Thanksgiving is all about personal finance

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday of the year. So when I venture out during the month of November, I'm slightly annoyed to hear Christmas music piped into retail stores or to see giant, inflatable snowmen at The Home Depot. (Yes, I do secretly want one, but only after Thanksgiving.) I get mailers about Christmas presents, and when I bother turning on the TV or radio, I'm bombarded by Christmas commercials. Bah humbug!

Black Friday starts on Thursday

It seems like every year there's more of an effort to crowd out Thanksgiving. For instance, Black Friday no longer starts the Friday after Thanksgiving. Many retailers now open on Thanksgiving Day. Paul Ausick reports for MSN:

“Over the past few years, a kind of arms race has developed among retailers, and stores have opened their doors earlier and earlier each Friday. In fact, Black Friday may soon be a thing of the past. Many of the biggest retailers are even going to open on Thanksgiving Day in an effort to combat a shopping season that is nearly a full week shorter than last year's.”

Ausick writes that among those planning to open on Thanksgiving Day are (and you can probably guess them): Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Sears and Kmart, Kohl's, J.C. Penney, and Old Navy. Macy's is opening on Thanksgiving for the first time in the company's 155-year history. And because so many retailers and department stores are opening on Thanksgiving, entire malls are jumping in on the early holiday sales, as well.

Thankfully, as NBC Washington reports, “Some stores are holdouts: Nordstrom posted a sign in its window this week that said it would not open on Thanksgiving or even decorate their stores before Turkey Day. ‘We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,' the notice reads.” That right there is enough to turn me into a Nordie.

Thanksgiving, not gift giving

So I started thinking about why it matters to me. What's the big deal about crazy sales taking over Thanksgiving? It's not like I'll be out there in the shopping chaos anyway. But I think the reason actually has a lot to do with personal finance principles.

Thanksgiving, unlike Christmas or Valentine's Day, seems to be one of the few holidays that retailers haven't been able to capitalize on. Sure, there are retail items here and there, like maybe some turkey-themed napkins or paper plates or something, but there's no tradition of gift exchange, so there's no way to exploit our gift-giving obligations or to play off the pressure to get our loved ones “the perfect present.”

Unlike those gift-focused holidays, Thanksgiving is about loved ones and sitting around a table together to enjoy a meal. It's about giving thanks, not giving gifts. And to me, that makes it the ultimate holiday for those of us who are into personal finance. Here's why:

1. There's no pressure to spend. Sure, the Thanksgiving Day meal, if you're hosting, probably isn't as cheap as your normal Thursday lunch. But it's nothing like the bill you probably rack up from holiday spending. And there are many folks who go into the red in order to pay for holiday gifts. Deseret News reports:

“From July to September of [2012], the average credit card debt per borrower rose by 4.9 percent. In December of 2011, 14.1 million Americans reported that they were still paying off debts from the previous Christmas. Presuming that such profligate spenders haven't changed their habits, it's likely that…they'll be piling new debt on top of the old, making it harder and harder for them to dig out from under their pile of bills.”

2. It's about hard work and payoff. Today most of us don't plant crops and celebrate the harvest, but we do hunt and gather at the local grocery store, which sort of becomes a madhouse the week of Thanksgiving, and we do have to do a lot of planning.

For instance, I bought all of my pie-making ingredients and supplies yesterday, and will start making the pie crusts tomorrow. And on Thanksgiving, it's going to feel pretty great to serve up the result of all that hard work: a brûléed bourbon-maple pumpkin pie, a pear pie with red wine and rosemary, a yogurt pie with grape and black-pepper compote, and a gluten- and sugar-free apple crumble pie for my mother-in-law. (Obviously, I'm on pie duty, a responsibility that I take maybe a tad too seriously. Case in point: I already bought extra butane for my kitchen torch.)

This idea of putting in the hard work now for the payoff tomorrow is what much of personal finance is all about. We save up for the future, whether it's a vacation, emergency savings, or retirement. It means more effort in the short term, but the payoff is delicious. Er, worthwhile.

3. It's a day of gratitude. In my personal finance journey, gratitude has played a pretty important role. Here's why: I'll always have personal finance goals I'm striving toward, and while striving is great, it can also be difficult. There will always be people farther ahead than me, who make more money, who save more money, who understand far more about investing than I ever will. But I've learned to curb some of that angst by expressing gratitude. Gratitude for the resources, like GRS, that taught me to stop living paycheck to paycheck. Gratitude for having a healthy emergency fund and enough money to travel every now and then. Life is pretty freaking good, and I love that Thanksgiving is a day devoted to thinking about the reasons why.

