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Are you Ready for Black Friday?

November 19, 2009 · Filed Under Spending Money · 1 Comment 

I’m not sure how this happened but next week is Thanksgiving already!  And that means that next Friday is Black Friday, that frenzied day of shopping craziness throughout the US.  Black Friday is usually a day that you can find some great prices on some items.  It is almost certainly a day that you can find a bunch of stress navigating the parking lots and stores along with a seemingly endless sea of people.  If you are planning on heading out for some pre-dawn shopping next Friday, here are some tips that will hopefully allow you to make it a successful morning.

  1. Define success – Black Friday is not a great day to go out browsing.  First, it will be a mess and there are better times to be strolling through the stores.  Secondly, if you don’t have a plan in mind and get caught up in the excitement of the sales (“Look how much money I saved!”), then you might end up spending way too much money.  So, what would a successful shopping trip look like for you?  I would guess that for most people, success would be buying certain items that you know you want to buy and getting a good price on them.  Blowing your budget by getting caught up “saving” money is typically not a success.
  2. Do the research – To help you define success and make a plan, start where all good planners start – by doing the research.  The ads will be coming out around Thanksgiving, so that doesn’t give you much time at that point.  You can get a head start by checking out various Black Friday preview sites such as GottaDeal’s Black Friday site (do a search for them, you’ll find a bunch).  Most of the ads are posted there already, so you can get started now and see if the items you want are going to be on sale somewhere.
  3. Make a list – Just to reiterate the importance of being prudent, the next step is to make a list.  Figure out what you want and write it down on a list.  It seems pretty simple (and it is) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a powerful tool.  In fact, couple it with the next step and you’ll be in good shape…
  4. Stick to the List – Ahh, another simple step that will help lead you to a successful morning.  You’ve done your research, decided what you want to buy and how much it will cost, made a budget for how much you will spend, ensured that this much spending will not be detrimental to your financial well-being in the coming year, and you’re ready to head out.  If you get out there and start “saving” money by purchasing things not on your list, you will soon see the folly of spending money to save money (well, if you use a credit card, you won’t see that folly until later when  you get your bill, but it’s still bad).  Remember that it will be exciting with the crowds and all the hoopla that morning and you will probably see items that look like really good deals.  But are they good deals?  You don’t know because you didn’t research them and if they’re not on your list you did not budget for them, so STICK TO THE LIST!
  5. Check out on-line deals – It might not be necessary to wait until Black Friday and brave the crowds to find what you want at a good price.  More and more stores are offering similar deals on-line nowadays.  The preview sites (GottaDeal does, at least) will typically show you which items are available on-line.  When I purchased a new camera during BF one year, I did it on-line instead of in the store – sure you don’t get the “experience” of standing in line in the dark with a few hundred of your closest friends, but sometimes you just have to sacrifice.
  6. Consider that some items will be on-sale longer than just a few hours before dawn Friday morning – Of course most of the really good sales are the “early bird” specials found in-store at the crack of dawn (or earlier).  But a bunch of stores will have sales throughout Thursday and some even throughout the weekend.  If the item you desire is not a super coveted one, you may be able to sleep in, make your way to the store after the initial crush, and still score a great deal on it.  For instance, usually Costco’s sale prices are good throughout the entire weekend (not sure about this year…remember to do your research!).  Similarly, some items you want may be on sale right now  (we bought a vacuum cleaner on-sale last year the week before Thanksgiving).  There’s no rule that says you have to shop on Black Friday to get good deals – you don’t care about what day you shop, you just want a good price on the items on your list.  And speaking of your list…
  7. Stick to the List – Did I mention this one already?  Well, it’s just that important.  Black Friday is a good day to get some great deals, but it’s not an excuse to get caught up and completely overspend.    You’re not doing yourself any favors if you end up paying 18% interest on your purchases for months after Christmas has passed by.  So, be prepared and be diligent.

One final thought to remember is that Black Friday is not some magical time where everything you desire is 90% off. There may not be any items that you want on significant sales.  So, don’t worry about and certainly don’t buy something just because you feel like you need to buy something on BF.  There will be other sales and other opportunities to get the items you are looking to purchase.

