Black Friday...black in more ways than one

by Paul Michael on 23 November 2007 15 comments

Today, November 23rd, is Black Friday. A day that as a Wisebread writer and bargain hunter I love. There are deals everywhere, we all get a chance to save a bit of dough before the Holidays, we all smile a bit more. At least, that's what I thought. But as I trudged around today in the sales, with lines of people looking more stressed than a factory farmed chicken, I realized that this day has increasingly become more of a black day on the calendar.

Black Friday got it's name from a financial term. It was a day many retailers went from being "in the red" to going back "in the black." Great, money-savings opportunities popped up everywhere and over the years it has become a momentous day for shopping. When I first arrived in the US I was staggered by the kind of deals you could get on Black Friday. It was a consumer's dream. But that dream has slowly become a nightmare, as I witnessed today.

It's difficult to know what to make of us as a race when you see fellow human beings trampling all over each other in a mall to get their hands on a half-price sweater or portable DVD player. With the deals being advertised earlier and earlier before the big day, the hype is magnified. And this year, the hype was bigger than ever. Black Friday ads were leaked up to a month before today, and the general public has been drooling like Pavlov's dog for a great bargain.

I, for one, was one of those drooling dogs last year. And the year before. I got up at 6am with my wife and sweet baby girl and dragged them all over Colorado to save $20 on a pack of re-writable DVDs and $30 on a DVD player. Nice saving, but a what cost to me and my family time? I've noticed this trend in other people, the mania growing like a virus. But today I did a quick search to see if there were any security camera images of the hysteria. Here's one of the more impactful...

 

Saving a buck is great. But when you step back and look at the bigger picture, is it worth it, really? With the Internet most people can find very good deals, ones that rival or beat Black Friday deals, without having to step outside in the rowdy rabble. No need to punch and kick. No need to step on a fellow human to get that cashmere sweater for $80. I speak as someone who had what has only been described as a "moment of clarity" today. I'm not saying don't enjoy the sales. I still love a deal, always will. But Black Friday, something I applauded as early as this morning in our Wisebread writers forum, has began to turn my stomach to reveal the true nature of us all, if we let money rule our heads instead of compassion and patience.

I love a great deal. I'll never let one go. But I won't screw someone over just to save a few bucks on the latest "must-have" toy or gadget that eventually (sooner rather than later) becomes some $5 item in a garage sale.

It's the day after Thanksgiving. A time we should still give thanks for what we have. Maybe we should remember that and spend a little more time with the ones we love, and a little less time with the retailers looking for a big, fat bottom line.

Have a wonderful holiday folks.

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Guest's picture

I love a good deal too, but you won't find me getting up that early and rushing into the stores. This morning I slept in (well, as much as you can sleep in when you have kids), really thought about what my family would appreciate for Christmas, and hit one store around 9:30. I finished up my shopping online, buying nothing at full price.

Then I spent the afternoon with my family putting up the Christmas tree. It was a nice, low key day. You'll never get me to give that up in favor of standing in long lines and pushing through crowds at 4 am. No deal is worth that!

Guest's picture

For me and many others in the U.S., Black Friday is Buy Nothing Day. It's nice to avoid the mad consumerism of our society and opt for a nice walk without buying anything at all.

Today, my husband and I did some Freecycling, a much wiser way to mangage our bread... not spending any at all.

Guest's picture
Neal

If more folks read posts like yours, maybe this mania would decrease. There is no reason in the world that I can think of to go sit out in the cold all night to buy something.

And once again, we all might become more civil if we spent less time in the stores and more time with people we care about.

But then, I'm going against "the American Way."

Guest's picture
Barbara

I never go shopping on Black Friday. Yes, there are great deals all over the place, but it's not worth it to me to fight through all the people and deal with the frustrations, etc. I don't like shopping to begin with, so when I go, I at least try to make it a relaxing time--not a mad-dash-scratch-your-eyes-out event.

Guest's picture

Here in Canada, it's Boxing Day -- the day after Christmas -- that's like this. And while watching fisticuffs arise between sweet little old ladies is sometimes amusing, it really does speak volumes about our maniacally consumerist society. This is a really good post and that video is indeed sobering.