In a past GRS guest post, author Kate Northrup wrote that we can even give thanks for debt: “Any time we have debt, we're simply repaying someone for something of value that we have already received. So instead of looking at your credit card or loan statements with dread, why not get into gratitude? Maybe it was your college education, medical procedures, or furniture that you're using and enjoying today.”

4. It celebrates what matters most. Speaking of gratitude, Thanksgiving is about the thing we can't even put a price on: loved ones. And my family is part of why I strive to be a financially responsible person. Nancy Anderson explained this well in her article in Forbes:

“…lack of financial stability makes us all vulnerable. When an emergency hits and we get a call from a family member for help with a rent deposit or moving expenses, are we going to turn them away? Of course not. We are going to help, but those funds have to come from somewhere. When 20-year-olds can manage their cash, are able to borrow money at decent rates and live on 75% of their income by doing the above, that means financial security not just for them, but for the entire family.”

She's writing about 20-year-olds, but the advice is universal — I know many 30-somethings on up who regularly hit up family members for money.

Another aspect of this is making sure your loved ones will be taken care of, should anything happen to you. “No one wants to think about it, but if something happens to you, you want to know that your wife and kids won't be homeless,” says Anthony H. of Houston, Tex. “Responsible personal finance planning — things like savings and life insurance and no credit card debt — insure that your family will be okay.”

So those are the reasons why the idea of Black Friday encroaching on Thanksgiving bums me out. Did you know that they actually call it “Grey Thursday” now? Ugh. Back up off my T-Day!

Readers, are you excited about the earlier shopping times, or do you hold Thanksgiving sacred?

 
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Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle
Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle
6 years ago

I feel badly for all the American retail workers who have to work on Thanksgiving Day because so many other people are bored and want to go shopping. It seems your holiday is now meaningless.

Our Canadian Thanksgiving is in October and I continue to be grateful for my ability to be slowly paying down my debt.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

I did notice that some chains like Best Buy were open on Thanksgiving this year. It bothers me that Canadian retailers have to mimic their U.S. counterparts to deter cross border shopping.

Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago

I feel exactly the same way. It’s like retailers are intentionally eroding our holiday. My wife and mother have a tradition of Black Friday shopping. Now, they feel compelled to begin on Thanksgiving – this means less time together as a family.

Maybe we should just shut down everything and make the entire week shopping?!?

Matt YLBody
Matt YLBody
6 years ago
Reply to  Money Saving

I feel horrible for the retailers too. And any profession that has to work on holidays (nurses, doctors, police, firefighters). I’m thankful for their sacrifice.

Anyway, it seems like Black Friday has become earlier and earlier each year.

Jennifer
Jennifer
6 years ago

Very well said, April. Excellent post!

FI Pilgrim
FI Pilgrim
6 years ago

I’m with you about Black Friday. I’ve never bought a THING on Black Friday before, and the fact that it’s starting to encroach on Thanksgiving makes the whole thing that much more detestable to me. I won’t do it!

Marcy
Marcy
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

I won’t shop on Thanksgiving or Friday, either!!

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  FI Pilgrim

Ditto! I refuse to spend money on “Black Friday.” Patently refuse. The whole thing is disgraceful.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago

Interesting post, but I would have enjoyed hearing more of April’s thoughts rather than summaries of other articles. I loved the emphasis on gratitude in this post, and agree that holidays should be about family, not shopping! April has good insights — she doesn’t need to lean on other authors. However, I do think there is pressure to spend at Thanksgiving too — at least for those of us who have to travel! Our family is pretty spread out so we often have family dinners at off-holiday times when it’s less expensive to travel and people have more than a… Read more »

Tina in NJ
Tina in NJ
6 years ago

Amen, sister! I’ve read that appreciating what you already have is a great way to curb impulse spending. I worked in Macy’s in college and while I liked the extra hours in my paycheck, Black Friday was and is a major hassle. No thing is worth getting trampled or even cranky over.

Mike Collins
Mike Collins
6 years ago

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday too. It’s all about spending time with family and enjoying each other’s company without the pressure and craziness of presents, trees, and decorations.

Kiernan
Kiernan
6 years ago

Nice article, April.

