On its face, Black Friday stands for absolutely everything that I rail against on ThinkSaveRetire.com.  The day is built around sheer consumption and definitely contributes to the debt-inducing power of American consumerism.  I still laugh at the thought of sleeping overnight outside department stores and the chaos that accompanies so many Black Friday shopping experiences.

Black FridayUsing the right technique and a little dose of discipline, frugal Americans and early retirees can still enjoy Black Friday savings without overspending and coming home with bags of stuff that they don’t truly need.

The idea is to use Black Friday’s sales to buy things that are productive to your future that you would have bought anyway, not irrational impulse buys in support of luxury entertainment.  In other words, drop that $500 iPad and pick up some half-off DVDs that you plan to give away as gifts instead.

Let’s look at how this works

Use Black Friday to buy things that you would ordinarily have bought during any other day of the year.

What might these things be?  Even if we plan to retire early, we still buy things like gifts for birthdays, graduations, baby showers, Christmas, etc.  If you know that you’ll need to buy a graduation gift for your niece or nephew next March, consider using Black Friday deals to snag something at nearly half the price.

Need a new bike helmet for next summer’s riding season?  Find a good deal and pick one up.  House warming gifts, retirement presents or going away surprises are also occasions that might require buying things.  Make sure that these purchases truly are ones that you would have made independently of Black Friday.

After all, if you’re going to buy, might as well get the best price.

Word to the wise – make sure that “deals” are actual DEALS!

It is easy to assume that prices on Black Friday represent a killer deal, but that is not always the case.  Be aware that some items – especially electronics – tend to decrease in price closer to Christmas.  Unless you are getting an obvious screaming deal (hint: those are rare), wait to buy electronics until closer to Christmas.  Wait for winter clothing items as well (until summer).  Retailers have no financial interest in giving you the best deal on winter clothing during…the winter.

When I am ready to shop, I don’t just leave my house and head to the insanely overcrowded malls without a good idea of what I am looking for or how much money that I am willing to spend (my typical budget is around $100).  Such a tactic is a perfect recipe for overspending.

Before I leave my house, I make sure that I:

  • Never assume that a sale price is a “deal” – Retailers have cleverly fooled American consumers into paying higher prices on Black Friday, especially at larger nationwide department stores.  Like I mentioned above, very often, prices on items like electronics, toys and Christmas decorations decrease closer to Christmas.
  • Make a list – I don’t wander the aisles looking for things that seem “cool”.  I have a list of things that I need, and I head straight towards those items.
  • Research my needs – Great, you’re looking for an inflatable mattress as a graduation gift…now what?  There must be a hundred different kinds of mattresses to choose from.  I match my budget against the need for a mattress and make the best determination of the type and brand to buy.
  • Check online first – I hate crowds, and braving the mall on Black Friday (or, quite frankly, any other day) is generally something that I avoid.  Luckily, many retailers will make deals available online before Black Friday (beware: online deals are not always as good as in-store deals.).  I will order everything that I can online from the comfort of my home and in a pair of jammies and only visit stores in person if I need to.  I always look around for coupon codes as well from sites like Coupons.com.
  • Compare prices – Not every Black Friday deal is the same, and more and more examples crop up every year that prove Black Friday prices can be more expensive than prices closer to Christmas.   I compare prices using tools like TheFind.com and PriceGrabber.com before making any purchase.

I like to do business with retailers that give me the option of buying items at the discounted Black Friday price and picking up those items in the store after the crowds have dissipated.  This helps to minimize shipping costs and ensures that the online purchase truly is cheaper.

Important note: As I mentioned before, this technique is only effective if items are purchased that aren’t impulse buys.  Use Black Friday deals to effectively lower your costs on necessity items rather than adding expenses on unnecessary luxuries.

Good luck in your shopping, and happy holidays.