22 November 2012

Black November

Well, it's that time of year again. Today marks another Thanksgiving Day in the history books. For those of you who are not here in the USA, the early English settlers almost died until some Native Americans got together and saved their lives. If they hadn't, we might be speaking (more) Spanish or French now instead of English. But enough of that history lesson and those assumptions, let's move on to why we're really here today. Commercial pickpockets.

This is what greeted me. I couldn't even find the news.
Tomorrow Today is one of the biggest shopping days of the year and kicks off the holiday season. Stores all are beckoning to have you join in for Black Friday Thursday. Matching the increase in holiday ad spending this year, my newspaper also increased in size. So much so that it required two bags to delicate place it on my lawn. Kohls, JCPenny, and several other retailers all sent me literal magazines (64-pages!) of what they're selling for what prices. All with Wal-Mart's promise to match any advertised price.

In case you were wondering, the name Black Friday is an accounting reference alluding to stores going from using red ink in the books to the black. Or in other words, they finally posted a profit. These days, that may not be true for most big box retailers due to the drive to perpetually post profits every single quarter. On the other hand, smaller stores probably do still rely more heavily on this rush, so definitely support them.

Anyway, needless to say, this time of year is one of the premier times where retailers attempt to thrust their hands into your pockets. As a result, it becomes even more important to keep your pocket guarded because pickpockets come in many forms. Last year, my finances were in a far less optimal position, so I bought gifts for no one, not even myself. Though I've implemented concepts of thrift and frugality as well as increased my income, I still plan to buy few-to-no gifts this year. I'll just send greeting cards. But for those of you who do plan to go shopping, a couple tips.

Shop online. Yes, in this day and age, online shopping is a very viable and attractive solution for acquiring many most items. You can save countless hours by not waiting in lines and trying to navigate parking lots, with all the risks and headaches that come from both. Many of the larger sites now offer free shipping on orders with an ever-declining price threshold, with some places abolishing a threshold completely. Any order gets free shipping. At that point, shopping consists of merely a few clicks.

Monday is now officially known as Cyber Monday, a companion sale day to Black Friday Thursday. Retailers took notice of how employees returning from vacation would then do their shopping at work on the Monday following Thanksgiving. Following that cue, they started offering online deals on Monday, thus starting the trend and name.

Geh mit dem Rad! (Auf Englisch: break out your bike.) If you feel like clicking is too simple for you and you really must get out, dust off that bike you packed away when the leaves started changing colors. Biking is still plenty feasible at this time of year and offers several advantages over driving, even (or especially) during this season. As I mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of shopping online is the ability to avoid the parking lot shenanigans. Biking also allows you to do that. During normal times, I'm able to make it to the shopping centers near my house in the same amount of time it takes my neighbors to drive. A crowded holiday lot will be no match for a person on a bike who can cruise right up to the bike racks and then trot in to face the masses.

What's that, you say? You have nowhere to stow your prizes once you've left the store? Backpacks and panniers are real handy. If those still don't do the trick, don't buy as much. That right there should save you plenty money, knowing that you must carry everything  you buy home on your back. If you still feel that you must buy the whole store, maybe it's time for a trailer or a bigger bike. For those of you who are located more than 3-5 miles from your shopping, a scooter is fine too. I'd consider those an excellent option for the locations within a 5-15 mile radius.

Do this BEFORE you go shopping.
Leave the cards at home. I know I know, you have a rewards card. But it can also leave you with a big shock come January, despite all the points you "earn". Removing the card greatly limits the use of the card. No longer can you pile on the gifts that it seems everyone must have and swipe away to freedom. Shop with cash instead, or maybe buy one of those prepaid cards that is dedicated solely for gifts. Once it's gone, it's gone.

On a related note, take your credit card information off of PayPal/Google Wallet/etc., at least for the season. While you'll certainly need that information if you do decide to go online with your shopping, it also makes using it easier than you want it to be. A couple clicks (or as few as 1-Click if you're using Amazon) and stuff is on its way to your front door. Something that would require agonizing over as you wander around the store

Shop the sales. By that, I don't mean the door busters. Your email spam folder is probably overflowing with ads, your newspaper this morning included a bunch more, and even the Turkey Day football game is turning into a prime ad slot. As I mentioned earlier, some stores are opening as early as 17:00 on Thanksgiving Day for the big "sales", with many more following throughout the evening into the wee hours of Friday morning. People have been lined up for days for those door busters, so your likelihood of standing a chance is slim. They're little more than a good 'ole bait-and-switch anyway.

Also, not everything that is on those ads is truly on sale. Many items go on sale at different times of the year, and that certainly varies by region as well. But if you do find something that's truly on sale, don't hesitate to stock up if possible. You're likely to find the low prices all throughout the weekend, so wander over at your leisure to take advantage of them. Of course, don't forget to still question prices. In the mania that is occurring, pricing errors can happen, quality can slip. Don't pay full price for something that doesn't deserve it.

That's all I have. I myself generally tend to avoid malls and shopping centers between Thanksgiving and New Years, so I will not be seeing you out there. A month of limited shopping will certainly help my bottom line and you can get the same benefits by also staying home or making use of some of these tips.

One photo I took, the other is sourced from 401(K) 2012.

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