On another note – what’s with all the disappearing posts lately? First that obviously fake article from supposed senior citizen (but actual Ft. Worth financial advisor), and then yesterday’s awful advertorial for Capital One. I’m glad GRS is pulling these mistakes, but how about an explanation for your readership? I’m a former daily reader who now just checks in occasionally to read J.D., Kristin and April, but even I can’t help notice the poor editorial oversight lately.

Colleen
Colleen
6 years ago
Reply to  Kiernan

I must’ve missed that article. What happened?? An article was written from the perspective of a senior citizen and it turned out that it was a financial planner? How was this found out?

Ellen Cannon
6 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

That fake post was sent to us without the financial planner’s knowledge, so we removed it.

Beth
Beth
6 years ago
Reply to  Ellen Cannon

And the advertorial?

Samantha
Samantha
6 years ago
Reply to  Colleen

And to answer Colleen’s question of “How was this found out?” it was by commenters noticing something was off and independently researching the author, and NOT through GRS vetting the article.

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

My wife and I did trek out a few years ago on black Friday, never again. I;d much rather stay at home and enjoy good food, and family!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago

Having grown up outside the US I don’t have an emotional attachment to Thanksgiving, but I think it’s abusive to rob workers of a cherished holiday. I get opening the supermarket in the morning so that people can grab a last-minute stick of butter (I used to work in a grocery store and we did that), but “holiday shopping” can and should wait until everyone wakes up the next day. However– a positive side effect of this black friday madness is that lower prices are starting to take over even sooner than Thanksgiving, so you don’t have to a) ruin… Read more »

Jane
Jane
6 years ago

Another nice thing about Thanksgiving is that it is a universal American holiday that has nothing to do with religion (unlike Christmas). Of course, we have other ones of these, but somehow Thanksgiving still has the most gravitas. And like April, I like that it has nothing to do with gifts. I am staunchly against the opening of stores on Thanksgiving, but I was surprised to find that one good friend of mine who is usually very pro-worker rights had no problem with it. In my opinion, it is just another encroachment on workers and all in the name of… Read more »

Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial
Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial
6 years ago

Wonderful article. We are strongly anti-Black-Friday, and I hate that it even exists. I agree with you thank Thanksgiving is a holiday that was special in part because retailers couldn’t commercialize it so much and more importantly, because it’s an occasion to remember all the great things we have in our lives and to show our gratitude for everything and everyone.

Shari
Shari
6 years ago

I’ve been noticing actual peer pressure to participate in Black Friday. I absolutely refuse to go shopping on that day. I hate crowds, and fighting a huge crowd for a discounted item is pointless. I am a huge bargain shopper and am able to find good deals year round on things I need. (Key word being “need”). People who know me well know that my main television is about 20 years old…not flat screen or anything fancy. I have been told by several people that I should go shopping on black Friday this year because I need a new TV.… Read more »

Ramblin' Ma'am
Ramblin' Ma'am
6 years ago
Reply to  Shari

I get the same comments about my TV! I’m not sure how old it is, because I bought it from a friend for $15…People always ask me, “When are you getting a flatscreen?” and I say, “When this TV breaks!”

On the other hand, my cell phone is on its last legs and I need a new one anyway, so I may end up shopping on Black Friday. But not at 5:00 am…

Babs
Babs
6 years ago

Nice post! The pies sound awesome! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tina
Tina
6 years ago

I have to admit, that I have gone out shopping on Black Friday but only to get items that my kids wanted that had super low prices. However, I don’t agree with the stores being open on Thanksgiving. This is a time for family and now not only my son(who works in a movie theater) has to work but so does a few of the other family members who will be attending our dinner. Due to the opening of stores, I felt I needed to host dinner so my sister in law wouldn’t have to cook all day, then go… Read more »

smirktastic
smirktastic
6 years ago

I don’t shop on Black Friday. I’d rather sleep or enjoy my down time. Having said that, I find it interesting that with all the outrage on behalf of the retail workers who have to give up all or part of their holiday and calling for boycotts, I don’t hear anyone saying they refuse to watch NFL football on Thanksgiving on behalf of the stadium workers and TV crews who have to give up their holiday to bring us football games. Why are retailers villified for going after profits when TV networks, major sports leagues and teams have been doing… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago
Reply to  smirktastic

Hear, hear. Sounds a lot like selective, fashionable outrage.

