Black Friday may not be as big a deal as it once was, but it's still a major shopping day. Consumers used to consider the Friday after Thanksgiving the first day of the holiday shopping season. That's no longer true, with many retailers open on the holiday and offering sales throughout the month of November.
That change has shifted the meaning of Black Friday. Consumers may get "Black Friday" deals before the actual day, but no matter the actual day of shopping, the potential hazards for shoppers and bargain hunters remain the same.
Before you make a major holiday purchase it's important to ask these four questions. If you don't, you may find yourself making a budget-busting mistake.
1. Do I really need this?
Many people use the holidays as an excuse to make major purchases for the family. That might mean an appliance, something electronic, or another big-ticket item.
It can be very tempting to do this because many of the things people want tend to cost less during the holiday shopping season -- and sometimes the savings are dramatic. Even when deals are good it's important to examine whether you really need what you're buying.
If your stove is broken, then you need to replace it. When you can get a bigger TV at a good price, that's better described as a want, not a need.
2. Is it really a deal?
Ideally, you should check the prices on the items you may purchase before the holiday season. That way, when the deals are offered, you'll know how much your potential purchase has been marked down.
Sometimes retailers show markdowns as a percentage of list prices they never used in the first place. To know what you're buying, do your homework, check multiple retailers, and be skeptical.
3. Is it what I think it is?
Sometimes the "doorbuster" deals or other especially cheap items aren't what they appear to be. Retailers may sell models with similar numbers, some with limited features. Be careful and be skeptical.
You might be happy with the cheaper item even if it's a lesser model. That's great if you go in knowing what you're getting, but it's important to make sure you're not tricked or surprised.
4. Can I afford it?
It does not matter how cheap a retailer sells something for if you can't afford it. You don't want to go into debt to buy nonessential gifts during the holiday season. Doing that will have you paying interest on your credit card debt, and it can dig you into a major financial hole.
Not spending money can be a challenge. There's a lot of pressure to buy gifts and to indulge. Not doing so means communicating with family and friends that you're either sitting the season out or operating with a limited budget. That's not always easy to do, but it's the right move.
Think beyond Black Friday
Black Friday, and the holiday shopping season in general, offer some excellent buying opportunities. That's great if you have discretionary income to spend, have a plan, and can practice restraint. It's important, however, to focus on long-term goals, not just short-term gratification.
You don't want to delay being able to buy a home or building an emergency fund in order to buy things you don't need. Make smart choices with an eye toward achieving your long-term goals. That might mean passing up a deal or keeping your budget lower than you would like. That's not easy, but future you will appreciate it.