Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Ways to Save Money on Shopping That Don't Include Black Friday

The holiday, Thanksgiving, has, kind of, a sordid history in this country.  It started out for our Puritan Ancestors (the self-titled "Pilgrims", who were kicked out of Europe, because they couldn't play nice with anyone, and resettled here in the New World where they hoped they could forge a more powerful bond between them and their god)  as a religious observation and a day of giving thanks for the bounty of their lives.  The fact that they were alive was, kind of, a miracle in itself. 

The story is that they were joined in a feast by the natives.  There are conflicting accounts of what, exactly, that feast involved and how it came about. 

Fast forward a hundred or so years, and the so-called Colonies have fought and won a War of Independence.  The first President of the United States of America, George Washington, declares a "Day of Thanksgiving."   Over the years, subsequent Presidents, more or less continue this tradition of declaring a day at the end of the harvest season to be the National Day of Thanksgiving.  It's not an annual holiday, yet, though.

In the 1930s, President Roosevelt made it an actual holiday, and he named "the fourth Thursday of the month" as the day it was to be observed.  The Wikipedia rationale behind his choice of days was that the month of November in that year had five Thursdays, and by setting the holiday on the fourth Thursday, people might get out and shop more in anticipation of the upcoming Christmas holiday.

In short, the day we celebrate Thanksgiving was, in deed, a calculated attempt to get us to shop more.

Of course this whole Black Friday phenomenon was not part of the original plan.  It was just a happy side effect - that is, happy for retailers.

What happened was that this National Holiday was declared and set for a specific day of the year - a Thursday - which meant that MOST people would have a four day weekend.  Schools would be out of session for the last two days of the week, and many businesses would be closed, which meant that after gorging themselves into a turkey coma on Thursday, everyone woke to find themselves with nothing to do on Friday.  Why not go shopping?!

Many people began using that day as an opportunity to get a leg-up on their Christmas shopping, because by the 1950s or so, Christmas was already completely commercialized.  Heck, probably sooner, right?  The movie, A Christmas Story (you know, "You'll shoot your eye out!"), is set during the 1940s, and we can see exactly how commercialized things already were (oh, thanks FDR for encouraging us all to just get out and spend money we don't have - debt be damned!  You only live once!! - says the millionaire politician, in direct defiance to the fact that debt overload is what caused the Great Depression to be so bad - spending got us there, and so, of course, spending can get us out).

So, by the middle of the 20th Century, people were already conditioned to spend like crazy in December, and in an attempt to get an early start, Americans would use that free vacation day to shop for Christmas.

Retailers took note.  In fact the name, "Black Friday" is a nod to their financial sheets.  Being in the Black, in financial terms, means seeing a profit.  Retailers noticed a significant increase in their bottom line on that Friday following Thanksgiving Thursday, and so they started promoting it as a "Shopping Holiday" (those two words together are the very definition of an oxymoron - unless one considers that shopping has become somewhat of a religious experience for the masses).

Retailers began encouraging MORE shopping by offering, what they claim, are one-time deals, offered only on that day.

Anti-consumerists have pushed back against this onslaught of commercialization, and adopted the above slogan and resolved to "Buy Nothing" on this day of shopping.

It should be no surprise to my regular readers that I'm fully on board with the anti-consumerists.  No, I do not shop on Black Friday.  In fact, I purposely plan an at-home day on that day.  This year, if things go as planned, Deus Ex Machina will be taking the daughters to their regular Friday music lesson and then to the library.  I will be staying home and grouting the tile we'll lay either Wednesday evening or Thursday evening. 

I work my hardest to go no where, so that I'm not even a little tempted to spend. 

Although I'd (sort of) like to go out this Friday, as an observer. I might buy a cup of coffee.  What I'd like to see is if the deals are really all that great, because I suspect that they aren't, based on what I know of how marketing works. 

For retailers the goal is to get shoppers into the store.  They will offer this amazing one-time-only deal.  Often this "deal" is on select items, but there isn't an unlimited supply of that thing.  One has to be first in line in order to get the good deal.  Once the item is sold out, what's left in the store is just all of the regular stuff that, pretty much, costs the same on Black Friday as it did on Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Saturday after.  In short, with the exception of a very few really good deals, there is no difference in price on most items. 

But they will make us think we're getting a bargain on other stuff, and their ultimate goal is to just get us into the store so that we'll buy a bunch of other, none sale, items.  Everyone does.  Don't feel bad if you do, too.  The store layout, lighting, smell, and sound are all designed to make us spend more money.  It's all very psychological, and someone makes a lot of money making sure we spend more of ours.

Here's where that saying really applies, A fool and his money are soon parted. 

So, what's a person to do? 

I'm not as thrifty as I would like, and yes, there are times when I, too, fall prey to the allure of all that shiny, new stuff.  The following are five ways I keep from being the fool.

