com, for example, a 1-carat round stone with an excellent cut, VVSI clarity rating (one off from flawless) and D color (the highest) sells for as much as $15,698. Dropping down to an H color could save you $6,995 on a stone of the same size, cut and clarity, or let you trade up to a 1.46-carat stone of the same cut and clarity (that's still $66 less expensive).
It can also help to pay cash, and not just from the perspective of avoiding debt. Many jewelers offer a cash discount of roughly 10 percent.
—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant. Follow her on Twitter @kelligrant.