“Black Friday Starts Now!” declares the email from Merrell Shoes.
“Guess What? BLACK FRIDAY HAS STARTED!” shouts Vistaprint.
“Celebrate Black Friday with 60% Off!” says French Sole.
And that was just Monday.
At another time of my life, I might be salivating over all the stores that are lining up to win my business, the retail equivalent of those friendly people holding out cups of water to marathon runners.
But, for much of this decade, I’ve been clearing out clutter, editing my wardrobe, and trying to operate as much as I can on a cash basis.
These days, I only have one bank card, which I mainly use for travel, and I have one store card, which I’m seriously thinking about canceling, especially since it’s at a place where I rarely shop anymore.
That means anything I buy on Black Friday will be coming straight out of my bank account, via my debit card, or else I’ll pay cash. Parting with cash, research shows, feels more painful than paying with plastic, so naturally tends to curb overspending.
That’s just one of many techniques I use as part of my Black Friday survival strategy. I don’t want to miss out on the sales or the fun of the biggest shopping day of the year—but I don’t want to bust my budget either.
There are tips for Type 1 diabetics on Black Friday and for shoppers in Australia where they have adopted the custom for themselves (the shopping, not the holiday, although there is one northern Australian island that does). And, yes, there are now Black Friday sales in Britain and Canada.
Here’s what I’ve found works best for me, to both guide and shrink my spending.
1. Make a list and check it twice
Sure, the ads entice you to treat yourself. “This discount code is too amazing to pass up!” the Gap tells me.
But this shopping day should be mostly about the family members and friends to whom you will need to give something this holiday season.
Before you open a single ad, make a list—your mom, your brother, his wife, your two children, your best friend, etc. Don’t forget host or hostess gifts, either. Studies show that shopping with a list makes you less likely to buy items on impulse that you haven’t planned for.
Then, rather than shop for the folks on your list at your favorite stores, go directly to the places where you think they like to shop, if you know the people well enough. There’s less temptation that way.
Otherwise, check out their gift lists on Amazon, if they post them there, or ask people outright what they’d like to receive this holiday. As much as you may want to delight people by showing off how well you know them with a perfectly chosen gift, research shows people actually prefer to get exactly what they ask for.
They may surprise you, by saying they’d prefer to get books, or gift cards, rather than one more sweater or a pair of pajamas.
That friend to whom you always gave things with cats on them? She may confess she has more than enough cat-themed presents.
2. Let history be your guide
Ask yourself, which merchants had the best discounts in previous years? Black Friday sales have become so widespread that many of the companies with which I do regular business are now among those with special offers.
That includes everything from electronics brands to airlines, the store where I buy bird seed, and my favorite stationery outlet. Even non-profit organizations that I support have Black Friday specials.
Check your previous year’s purchases and see what you bought in a Black Friday sale. If it’s something you’ll need again for business—especially if you can expense it—is a great reason to click on an ad.
Remember to mark the receipt if it’s tax-deductible.
3. Delete, delete, delete
My life changed for the better when Google Mail introduced its “primary” “social” and “promotion” tabs. I never have to even look at most of the email ads I get on my laptop.
Things are different on my mobile phone, though. There, my Gmail box is just one big mix of emails from people and ads from businesses.
My strategy on mobile is to ruthlessly delete ads from places where I know I won’t shop.
If you want to be even bolder, go through and unsubscribe to places you know you’ll never visit again.
Think of Black Friday as the inbox equivalent of spring cleaning.
4. Pretend shop. No, really
I’ll admit it. No matter all my resolutions, and limited budget, I still love to shop. But to preserve my bank account, I’ve come up with a technique I call “pretend shopping.”
I permit myself to open the ads, go on to the website and click on the items I’d like to buy—that velvet dress from Boden USA and those beautiful earrings from Tiffany, for instance.
But I don’t buy them. I simply leave them in my shopping cart. It turns out I’m not alone. Studies show a long list of reasons why people abandon their purchases.
Mainly, it’s because the item cost more, after shipping and other fees, than the bargain it seemed to be when they first clicked on it. Many are just browsing, like me.
I find that the experience of shopping and selecting often satisfies my need to spend money. It takes some practice and discipline.
And, once in a while, I’m puzzled why something I picked out never arrived.
5. Make it harder to buy
Whether you’re going to pretend shop, or actually purchase something, make it difficult to take the final step.
Never store your credit card number with that merchant. Make yourself type in your name and the account number every single visit.
Yes, it takes more time. But, unless you have it memorized, you might get frustrated squinting at that piece of plastic. And, as a result, you’ll only make your most desired purchases.
Keep in mind that Black Friday is far from the end this holiday. There’s Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, and sales will continue as Christmas grows closer.
But if you have a strategy, you won’t suffer a shopping hangover. And that means you’ll enjoy the holidays even more.