If you’re venturing out on Black Friday be safe, be courteous, and good luck.

My Black Friday 2008 Debrief

December 1, 2008 · Filed Under Spending Money · 1 Comment 

Black Friday: the one day of the year when I wake up earlier than my wife.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the three things I had on my list for BF .  To summarize, I bought a vacuum on Monday.  I went online Thanksgiving evening and came across the Circuit City Thanksgiving Day sale.   There I found the camera I wanted for $10 more than the best BF deal I saw…..so I bought it (and I got a rebate for a free printer as well).  So my list was pared down a bit for the actual BF.  The only item left on the list was a laptop and I saw a good price on one at Office Depot.

Early Morning

I woke up to my wife nudging me (lovingly) telling me "that’s your alarm."  "What are you talking about?" I thought, "it’s always your alarm first."  Anyway, I got up, got dressed, and headed downstairs and out towards the mall.  It was a few minutes before six when I passed Wal-Mart and I had an urge to drive over to the front of the store to check out the parking lot but I ignored the urge and continued on my way.  As I drove up to Office Depot and saw a line of about 100 or so people waiting outside the door, I decided that I wasn’t really in the mood for standing in line…so I continued to Best Buy where I figured I could kill a few minutes and then head back.

I drove around for a few minutes before finally finding a parking spot and heading in.  I was surprised that the lines to pay weren’t a lot longer.  I looked around for 20 minutes or so (didn’t find any laptops at the sale price) and then headed out to go back to Office Depot.  By now there were a number of parking spots available in the Best Buy parking lot.

At Office Depot, there were no more tickets for the laptop I wanted and I couldn’t find a display model of the LCD monitor I was interested in (and that is something I need to look at to make sure the image quality is good before buying).  I did find one ticket left for a laptop that was not one of the BF sales but was still a good price.  So I headed up to the register, making some impulse buys (sucker!) along the way (two kids’ DVDs at buy-one-get-one-free and some shredder lubricant).

Waiting in line

One interesting thing happened while I was waiting.  There was a man a few spots in front of me with a loaded cart.  It looked like he had 3 printers and some other smaller items as well.  When he got the total price at the checkout (> $2000) he seemed surprised by the amount.  I overheard the clerk mention "three laptops" besides what I could see in his cart.  Well, he decided to just leave it all there and not purchase anything.  It was interesting that he hadn’t realized how much all of his purchases would cost.  On the other hand, I thought it quite prudent that he stopped himself right then and there and didn’t follow-through with the purchase.  He was paying by check (what else am I supposed to do but people watch while standing in the long lines!) – I wonder if he would have gone ahead with the purchase if he had used a credit card instead?

Alas, I didn’t end up with a laptop as they only had one in the stock – the display model.  I didn’t think my dad would want a display model so I just paid for my impulse buys (sucker! yes, yes, you said that already) and left.

It was daylight when I left out of the store

I then headed to Circuit City where it was still very crowded…but BF is always crazy at Circuit City.  It is virtually impossible to buy anything there on BF and, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever made a purchase at Circuit City on BF.  Then I went to Staples and it was not crowded at all.  Next I went to check out Office Max (only Office Max now appears to be an American Family Fitness location) and then on to Harbor Freight.

After a small purchase at Harbor Freight, I headed over to ACE.  I found some good sales there so I picked up an extension cord, a yard stake outlet, and one of those Black & Decker Workmate benches (I’ve had my eye on one of those for a while as a "nice-to-have" but finally saw it at a great price – $10 after rebate).  I had to kill a few minutes before Costco opened, so I stopped to pick up a few needed items and breakfast at Ukrop’s.

Standing in line

When I got to Costco, they hadn’t opened yet so I stood in line (I was now actually in the mood to stand in line and see what that was all about).  So, I got in line and everyone seemed in a very congenial mood – laughing and talking.  I just ate my Iced Persian from Ukrop’s.  It took no more than five minutes to get inside when the line started moving.  As we moved through the line, we went in front of the store exit and I was amazed to see multiple people already checking out!

