How to stay in the black this Black Friday and stop overspending
Black Friday arrives in just a few short days. But the way consumers will pile debt on their credit cards like never before, you have to wonder why they don’t call it Red Friday.
Accenture estimates that this holiday season, Americans will spend 11 percent more on gifts, or $646, as the appeal of Black Friday reaches a five-year high. But that’s not the only thing going up: NerdWallet’s 2013 estimates (based on Federal Reserve statistics) show that the average U.S. household credit card debt now stands at $15,159. That’s a 4.2 percent jump from 2012, when it was $14,517.
To make sure your spending doesn’t add to your debt load this holiday, you’ll need to put at least as much thought into your spending plan as your shopping list. Here are six steps to make sure you stay in the black this Black Friday and beyond.
1) Set a budget and stick with it
True, the holidays bring out the Santa in us all: Once you get a little generous, it’s easy to let that feeling grow. But there’s a big difference between a carefree holiday spirit and careless holiday spending.
In this instance, Santa’s maxim of making a list and checking it twice really makes sense. Set a budget and find gifts for everyone on the list before you do any buying. Then do cursory price checks—the Internet makes this easier than ever—to get a ballpark figure for how much you’ll spend in total. Run the numbers twice to make sure you’re not too far off the mark. Now you’re ready to hit the stores … almost.
Check out Moven’s holiday shopping plan and how to be an expert holiday gift giver without breaking the bank.
2) Use tools like RedLaser to comparison shop on the spot
There’s no reason to impulse shop when you have an app like RedLaser on hand. It’s easily saved me thousands of dollars, especially in scenarios when “sale” is just a deceptive cover for an already inflated price. Free for iPhone, Windows and Android, RedLaser allows you to scan a barcode, then check to see who actually has the lowest price, online or in stores. I pulled this out at a luggage sale and showed a salesman bragging about his “50 percent off” price that he was actually $75 above the cheapest price online. When he refused to price match, I walked out and ordered the bag from the online vendor.
3) The basics: Eat, drink and shop wary
To be sure, midnight sales require sleep deprivation to reap the rewards. But don’t compound the stress on your body and mind by going out on an empty stomach or without provisions. The sensory overload you’ll experience has but one purpose: to part you from your hard-earned money. Bring a water bottle and snacks in your coat if you need sustenance to get you through your shopping run.
4) Often, used is better
This may sound like sacrilege in a society that craves shiny and new. But I prefer to think of it as smart shopping in a country that trashes far too much stuff. Look on craigslist and eBay to find gently used and refurbished items that make super gifts, in categories from clothing to electronics. Recently I bought a 150-watt Sony receiver on craigslist for $50; it was in fabulous working condition without a scratch on it. From kids clothes (which they’ll always outgrow) to simple home furnishings, I’ll do lots of shopping on eBay this holiday and come out far better financially than if I bought new at a store. What’s more, eBay offers protections for buyers that will keep you from getting ripped off.
5) Waiting has its benefits
You can also do what I did in 2012 when Black Friday rolled around: hold out. While many folks try to do all of their holiday shopping exclusively on Black Friday, quite a few items see better prices in late December and even January. These include name brand HDTVs, toys, calendars and jewelry. Consider staggering your shopping list to take advantage of sales categories that will see better bargains during the tail end of the shopping season.
6) Put away the credit cards
Last of all, but perhaps most important: Use common sense when you swipe those credit cards. Before you go over your allotted budget, track everything you spend—which is especially easy if you link your credit cards to Moven.
Remember: The last thing you’ll need once all the gifts are unwrapped is the sticker shock of a whopping, high-interest credit card bill. It’ll weigh you down worse than coal in your stocking.
Lou Carlozo is a personal finance columnist/journalist based in Chicago. He writes for Reuters Wealth, DealNews, Money Under 30, and Entrepreneur.