MoneyUnder30.com
MoneyUnder30.com

The Doorbuster Fallacy: Why Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Other Sales Are Bad for Your Wallet

I awoke Friday, mildly hung-over on turkey and wine, to a TV news clip of early-morning shoppers stampeding through a local Target, elbowing one another for the best “Black Friday” deals. This clip was no different than others played every year on the day after Thanksgiving. But at least nobody was trampled to death this year.

I can’t claim to be guiltless of the occasional ill-informed impulse buy, but the retail industry’s holiday sales—and Black Friday in particular—make my gut churn. This is senseless consumerism at its worst.

The fallacy is this: Wake up on a holiday (of which there are precious few in this overworked country), drive down to your local strip mall, wait in line with other bleary-eyed bargain hunters, and claw and bite your way to the front of the crowd for the ability—no, the privilege—of spending your hard-earned money on some marked-down consumer electronics.

Sales are psychological trickery engineered to make us spend. They create:

  • A fear of missing out on “limited time” deals.
  • Competition with other shoppers, making you feel like you’re winning an item, not buying it.
  • Assumed value. When an item is marked down from $400 to $200, it’s easier to justify buying it quickly. If the same items’ regular price were $200, however, we would take the decision to buy far more carefully.
  • An easy decision. When something is on sale, it makes the decision to buy easier. You can decide to buy solely because it’s on sale, not because it’s the best product, you really need it, etc.
  • The illusion of saving. Ever shop at a store where the clerk tells you at check out how much money you just “saved”? What about how much you just spent?

Make no mistake, sales—especially Black Friday and Cyber Monday—are designed to compel you to spend money—not because Best Buy is feeling charitable and wants to give 5,000 lucky Americans new 43-inch TVs at half price.

The fact is, it doesn’t matter if you’re saving $100 off a $200 item—you’re still spending $100. Now here’s the trick. If you were 100% certain you were going to buy that item for $200 and then happened to find it for $100, great…you’re actually saving. But if you make the decision to buy based on the savings alone, you have to question it.

What do you think? Do you agree that sales often lead to more spending than saving? Did you go out on Black Friday? Why or why not? If you did, what did you buy, and why? Share your thoughts.

Photo by Croixboy.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. I completely agree that sales often lead to more spending than saving….black friday is good if you can find something you truly need and it’s on sale. other than that you are pretty much buying just because it’s cheap.

  2. I completely agree. I wanted a new laptop and external HD to replace my old slow huge computer at home that I had for 9 years. I scoped sales and refurbished items all year and decided to wait until Black Friday to buy. I did endup getting my laptop, and it was worth the wait and taking advantage of the sales, however be weary of buying things just because they’re on sale. Only buy if you were going to buy it anyways. I also got sale items at target for Christmas presents for my family as well, in this case I did save because I bought items that I would have purchased anyways.

  3. I appreciate this article and have had similar thoughts for a long time. I am saddened by the level of debt and lack of savings most Americans live in. If only the logic you wrote about here would be caught by more folks, we’d probably enjoy what we do have more rather than think we “need” such and such item so badly!
    And you are correct in saying that if one were already going to purchase an item for $200 but found it for $100, that is the only real savings going on.

  4. I do understand spending to save is a waste of money. However, if you have budgeted yourself for the holiday and you only purchase certain items when they are 50% off, I think you’re doing a great job of saving. Now, if you don’t have the money to spend and go out and buy something just because of the discount, well that is a waste of money and that is what many retailers count on.

  5. Isn’t the day after Thanksgiving called Buy Nothing Day?

  6. I agree 100%. People buy what they don’t need just because of the perceived savings. It’s like going to Costco and buying a 10 year supply of chicken wings to save $1. I’m more in the camp of determing what you need and THEN determing how to get it the cheapest. Instead of the other way around.

  7. I agree completely…. My wife and I decided a while ago that it doesn’t make sense to buy something based solely on the fact that its on sale… So called “deals” abound, and if thats your rationale then you’re likely to be either in bankruptcy court, an epside of hoarders or worse… both lol

  8. I worked at Best Buy for nearly 5 years. The deals aren’t that great. Buying online on site likes Amazon not only save you the tax, but they save the you hassle of going into a hot crowded store.

  9. buying for christmas is a bunch of crap to begin with.

    seriously. save your money. buy nothing.

  10. I agree 100%. People buy what they don’t need just because of the perceived savings. It’s like going to Costco and buying a 10 year supply of chicken wings to save $1. I’m more in the camp of determing what you need and THEN determing how to get it the cheapest. Instead of the other way around.