Anyway, I didn’t really want to buy anything at Costco…I guess I was just there for the experience.  I had the optical guy fix my glasses that broke that morning.  Then I looked around to get the feel for the crowd and to see if there were any good laptop deals and browse a bit.  Then I got some milk, nacho chips, batteries,  checked out and headed home.

Final Result

The original items on my list:

1. Vacuum – bought it on Tuesday and saved $100

2. Digital Camera – bought it online from Circuit City on their Thanksgiving Day sale and saved $40 and got a free $100 photo printer.

3. Laptop – Did not get one (yet)

Impulse Buys

I didn’t spend a lot of money this BF.  I bought some tools, some Christmas decoration stuff, and two DVDs for my kids.  In fact, I spent the most money in Costco and all of that was groceries!

Observations

There were very different approaches among the various stores stores this year.  JCPenney’s, Sears, and Kohl’s sent out these huge ads in the newspaper (JCPenney’s even said that this year their BF sales would be "the most compelling Black Friday prices ever offered in the Company’s history").  In contrast, Harbor Freight and ACE didn’t even send an ad in the paper we received (ok, I picked up my in-law’s newspaper Thursday evening since they were out of town).  Last year, Harbor Freight had some tables set up outside their store with their big deals but when I pulled up this year I had to drive up close to the store to see if they were even open.

The stores did not seem as crowded as years past

It did not seem to me that the stores were crazy crowded this year.  I overheard a salesperson in Best Buy telling a customer it was lighter than they expected.  When I left there less than 1.5 hours after it opened, the parking lot was already starting to thin out a little.  Everything had died down at Office Depot by the time I left there.  Circuit City was still packed but I really think that was a product of how hard it is to buy something and get out of there.  Best Buy does a fairly good job of getting people out the door in a relatively organized fashion but it is ridiculous at Circuit City (it was obviously not designed for huge crowds).

From what I read, it was reported that BF did start off strong but retailers are still concerned whether the shopping will continue through Cyber Monday and the rest of the Christmas shopping season.  So, stay tuned for more good sales (I’m still looking for a laptop!)

Ukrop’s does not fool around when it comes to icing

The Iced Persian looked pretty yummy – I thought it was a cinnamon roll with a little icing on it.  Instead, it was a diabetes-inducing cinnamon roll seemingly covered in sugar, then glazed, then covered with a thick layer of icing with more icing added on top for good measure!  I did eat the whole thing though.

Black Friday Deals Without the Black Friday Mess

November 26, 2008 · Filed Under Spending Money · 4 Comments 

In my last post, I mentioned some tips for approaching the craziness of Black Friday to hopefully help you get some good deals while not overspending or wasting your day.  One important suggestion was to prepare yourself beforehand by doing the research necessary to decide what you want before the ads are officially released.  I also mentioned that I was going to be doing some pre-shopping on a new vacuum.  Well, we went out researching yesterday and now we own a new vacuum.

Why didn’t we wait until Black Friday?

On the surface, this sounds pretty silly to go out a few days before BF and buy something you would probably find on-sale Friday.  Though a very similar vacuum will be on sale on Friday, it actually isn’t all that crazy (at least I don’t think it is).  Allow me to walk you through the steps we took.  First, we checked out Consumer Reports and targeted a few highly-rated vacuums and went to the store to touch and feel them.  Before leaving for the store, however, I checked a BF preview site and determined that a very similar model is going to be on sale at Sears for $230 (from $350).

When getting to the store, however, the vacuum that we were looking for was actually on sale right then for $250.  After deciding we wanted to purchase this specific model, we asked ourselves a simple question: Is the extra $20 savings worth the hassle of making a special BF trip to this store to fight the crowds and (hopefully) get the vacuum?  The answer (obviously) was no.  We got the vacuum we wanted for $100 off and now I don’t have to make a trip to that store on Friday morning (I personally consider that worth the $20).

Some other ways to grab BF sales without the BF stress

Here are some other ideas to help you get some good deals on your shopping while avoiding the BF rush and crush.

