What to buy on Black Friday


Want to start a fight? Announce that you'll be shopping on Thanksgiving Day.

A whole bunch of folks will likely sigh and mourn the once-was-sacred Thanksgiving dinner with family. Why, they'll ask, would anyone want to shop on this day? Why would anyone force retail clerks into manning their posts even though they'd rather be home melting marshmallows atop sweet-potato casseroles?

One such pearl-clutcher, hearing that Macy's would open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, suggested to a Chicago-area newspaper that an obituary was needed. “I think this death needs to be acknowledged,” she said. “It is the death of Thanksgiving.”

Wow.

Hyperbole aside, she does have a point: Not everyone is excited about the idea of working on turkey day. (Some are, though. A relative of mine who works in retail is desperate for all the hours she can get.)

What to buy on Black Friday

Don't want to shop on Thanksgiving? Don't do it. Don't want to contribute to the commercialization of Christmas? Don't do that either. But what you might consider doing is waiting until Friday or Saturday, keeping your gift lists short and focusing on things you'll need for the rest of the year.

We are likely to see some startling prices from Gray Thursday up through Cyber Monday, although they won't necessarily be the best deals (more on that later). So why not take advantage of them for other occasions?

Stocking up now

Some of these occasions are pretty obvious. For example:

1. Birthday presents. Doorbusters and lightning deals can help you stock an evergreen gift closet. Stocking up is a smart move for the parents (and grandparents, and aunts and uncles) of school-aged children. Moms and dads should consider not just their kids' upcoming birthdays but also the parties to which they'll be invited in the coming year.

Don't limit this gift closet to toys, though, as plenty of grown-up goods will also be discounted. (Hint: Blank books, picture frames, novels, DVDs, scarves and candles are all good for those OMG-I-totally-spaced-on-my-good-friend's-birthday-tomorrow moments.)

2. Easter baskets. Yes, much of what we're seeing is red and green — but not all of it is. Deals on coloring books and crayons, Hot Wheels, craft kits, Play-Doh and such will pop up too.

3. Valentine's Day. Red is a fine color for February 14, e.g., red wrapping paper for the watch, DVD, jewelry, spa basket or any other gift-y thing you find at a loss-leader price. (Frugal tip: Picture frames are often deeply discounted on Black Friday; picking up a photo collage frame and filling it with pictures of the two of you is a romantic and thoughtful present.)

4. Mother's Day. Jewelry, books, apparel, music, handbags or whatever floats your mom's boat is likely to be on sale. (A photo collage of old family pictures, or new ones of her grandchildren, is another simple yet touching gift.)

5. Summer sports. Yes, it's currently winter. That doesn't mean merchants aren't pushing deals on baseball gloves, bike helmets, shin guards and the like. If your son or daughter plans to participate in sports again this spring, why not buy some of the gear while it's on sale?

Life passages

Looking ahead to certain special events in the coming year? Watch for affordable (and nonperishable) gifts for these occasions:

6. Showers. Some lovely items for both babies and brides will be discounted pretty deeply. Remember that gift registries are just a suggestion. You can give whatever you want.

7. High-school graduation. If someone in your family is heading off to college next September, stash some needed items. For example, a peek at a leaked Black Friday ad turned up twin-bed microfiber sheet sets for as low as $7.49.

8. College graduation. If someone is de-matriculating in June (or in December, the way I did), then loss-leader housewares such as dishes, small appliances, cookware and food storage sets will help your new grad set up housekeeping.

9. Retirement. Is a close relative or friend finally packing it in? Look for something that addresses this person's next-stage plans, whether that's traveling the world or reading the collected works of William Shakespeare.

10. Housewarming. Do you know someone who is buying his or her first home? Plenty of frou-frou décor will be on sale, but think about the non-decorative aspects of being your own landlord. Hand tools, a shop vac and other things your pals may not have (but will eventually need) should be on sale, possibly at loss-leader prices.

Or look around your own home and see if anything is required. Maybe you've been saving for a high-efficiency washing machine or have decided that your lower-back issues require you to buy a snowblower, already. Could be you will find great deals later this month; a friend of mine is already eyeing a $500 snowblower rated as a Consumer Reports Best Buy.

