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Are you planning to spend money on Black Friday deals this year? Think twice before reaching for your wallet.

Last week, I was inundated with updates on Prime days, that annual Amazon sale that got bumped to October this year. A not-so-subtle signal that the holiday shopping deals have already started. Which brings me to our topic of discussion for today: Black Friday deals.

The question is, are Black Friday deals smart or manipulative? Do you stand to save big money, or are you falling into a typical consumer debt trap?

Well, the answer to this question isn’t so simple. Sometimes you can find great deals on Black Friday, but other times – even when the deal is legitimate – spending the money isn’t advisable. As with most financial matters, it often comes down to your personal financial situation.

It’s worth pointing out, too, that some Black Friday deals (as with any “sale”) aren’t really deals at all! Some stores and manufacturers artificially inflate the price before marking an item down, resulting in nothing more than an illusion that you’re getting a deal.

For this reason, it’s often smart to cross-check pricing for any given item before making a purchase. You can’t always verify historical pricing, but oftentimes you can and it’ll save you in a pinch.

Black Friday: A Once in a Lifetime Deal?!

Black Friday Deals - Smart Savings or Dumb Debt TrapIt’s easy to use discounts and holiday cheer to excuse unintended spending. Black Friday shopping is fun! Especially with Christmas around the corner, you may feel generous buying surprises for your friends and family. And maybe a little something for yourself because everything is on sale.

But while the week of Christmas (and of course, Black Friday itself!) may be extravagant and fun, most of the little things you bought will be forgotten by the time you are looking at your January credit card statement.

And when you really look at the prices, are the deals really all they are cracked up to be?

While you can’t deny Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday offer up the sales, it’s not the only time of the year to score discounts. And like we have already discussed, not everything is a deal – so do your research if you are eyeing a big-ticket item.

The best time to buy clothing and seasonal items is usually at the end of the season. Update your patio in the fall when they are clearing out the patio furniture to make room for new inventory; buy your bathing suits and outdoor sports equipment in August.

Appliances and mattresses are on sale at the end of the year, but they are also deeply discounted on Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day and Presidents Day weekends.

Electronics sales will extend into January, and then tvs will be on sale again in February to capture Super Bowl sales.

Point being, if you pass over that amazing deal on a Roomba that you weren’t really planning to buy, it’s not the last time you will see it on sale. Keep to your list.

The Psychology Behind Spending

Without a plan, holiday spending can undo a whole year of careful budgeting. Do you really need to buy for everyone on the PTA? Yes, your niece would look really cute in those shoes, but she’s two, and they will only fit for a few weeks.

You should go into Black Friday or any holiday shopping with a clear picture of who you are buying for and money set aside.

There’s a phenomenon called shopping momentum that retailers are hoping to cash in on. Buying a first item sets off a dopamine rush, creating an impulse that makes it easier to pull the trigger on your next purchase.

Maybe you have seen this at work. You are shopping for a specific item—shoes for an event, work-appropriate slacks—and you just can’t find anything.

Then you are just browsing a week later, and you leave the stores with multiple bags. You were on a roll, finding one thing after another that you couldn’t live without.

Black Friday is so dangerous to the window shopper because everyone loves to feel like they are getting a deal. Great deals—or at least the perception of a great deal—make it easier to justify that first purchase, which then loosens your wallet up for the next great buy.

Meanwhile, you are surrounded by lots of other people frantically shopping (crowd mentality) and limited inventory (scarcity) and Christmas music (emotional comfort).

It’s a marketer’s dream.

Some items are bigger deals than others, but the stores are hoping that once you start buying, your higher-margin purchases will make up for any items that are deeply discounted.

Pervasive Sales

It used to be easy to miss the Black Friday madness. Just sleep in the Friday after Thanksgiving! But as more people do their shopping online, the same triggers are harder to escape. Even if you can avoid your inbox, the pop ups are everywhere online:

If you buy more items, you save more!

Items aren’t guaranteed in your cart for more than 30 minutes because sizes are running out!

Last chance to score a deal on last year’s inventory!

Recognizing the Emotion and Drawing the Line

Holiday gifts are by definition emotional. Most of us do not need Christmas presents. Spending is an act to show you care. So we lavish our loved ones with gifts.

While shopping, we are getting a rush thinking about how our gifts will be received. Then we get to live out the moment when the paper is torn off. We revel in the smile when a friend pulls out the trinket that shows how well we know her. Likewise, we pick up the token that we know will make someone laugh. And of course, we stoke the Santa magic in our kids.

Not only the gifts, but the show we put on decorating our home can add up. You may be tempted to make up for the lack of get-togethers and Christmas traditions put on hold this pandemic season by splurging on a big tree, lights, extra gifts.

Black Friday Deals can sometimes trigger “FOMO”

Emotional spending is not all bad. Enjoying buying gifts is not a bad thing. But it does not mix naturally with budgeting for most people.

Putting a price tag on Christmas shopping does not mean you are Scrooge. It means you are smart.

You wouldn’t go to the grocery store starving with no list. While grocery shopping doesn’t elicit the same warm-fuzzy feelings, holiday shopping should not be an emotionally-charged free-for-all. You can’t go into the holiday sales open to any deals that might tickle your fancy and be surprised when you overspend.

If you have spent weeks planning to buy a new dishwasher and you have the money set aside, maybe a Black Friday deal is just what the doctor ordered. But if you are looking for something for your significant other, then pivot to buying a little something for all the people in your book club because the sales are so good, then something “small” for yourself, then… the wheels are coming off.

We tell ourselves we get a free pass spending on others, but it’s still money spent. If you have had to pay down debt from holiday spending in the past, don’t get sucked in again. Recognize the reasons why you are spending, and consider other ways to welcome the season.

Call a friend. Go for a walk and enjoy the first Christmas lights. Remember the things you are grateful for. Volunteer to make the season easier on someone else.

There is an entire community of people who want to do better this holiday season in The Money Detox Circle. You can join them for free and get more tips!

Tammy Lally

I BELIEVE MONEY IS NOT YOUR WORTH. Tammy Lally is an author, speaker, and Certified Money Coach (CMC). She helps others master their finances by first conquering their emotions around money, then by creating a comprehensive financial plan. She brings decades of experience and endless love to her bulletproof process for money mastery. She is the author of the book Money Detox, and her TED talk on Money Shame has over 2 million views.

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