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  smirktastic

I think your point is valid but also somewhat hollow and lacking in a real purpose. What is your goal in bringing up this valid contradiction? Is it to push for the rights of stadium workers and television crews? Is it to make people who are against the new trend towards open stores on Thanksgiving feel foolish? You can knock down any person’s dissent if you try hard enough. But in my mind, any attempt to champion the cause of the lowest paid members of our society is a good one. At the end of the day, most outrage is… Read more »

Anne
Anne
6 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Yes, all outrage is selective….but is also incredibly fashionable at times. Not only do GOOD things come in and out of fashion, but so do things we are against. And sometimes it sounds like sheep all baaing at the same time. Back to retail workers. Step back and think of all the people who have *always* worked the holidays, starting with health care/hospital workers. Hotels and restaurants have almost always been open for the holidays. Even amusement parks are mostly open for people who don’t want to do the traditional thing. So working the holidays is nothing new and earth… Read more »

Jane
Jane
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

“It’s not the end of the world, get over it.”

Your ending point is so juvenile that all the rest of your reasonably argued post looses much of its power.

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Anne

So why have holidays at all? Why celebrate anything?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
6 years ago
Reply to  smirktastic

I’m for free markets, and if someone is willing to go out there and make an extra buck on a holiday they should have the right to do so, but I wonder how many minimum wage retail employees actually have a choice to say “nah, I don’t want to work on Thanksgiving” and keep their jobs for the rest of the year. Of course if your megastore doesn’t compete with the rest, it loses business, and when it loses you have to lay off people, even if they wanted to work on Thanksgiving. Someone always has to be working while… Read more »

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

@El Nerdo, I think the Black Friday outrage started when PF blogs became en vogue. Add to that the “war on STUFF” and other related topics that people are so flared up about. You and the previous posters are correct, it is very selective outrage. People were not as passionate about the housing bubble (people buying homes they could not afford) until the bubble busted. Why is Black Friday different? In terms of working on holidays, my mother has been a nurse for 42 years. For the first 20 years of her career she had to work holidays, weekends, swing,… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Personally, my vitriolic stance against Black Friday began when shoppers TRAMPLED A MAN TO DEATH trying to get the best deals. AND THEN IT HAPPENED AGAIN. And yet nothing has changed.

If that isn’t a sign of sickness in society, I don’t know what is.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I agree with you there, imelda – how sick Black Friday can be. I just noticed venom towards it before that tragedy occurred.

SusanD
SusanD
6 years ago

Well said! I’ve never shopped on Black Friday or the day after Christmas and can’t imagine doing so on Thanksgiving. My sister worked in retail for years and often had to skip Thanksgiving dinner because she had to get up in the middle of the night for Black Friday – all so that the stores can make a profit on overpriced junk that no one “needs”.

Skint in the City
Skint in the City
6 years ago

Being from the UK I’ve always really admired Thanksgiving as a holiday and wished we had similar here. The idea of a special day centred around giving thanks, rather than gifts, is lovely. Here in the UK, Xmas madness begins in October and this year some shops had Xmas decorations in store at the end of August – seriously! I think you guys do a better job of holding Christmas at bay for longer. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago

Excellent post, horrible title.

Anna
Anna
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Skint just means broke, having no money, not able to afford something…it’s a word that Brits use. It’s not such a horrible title when you know what it means!

Samantha
Samantha
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Can other people see a different title than I can? The one I see is: “Thanksgiving is all about Personal Finance.”

Amanda
Amanda
6 years ago

Amen, April. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s about family, friends, food and gratitude. It can be celebrated by any grateful person. Let everyone possible celebrate it; retailers, NFL folks, theater workers. When I worked in a nursing home and worked Thanksgiving a few times, we moved the meal. No pressure to be perfect, just try to not be alone. My family is everywhere some there are several gatherings countrywide, because of the cost of traveling.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

PawPrint
PawPrint
6 years ago

Wow! You have a kitchen torch. That’s some serious kitchen tool. I’m impressed. 🙂

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

Give thanks to debt…only in America!

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

We don’t have much family (husband doesn’t have living family at all) but we have each other; just the two of us for Thanksgiving. Friday is going to be spent relaxing and watching he PDX tree lighting ceremony downtown – no shopping!

I have 363 days out of the year to shop if I wanted to. I can’t imaging spending my rare, few days off with my DH shopping.

Vanessa
Vanessa
6 years ago

I’d gladly work on Thanksgiving if my employer was open…holiday pay! But I’m not much into holidays anyways.

