Ah….the end of November. Melting patches of week-old snow pepper the ground outside, the kitchen fills the house with the smell of various baked goods and hot cool-weather dinners. The floor takes on the sheen of gravel that hitched a ride in on our shoes…and everyone knows what that means. Pine-scented potpourri and cleverly-disguised pumpkin-from-a-can will be a part of our daily lives for the next 40 days. And for the first time in almost a decade, I am far away from “home” (more meaningfully, my family) as holiday season comes to an open.
Not only is this, for most families, the most tradition-steeped time of the year, it’s also wrought with controversy. From whether or not a nativity scene set up on a courthouse lawn is offensive, to the age-old debate over whether it’s wrong to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving is over….opinions are like fruitcakes. By the new year, everybody has one.
This week’s controversy is whether it’s “right” for retailers to be open on Thanksgiving, when instead, they could stop being “greedy” and allow their employees to spend time with their families on this, one of the most togetherness-saturated holidays in America. I’m not going to get into it. I hate that they’re open on Thanksgiving, because it complicates my life. (As a SHOPPER!!) I also understand the corporate pressures to perform, especially in a craphole economy, and the desireability of keeping a good job if you have one. Or sometimes just *a* job, if you have one. Not, of course, to defend the “evil CEOs” of the world. In the end, everyone’s just looking out for #1. But I wouldn’t personally trust that job to anyone else.
Predictably, our fall family traditions begin with Thanksgiving. This year, my Thanksgiving dinner will be for two. My family will be up in Fairfield, celebrating together in a church hall because, well, as a group, we’re outgrowing the available living rooms. I look forward to hearing how that goes.
The fun, of course, doesn’t end there. It’s looking like we may have started a tradition last year in Great Falls by participating in the “Burn the Bird” 5K, which happens on Thanksgiving morning. Last year, my sister, my nephew and I went when my friend Erin invited us. This year, my sister-in-law, Karen, will be representing the Forseth clan. I’m really proud of her. I give her (and my husband) much of the credit for inspiring me to work out more often than, like, once a decade. But I digress….
The overconsumption of food is then followed by the examination of Black Friday ads in the Great Falls Tribune, which I have usually gathered about 5 copies of before I head out to Fairfield. (I have a subscription to the Cheyenne paper this year, but it only comes every other day. I’m not sure yet what that means.) We clip coupons, we make lists, and we drink wine. Everyone figures out what time their alarm clocks will be going off, and we head to our respective homes.
Tradition has been that I get the ball rolling on Friday morning, because I lived in Great Falls, childless, and packed full of enthusiasm for the last several years. In the past, my day would start at 4 or 5 a.m. at Herbergers (a favorite), followed by some combination of Home Depot, Office Max, Staples, Old Navy, and Joann’s, followed by a trip *back* to the mall to meet up with the Fairfield contingency, who were rolling in around 8 or 9. I would try to gather up doorbusters from the early-open stores from everyone’s shopping lists (they were merciful), and then we’d “get started.” While we as a group are serious shoppers, our desires for the day typically aren’t. Everyone has a small handful of things they would like to “score,” but I don’t think any of us has ever been willing to walk over bodies for a good deal. For years, we’ve had a method. A system–a good time, and a lot of jocularity. We have been ridiculously “productive.”
And THEN. They screwed. It. All. Up.
By “they,” I mean “the retailers.” Herberger’s opened last year at midnight on Thanksgiving. MIDNIGHT!! (Outlandish at the time, a whole year before we started seeing this 8 p.m. bullcrap.) Midnight? !? I tried. But the place was full of people who would have been up at that hour anyway, and have no concept of the Black Friday ettiquette or indoor/outdoor traffic patterns. It was insaner than your typical insanity. I had gathered a few purchases, and I was in what seemed like the world’s longest line, when I started getting dizzy, and sweaty, and decided it wasn’t worth it. When I went back six hours, sleep and coffee later, the things I really cared about were still there, sans crazy people. And some of the things I had originally intended to purchase appealed to me less and stayed in the store. I don’t know what their profits did last year, but I wasn’t happy with Herberger’s. They were one of many stores who were suddenly inviting amateurs to the party. Not ok.
Furthermore, when Herberger’s has already been open ALL night, it fails to provide that benchmarking start time I have relied upon for so many years. If the doors are already open, why should I get up at 4? Or 5? There is no rush, there is no deadline. I can’t work like this!! Changes must be made.
In any case, with the structure of Black Friday changing, and with it, its honor, glory, etc., etc., I am giving it much thought and going back to the basics. These changes shall NOT ruin the system, the good time OR the jocularity! Simply, we will adapt. And these are my tips for adapting.
1) Know why you’re involved.
