It was a childhood joke with my mom and her sisters. After returning from a big shopping trip with their mother, they would say, “Look, Daddy! See how much money we saved!” Then my grandfather would groan and view the purchases and all the “savings.”
I can’t tell you how many times I go to one store or another, where the cashier makes a point to show me how much I saved. Yeah, but what about that other number–the amount I spent? What I save doesn’t actually put money in the bank, although many people shop like it does.
While retailers look forward to moving from the red to the black this weekend (and I understand that they depend on Christmas shoppers to turn a profit), I wonder how many of their shoppers will do just the opposite, putting themselves into debt to kick off the holiday season. There’s nothing like spending your way into financial oblivion in the space of a few days. And why? Do we really need seven cashmere sweaters? Will everyone on our Christmas list pitch a fit if they don’t get the latest i-device?
I’ll get controversial up front and say that we have commercialized way too many holidays. Can’t we enjoy one (or at tops, two) at a time? I love Christmas, but please can’t we save the decorations until at least after Halloween? (I’d prefer after Thanksgiving.) And while we’re on the topic, how many people have bought into the idea that their kids’ lives are going to be ruined if they don’t get everything on their list? Have we raised a bunch of Dudley Dursleys who count the number of presents? Many parents, instead of teaching gratitude for any gifts their children receive (since Christmas is all about presents, right?), put themselves into ridiculous debt by buying everything their children ask for. And most of them start the day after Thanksgiving.
Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox and say that I don’t have a problem with Santa Claus. I like having an excuse to indulge and celebrate, just like everyone else. But, at the same time, I was thrilled when my dad’s side of the family decided to move to a Christmas drawing for the adults. I guess my middle name should have been “Moderation.”
As for Black Friday fever, I’m not exactly immune to it, either. There’s something invigorating about crossing items off my list, about being out and about when, any other week, I’d be at work. When my husband and I were footloose and fancy free, we enjoyed our Black Fridays, sleeping late and venturing forth when we felt like it, buying if the prices were reasonable, and, of course, enjoying people-watching. I’ve actually tried the hard-core-up-before-the-rooster shopping a couple times, but since I’m not a big ticket item buyer, there is absolutely nothing on my list that is cheaper at four A.M. than at noon. I don’t plan to waste my sleep again.
And did you know that not everything is at its best price on Black Friday (or Cyber Monday)? Here are a couple handy websites that I’ve found that, respectively, debunk Black Friday myths and give tips to stay debt-free on Black Friday, which is why I’m writing this after all.
If you somehow don’t need sleep like a normal person and enjoy getting up at two A.M. (or not sleeping after Thanksgiving at all), good for you. I know it’s a once a year thing, and maybe you’re having fun bonding with your friends, high on the promise of a bargain and ten cups of coffee. But maybe you feel like you simply can’t afford not to take advantage of all the great deals (again, see the Black Friday myths link above). If that’s you, watch out. Falling for too many of these “great deals,” could end you with a lot of debt and buyer’s remorse.
So the following are my tips for disciplined Black Friday (or really any) shopping:
1) Go with a game plan. And I’m don’t mean mapping out a specific store (although I know people looking for doorbusters do that) but rather knowing what products you plan to buy where. Not only will you save yourself the headache of forgetting something and having to go back (which could lead to an unfortunate impulse buy or three), but it will make you create at least a rudimentary budget. Which leads to number two.
2) Go with cash. Yep. Cash. What a pain, right? That means going to the bank or an ATM. Trust me. If you leave your debit and credit cards at home and only have cash, you cannot overspend. Of course, this also means that you have to have the aforementioned budget. Say you know that you have $200 of gifts to buy, but you also want to spend a little on yourself. As long as you don’t withdraw the money you were going to use for your electric bill or next week’s groceries, plan on a little of what Dave Ramsey calls “blow” money. I’m not really advocating for you to blow it, but sure, get something fun. A cinnamon roll, a movie you’ve wanted, a blouse you’ve admired for a while. Just try to be a little bit rational and make it something you’ll be glad you spent your money on.
3) Don’t open store credit cards just to get a “deal.” This could equal going into debt. Maybe not. Maybe you’re disciplined like me. The last time I opened a store credit card, I had a pre-planned amount I knew I could spend. I asked the cashier give me the price of everything, so I could decide what to keep and stay within that budget. She told me not to worry about how much everything was because I was approved for a much higher credit limit, and I could pay it off during the month. Do I look like I’m 18 and have never had a credit card before? Lady, I know what I can spend, and it doesn’t matter when I pay it off, that’s all I can afford! Two hundred dollars more now is two hundred dollars that I’m going to need to feed my kids during the month. Avoid the temptation. No new credit cards!
4) Choose coupons (and incentives) wisely. I know it takes time and effort, and I’m not one of those crazy ladies you’ll see on TV, but there are some great holiday coupons. If you have a Kohl’s card, there’s a $10 coupon toward any purchase. The nice thing is that there isn’t a minimum spending requirement. Target, on the other hand, has a coupon for $5 off the purchase of $50 or more. Don’t load up on $50 of junk just to qualify for the coupon, but if you’re going to spend $50 anyway, by all means, use the coupon. Make sense?
So, shop if you want, get up early like the hordes of other insane people (just don’t expect to see me at an ungodly hour), but help your personal economy while you stimulate the retailers’. Oh, and if you’re going to buy a movie, get Jingle All the Way with Ah-nold and Sinbad. You’ll get a good laugh over Hollywood’s version of two crazy Christmas shoppers.