Black Friday is a spectacle. The media love the imagery of the frenzied masses scrambling for deals, sacrificing their time and ensuring harsh weather conditions lining-up, trampling each other in a orgy of shopping chaos. The liberally minded folk use it as the basis of deep social commentary on consumerism, the failings and shortcomings of modern Western civilization, and how it has over-shadowing the meaning of Thanksgiving. The economists fixate on it as a key economic indicator, as a measure of the strength of the retail industry and the domestic and global economy. Individual consumers revel in the thrill of victory, sharing stories, strategies, successes and experiences – giving further fodder for the academic criticisms that humanity has devolved into a vapid shell of consumerism, as if talking about shopping wasn’t already orders-of-magnitude more prevalent than engaging discussions on religion, politics or key social issues, already.
So what the hell does this have to do with Real World Reviews, anyway? Fundamentally, my time spent on this blog is about value, not wasting your hard earning money and consumer advocacy. All of the stupidity associated with Black Friday remains true. But, is it all that bad? What’s wrong with getting a good deal anyway? Nothing. Nothing at all. So, I’d thought I’d stimulate some thought on how not to waste your hard-earned money. You won’t find me fighting the crowds, but this doesn’t mean that I am opposed to getting a deal – and neither should you. Don’t feed the frenzy, but selectively exploit it.
There is a natural flow to these ideas, so try to think about them in order:
Don’t buy crappy stuff. This is where the rubber hits the road on my time spent clacking out blog entries. An article in Psychology Today suggested that impulse buying is somewhat driven by an innate desire to save money. But, I would argue this is only effective for stuff that you need, or want after some careful consideration. Do your research ahead of time. You should also spend some time reading about Consumer Behavior. Take advantage of savings on Black Friday: absolutely, just won’t buy stuff you don’t need. Duh.
Be patient. Obvious? Probably, so. Getting a good deal is about being patient. Stalking. Like our primal instincts borne from millennia on the Savannah, squatting in the bush, fixated on our prey, waiting for the right time. Shopping sometimes feels like hunting: a little bit of luck, as with all things, timing and patience. The surest way to get a great deal is to wait. Eventually, the latest thing will fade from the spotlight and you’ll save yourself some money. Ask yourself: “what’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t buy this right now”. This is a lot easier than it sounds, and it’s particularly hard for me – there is a lot of psychology at play here. Black Friday is your opportunity, but only if you’ve got something specific in your cross-hairs.
Products life-cycle and Generations. Consumer electronics is a classic example where waiting for deals is key. Everyone knows a new generation will inevitably be forthcoming in 2-3 years. There are two strategies in here: the first relates to being patient and not buying the latest model (e.g., TVs are a great example since new LED models offer little improvement), it will eventually go on sale; another is timing to purchase to maximize useful life-cycle (Apple is the best example here: they don’t fire-sale previous generations of equipment, so you want to buy the latest model always or buying a car at the beginning of a model year assuming you don’t pay a premium for that). Clothing also has a life-cycle implication, since you can buy things on sale knowing you’ll eventually need a new sweater next winter, but styles change eventually. This means that, yes, you will eventually see that TV for 50% in about 6 months anyway, whether you lined-up at 4 AM, got four bruises, and stressed yourself out in the process.
Understand supply and demand. Some basic understanding of macro-economic principles can inform decision-making. E.g., seats on an airplane for a flight you need to buy with no flexibility is different from an iPhone 6. Apple will make more iPhone 6 phones, but there are only 127 seats on that plane – being patient is key, but limited supply means that timing is important. I have gotten great deals on flights by jumping on a deal immediately, and I have gotten burned by not being patient and buying too early. Focus your deal hunting on stuff that is in limited supply.
Buy on sale. Yes, another obvious one. But, how many of you out there have bought toilet paper full price? Shaving blades? Basic white under-shirts? Luggage? If you find a good deal on toilet paper, fill your trunk with it. You’ll eventually need it and it won’t expire. Luggage and shoes are other classic examples for me: you will always be able to buy luggage 50% off, just be patient. Shoes? Stalk the pair you want and hunt for deals, if you are older than 17 years old, your feet are unlikely to grow any more. This means don’t be afraid to use Black Friday sales to get stuff you will eventually need.
Don’t be penny foolish and pound-wise. As part of the myriad of media musings on Black Friday, I saw an article that took the opportunity to re-enforce some personal finance principles around fund fees and MERs. It seemed a bit misplaced but the fundamental point is a good one: it’s awesome that you saved $200 on a vacuum cleaner, but you realize you are getting fleeced on those cable TV packages you don’t watch to the tune of $480 per year, right? Or, that your banking fees are also sucking away your hard-earned money?