My first tip for involvement in Black Friday is to understand WHY you’re participating. Is it about great deals? It shouldn’t be. It’s becoming widely-known that many of these so-called “must-haves” that go on Black Friday sales are just as cheap or even cheaper later in the season. You can get most of the same and other great deals online, all week and for weeks after. Don’t make it about that. Is it so you can get your Christmas shopping done and not worry about it anymore? Totally valid. Is it because it’s fun to go shopping in the middle of the night, because you don’t usually get to? Then, have at it! But be clear with yourself about why you’re even doing this and what you’re hoping to gain. Then you’ll be all the more prepared to deal with unexpected emotions or physical fatigue when one or the other inevitably rears its ugly head. Will you be ok with going home, or can you press on? Be aware: quitting earns demerits.
2) Plan your day.
Duh. This tip is on everyone’s list, but that’s because it belongs here.
You don’t have to wait for the Thanksgiving paper. Most ads have already been leaked online….just use your Google. A favorite planning site for me is www.bfads.net, but there are lots of them out there. Use them. You don’t have to spend Thanksgiving Day looking through ads–especially now that stores are opening earlier…you have to be more prepared than ever. Researching ahead of time may help you to protect some of that precious, ever-shrinking time with your family.
I recommend making a VERY short list of your “must-haves” for this day, and structure all other stops around obtaining those items. There is no shame in shopping online. The only reason not to (for big-box “deals”, at least) is if you need something in your hands immediately. Save your local stops for your local stores. Many big stores also allow you to order online and pick up in-store. Use these things to your advantage. Time is a valuable resource. (See #8.)
3) Sleep? Yes. Coffee? Yes. Breakfast? Double yes.
Be as nourished as you can when you start this day. Carry some small cash with you so that you can stop for snacks throughout the day, and throw at least two granola or protein bars in your purse per person you will be responsible for. (The fewer of these people, the better. ) Nothing is less fun than being out among a huge crowd of shoppers with whom you’d like to share an overarching fog of holiday spirit, than running into someone who is tired, cranky, and mean. You’re probably not going to get everything you want, some things will sell out. Deal with it. Be nice to people.
While you’re at it, a couple packets of Emergen-C aren’t a bad idea, either. You can drink this at lunch, and those B vitamins will help give you energy.
4) Comfortable shoes: the tired foot’s biggest must.
If you really “do” this day right, but you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes, you’ll pay way too much for a new pair at 3 PM. Buy quality, comfortable, supportive shoes THAT FIT, and break them in ahead of time. While wearing your cheetah-print Crocs may be marginally acceptable today, do you really want to do that to yourself? I didn’t think so.
5) Budget your money
You don’t have to do all of your Christmas shopping today. You really don’t. In fact, it’s obvious that most of the really “big” deals are for personal purchases anyway. Let’s be honest–anymore, the only thing “Christmas” about this day is its timing. Are you really going to buy someone a Sonicare toothbrush as a gift? (Maybe. Ok.) Or a 60-inch TV? How do I make those friends? Understand that this is a good day to purchase things you’ll be using throughout the Christmas season, and need to have NOW. But when it comes to buying gifts for others, don’t forget that some of the best Christmas gifts don’t come from Kmart, they come from your kitchen. (Or sewing machine, or local “Made in [your favorite state]” store. You get the idea.)
If you have the financial ability to make all of your seasonal purchases today, that’s great! I try to make a spreadsheet showing where I want to be, when, what I’m planning to buy there, and how much I expect it to cost. If you do this and the total at the bottom is a little out of budget, weed out the non-essentials. Remember, this doesn’t have to be the last time you walk into a store until after New Year’s.
Speaking of the absence of Christmas….
6) Create a holiday-friendly transportation vessel.
Clean your car. Check your tires, park in the garage the night before you head out so you don’t waste ten valuable minutes scraping the ice off your windshield. Make sure the trunk is empty and has room for that top-secret enormous item you’d like to keep hidden for the day. Hang up a peppermint-scented air freshener. Thanksgiving is over, so even the nay-sayers can’t tell you anymore that it’s too early to play Christmas music, if it’s essential to your joyous shopping experience. Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape. And most importantly, have a good supply of CDs (or your media of choice) in the car, ready to go, ahead of time. I recommend any Christmas album containing “Sleigh Ride” done by the Boston Pops. It’s just not Christmas until you’ve heard it.
7) Allow yourself some room for imperfection
Think you’ll make that regularly 15-minute drive across town in 10? Don’t plan on it. You might, but if you schedule your day so tightly that you can’t help but run behind immediately, that will take all the fun out of it. Also, budget a little money for impulse buys. You will inevitably see something on this day that wasn’t in the “plan.” Try not to torture yourself. If you forgot gloves at home, your fingers are freezing, and there’s a pair you like on sale, don’t beat yourself up if you make that extra purchase. The same with the coffee. If there were ever a day to splurge on delicious caffeine, this is the one. Try to patronize the local coffee kiosks. Also, because it needs to be said…there is no situation that warrants the purchase of a Snuggie.
