It all started with a dare a few years ago: My husband and family dared me to get up at 2 a.m. and stand in line for at least one of the major Black Friday sales going on. The idea of standing in line with hundreds of others, waiting for the store doors to open, didn’t sound appealing, but they said I was up for the challenge and I would receive $200 to spend as part of the dare. Who can say no to $200?
So, on that Friday, after gorging myself with turkey the day before, I peeled my eyes open, grabbed some clothes and made it off to the mall. As I got closer and closer to the mall, I could see hundreds of cars piling into the parking garage as if they all knew a secret I didn’t. I wanted to turn the car around so many times, go back to sleep and avoid the Black Friday rush — but I love a good dare.
I decided to hit up Target and see what kinds of deals I could score first. The line was long but not awful as we waited for the store to open. There were lots of sleepy people still in their PJs, with big travel mugs of coffee in their hands. However, once the doors opened, the crowd came to life, surging toward the doors, and I was swept up and thrown into the store. (Note: This isn’t a good idea if you’re claustrophobic in any way.)
For the next hour, I wandered through the store with no real action plan other than documenting that I made it to the store (part of the dare). After a while, I noticed that some of the deals didn’t feel like deals at all. I had seen very similar prices online and in the store a few weeks prior, yet people were running around like they were also winning a prize for being in attendance. I admittedly ended up spending my money (in fact, I overspent), but it wasn’t on any standout deals.
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Since then, I can say that I have never been back to a Black Friday opening day, and I’d be happy if I never do it again. Sure, the extra cash was great, but dealing with long lines, pushy people and not-so-great deals? The experience isn’t worth the hype. That said, if you’re insistent on experiencing the craziness of Black Friday, here are a few takeaways I learned on that fateful morning.
What I Learned
- Always go shopping with a list. I know this sounds obvious, but even I got swept up in the idea of Black Friday shopping and committed the cardinal sin of not having a shopping list. I ended up spending more money than I had anticipated.
- Use a price-comparison app. There are so many great apps and sites that let you price compare before you go shopping. You can figure out which stores will offer you the best deals so you don’t spend more money than you should for an item. Getting the best price is especially crucial for a hot-ticket item like a TV.
- Set a budget. Again, this seems obvious, but even as a financial professional, I overlooked this important detail. Whether you’re online shopping or waiting for the mall doors to open on Black Friday, set a budget for each person you’re buying a gift for and track your spending with an app like The Christmas List. There are a lot of other great budgeting apps out there.
- Raid your points. Your credit card points can be worth cash in your pocket for holiday shopping. Check your credit cards before you shop (online and in person) to see what your points can purchase. I use a mobile app that helps me compare and value the price of my points.
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