The picture above features Mr. Steward’s haul from last year’s Black Friday sales. As you can see, he got a lot of movies (mostly horror), a few games, and a couple of books. Not included in this photo are the Fitbit Charge 2 and the illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets I bought for myself, and a few pairs of $3.50 Disney pajamas for Bean.
Suffice it to say, we actively participate in the Black Friday shopping frenzy. This seems somewhat uncommon in the personal finance world. For the last couple of years, personal finance Twitter has blown up with tweets blasting people for their consumerism and spendthrift ways when it comes to Black Friday. We shrug it off and hit “order” on our Lightning Deals. Here’s why:
We Wait All Year
Mr. Steward and I don’t have many hobbies that require us to buy “stuff” or spend cash. We don’t travel much, and when we do, it’s usually to family. We aren’t into fancy clothes or makeup. I blog and read for entertainment, and he plays video games and watches movies. It just so happens that Black Friday is the time of year when the items associated with our hobbies (i.e. books and movies) go on sale for cheap. Really, really cheap.
Mr. Steward keeps a list all year of the movies and games he wants, and the discounted price he wants to pay for them. If it hits that price before Black Friday, he’ll buy it… but it often doesn’t. So, he waits patiently until it finally goes on some sort of Lightning Deal with Amazon or appears in the Wal-Mart Black Friday circular. I’m similar, although I buy less. I often have one electronic device I want, and one fancy illustrated edition of a book (lately Harry Potter) that I wait for Black Friday pricing to buy.
Black Friday is an opportunity for us to get the things we intended to buy anyway at a greatly discounted price. Does Mr. Steward fall prey to buying some things just because they are cheap and available in the moment? I’m sure, to a small degree, but it wouldn’t be much.
I suspect many families are similar. Few people are as meticulous list-keepers and price-checkers as Mr. Steward. But for a lot of lower- and middle-income families I know, Black Friday is the one time of year they go shopping and actually buy some things they want, not just things they need. They know the price they are getting is good and, unlike in our situation, many of the purchases will resurface as Christmas presents for others a month later.
Mr. Steward and I are introverted homebodies who don’t get out much. This is especially true since Bean was born. Once every-other-year, though, we leave Bean with her grandmother and drive out to a Wal-Mart in Central Kentucky, where I’m from. We have to park a good 20 minutes away. Many years it’s just Mr. Steward and me, walking together in the cold dark, people-watching and laughing over how crazy and atypical from our normal selves we are for doing this. Mr. Steward’s actual shopping takes about 20 minutes, checkout line and all, because he is a robotic man-on-a-mission. Often we stay longer, though, chatting with folks we run into and peeking into others’ carts to see what they’re buying.
Some years we talk more family into going with us, and those years have been great bonding experiences. I once got to have an intense money conversation with my pre-teen cousin over an enormous stuffed bear she was buying. She disclosed a lot about her relationship with money and how it compares to her mom’s, which I felt privileged to hear and speak into.
Several years ago, before Bean was born, one of my grandmothers was visiting from California. We managed to talk her and my parents into coming with us. My parents insanely decided it would be a good time to go grocery shopping, so we sat outside talking to my Memaw for a couple of hours while they shopped and she smoked. It would be one of the last times we’d get to see her–she died of bowel cancer a few years later.
But Is It A Problem?
Is it problematic that so much bonding happens over a consumer event? It’s hard for me to say, honestly, because the bonding and quality time itself–the stories we get from “that one time we talked everyone into going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday”–are so valuable to me that I don’t much care how they come about.
I figure it’s the same for most of the people out shopping. They want or need the absolute rock-bottom price on what they’re buying, but it’s because of relationships that they’re shopping at all. They want that cool new toy for their kid not because they’re mindless consuming machines, but because having some nice things does make living easier, and they want to give their loved ones those things. Black Friday pricing may be what enables that.
Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a privilege involved in being able to snub Black Friday sales. Maybe for some, it really does mean they’ve transcended the consumer wheel and are so full of gratitude and selfless grace that they just want others to feel the same.
More often than not, though, hating on Black Friday seems to be a shaming from those who not only have enough, but more than enough. It’s folks who, if they really wanted something, would just buy it regardless of price. Or, it’s people who have so much that they have to cut back because the overflow is intolerable. That, to me, just doesn’t seem fair to those who are trying to simply have something nice in the first place. I wonder if, this year, we might all offer each other a little more grace and live-and-let-live when it comes to Black Friday.
What is your stance on Black Friday? Do you think Black Friday sales are crazy or fun?