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Are Black Friday / Cyber Monday mega-deals bad for us?

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Uncategorized


I didn’t take advantage of a single deal on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

It’s not because I didn’t want a shiny new gadget or a gorgeous new outfit. It’s not that my kids weren’t clamoring for the latest noisy toy. It’s because my budget has taken a serious hit this year, and even some incredible deals weren’t enough to make me whip out the credit card unless I was oogling something we really need. And, frankly, we’re very lucky; while there’s tons of stuff we want, there’s very little that we actually need.

An article in Time Magazine points out that, in the long run, the insane post-Thanksgiving bargains might actually be bad for our wallets — and for the economy.

“Part of what got us here was overspending, and that that overspending was fostered by a shopping culture that uses cheap goods to hook people on feeling like they’re winning at something,” Barbara Kiviat says. The plethora of cheap goods increases our more-stuff-for-less-money expectations, which leads to the production of even more cheap goods, which leads to, well, problems.

“It’s short-term gratification and long-term pain,” says Boston University professor Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture. The constant push for ever-lower prices makes it more difficult for small stores to stay in business and makes it easier for big-box chains to avoid paying their workers a livable wage. It also forces manufacturers to sacrifice quality for price, which means we end up paying more to replace a flimsy item two or three times than we would have if we had just bought a more durable, more expensive item to begin with. In other words, you get what you pay for; as Tim Morrison points out in another Time piece, “What kind of bottomless plate of scampi do you really think 15 bucks can buy?”

And then there’s the issue of debt. This time last year, people in the United States collectively held nearly $1 trillion in credit-card debt — that’s a 1 followed by 12 zeros, people — about the same as the value of all of the goods and services produced by South Korea each year, according to Time.

Notice on the news how people crow about how much they’ve saved on holiday shopping, but not how much they spent? This year, I’m focused on how little I can spend and on being grateful for what I have. Which may be the best bargain I’ve picked up all year, so far. 

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8 comments so far...

  • I don’t participate in BF or CM as a general rule, for several reasons:
    1. I do not wish to participate in a tradition based on mass consumption of cheap consumer crap, er, I mean goods
    2. I’ve been the one on the retail side who has had to cut short my time with my family to deal with a-holes at 0400 who want the latest electronic gizmo for $5. The year that did it for me was when I closed at midnight the Wedneday before Thanksgiving, then I had to be back at three on Friday morning. I was able to spend four hours with my family. Really, was your five dollar deal worth that?
    3. There’s very very rarely any “deals” that to me truly are a deal.

    CV  |  December 1st, 2009 at 10:23 am

  • No thanks. I don’t need more chaos in my life. The things of true value are not those that everyone is clamoring for anyway. And on the first day of “real” holiday shopping, the newness of it all probably makes people do even more impulse buying than they otherwise would (which is already too much). If I knew for sure I wanted X and it was on a huge sale, I might go get it, but I’d have to discipline myself not to “shop” for stuff that isn’t on my list.

    I’ll save my impulse buying for those final days when I realize I have bought 6 things for Aunt A and haven’t come up with anything yet for Uncle B.

    SKL  |  December 1st, 2009 at 10:44 am

  • I’m not a line up at 4am type. I did shop this weekend and got a great deal on luggage that I actually needed. But I wouldn’t have been looking if my current luggage wasn’t being held together by duct tape!
    I had to work on Friday and I did peruse some cyberdeals then and got a game & DVD; the DVD I would have purchased sooner or later, this was a bargain, and the game, we love to play board games so I’m always looking at new ones.
    So I don’t think that Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals are inherently bad, I do think the sense of “urgency” that can be pushed on us though to shop at a specific time can be bad.

    Mich  |  December 1st, 2009 at 11:52 am

  • I don’t participate in either of those events, period. This year, I’m thinking that Amelie is getting one gift from us…er…Santa. She already has plenty in the closet that my parents and Godparents sent back with us, already wrapped. Part of me feels a right twit for letting the majority of her presents come from others, but the other part of me rebels against making this all about presents.

    So, we’re going on a horse and carriage ride through the city the night before Christmas Eve, bringing things to the Boston Homeless Veterans Shelter on Christmas Eve (and then going to midnight mass) and having 3 friends by for dinner on Christmas Day.

    Mick and I aren’t getting each other anything either. We agreed to that this year. A tree, time as a family and time with friends are what we really NEED…and what we want too.

    Besides, we can’t afford presents this year. Well, not if we get a tree, anyway. Somehow though, that doesn’t bother me too much. In fact, it’s a perfect excuse and one I may continue to use in the future. : )

    Phe  |  December 1st, 2009 at 1:10 pm

  • CV: You make such a good point, about how the drive for crazy-low prices on unimportant stuff is also creating horrible work-life balance. It doesn’t seem worth it at all.

    SKL: I know that kind of impulse purchase! And I definitely hear you on the chaos point.

    Lylah  |  December 1st, 2009 at 1:14 pm

  • Mich: I think that’s the right way to shop the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales — use them to get an even better deal on things you need or were planning to buy anyway. Score!

    Phe: Honestly? She’ll remember that carriage ride long after all the toys and doodads are broken or outgrown. Making memories, starting traditions, and giving experiences are great gifts, even though they don’t fit under a tree!

    Lylah  |  December 1st, 2009 at 1:18 pm

  • Lylah - You’re right. And you know what? When all is said and done, that is what I’ll remember too. Thanks. : )

    Phe  |  December 2nd, 2009 at 7:54 am

  • @Phe and @Lylah - you’re oh so correct…do you know what I remember about various Christmases as a child?

    Caroling with my sister
    Decorating sugar cookies with my family
    Getting all frou-froued up for Midnight Mass
    Putting the ceramic baby Jesus in the creche
    Mashed potatos. OMG, mashed potatos.
    Reading TNBC, er, actually, Dad reading it to us. This continued til I was 24, BTW…last year Dad got us a copy to read to our bumpkin.
    Baking with my Mom

    You get the idea ;-)

    CV  |  December 3rd, 2009 at 12:26 pm