Guest's picture
Guest

YES!!!!! This is exactly what I commented in the other Black Friday article. I was the person who said how bad humanity gets, and how greedy and unthoughtful everyone is, and how the whole meaning of Christmas is totally forgotten, by this one horrible day.

I was imagining yesterday, the parents running, pushing, falling, stepping over people who fell, in their mad rush for the ultimate bargain, sitting by the Christmas tree a month later, quiet, cozy, smiling, as their children opened their loot...never imagining exactly HOW their "role model" parents GOT their loot!

Pushing and shoving, grabbing and waiting waiting waiting....
Sorry. NOT my idea of Christmas...even a month before it.

Sad. Really sad.
That's the spirit!

Guest's picture
Chip

Amen!!!!!
Until we consumers stop acting like crack addicted, shopaholics, retailers will continue to successfully behave like pushers and pimps.
We complain about lost American manufacturing jobs and the negative aspects of our global economy, then show up on the doorsteps of retail stores, at 4AM, to do physical battle over foreign made crap.
Today's Wisebread blog not only touched me with the thought of how many families missed a chance to spend a calm, restful day continuing to give thanks, but it also assured me why "Wise" is a suitable portion of your blog title.
I hope you have a holiday season filled with true meaning and tons of time with your family.
Regards,
Chip Schneider

Guest's picture

While Black Friday is viewed as a day for acquiring goods at bargain prices, over the years I've found the insanity comes from feelings of inadequacy and/or a fear of NOT having enough money for the holidays, getting the latest DVD player or some other item that "just happens" to have a limited inventory (like the manufacturer did not know Christmas/holiday shopping was coming this year.....).

The outrageous behavior and disregard for one's fellow humans, et al, shown on Black Friday illustrates an unconscious defiance of feelings of inadequacy. It is this "lack/inadequacy" mentality which drives the consumer gluttony, a sharp contrast to the original purpose behind Thanksgiving and ironically, the day before Black Friday and its infamous frenzies.

As a small business owner, I'm all for consumerism. As a human being, over the years I find myself wondering what the point of gift-giving has become. My nieces, lovely people, are constantly bombarded with "things" (high-priced techie gadgets) by parents to the point where nothing I gift is given more than perfunctory perusal and "thank you auntie," and depending on whether or not I'm in favor with the parents this year or out, I may not even get a thank-you. It is as if even gift-giving (or lack thereof) amongst relatives has become competitive and substitutes as a symbolic communication of some sort.

Each year I share my love and caring with those who touch my heart. Whether the 'chosen ones' are capable of noticing anything more than the dollar or social-competition value of the tangible product is questionable. And with each passing year, I'm leaning towards a strictly "competition-value driven" appraisal.

Paul Michael's picture

I had a fear that I'd get hammered for writing what was on my mind, but it's great to know I'm not alone. Like I said, I love a bargain, but the cost on Black Friday is something you pay for with your spirit and good will. I believe "living large on a small budget" means living a good life, and I for one don't intend to screw anyone over to make my own life a little better. Thanks folks.

Guest's picture
Lucille

We opted out of all of it this year. Last year we went out early for a couple of good deal items but we refused to camp over night or any of the other crazy strategies. Last year it seemed like the only way to get the really good deals was to camp overnight and fight for the 10 or so of that item. It just wasn't worth doing that and never will be.

I had to drop one of our kids off at the mall mid day on Friday. It was horrible even outside. People were rude, driving crazy and downright dangerous. One driver decided a minor speed reduction was a good enough reason to drive in the oncoming lane, almost drive into the front of my car to force her way back in. All because a driver further up hesitated for a moment and slowed down. There were pedestrians everywhere too that could have easily been hit had they not noticed her sudden creative driving. A man with his entire family in tow almost t-boned my car because he was speeding down a lane of parked cars. I can't even imagine what shopping inside must have been like.

Other than that nightmare we spent the day at home and went out for coffee far far away from the malls later that day. In short we spent quality time with our kids.

Guest's picture
Katie

Do you have any suggestions for what to get my niece and nephews for Christmas that doesn't involve me blowing a fortune and feeding the frenzy?