Big sales have already started

Why wait until Friday when you can start getting good deals today, right now, as we speak.  Circuit City has been running Daily Doorbuster deals for a few days already (the last one is today, I believe).  Also, Amazon.com sent me an email telling me that Black Friday shopping has already started there as well.  They have daily deals and limited-time offers already up and available.

Don’t spend Black Friday jostling for bargains and parking spots. Instead, visit Amazon.com for Black Friday specials and great deals all week long from the convenience (and comfort) of your keyboard.

Amazon also has an interesting gambit going on…it’s kinda hard to describe so allow me to let them do it:

Amazon Customers Vote is back for 2008 and voting has already begun! Customers Vote is a special end-of-year promotion where you can vote for the deal you’d like to buy at an amazing discount. There will be six rounds of voting with three products in each round. Beginning Thursday, November 27, 2008 each day a new winning product will be announced, and randomly selected customers who voted in that round will receive an invitation to participate in the race to buy the winning product.

These are just two of many currently offering deals – check out this page on GottaDeal’s site to see a much larger list of BF sale items from various stores that are available online right now.

Look for Black Friday deals you can get online

BestBuy will be offering some BF items in-store only, but they will also make some available on-line.  And what could be more convenient than getting a great BF deal from the comfort and convenience of your own home?  Sure, you may have to stay up late Thanksgiving evening or wake up really early the next morning to get online and get these deals, but that’s much better than camping out in the cold to fight a bunch of other people for them.  Check here for other BF sales that will be offered online .  If there is a store you are planning to visit Friday morning, you might want to search their website to see if they will have the items you want online also.  Just remember to check each site to see when the deals will be offered.  I’m sure they are all "while supplies last" so you may need to get out of bed early to get the best deals (but at least you’ll be in your PJs instead of your parka).

Just wait until things calm down

Like I mentioned in my previous post , from what I’ve read there will be significant sales going on throughout the Christmas shopping season.  As a result, getting a great deal on something you want is probably not a once and done, BF-only proposition.  If an item is on sale on BF, there is a fair chance that you will see it on sale again before Christmas.  So, if you want a take a slight risk, then sit tight on BF and wait until you see some follow-on sales.  You may get lucky and see your item on sale and you can pick it up when the stores are not nearly as hectic.

My standard disclaimer

I have put something like this in all my BF posts….if you are going to venture out or online for BF sales, make a list and stick to it.  Remember, spending money is spending money.  Spending money is not saving money.  A good sale is not an excuse for irresponsible spending (and no, not even a fantastic sale either!).  If you really want to leverage Black Friday to save money, then just stay in bed and relax Friday morning…that shouldn’t cost you anything.  Better yet, get up early and make your family a special breakfast – that won’t cost very much and will start the Christmas season off for your loved ones on a great note!

Preparing Yourself for Black Friday

November 24, 2008 · Filed Under Spending Money · 2 Comments 

It’s almost here – that American holiday-unto-itself: Black Friday!  I have to admit that I’m behind schedule for my Black Friday shopping this year – and that’s too bad  because I actually have some stuff I’d like to purchase.  Besides some normal gift items, I have some slightly-bigger ticket household items that I’d like to pick up at a good price.  When you have significant purchases for Black Friday, you’ll want to get prepared beforehand in order to make a successful day of it.  Here are a couple tips for gearing up for Black Friday shopping.

1) Decide exactly what you are going to buy beforehand

Especially for more expensive items, I would recommend not being swayed by the ads.  Rather, decide what you want to get and then look for specials on those specific items.  For us this year, we want to get a new digital camera (the LCD no longer works on our current model), a new vacuum cleaner (our vacuum is currently in a few pieces in the back of our van), and a laptop for my dad (a fair one at a very low price).  I rely on Consumer Reports for most non-trivial purchases, so I have started my research there.

I have a very good idea of which digital camera I want to purchase.  I still have to complete researching the vacuums.  For the computer, the exact model doesn’t matter as much – I have a general idea of the specs that I want and will just choose the best one that meets the minimum requirements from the ads.  But for the digital camera and vacuum, even though I will have a good idea what I want, I still need to get out and actually touch them and play with them before purchasing one (don’t you hate the cameras that take too long to actually snap the picture after you press the button!). I am behind schedule, but my plan is to decide exactly what I want in a digital camera and vacuum by tomorrow and get out to the stores to confirm that before Thanksgiving.