8) This is not the day to buy by-the-yard fabric.
Especially at a large fabric chain store, unless there isn’t a single other thing you want on the planet. This is, in my opinion, the fastest way to ensure that you will be in line FOREVER. There is no way to cut fabric quickly and well, especially when fifty people are ahead of you in line, each buying 25 different colors of polar fleece. (Oye!) Joann’s, in my experience, has been unsuccessful in meaningfully speeding up the process. I will share with you something I often hear my sister Nadelle say…(to paraphrase) “The true cost of something is the total amount of hassle it takes to get it.” Would you rather wait 2 hours in line for $2/yard fabric, or buy it later for $4/yard, one day when you can run your errand AND bake a pie in the same amount of time? Time and money are BOTH valuable resources. Never forget that.
9) Don’t be that guy.
You know the one. The amateur who goes to the store with his professional-shopper friend, to “keep him/her company” at time-critical, door-busting store opening, then wanders slowly and aimlessly around said store, lacking any general sense of the people around him who have goals of their own. I don’t advocate being rude or pushy, but I advocate being slow and oblivious to others even less. (Elderly women and adorable elderly couples are exempt from this rant, and deserve our respect and patience.) If you’re not into it, go home. If someone has begged you to participate, and “needs” you there, put up. Show up, do what you’re supposed to do, and get out of the way. This isn’t the time to amble through the store like you’re just killing a Saturday. I mean it.
10) Beware of inferior Black Friday merchandise.
If you were unaware of this, a good number of the so-called Black Friday “deals” are really special-production items, made at a lower cost so they can be sold at a lower price. What might this mean? Fewer HDMI ports on that new TV you’re buying, for one. Brand names you’ve never heard of, except at this time of year, for another. I think this is particularly true in the world of electronics and computer components. Now, the TV you need might not have to be anything fancy, in which case a Black Friday model might be the perfect solution for you. But be aware that it may not be exactly the same as the seemingly identical model at the same store for $50 more the day before. Research model numbers ahead of time if you’re interested in these items, and know what you’re buying.
11) Maximize the bang for your buck.
For each of us, this means different things. While coming home with the most “toys” might be your goal, there is a huge movement right now to spend money locally, at small businesses, and to buy merchandise that was made in the USA. Even on the surface, this isn’t always more expensive.
Use credit wisely. Hundreds of credit cards offer cash back and other incentive programs when you use them. If this is an option for you, the rewards can be significant if you shop within your means and pay your balance before it accrues interest or fees. If you’re shopping online, look into cash back programs like Ebates. Starting on the Ebates website and linking to your favorite online stores from there can earn you 2-10%+ cash back on all your purchases, after you sign up for free. I’ve been doing this for a year, and each quarter I get a check back. This is on top of any credit card points earned separately on the purchase. If you refer friends, you get further incentives.
12) Make these crazy retail store hours your bitch. (PTF)
Do you know where I’ll be on Black Friday? Working. An office job. Our company doesn’t get Black Friday off, and this year, I’ve run out of vacation. So, from 8-5, I will be at my spreadsheets doing tax rate reconciliations, and happily taking home a paycheck. The good news? Not a whole lot will be going on in stores from 8-5. Many of my favorite stores open at 8 pm Thursday night. Do I intend to go there? No. But I do intend to have my laptop open in front of some Christmas movie on the TV, ordering my must-haves before I even go to bed. Sure, maybe I’ll venture out of the house at 10 pm and make a bit of a late night of it, (to me, the wonky hours are a HUGE part of the fun), or maybe I’ll get up at 4 am when not another soul is expected to be out and about, get everything I want, wait in short lines, stop for breakfast and roll up to my office at 7:55. Rocking my world this year is that I have OPTIONS. You don’t have to be there when they open the doors. You can be there whenever you want. So, adhere to your principles if it really irritates you that people have to work retail on Thanksgiving (for double time, or time-and-a-half), or go join in on the fun with the clueless, inexperienced Grey-Thursdayers who think they should go since they don’t have to get out of bed at an unreasonable hour…(seriously, have fun with that)…but make it work for YOU. You don’t have to do what the stores *want* you to–you can make your shopping patterns as confusing for them as possible. They’re open earlier because they want your money before their competition gets it. Don’t be swayed by this–put your money where you want it to go.
The most important thing about Black Friday is to have a good time. If it’s not your thing, you don’t have to do it just because it seems like “everybody else” is. For me and my family, it’s tradition. Some years, I don’t get much of my shopping done at all, but without fail I fill up an emotional tank full of happy memories. To me, Black Friday is part of Thanksgiving with my family…not the ugly consumerist cloud that cuts the holiday short. It’s a great way to get some exercise I don’t notice I’m getting, and it eases me into the holiday spirit with every crack of the orchestral whip coming through my car speakers. And those are all things you can have, even on this day, without spending a dime.