My husband and I are very frugal people and try to live a simple life. Our ten month old doesn't have a ton of toys...most of them were gifts or yard sale finds, but they can all fit into 2 little wicker baskets we have in his bookcase. We don't want to get into the habit of making "things" the focus of Christmas, so I think that we are just getting him a balloon and a xylophone this year. That's the easy part.

My brother-in-law and his wife, however, are the exact opposite of us. They smother their kids with every possible gadget and toy imaginable and spend WAAAY above their means, the whole year but especially at Christmas.

Last year, I got them each a shirt that was $5 on sale because that was what our budget allowed us. The gift was opened and thrown aside in less than 2 seconds and the next gift was being torn into. I know that for a kid, a shirt isn't fabulous, and we want to make them happy, but we will not overspend on them just to give "awesome" gifts like their parents lavish on us.

What can I do? I am sure that the parents don't like that "we spent x on them and they only probably spent y on us." We tell them that we try to not overspend and they say that it is okay, but then they make little comments and their body language says otherwise.

I was thinking that I could take the kids out to do something fun, but I need some ideas. I asked the parents to please don't buy for my husband and I and we would just buy for the kids this year, but they said that that takes all of the fun out of Christmas. Any ideas for how to get by on the cheap without looking cheap would be much appreciated.

Thanks,
Katie

Guest's picture
Guest

All year, as you're out and about, find really really discounted things. CLEARANCE is my middle name.
Everything from cute stationary supplies, to name brand clothes, to any leftover toys the stores are trying to get rid of.....
Save it all up, and get them a cute container of some sort to set it all up in.
Wrap it in a piece of that celophane stuff, like a gift basket, put on a bow at the top, and there you go.
They'll have a goodie basket to pick through and discover, that will take at least 5 minutes to see everything! And it will have been CHEAP!
But they'll love it.
It's like a treasure chest, and you never know what you might find inside!
Even some candy saved up from Halloween can be a filler at the bottom.
You could put a $5 bill in a kid type container, too, inside the basket. Or a gift card....along with all the other small trinkets and treasures.

Adults love picking through gift baskets, too. It's just fun. I love it. My Sister in Law LOVES when I get her name for Polyanna, because that's what I do.

I shop at Ollies, Ross, GoodWill, (they got good stuff in there sometimes! You have to check back often! It's not all used! It's leftovers from stores, etc...)

Just keep your eyes out ALL YEAR, and start a Christmas box.
And if you get a gift from someone, you really don't like or can't use, SAVE IT!!! BUT, first, tape a piece of paper to it, saying, "From Aunt Betty", or whoever it's from, so you don't accidentally give it back to Aunt Betty!!
I have a collection of nice candles, Bath and Body Works stuff I never used, and I pack it into gift baskets when I can.
It's GREAT!

Hope this helps you!
Happy Holidays!

Paul Michael's picture

That's a good question, one that deserves a more personal response. If you can get in touch with me through the "contact us" section, I will be happy to give your situation some thought and get back to you. In these instances, I like to know a little more about what your kids like so that I can give a more focused answer.

MikeCinFLA's picture

Over the years I have noticed of the two people who the have come to represent the meaning of Christmas (Jesus & Santa Claus). Santa seems to be eclipsing the person who's birthday we are celebrating on December 25th. I think Santa Claus should be reveled as the symbol his image has truly come to represent, comsumerism and greed.

Guest's picture
Mari

Katie:

If your family/friends think not including adults in gift-giving "takes all the fun out of Christmas", then they don't understand what Christmas really means, do they?

Do what you feel is right -- if you don't want to exchange gifts with the adults, tell them so -- and stick to it. You need to stand by what you believe in (a more-appreciative & thankful holiday instead of rampant greed & commercialism) AND stick to your budget for your family's well-being.

If they get you gifts, that's their business. There's no such thing as "I bought for you so you HAVE to buy for me" in the gift-giving world -- you give gifts because you want to, not because you HAVE to. If they don't like it, then next year they won't buy you anything and the issue will be closed. If they're so small-minded and greedy that they're angry because you didn't buy gifts (even after you told them repeatedly that you wouldn't) -- that's their problem, not yours.