2) Check out the ads as early as possible

Sometimes you can’t decide the exact model you want before seeing the ads.  For instance, if there are a few different vacuum cleaners that would be acceptable, the one I decide to buy will be the one (if any) that I can get for the best deal on Black Friday.  Thus I can’t wait until the ads are delivered with the Thursday newspaper since I won’t be able to get out and touch and feel them before Black Friday.  And the last thing you want to to in the stress and crowds of BF are to be playing around trying to decide which special deal you want to buy.  First, you just don’t want to deal with the hassle in the midst of the big crowds. More importantly, if you’re out to get a good deal but are still doing research that morning, the good deals might be gone before you are able to decide what you want.

In a previous post, I mentioned the value of black friday preview sites such as GottaDeal.com’s Black Friday site .  Using these sites is a good idea for you to be able to see if any of your prospective items are on going to be on sale.  Doing this early enough gives you time to get out to the stores and check out the specific items that will be on sale.  I guess I could go out and check out all the possible models that I would consider purchasing, but I don’t really have the time or inclination to do that.  So, I’ll pick a few options, check out the preview sites to see which will be on sale, and then get to the stores before BF to decide which one or two I really want.

3) Strategize

Next you want to plan out your BF shopping strategy.  If you really want to get some popular deals, you won’t be able to fool around browsing a bunch of stores – you’ll need to have a good idea of where you want to go and what you want to get.

There are two main criteria to consider during your planning:

  • How popular the item will be
  • How much you want to get that specific deal

I usually order the items I want to purchase by priority and then try to optimize my route to get as many as possible.  Even if you see a great deal that you want, you will need to be realistic about whether or not you are actually interested in exerting the effort necessary to secure the item(s).  For instance, if you are looking for that fabulous deal on the huge HDTV but there will only be a few in the store, that is obviously the place you will want to go first.

You can usually get a pretty good idea of which items will be the most popular via an educated guess or by checking out the BF preview site forums to see which sales are getting a lot of buzz.  For the really big deals, you’ll have to get there very early or maybe even camp out the night before.  If you are not willing to do that, you should be realistic about your chances of securing one of those huge deals.  Personally, I will not go that far (certainly not for a vacuum or laptop!).  I will still get up pretty early and head first to the store with the item I want to try my hardest to purchase.  After that, I’ll head the stores with items that I don’t want quite as badly as well as the ones with deals I expect to be available later in the morning.

Some other things to consider

Do not overspend in the frenzy of the day.  With all the people out early in the morning following seemingly unbridled consumerism, it is sometimes easy to get caught up and overspend your budget.  The best way to control this if, of course, to make a list and stick to it .

I mentioned above that you should not be swayed by the ads.  When it comes to big items especially, make your list before you start looking at the ads.  Just because something is a great deal, does not mean you should buy it (and it’s certainly a good bet you don’t "need" it).   Remember the old joke – how much money will you save by buying a $3000 HDTV at 60% off?  The answer, of course, is you haven’t saved ANY money – instead, you’ve spent $1200!

Of course, for smaller items I do not follow such a strict plan.  I will go ahead and check out all of the ads on Thursday to see if any smaller items strike my fancy.  But even small purchases add up, so make sure you keep track of what your overall expenditures will be.

Black Friday will not be the end of the sales this year

The economy is not doing so well this year (have you heard that?).  The stock market is down, housing prices are down, unemployment is up, and as a result people are not spending money like they have in years past.  What does that mean?  It means that retailers will continues sales up through Christmas to entice shoppers to spend.  In fact, you’ve probably already seen some really good sales before BF.  Walmart has been running big in-store and online-only specials for the past few weeks.  Circuit City is currently running Daily Doorbuster Deals through Wednesday as well.  And unless BF is crazy huge for some reason, I expect these deals to continue all the way up until Christmas.

So, I’ll be out there Friday morning, but I will certainly not be camping out or pushing and shoving to grab stuff.  I do expect the deals to be big, but as I also expect to see big crowds on BF and good deals up through Christmas, I do not feel the urgency to make all of my purchases on BF.