Perhaps your needs are simpler, such as replacing those threadbare towels you've had since college. You'll find new ones for as little as $2 apiece on Black Friday. (But don't throw the old towels away! Donate them to an animal shelter, or cut them up for cleaning or shop rags.)

Are you really saving money?

How will you know whether you are getting the best deal? Because you will have done your homework, that's how.

Sites like PriceGrabber.com, Track If, Pricewatch.com and CamelCamelCamel (Amazon only) will seek out the lowest prices. Some will even show you an item's price history, so you can set up an alert for when the cost approaches the low end.

If you are an Amazon stalwart, check out a tool called Price Jump, which compares Amazon deals against prices with those of thousands of other retailers. (Hint: It isn't always a slam dunk.)

Black Friday ads have been leaking for weeks, and sites like BFAds.net or BlackFriday.com will let you narrow the search by store. Just want to buy a few specific items? Look for the most budget-friendly items via a free Black Friday app like the ones from Brad's Deals, Fat Wallet or Retail Me Not.

Again: If shopping on Thanksgiving or even on Black Friday makes you feel squicky, then don't do it. But a little prep work and a few clicks/shop visits could save you a fair amount of money over the next year. It sure beats having to stop at a store on the way to the baby shower.

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canadry
canadry
5 years ago

I can’t see how buying the type of cheaply-made crap that gets discounted at these things is going to help anyone get rich, slowly or otherwise.

Mass-produced junk isn’t my idea of a good present, either.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  canadry

I have found things that AREN’T junk and that make thoughtful presents (journals, picture frames). But to each his own. As noted, if you don’t want to shop then you shouldn’t do it.

E.B.
E.B.
5 years ago
Reply to  canadry

Then don’t buy it, don’t give it, and no one will give it to you either. It’s all optional!

Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
Nick @ Millionaires Giving Money
5 years ago

Nice post. There are some workers who are happy to work during Thanksgiving to earn some extra money. I think the majority of workers are working on their own accord so who are we to say that they would rather be at home. I agree that some workers may be forced to work during the holidays and if this is the case they need to find another line of work which is congruent with their lifestyle. You make an excellent suggestion about stocking up. I have a spreadsheet which lists the gifts I need to get for everyone on the… Read more »

Valerie
Valerie
5 years ago

I’m currently one of those workers who is happy to work on Thanksgiving for three reasons – it’s voluntary, double pay (instead of normal time and a half for holidays), and my store closes at 3pm, so everyone can go home for dinner. A few years ago when I worked for Walmart, none of those conditions were in place and it was miserable. Have you ever tried telling a Walmart employee they should just “find another line of work congruent with their lifestyle”? They’ll either wholeheartedly agree with you and thank you for once again reminding them how low they’ve… Read more »

Alea
Alea
5 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

Exactly, as long as the workers get a choice I am cool with that. But being forced to work is another story. As for those people who so helpfully point out that workers at Walmart and other stores should be grateful for that measly paycheck, I think maybe they should be in the shoes of those workers for a week and they will change their tune. Actually they should just experience Thursday night trying to keep up with a mob of people desperately clawing their way to buy stuff they can’t afford any other day, and then they might sing… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Valerie

I could not have said it better, Valerie!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago

Finding another line of work isn’t always as simple as you seem to think. In some areas, moderately paid retail jobs are the only option and you’re not likely to get full-time hours. That relative who works retail? It’s a second job for her because her other job doesn’t pay much, and her retail hours were cut recently due to slow sales. Put another way: She’s almost 60 years old and has worked hard all her life but cannot seem to catch a break. The most recent full-time job she applied for? Janitor. At her age, and with a moderately… Read more »

Loretta
Loretta
5 years ago

When I was a college student and laid off for an extended period I needed every hour I could get. I also would have loved the excuse to get out of attending and/or hosting holiday meals for my family, who were always overly critical of everything!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Loretta

“Oh, you don’t like the gravy? Well, gotta run — my shift starts in half an hour!”

