Black Friday is traditionally the day that can make or break a retailer’s bottom line. But don’t let enthusiasm for the season, the sales or the advertising hype end up putting you into the Red.
Black Friday is here. Even before you may have had a chance to digest your Thanksgiving feast or recover from a day of football, you may have already been lured into the local mall. Maybe you were one of those early bird shoppers preparing for a marathon day of shopping at 1 AM. (It’s not too late to consider these tips for the rest of your shopping season or to teach your kids).
I was not one of them. I slept in and have probably missed a host of specials and discounts on every imaginable thing sold. While I don’t feel bad I know that I’ll probably be picking on the leftovers like a I will be with the Thanksgiving turkey in the refrigerator.
Although I’m not the best marathon shopper, I thought I’d share a few tips that may help you avoid turning this holiday’s shopping season into a budget-busting hole for your family budget that you’ll be paying for and digging out of long after that snazzy do-dad you bought for Uncle Charlie is lost or breaks.
Have a Budget
No one says that you have to go and take out a second mortgage on your home to buy gifts for the entire world (that’s even assuming that you can qualify for a Home Equity Loan or HELOC).
It’s probably reasonable to budget somewhere around 1% of your gross income for holiday purchases of gifts for others in your family and friend network. Unless you’re buying an engagement or anniversary ring for your significant other, there’s no need to bust the budget here – even then there are limits. (And you really should not be spending more on stuff than you’re putting away in your IRA or 401k).
Are you afraid you’ll be considered the cheap skate relative or office mate? Who cares? Are those folks going to bail you out if you’re in financial trouble? Do you really want to be one of the folks who’s still paying off the credit card charges you incurred for this holiday by the time you serve next year’s Thanksgiving turkey? All of those great savings you got will simply be replaced by interest charges on the balance you carry.
Gifts are barely remembered while memories of sharing time with friends and family have more meaning to most folks.
Make a List and Check It Twice
Just like Old Saint Nick, you should prepare a shopping list. Have a written list of who’s going to be receiving gifts. If you know them well, you can jot down a few ideas of types of gifts to try to find. Before you even open up your web browser or step foot in the store, get this done. Without a list you’re more likely to become an impulse buyer.
Have a Shopping Plan
Experienced shoppers know that it pays to have a plan of attack when those doors open. You’ve been scouring the newspaper inserts (you do still get the newspaper, right?) and browsing the websites. You’ve been in the stores before and know the floor layout. You can bypass all the stuff you don’t need and just go straight to the department in the store where that perfect gift for Aunt Sally is.
Hey, store merchandisers know that you’re only human and easily distracted. That’s why they’ll stack up stuff near cash registers. That’s why grocery stores force you to walk through the entire store to get to the dairy case and that quick stop to pick up milk costs you $30 because you pick up a “few things.”
I prefer to use shopping sites that will find and compare items. Whether you use Amazon.com or MySimon.com or a host of other shopping robots, you can narrow down the price range to expect to pay for an item. And for the Smartphone set, “there’s an app for that.” You can download an app that will allow you to scan a product’s UPC which can then pull up product information and comparative prices.
You might want to give back instead of simply consume. Sure, we need consumers to buy more stuff to get the economy moving again (we also need corporations to invest their $2 trillion in cash back into their businesses by buying equipment and hiring folks but that’s a different discussion).
But nothing says that you have to stimulate the economy single-handedly.
There are causes and people who need your help throughout the year and providing a donation in lieu of a gift made in China will help them, make you feel good, provide you with a tax deduction, and reduce our trade imbalance which will ultimately improve the strength of the US dollar.
Remember the Spirit of the Season
What do you really want your family to remember about the season? What values do you want to pass down to your children or grandchildren?
Sure, it can be all about the ostentatious display of holiday lights and some of those displays are really nice and others are just way over the top.
Sure, it can be about buying the biggest, best new shiny thing.
I’m not trying to be Scrooge here. Far from it. I believe that the holiday is about family and friends. And more particularly, I think that playing Santa for young kids is magical – for you and them.
When I was growing up, my brother and I typically received one gift each from our parents, aunts, uncles and grandmother. And after we opened them up, our parents let us keep one toy out to play with while the others were put away so we didn’t end up overly distracted and bored with the toys all at once.
On the other hand, I remember going to a cousin’s house and they had TONS of packages under the tree. Their parents would wrap all sorts of little stocking-stuffers – candy, marbles, even tooth paste and socks. It was all about showing the quantity of gifts even if they were mundane, everyday sort of things.
I think that I enjoyed our holiday more and better because we weren’t focused on tearing off lots and lots of wrapping paper.
And I think that’s what I want my soon-to-be 15-month old son, Spencer, to take away as part of his understanding of the holiday and our new family’s traditions.