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Black Friday Onslaught: Truly Frugal Holidays

This article was written by in Consumer, Featured. 16 comments.

With the first cold weekend after the summer, I can tell just by looking around that people everywhere have begun thinking about the holiday season. I’m not talking about Veterans’ Day or Thanksgiving; Christmas is the day on people’s minds as they erect their gaudy displays. The advertisements are not yet full-force on television, but web sites are aglow with the annual holiday shopping ritualistic articles.

Following a recession, and with a public still dealing with unemployment, a holiday focused on consumerism and materialism is a sure bet for added stress. You can witness this through the popularity of faux frugality. It is valid for those who intend on spending money to buy presents for friends and family to seek ways for spending less. The Black Friday deals mailing lists and web sites are already abuzz.

There is a reason retailers have jumped on the Black Friday bandwagon, offering discounts galore for a limited time: coupons plus holiday hype is very successful for encouraging more people to spend money. Overall, the more you involve yourself with coupons and deal finders, the less money you’ll have in your bank account. This is not frugality. In some cases, the most you could say is that this is smart spending, but in most cases, coupons encourage people to make worse decisions about their spending. Ever worse, it encourages more contemplation of spending.

I’m not suggesting a nationwide No Spend Day. Material gift-giving is entrenched in modern society. Its source is the retail advertising industry, which has been powerful enough through various media to transform a nation with money to spend throughout the past century. Or if you believe the true source reaches back beyond the past 100 years or so, the sentiment has been amplified recently. None of that matters; unless your family or community has successfully shunned mainstream thought, the holidays feature consumerism. So if you’re going to spend, make the best decisions, but don’t put yourself in a position to be financially unstable later.

If you’re interested in real frugality, understand your gifts may not be appreciated unless the recipient is thinking along the same lines.

Do you plan to have a frugal holiday season this year? If so, how? Will you scour Black Friday deals or consider spending less without marketing influence through coupons? If not, why not?

Updated November 9, 2010 and originally published November 8, 2010.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Donna Freedman

My holiday will cost relatively little out of pocket. Here’s how most of my purchases shook down:
1. A couple of toys from last year’s clearance
2. Gift cards I got from rewards programs (ThankYou points, MyPoints)
3. Re-gifting
4. “Sunk cost” gift cards I got using an Albertsons gift card that I bought last year at tax time
5. Jam and jelly I made with gleaned fruit (31 cents per jar)
6. Items bought with certificates that I got by taking online surveys
7. Free-after-rebate items (these are usually stocking stuffers)
8. Yard sales (e.g., like-new books whose spines had never been cracked)
9. The dollar store (hardback books for a buck!)
10. Free calendars from various charities (these were elements of multi-gift boxes for two different close relatives)
Note: Sometimes I gave the gift cards outright, and sometimes I use them to shop for presents.
I like giving gifts. But I won’t go into debt to give them.

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avatar 2 Luke Landes

Thanks for sharing the details, Donna! Is this pretty much your standard operating procedure every year? I’m guessing your approach doesn’t change much.

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avatar 3 Donna Freedman

For the past five or six years it has been, yes. It’s actually kind of fun, like gaming the system by NOT buying too much.
And people go crazy for the jam. Sometimes when I see what “homestyle” fruit preserves go for in the specialty stores and catalogs, I think I’m in the wrong business.

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avatar 4 Donna Freedman

Forgot to mention: Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be the chance to get things for yourself. I am about to buy my first digital camera, only about 900 years after everyone else has gotten one. If there is a really good deal, I will finally take the plunge.
Note: This only works if you’ve BUDGETED for these items. Looking at the ads and saying “Wow! I always wanted a cordless sausage-stuffer and a rice cooker that plugs into my car’s cigarette lighter and these are 10% off!” is not frugal.

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avatar 5 OrchidGirl

I definitely second this. If there is something I have decided to purchase, I often wait for a black friday or similar sale. The wait gives me time to rethink whether I really want to make the purchase and the sale saves me quite a bit.

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avatar 6 eric

Donna, you should have looked at the Staples ad today. They had a Sunday/Monday only sale on a couple of really good point-and-shoots. Only about $100+tax after the gift card rebate. :)

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avatar 7 Donna Freedman

I did see it, Eric, and decided to skip that particular camera. Holding out for a better deal and/or camera. Tempting, though.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

“Overall, the more you involve yourself with coupons and deal finders, the less money you’ll have in your bank account.”