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago

It is unrealistic to expect all the people in retail who dislike not having holidays to find other jobs. We need to realize that those people who work in retail lose MOST of the holidays we treasure–and this is an EVERY year event for them. Thanksgiving is gone, but so is the Christmas season and every other holiday you can think of. When I was working retail management, our front end staff doubled for the holiday period and those of us on salary worked non-stop. The week leading up to Thanksgiving was crazy with store re-sets for Black Friday. From… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  phoenix1920

My partner and I are going to be at Lowe’s at 5 a.m. on Black Friday to get a $499 snowblower (a Consumer Reports Best Buy). At that price we want to make sure it doesn’t sell out instantly; probably won’t, but getting up early won’t hurt us any. To reduce the price further I ordered $495 worth of Lowe’s gift cards on the secondary market, paying about $457. In addition, my partner will see if producing his AARP membership will result in further discounts. And if there’s a coupon in the store ad we’ll of course see if it… Read more »

Ash
Ash
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Thanks for the tip about buying gift-cards on the secondary market. I just this evening found out that I had that option in my country and i intend to do this for a couple of Christmas gifts. Will you bring a hot Thermos for your queuing at 5am?

MaryM
MaryM
5 years ago

Nick, you make a great point, and I love your idea of a spreadsheet for gifts. My gifting is fairly simple, 4 grandchildren under the age of 3.5, but all have their birthdays in December and January! I started early, as someone suggested here at GRS, but I have to be very careful what is going out and when. I only have a couple other gifts that I normally give–my children and I decided once the children arrived that I would exchange with the children. I’m single on a single person’s income so I have to be very careful with… Read more »

Alix
Alix
5 years ago

I’m with the pearl-clutcher.

Laura
Laura
5 years ago
Reply to  Alix

Me too. I like Donna’s posts but yeah, this new trend of shopping on Thanksgiving makes me feel squicky (that is my new favorite word). I give thanks that I don’t have to work retail or go shopping.

Jeff
Jeff
5 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I’m rather happy that the majority of places I prefer to shop at will be closed on Thanksgiving.

Mike
Mike
5 years ago

There is a huge difference between being excited and being desperate. Just as there is between having to work and wanting to work. Nick’s comment #1 is a joke which clearly ignores the fact there are tens of millions of jobs that once provided a middle class lifestyle that are completely gone and will never come back. Also most of the jobs that have replaced them are low paying retail with bad hours. Where as the factory or what not would shut down for the holidays, not so in retail. So while its nice to say to get a job… Read more »

Rail
Rail
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Bravo Mike! You nailed it 100%. Cheers!

Sandy Hale
Sandy Hale
5 years ago

I am always amused about the sanctity of the holiday. I am a nurse, I have a nephew who is a police officer and another niece who followed me into nursing. Guess what??? You want us to work the holidays, our families know we must work the holidays so…….you get creative!! Dinner at Thanksgiving and gift opening at Christmas are planned when we are home after our shift. Now I will have to admit, I’ve been very tired, exhausted, and “sometimes not really with it” but I’ve enjoyed my share of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I’m sure the retail industry… Read more »

Neil
Neil
5 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Hale

Sandy, I was going to make the same point. There is an over-emphasis on retail workers in these discussions while there are plenty of other people who have to work holidays. Doctors, nurses, other hospital staff (security guards, janitors). Police, firemen. People who clear roads during inclement weather (which we may be having this year in some places on Thanksgiving). Prison guards. Anyone in charge of critical systems – systems administrators, database administrators, etc. Power grid operators (don’t know what they would be called). Surely many more that I can’t think of right now. People adapt and make do. It’s… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Neil

I guess one could argue retail is a choice (especially non-food/essential items) where the other industries is not a choice and is necessary 365 days a year. We lived without stores being open during Thanksgiving for decades.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

However, the people who work in retail and need the hours don’t have much of a choice per se. “Hmmm, should I take the double overtime to help augment my otherwise minimum-wage, 20-hour-a-week paycheck? Or do I stay home and NOT make the money we really, really need?” For what it’s worth: During the years I lived in Alaska I always served Thanksgiving “dinner” at 1 p.m. so my then-husband could go to work covering a basketball tournament. Generally ended up hosting most of the sports department, too. Everyone enjoyed a nice meal. It was simply adapted to fit his… Read more »

Carla
Carla
5 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Good point, Donna, but I doubt stores are open to serve the needs of the employees. It is a catch-22: do you take the must needed rest to be with family or to just…rest or do you work yourself in the ground even further? There is a real financial benefit to working holidays so I see both sides of the issue.

sarah
sarah
5 years ago
Reply to  Neil

Honestly I’m a community social worker and have had to work holidays including Christmas day. But I get a level of respect and pay that retail workers don’t. If nothing else I get a warm fuzzy feeling that I’m doing something that matters to help others on that day.