1.  Avoid Stores

Seems simple enough.  The problem is that, as a culture, we have lost so much of our community.  In these modern times, hanging out at shopping venues is too often how we meet and socialize with other people.  Deus Ex Machina and I actually met an older lady for whom going to the grocery store was her "outing."  She brought her little dog, who sat in the child seat of the cart, and she used the shopping cart as a walker, of sorts.  She just walked around the store, slowly, and chatted with people who chatted with her.  I don't recall ever seeing anything in her cart, except, maybe, dog food. 

While she wasn't buying a whole lot of nothing she needed, that's not typical of most of us.  When we go to the Mall or other shopping venues as entertainment, spending money becomes our past-time, and we will all fall victim to spending what we don't have.  The only way to not spend is to not go.

There are a lot of other places we could go to get that same community feel for a lot less or no money:  the library, a local health and fitness club, a community support organization (like a food pantry), or community support events (like the community dinners, volunteering as an usher or other positions at the local community theater, etc.). 

There are lots of places and ways to meet people that don't include going shopping.

2.  Make a List.

This one, also, is a no-brainer, but it's also one of those things that we don't do or we only half do.  I know I'm guilty of it, and there have been too many times when I went to the store without a list and only a vague idea of what I wanted to purchase. 

At the grocery store, the result is coming home to find that I, now, have four jars of mayonnaise but no mustard - or some similar pantry imbalance.  It's frustrating, and it's also costly.  If I'm making something that needs mustard, for instance, then, I have to make a special trip to the grocery store ... which can be even more expensive, because no one goes to the grocery store and just gets that ONE thing.  Extra stuff always ends up on that conveyor belt at the register.  To wit:  the other day I ran into the store for pecans to make a dessert for Thanksgiving dinner.  I walked out of there with pecans AND two or three other things, including some sparkling water, because I was thirsty and I was going to be waiting for my daughters while they were in dance class. 

It's just too easy to pick up that extra thing, or two, since we're there anyway.  Right? 

Which is why Black Friday, especially, is so egregious.  They'll pull you in for a computer or an awesome deal on an iPhone, but once you get there, you'll see all of these other awesome things, too - probably not at a great price, but at an okay price (usually the regular price you would normally pay on any other day).

And the real kicker is that we'll walk out of those stores, having spent $300, and thinking we got such good deals.

3.  Keep an Ongoing List of Things You Need.

This idea stemmed from my love of shopping in Thrift Stores, and it serves me in several ways. 

The first is that it, pretty well, eliminates most impulse shopping.  Not all, but some.  Since I don't just go shopping for the heck of it, much anymore, I don't get out to stores very often, and so I have to keep a list of things we need so that when I'm out, I can pick it up.  Sometimes I forget ... for a very long time ... and sometimes, after a period of time has passed, I realize that I don't need or want that item, really, not any more.  Just like that, I've saved myself a bunch of money, because I didn't buy this thing I didn't need. 

Even better, I didn't rush right out when I first decided I needed it, and buy the thing, and probably a bunch of other stuff, at full price.  I waited until I could find it second-hand (at the thrift store or through the yard sale sites) or until it was on sale somewhere.

Some examples are my wing-backed chair, which has become plural (we have four), and I spent less than $120 for all of them. 

I have a very small, very long and narrow living and dining area.  I've spent YEARS trying to figure out what works best and is most aesthetically pleasing for the space.  I like my couch, and intend to keep it, but it wasn't enough seating.  I wanted a chair, but not just any chair would fit or look good.

We made do for a long, long time while I looked at different chair designs, and I finally decided that a wing-backed chair was what I needed and wanted.  I found a picture of the one and posted it on FB as this is what I want.  A few weeks after I posted the picture, I found one.  It wasn't exactly what I wanted (I would have preferred leather, but a new leather winged-back chair is $3000 - yeah.  That's not gonna happen), but it was a nice chair.  I bought it secondhand for $40. 

A few months later, a woman posted TWO wing-backed chairs for sale on the yard sale site for $70.  My daughter told me she wanted one for her room.  So, I replied that I was interested, and the lady sold them to me. 

So, we had one winged-back chair in the living room and one in each of my daughters' bedrooms. Life is good.

Then, some neighbors moved out down the road.  They posted a "curb alert" on the yard sale site.  We stopped by, and they had left a winged back chair.  Did I mention that it was free?  Now, every bedroom has a winged-back chair, and there's still one for the living room. 

That example is truthfully how it happened for me, and yes, four chairs is pretty much overkill, but I spent less on those FOUR chairs than I would have on one, if I had purchased it new ... even on Black Friday.  And all but one of them are in excellent condition. 

4.  Always Check the Clearance Section.

I used to own and operate a home business.  A few months before I officially dissolved my business, my inkjet printer started spewing ink all over the documents I was printing.  It was not okay, and my client was really not happy.  I needed a new printer.

So, I went to the office supply store, and I bought the cheapest inkjet printer I could find.  The printer that died was a four-in-one machine with printing, copying, scanning, and faxing capabilities.  I'd purchased it when my business was thriving, and it was worth every penny to me at the time of purchase.  The new machine was a printer.  Only a printer.  And not a very good printer, at that, AND it used a lot of ink, which was very expensive. 