Chris B.
Chris B.
6 years ago

So very not excited about shops being opened on Thanksgiving. Yes, Thanksgiving is sacred. It is one of the few holidays that joins all Americans. Even if you don’t particularly like the Founding Fathers, or the hole Thanksgiving story, or what have you, having a day where you stay at home, and connect, or reflect, or cook, or whatever. I’m not even saying it’s the eating turkey and cranberry sauce that makes it sacred. It’s that time that you have to Be, without running an errand, without worrying about schedules, or any of the things that take up so much… Read more »

Georgia Kanary
Georgia Kanary
6 years ago

According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Christmas advent season begins on November 15. Therefore, Thanksgiving falls within the Christmas advent season.

Marion
Marion
6 years ago

Completely agree with this article, but what about some recipes for the those fantastic sounding pies?!?!?!

April Dykman
April Dykman
6 years ago
Reply to  Marion

I should’ve linked!! 🙂 All except the gluten-free apple pie are from Bon Appétit November 2013:

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/yogurt-pie-with-grape-and-black-pepper-compote

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/bruleed-bourbon-maple-pumpkin-pie

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/pear-pie-with-red-wine-and-rosemary

The gluten-free one is from The Joy of Gluten- and Sugar-free Baking.

sarah johnson
sarah johnson
6 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I love the fact of your pies. My 21 year old son is finishing his third shift of working Black Friday. His first shift started at 8 PM on Thanksgiving night. He worked at Target then at Home Depot at about 6 AM for 8 hours then again at Target for another 8 hours. He was too tired to eat my pies yesterday before he started his triple shift.

I just hate the mentality in this country to get a bargain. Now we have a new holiday–Black Friday. What is wrong with us that we support this kind of thing?

stellamarina
stellamarina
6 years ago

Agree. I for one will not be shopping on Thanksgiving Day……let the poor employees enjoy their holiday for goodness sake!

I expect the airlines do very well out of the Thanksgiving Holiday. Much cheaper for your family to gather the week before or after the actual Thanksgiving date.

Amanda
Amanda
6 years ago

Have avoided Black Friday for years – there’s nothing this side of a cure for cancer that could persuade me to endure that madness. Opening the stores on Thanksgiving Day when you should be finishing dinner and enjoying your friends and family infuriates me. I’ve made a list of the stores doing it and vowed I will not darken their doors for a very, very long time. This is just the latest example of the cancer eating at our society, of how we are trading the very things that make us human – our family connections and the traditions that… Read more »

When Did It Get So Complicated
When Did It Get So Complicated
6 years ago

I have had jobs where the employees were all required to rotate and work at least one or more holidays each year. It just comes with some jobs. Hopefully, these retailers pay their employees well and allow proper time off for their families. With that said, I’m just not much of a consumer, so I find this all hard to comprehend why anyone would want to shop on Thanksgiving, or get up at 3am on Black Friday. I buy a few products online for my family, but generally, I prefer services and experiences over ‘stuff’ as gifts. I find this… Read more »

imelda
imelda
6 years ago

Every time I pass by a TV or turn on the radio, I am bombarded with “Black Friday deals!” “strategies for getting the best deals!” etc etc ad nauseam. That these programs are obviously paid advertising dollars for this kind of “content” is never mentioned. I find it truly sickening. The holiday of Thanksgiving is transforming before our eyes – being forcibly transformed from a wholesome holiday focusing on family and gratitude, shared and celebrated by all Americans regardless of religion or relationship status or income level – into yet another occasion for consumer orgies. This is being done *on… Read more »

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

I’m with you. I love that Thanksgiving hasn’t been overly commercialized (at least before now). Remembering the big picture- family, friends, gratitude- is what Thanksgiving should be about, setting the tone for the entire holiday season and the new year.

L Rob
L Rob
6 years ago

I just read an article on Yahoo about a manager who lost his job because he refused to open the shop (famous pizza place) on Thanksgiving. The guy had been with the company for a long time and had worked his way up to managerial position.

Classic example of wanting to boost sales more than celebrating what matters most.

(The article is still on Yahoo if anyone cares to check)

Trace @ Independence Investor
Trace @ Independence Investor
6 years ago

We just finished hosting about 16 people in our home for Thanksgiving. I agree it’s money well spent. Life is about friends, family and relationships.

Eyona (African American Mom
Eyona (African American Mom
6 years ago

I have never gone out on Black Friday because I am usually working or I was lucky enough to get off and I never wanted to spend that day shopping. This year I was talked into going to the mall. I HATED IT!

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