I’ll begrudgingly work public service on a holiday but I don’t feel right about retail workers working on holidays. I also have a general distaste for shopping so I suppose I don’t see the appeal.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Hale

Once I got assigned to work the city desk phones while I was a newsroom clerk at The Philadelphia Inquirer. Some of the reporters weren’t happy to be there; others didn’t care. What struck me were the phone calls. Most of them were from people with a simple or even silly question — it was obvious they simply wanted to talk to somebody. Some of them spoke about the holiday, or how they once spent it, or what they liked best about Christmas. Not all of them were alone; in some cases I could hear noises in the background that… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

Oops. That last comment should have been “assigned to work the city desk phones on Thanksgiving.”

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Hale

I think necessary jobs are different for two reasons: (1) they are necessary; (2) those working the holidays in those necessary professions generally rotate holidays–unless they are opting in to work it for financial reasons/bonuses. Retail workers lose almost all holidays–there is not even a plan in place where I worked to rotate because so few were off on holidays; and (3) many of these necessary professions have options for those who object–nurses at a hospital may work on holidays, but nurses for a doctor’s office generally don’t.

MaryM
MaryM
5 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Hale

Sandy, I am also in health care—6 paid holidays a year and an on-call schedule for most. There are many folks who have not choice but to work on a holiday and they manage to be creative.

And I really hate it when someone says someone should find another line of work. I doubt that few of those individuals have ever been in that sort of situation. And if they can get another line of work that supports their lifestyle, it’s probably due to much effort on their part.

The Cruise Lady
The Cruise Lady
5 years ago
Reply to  Sandy Hale

I work for an airline. I’ve worked every holiday for many years. Sometimes, it was because my days off didn’t fall on the holiday, sometimes because I needed the overtime.

Our jobs are 24/7. Planes don’t fly without crew, future reservations and tickets don’t get made without staff, baggage doesn’t get loaded on the plane without customer service and ramp agents. Planes don’t get fixed without mechanics.

Health care workers, police, firefighters, as well, work all hours and holidays.

Ely
Ely
5 years ago

I think the pearl-clutchers need to get over themselves. If you don’t want to shop, or don’t want to work, then don’t. Obviously some people do. Of course it’s sad that some people don’t get to stay home and watch football, but there are ALWAYS people who don’t get to go home for the holidays – can’t afford travel, can’t afford time off – and stores being open or closed on Thanksgiving makes very little difference. Privileged people love to denounce others’ behavior. But for some, Thanksgiving and Black Friday deals are the only chance they have for any Christmas… Read more »

phoenix1920
phoenix1920
5 years ago
Reply to  Ely

I haven’t seen anybody here denouncing others’ behavior for shopping on Thanksgiving. There is a difference between saying physical stores should be closed on Thanksgiving and people who shop at physical stores on Thanksgiving Day are horrible people.

getagrip
getagrip
5 years ago

To me the idea of Thanksgiving is it is the one American holiday that we can all share regardless of race or religion where the majority of us are able to spend time with family and friends and be thankful for what we have. Taking that day and commercializing it to be thankful for rushing out, abandoning family and trampling friends in a frenzy to (possibly) get things we want, is the tragedy. As more and more people work and as more and more stores open and as more and more businesses see no reason to remain closed, eventually what… Read more »

Kristen
Kristen
5 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

This is precisely what makes me sad. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday because it’s about taking time to spend with family/friends, and it’s not a specific religion’s holiday, nor is it about buying things for people. Sure, there are always people who have to work holidays, for public safety reasons. But this isn’t about public safety – it’s about SHOPPING. And my argument about retail workers who need the money is that if we paid people a semi-reasonable amount in the first place, they wouldn’t have to be desperate for those hours. Let’s have a conversation about that… Read more »

Even Steven
Even Steven
5 years ago

Shopping on Black Friday to me is like driving through a blizzard. If you don’t have to why would you do it, so many chances to get in an accident/spend too much, put it on a credit card, buy something because it’s on sale. For the few dollars you could “save”, I mean are we really buying things we need at this point or trying to get a good deal, which negates any savings that would occur.