I feel that is only true if one lacks the discipline to have a set budget and follow it. It’s when you start using coupons and sales to buy items that you normally wouldn’t, that is when the trouble begins.

For example, if I planned on spending $100 even on my child for Christmas and with that $100 alone, I figure I could buy 4 shirts and a 1 pair of jeans for my child — I’d be happy, but if I took that same $100, used coupons combined with sales and I was able to buy 8 shirts and 2 pairs of jeans, I’d be more happy… In the long run, I’d save money because my child will be in need of clothing regardless. Same with any purchase. I refuse to buy many, many items at full price that I need or want.

So to answer your question:

I’ll have a frugal holiday this year by setting a budget and sticking with it. I’ll take the time to sort through sales and deals to find a gift that will be appreciated by my loved ones. I’ll be spending what I have budgeted — because it’s what I can afford, and I will use coupons and sales to get the best bang for my buck with the money in that budget.


I’ll be using coupons, cash back, store reward cards and sales to get the best deal.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I agree with the Ninja … If you set a budget before you set out shopping then the coupons and deal sites really come in handy. I have not paid retail prices in a long time, especially with the inception of cash back sites. I have found a new site that compares most of the cash back sites. Once I know where I am shopping I compare which cash back service to use and know that I am getting the most cash back. And then you add coupons on top of those savings. This is just a way of extending what you have budgeted.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

It is normal for us to have a frugal holiday season; in fact, things generally get less expensive for us around Thanksgiving. Getting a deal on a turkey begins the food savings. I don’t like being marketed, but I am waiting for the holiday season to buy some perfume, because there are great sales at that time. We avoid Christmas, but have to go to a company party. Outside of that, our home is a haven from the insanity that is typical of the season.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Two years ago our family decided to stop the craziness of buying gifts for everyone. (“Our family” means me, my two sisters and our spouses, children and their significant others.) Now we each buy a $25 gift card and put it in a grab bag. When we all get together for dinner/celebration, we each draw a card out of the bag. You give $25, you get $25 and it’s fun to see all the different stores/restaurants cards that were purchased. And of course, there is some swapping afterward – like my Mom doesn’t need a Home Depot card, so she might swap with someone for a grocery store card. Not only does this not cost anything, its fun and it removes tons of stress of the “don’t know what to get for him/her” variety.

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avatar 12 Anonymous

I love this idea!!! I may have to wait till my kids are a bit older to start doing this, but It’s definitely a keeper. Thanks for sharing!

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avatar 13 Anonymous

I read on another blog where someone is going to be giving out coupons to family members for personal dates together. For instance, give a “go to the movies with dad” coupon to your kid, “have catch-up coffee” to an old friend, or “30 minutes of dedicated cuddle time” to your spouse.

The gifts are free, but can be EXTREMELY heartfelt if done right. So, I’m going to try to do that this holiday and see how they go over. :)

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avatar 14 Anonymous

My husband and I have not given each other gifts for years, and now we have informed our extended family that we will cease gift exchanging. Everyone knows that for us to purchase for the holidays means something essential gets cut out. It offends me a bit that the media sometimes urges us to spend to “save the economy”, and that just about every popular holiday movie features shopping or presents. We will not save the economy is we go into debt or become dependent on welfare. We need to eat and pay our health costs; purchases for the many special occasions might make us miserable later. For seniors like us, this is not a matter of choice. We still intend to have a joyous holiday by having our adult children over for a simple home cooked meal, and I decorate my twenty year old artificial tree differently each year. This year the ornaments will be made from favorite photographs I have kept over the years. I will also take joy talking to my family about the volunteering I have done in 2010 for favorite causes.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I so don’t want to buy anything this year! To spend my hard earned money on gifts that will be used for a short time…not my cup of tea any longer.
I would rather ‘experience’ something for the holidays – tickets to an event, a snow weekend at a cabin in the snow or something along the lines. I would not mind spending money on that type of thing. Good memories last a long time.
I am doing a frugal Christmas this year – happily, we did a frugal, debt-free holiday last year. I loved it.
I want to get back into the spirit of Christmas by spending time with my friends, tree trimming, decorating sugar cookies, making paper chains with the kids. Might sound cheesy, but again it brings good memories that make a grand present for me. And I’ll have pictures to look back on.

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avatar 16 KNS Financial

I think it’s best to have a budget and a list before you even consider looking for coupons and deals. As you said, coupons can lead to impulse buying – which is the very opposite of frugality!

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