Why Shopping Events Like Prime Day and Black Friday Are So Dangerous

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Most of us don't really need another excuse to spend money.

The average American's credit card balance is $6,194. Maybe that figure is shocking to you. Maybe it's not. But there are different reasons people get into debt, and needless purchases are partly to blame.

That's why mega-shopping events are so problematic. I'm talking about Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the recent Amazon Prime Day extravaganza, which featured so many thousands of deals, it was overwhelming to keep track. Many consumers look forward to these so-called bargain shopping days, and to be fair, there are deals to be had during these and other shopping events. But there's an inherent problem with these blowout sales: They tempt consumers to spend money they don't have. And that, in turn, can lead to serious problems with credit card debt.

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The illusion of savings

Seeing an item that normally retails for $299 on sale for $199 could easily trigger your brain to whip out your credit card and buy it. After all, that's a really good deal and $100 worth of savings, right?

Well, it depends on one key question: Were you going to buy that item in the first place, and was it a necessary purchase? If the item is a piece of furniture you need for your home and you've planned to buy it for months, then sure, snagging it for $100 less is a good thing. But if the item was an electronic device you really don't need and weren't necessarily planning to buy, then guess what? You didn't just save $100; you spent $199, and quite possibly landed yourself in debt because of it. And this is why shopping events like the ones mentioned above are so scary.

The good news is that Prime Day is done for this year, but we still have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the general holiday shopping season to contend with. And that's a time of year when a lot of people get into trouble. So as we creep toward that season, do yourself a favor and pledge to avoid those big shopping events, or map out a strategy for approaching them. That strategy should include:

  • Setting a spending budget
  • Making a shopping list
  • Sticking to that shopping list

Furthermore, if you're in debt going into the holiday shopping season, then you may want to avoid buying more things altogether. And if you're worried about the repercussions of not showering friends and family with gifts, you might instead explain that you're trying to pay down a daunting credit card balance and need to dig yourself out of that hole. Hopefully, they'll recognize that taking care of your financial health is more important than gift-giving. (Incidentally, you can also find ways to give gifts on the cheap -- for example, whipping up homemade baked goods and handing them out in festive packaging, or offering to babysit your best friend's kids for a night in lieu of the $40 sweater you can't afford to buy for her.)

Even if you aren't in debt, be careful during big shopping events, because the money you spend on a gadget you don't need could be money for a down payment on a home, or another major financial goal. And those are things you don't want to give up on.

It's all about marketing

The people who came up with Prime Day, Black Friday, and the like are clearly marketing geniuses. But that doesn't mean you have to fall into the trap of spending needlessly. While you may indeed spot some really good deals during these and other shopping events, don't let your fear of missing out on a bargain drive you to poor financial decisions. If you do, you might sorely regret it afterward.

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