Here let me save you a few dollars, maybe more, don’t shop on Black Friday.

Colby
Colby
5 years ago
Reply to  Even Steven

I suppose it’s similar to taking on debt to fund luxuries. People do it all the time and it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s part of our culture. Most people are just following trends. If enough people say jump they jump. There isn’t much logic going into it. A perfect example of how bad it’s become is story I read about a guy who set up camp outside Best Buy two weeks prior to black friday. What was he first in line for? $100 off a new iPad. A reporter asked him why he would spend 2 weeks camping… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Colby

The experience? Well. I hope it’s all he hoped it would be. Personally, I find this mystifying.

Elle
Elle
5 years ago
Reply to  Colby

I’m tired of the whole discussion. Every year it’s the same thing. I used to work alternating holidays, working in a hospital making minimum wage. (I wasn’t a nurse, etc). You deal with it. The thing about Black Friday that gets me is the frenzied part of it. So you want to shop and get great sales—do you have to look like crazy people stampeding into the store? And the dude who camped out at Best Buy for 2 weeks—did he not have a job? Maybe not. I think he could have found a better use of his time. It… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
5 years ago

Referring to Thanksgiving as “Gray Thursday” is pathetic.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Hey, I don’t make it up — I just report it.

superbien
superbien
5 years ago

I’m with the squicked pearl clutchers. I agree that people who want the overtime/holiday pay should be free to take it… but how many people really have a choice? Try keeping a job without working the new peak days. Grr.

If you need to hit the sales, fuy online… you’re still impacting Fulfillment Center and delivery workers, but with in store purchases, you’re making Distribution Center, delivery, *and* retail workers come in. Plus online gets the same results, with less hassle to you, and you don’t have to get up at crazy hours.

Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom
5 years ago

I’m not usually overly impressed with teh Black friday deals up here in Canada. But I do think it’s agood idea for me to think ahead and see if I can get gofts for next year on sale. It seems like the Black Friday Deals are the same as the Christmas, and Boxing Day sales though, so I’m not sure if I need to rush.

Zambian Lady
Zambian Lady
5 years ago

Most stores don’t open on Sundays and holidays in Austria, except those at u-bhan stations and tourist places. This was an issue for me at first as I had to have my grocery done by 6.00 pm on Saturday. I have adapted so well that when I visit another country I do not even think of shopping on Sundays.

I remember stores were closed on Thanksgiving when I lived in the States a few years.

Michelle
Michelle
5 years ago

I think if you are going to go out on Black Friday, then you might as well shop for the whole year.

Beard Better
Beard Better
5 years ago

While some savings may be had, more people than not will spend money they would not have spent otherwise and justify it by saying that they are getting a good deal. As another commenter noted, most of the stuff I see that is heavily discounted is pretty junky, eg. no-name brand electronics. There’s certainly something odd about the focus on retail workers being on-the-job during holidays just like police officers, healthcare workers, and workers at restaurants, but even so I don’t think that shopping on Black Friday or Thanksgiving is really for me. I would prefer to spend that time… Read more »

Colby
Colby
5 years ago

Black Friday is just like any other shopping trip. It can be financially beneficial if you:

1. Buy items you would buy anyway
2. Have a list and stick to it
3. Don’t waste hours or days in line to save a few bucks (your time is worth $$$)
4. Don’t sacrifice time with friends/family. No deal is worth more than quality time with people you care about

In my own experiences, it isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be. I spend Thursday with family, and Friday recovering from the food coma.

Marie
Marie
5 years ago

Some places don’t even WANT to be open on Thanksgiving, but have no choice. I serve at a small mom-and-pop restaurant in a mall, and all the stores were told to be open on Thanksgiving or pay fines. Those of us who serve as a second job have no recourse, because the boss knows that our “real” jobs give holidays off.

Evangeline
Evangeline
5 years ago

Although this is a money post about holiday savings, it’s turned into a conversation about businesses opening on Thanksgiving. I worked in retail for more than 20 years, beginning as a teenager, and have worked every holiday you can imagine. While my friends and family were living the good life, I was at a mall selling merchandise and standing on aching feet during the longer shopping hours. I feel the employees pain, I really do. BUT, when you take a job you cannot tell the boss when you will and will not work. You’d never be hired anywhere. Teachers don’t… Read more »

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