One day I was in Staples for ink (again!), and I decided to take a look at their Clearance section.  There were a few laser jet printer/copier/scanners on the shelf, but there were no prices.  I whipped out my smartphone and started looking up the model numbers and stuff to see if I could figure out a price and some specs on the machines. 

An employee came over and asked if I needed help, and I asked if he could tell me how much the printers cost.  He looked it up.  They were $10.  Yes, they worked.  No, they were not returns.  What they were, were the display models, and so they weren't new, exactly.

Yes, I did walk out of there with a new(ish) printer.  The toner cartridge costs $100 to replace, but it will last four to six months (more or less depending on how much I'm printing).  The ink cartridges on that little, flimsy, cheap printer I purchased for $80 lasted two weeks, if I were doing a lot of printing, and maybe a month if I was doing a moderate amount of printing.  They might last two months these days, when I'm doing almost no printing, BUT they cost $25 each.  there are four of them.  You do the math.  Yes, I bought that laser jet.  No, I have no regrets.

But it wasn't on Black Friday.  The thing is, the Clearance section is always there, and there are occasionally some REALLY good deals - better than Black Friday deals. 

My other Clearance section win is the paint we used for our bedroom.  The paint was in the oopsy section at the hardware store.  There were four cans of it.  I didn't know, exactly, where I wanted to use it when I grabbed two gallons.  I needed to paint the bedroom and the hallway, and both of my daughters wanted their rooms painted.  Each gallon was $10.  The normal price for a gallon of paint is between $30 and $50 depending on the brand.  I saved $40.  My room is now a beautiful, warm, golden hue.  The paint color is "Golden Retriever."  Very apropos for this household of dog lovers.

5.  Know the Season for Sales.

I'm looking for solar lights.  I'd love a few around my yard, because we have some shadowy spots I'd like to illuminate, and solar lights are free lighting (after the purchase of the light).  Solar lights are also a great prepper item for emergency lighting when the power is out.

There are several seasons during which solar lights are offered, and if one is not picky about the motif of one's lights (wasn't there a country song about keeping the Christmas lights on all year long?), one can find such things very inexpensively. 

The same holds true for most items.  Lawn furniture, bathing suits, and seeds are best purchased in September or October.   Cold season annuals go on sale in July.  Winter coats go on sale in December.  Everything has a season and a best time to buy.  In fact, here's a whole article on when the best time to purchase common goods is.  None of those items are best purchased on Black Friday. 

Bonus:  Sign up for Rewards Programs and Receive Email Flyers/Coupons

So, the other day on the non-consumer FB page a woman posted a receipt from Victoria's Secret.  The title of her post was "Non-consumer Win!"  The story was that she had received a coupon flyer in the mail.  There were two coupons in her flyer.  One for a pair of free panties.  One for $10 off any purchase.  She went home with two pairs of Victoria's Secret panties for $0.75.  Yes, that is correct.  Her total cost for two pairs of panties - and please note that the panties were her only purchase - was less than a dollar. 

I receive rewards from several stores, and I don't always take advantage of them.  Purchasing something I don't need just because it's on sale and/or I have a coupon is just as egregious as shopping on Black Friday because I think I'm going to get a good deal, but if I know I'm going to need something, or if it's something like panties (which can be stored and used when the current pairs wear-out), why not spend the $0.75? 

Most of the time the only cost to you for receiving these deals is the sharing of your personal information with these stores (and, mind you, they WILL bombard you with offers - most of which I just delete or throw in the fire).  But it's a nice, money-saving tool when there is something I need. 

I don't shop as a form of entertainment, and I really only go into stores when I have a specific need.  I have my list of things I'm looking for.  I keep an eye on the yard sale sites.  When I go into stores, I always visit the clearance section.  I pay close attention to the seasons of things.

And, I've learned to be exceedingly patient.  Like with the chairs.  I could have settled for something I didn't really want, but by waiting, I got exactly what I want, and it looks AWESOME in my space.  I couldn't be happier.



My daughter had a list of things she wanted for her birthday.  She didn't get any of them, because the reality is that she doesn't need any of them.  We were buried in clutter for three years while we worked on the back room, and I am still clearing, sorting, and purging.  She is, too, and so the last thing we wanted to do was to get her more stuff she would need to find a space for.

Instead, we bought tickets to see Tartuffe in Boston, and we invited her friend to come with us.  It was a wonderful show.  She was introduced to a classic, French play, and we had a fun time, hanging out and driving down for the day. 

I guess if one really needs to purchase something on Black Friday, as a gift for friends or family for the holidays, perhaps consider an experience rather than a thing.  If you really need to go somewhere on Friday, consider visiting a local coffee shop, or a local farm store, or a local brew pub.  You will definitely get your money's worth, you might even meet some nice people, and you'll be building community.  There's no bad in that.

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