'Tis the season to go shopping - just don't get stuck with too big a bill
Love it or loathe it, Black Friday is here.
For decades, it's been the day for rampant consumerism in the U.S., a day (or a weekend) for cashing in on deals that can help make the most of a Christmas budget. Over the years, it's crept into Canada, with stacks of flyers trumpeting discounts that would make our neighbours to the south proud. Apparently, it's even stolen some of Boxing Day's thunder.
As eager spenders, we're all in. Global News reported in 2015 that about half of Canadians planned to get in on the Black Friday frenzy, with an alarming number of them taking sick days to do it. Almost none, happily, were keen enough to entertain the prospect of joining in stampedes or arguments with other shoppers. But, when it comes to that last bargain-basement, flat-screen TV on the shelf, who knows?
How can you make the most of the day while still preserving your sense of humanity (as well as your bank balance)? We asked JR Shaw School of Business Finance instructor Tannya McBride (Finance '07) for tips on snagging a steal, staying on budget and shopping in your pajamas.
1. Make a list
When you go to the mall or even if you're shopping online, all you see is “sale, sale, sale, and then you end up buying things you don’t need,” says McBride. A list keeps you focused.
2. Set a budget
“Mistake Number 1 is not having a budget,” says McBride. Mistake Number 2 not sticking to one. If you’ve only allotted $50 for your sister but that perfect sweater is $75, “Let it go, and find something in your price range.”
“Mistake Number 1 is not having a budget,” says McBride. Mistake Number 2 not sticking to one.
Monitor your money as you shop. How much have you spent? How quickly? “It’s an eye-opening experience. Nobody really takes the time to sit down and add it up.”
To make that job easier, McBride uses mint.com, a web-based and mobile money-tracking app that connects directly to your accounts. Let technology help keep your finances front of mind, but prevent them from weigh too heavily upon it.
3. Protect yourself online
If you do buy online, “Be careful,” says McBride. “Especially around Christmas – and Black Friday and Cyber Monday – a lot of fake websites pop up.”
“Especially around Christmas, a lot of fake websites pop up.”
Know your retailer, check the URL for anomalies. Protect yourself with a free PayPal account, she adds, which prevents sharing credit card info directly with sellers.
4. Pay it off quickly
Sure, you got some great deals, but don't let the costs go unchecked for long. Say you use a department store card with a 29% rate of compounding interest and spend $1,000. If, by the following Christmas, you “don’t manage to pay down the debt,” says McBride, “you’re paying $1,300 or more.”
If you're not able to pay it off right away, that's ok. Transfer the debt to a lower-interest line of credit. Set up a monthly payment plan. Or, put your income tax return to good use come spring.
“Most people think of it as a bonus, but [paying down] debt should be a priority,” says McBride – especially if, next Black Friday, you see deals too good to refuse.