Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and How Not to Go Broke at Thanksgiving

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Perhaps it evolved organically or perhaps there is a more conspiratorial origin but regardless of how it came to be, Thanksgiving week has become notorious for when business account books turn positive and “go black” while shopper’s account balances turn negative and “go red.”

As the official Black Friday website reports , “Ever since the start of the modern Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been known as the unofficial start to a bustling holiday shopping season.”

Now, the Thanksgiving shopping week has expanded to a series of named shopping days all after one another.

First, there is Thanksgiving on Thursday. It is supposed to be a day of family, of feast, and of thanks. Cultivating a life appreciative of the simple and important joys of family and food is doubtless good for our health and happiness. Gratitude can be a powerful positive force.

Then, there is Black Friday on Friday. It is supposed to be a day of coupon-driven shopping. Deals (Are they even really deals?) are everywhere to be found on many items you never before considered purchasing. However, these sorts of mark-downs tend to strike us where we are mentally weak. They prey upon our mental process of anchoring, a heuristic our brains use to solve complex evaluations. For Black Friday, anchoring is telling us that this item has a “List Price of $25” and is currently “On Sale for $10,” regardless of the fact that comparable items are only $5. It preys upon your impulses and asks you to buy now, rather than wait a week.

When you are thrifty though, there is no such thing as saving money buying something.

Next, they have added Small Business Saturday. It is supposed to be a day focused on “shopping small” and bringing more holiday shopping to small businesses. It is an extension of the “Buy Local” or “Buy American” activist movements.

Although the supporters of “buy local” or “buy American” campaigns frequently use economic prosperity as their primary justification, limiting the suppliers that local consumers can buy from only impoverishes the local economy. There is no economic justification for regional self-sufficiency. We should buy local because we get exceptional quality, freshness, or service, not just because they are close to us. It impoverishes your economy whenever you get less value or pay more money. The lost opportunity costs of what you could have done with that extra value or smaller expense is exactly how much you have impoverished the local economy.

They take Sunday off, perhaps because they don’t want to suggest that we should be heathens at the shopping malls instead of saints in our churches, and then pick up again with Cyber Monday. It is supposed to be a day focused on shopping online, reminding people that they need not leave their home in order to spend money. Like Black Friday, Cyber Monday is categorized by so-called deals, coupons, and sales (Do even they save any money?). In addition to preying upon our mental anchoring, the Internet is covered with countdown timers creating a sense of urgency, “Only 01:12:30:38 Left” where the seconds tick down before your eyes. The pages are overloaded, filled with flashy items to look at, and the whole thing encourages us to make unwise shortcuts.

To make wise decisions during Cyber Monday shopping, you need to exhibit patience and thrift.

As a result of all these marketing gimmicks, many people make very poor decisions.

For this reason, I would like to encourage those of you who like participating in this weekend shopping spree to do the small task of paying yourself first.

I propose Saving Tuesday as the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It is supposed to be a day about your savings and retirement. On this day, you are encouraged to set your salary deferrals with your employer, fund your Roth IRA, or contribute to your investment account so that you are saving at least 15% of what you are planning to spend over the next weekend.

In this manner, you will pay yourself first. Before you throw your money at various companies, squirrel some savings away for your future self.

Then, you can begin to stop borrowing from your future self and start moving towards financial freedom.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

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Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.