How to Avoid Getting Sucked Into the Black Friday Black Hole

coaching money mindset Nov 23, 2020

Black Friday.

It’s a great day for retailers – it marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and theoretically the day their bottom line turns from red (representing a net loss) to black (representing a profit). Yes, it’s true – most retail businesses only break even and begin to turn a profit in the last two months of the year. They depend on consumers to go on a spending frenzy in those last 34 or so days in order to balance their books.

Their advertising will try to convince you that it’s also a great day for you, the consumer, with sales galore and deals unparalleled at any other time of the year. But the truth is, for many people, it’s quite the opposite. Black Friday brings out the worst in many of us, both in terms of our social behaviour and our spending habits. (And for the purpose of this discussion, I’m including Cyber Monday as well).

At this time of year, we are bombarded with flyers, radio and television ads, not to mention social media promotions, all enticing us to spend. The hook is the (often mistaken) belief that we’ll never see a better deal all year. This is very often not actually true, but even if it is, a deal isn’t really a deal if it’s something we don’t actually need. (See last week’s blog post for a discussion about wants vs. needs). 

We can’t make Black Friday go away. It’s infiltrated Canada as well, even though we celebrate Thanksgiving in October. But what we can do, is make it work FOR us rather than against us. What do I mean by that?

What typically happens is that we allow ourselves to flip mindlessly through flyers, or scroll through pages of Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. We see plenty of items that tantalize us, and the seemingly low price tag, along with very clever marketing messages, make us think we should capitalize on the opportunity and buy those items NOW, “before the price goes up”, because so-and-so might like that as a gift this holiday season.

It’s really easy to rationalize spending money, even money you don’t have (hello, VISA and MasterCard!), if you’re not spending it on yourself. And that’s how many people get into financial hot water, or simply end up with stacks of unwanted purchases to return once the holidays are over.

Instead, let’s be strategic. Start by making a thoughtful list of gifts for those you normally buy for. Don’t even look at the flyers, or listen to the ads, just yet; simply take the time to really think about each recipient, and contemplate what that person really needs or would truly appreciate.

Once you have your list, now you can go on the hunt for just those specific items among the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. Because you are shopping from a list, it’s easier to stay focused and to stick to your budget.

One of the real benefits of this approach is it forces you to make your holiday gift shopping list earlier than you might otherwise. Men, in particular, are notorious for waiting until the last minute to do their gift shopping, and often end up spending top dollar because retailers know they have a captive and desperate audience in the last few days before the holidays. By making the list now, you have plenty of time to source the items at a good price, even if you aren’t able to find everything you intended to buy among the Black Friday sales. Just think how much more relaxed you will be as the holidays approach! 

Only you can decide the appropriate dollar amount to spend, or how many gifts each person should receive – I’m not going to lecture you on that. I have my own thoughts on the topic, but that’s a blog post for another week. The key point here is to be intentional about your Black Friday shopping, rather than letting yourself get swept away in the tsunami of advertising that’s about to hit us.

Black Friday isn’t evil, or even criminal, but it is seductive and can be dangerous for those with less impulse control. Arm yourself with a solid shopping list and a lower-limit credit card, and you’re all set to take full advantage of all the deals.

One last word here: It may be that you won’t be able to find exactly what you are seeking for a particular person among the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. That’s ok. Don’t compromise and buy something else instead, just because it’s on sale. Keep your eyes open, and keep looking over the next few weeks. There will be ongoing sales throughout the holiday season, and a single, carefully chosen gift that costs a bit more will be far more meaningful and appreciated than a bunch of items you got at a great discount, but that weren’t on that person’s wish list.

Let us know in the comments below if you decide to implement this approach – how did it work for you? What did you like about it? What problems did you run into, if any? What other suggestions do you have for making Black Friday/Cyber Monday work FOR you rather than against you?

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