Preparing for Black Friday via BlackFriday.GottaDeal.com

October 31, 2008 · Filed Under Random · 14 Comments 

I have to admit, for the past few years I’ve been venturing out on Black Friday to check out the sales.  This all started a number of years back when we lived in Tucson.  I discovered ACE Hardware’s BF sales one year and was amazed at all the really inexpensive stuff I could get there.  I was hooked and I’ve been back to ACE most every year since.  I can usually at least pick up some useful tools for basically nothing after the mail-in rebate.  I was quite disappointed last year, however, because I think the sales were exactly the same as those from the year before.  (I’ve got my eyes on you this year, ACE Hardware!).  Since I know there are a lot of people out there who do serious shopping on Black Friday, I thought I’d share a tool I’ve been using to make planning for BF a little less hectic.

What is Black Friday?

Black Friday, which has been raised almost  to the level of a holiday in the US, is that magical day where we as Americans exhibit rampant consumerism at its height.  It got its name as the day of the year that retailers typically become profitable for the year (going from the red to the black in their accounting).  There typically are great sales on certain items, but unfortunately some people take it a little too far (see my story a few paragraphs down) either by over-spending or pushing and shoving to grab the latest toy or hot item.

Getting a head start

There are a number of websites that "leak" the ads before their official release during the week of Thanksgiving.  I usually check out BlackFriday.GottaDeal.com .  Of course, they have the ads up there but they have some other nice features as well.  I like that for most of the items they usually have links that take you to the retailer’s site to get more details on them.  Another very useful feature is the forums they host on the site.  There are usually some discussions going on about different items and techniques and various rumors floating around.  I have subscribed to their email list and they usually send an email when they post a new ad – so they’re not flooding me with emails.  I’m sure there are other valuable sites as well (for instance, Prime Time Money recently did a post on blackfriday.info ).  It’s just that I found GottaDeal’s BF site a few years back and have been using it since.

Getting carried away….

Ahhh, I remember the year I first discovered the black friday site at gottadeal.com.  I was living in North Carolina at the time and, for whatever reason, I became obsessed with Black Friday that year.  Frankly, it was quite unhealthy.  I ended up spending hours pouring over the ads and making lists of exactly what I’d go looking for.  Of course, I ended up spending quite a bit of money.  Sure, the stuff was on sale but let’s get real: buying things is still spending money, not saving it.

We had friends visiting for Thanksgiving and I ended up dragging the husband out very early Friday AM for an entire morning of shopping.  We hit Best Buy, Circuit City, Panera (needed a little break and some munchies), Radio Shack, Sears, Costco, and ACE (of course).  This is the list of stuff that I bought that day:

  • TV (ok, bought that a few days before but it still counts)
  • Surround Sound system
  • DVD Recorder (at Radio Shack which I later returned)
  • Roomba (robotic vacuum cleaner)
  • Computer Software (free after rebate)
  • DVD Recorder (liked this one better)
  • Blank DVDs and CDs
  • Miscellaneous tools (of course)

Proceed carefully!

I have reformed my ways since that year.  I still usually go out on Black Friday…still usually by myself…but not usually until a little later in the morning.  Now, however, I am more cautious about my spending.  Last year, for instance, I bought some Christmas presents that were on my list and was able to get better quality items as a result.  I feel that is really the best way to approach BF.

If you are going to venture out, don’t just buy items for the sake of "saving money." Be prepared, have a list of what you need to get as Christmas presents or whatever, find those things on sale, and stick to your list! Since there are so many sales going on during BF and the crowds are quite large, I definitely feel it is helpful to plan ahead via the ads or a "pre-release" site like gottadeal.com.  But take caution – it is very easy to get carried away as I did a few years back and start the Christmas season a lot poorer than you ended Thanksgiving!

So what about you?

Does anyone else out there shop on Black Friday?  Or do you stay away from all the stores and blatant consumerism that day?  If you do shop it, have you ever camped out the night before to snatch one of the big deals?  (I have never done that).  Do you have any interesting  BF stories?

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