Judging from the amount of attention Black Friday gets, you'd think that the whole purpose of this long four-day weekend is to celebrate your ability to spend money. Once you become an expert investor, though, your focus changes -- and suddenly, Black Friday turns from a money-sucking obstacle course of stampeding sale-crazed shoppers into an opportunity to profit.

The consumption craze
Now don't get me wrong -- I haven't outlawed the giving of Christmas gifts in my household or dedicated the month of December to the lasting memory of Ebenezer Scrooge. My daughter is just as excited about a wide variety of princess-related products as the average 4-year-old girl, and letting her have some of the gifts she wants so much is part of the joy of the season.

But in contrast to my attempts to keep the holidays a modest affair, many people make gift-giving -- and the spending that necessarily accompanies it -- a much more substantial endeavor. According to the National Retail Federation, the average shopper spent $372 last year on Black Friday alone. Throughout the season, shoppers spent over $700 on holiday-related spending during 2008.

Considered by itself, that figure may not seem like all that much to spend. But when you think about the other things you could do with that money, you'll quickly realize that Black Friday and other holiday spending costs you a whole lot more.

Cashing in on the shopping crowd
That's a lesson I learned fairly early on. After working hard to save up allowances and grocery-bagging tips as a kid for a much-wanted gift, I quickly realized that in comparison to all that effort, the eventual payoff from buying the latest toy or video game didn't live up to its promise. As I grew, the idea of benefiting from the spending of others seemed a lot more appealing than actually spending the money on a bunch of stuff.

So out of curiosity, I took a look at what would have happened if 10 years ago, you had decided to invest $100 each in some shopping-related stocks rather than getting up at 3 a.m. to visit their stores. Here are the results:


10-Year Average Annual Return

$100 Invested in 1999 Is Now Worth ...

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)



Bed Bath & Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY)



Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM)



Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO)



The TJX Companies (NYSE:TJX)



Target (NYSE:TGT)






Source: Yahoo! Finance.

In that light, becoming an investor provides a whole new perspective on the spending of others. Instead of dreading a long line at your local Starbucks, you can revel in the fact that so many customers voluntarily wait in those lines -- and produce profits for shareholders even in the face of a difficult economy and new competition. Rather than dealing with the hazards of holiday shopping long before sunrise, you can sleep in and ponder whether shares of your favorite retailers will keep rising despite the challenges they face.

The ghost of Christmas future
Perhaps most importantly, this example shows how taking steps to be financially responsible with holiday spending now can pay big dividends in the future. As you can see from the stocks above, cutting just a few hundred dollars' worth of spending 10 years ago and investing it instead would have left you with over $2,800 today -- and that's despite the fact that the overall stock market has gone pretty much nowhere since 1999. Over longer periods during which stocks behaved more in line with their historically positive returns, you could expect to see even greater returns -- all from some simple cutbacks.

So as you recover from the Thanksgiving feast and ponder how best to handle your finances during the holiday season, consider the opportunity you have to turn things around and get yourself on the path to a more prosperous financial future. By standing apart from the crowd and deemphasizing holiday spending, you can lay the groundwork for greater financial security in the months and years to come.

Are you tired of turkey but still want to stay in the holiday mood? Check out the Fool's Banksgiving celebration.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger hates holiday shopping but finds Black Friday a fascinating cultural experience. He and the Motley Fool both own shares of Starbucks. Apple, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy is a calm breeze after the shopping-mall whirlwind.