Overspending may outshine overeating as the vice the Thanksgiving holiday is notorious for.
Retailers have carefully crafted Black Friday sales that convince consumers to empty their wallets. Last year, the average consumer spent nearly $400 on Black Friday weekend — an increase of $100 in just six years (an average of $300 was spent in 2005), according to the National Retail Federation. A total of $52.4 billion was spent nationwide.
With the economy dependent on consumer spending, it may feel un-American not to shop. But Black Friday sales don't have to gobble up all of shoppers' holiday budgets. Black Friday shoppers often expertly plan which stores they will visit and what items they will buy, but financial experts say it's essential to make how much to spend a part of the plan.
Cristy Cash, director of counseling for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Central Oklahoma, said the frenzy caused by Black Friday causes people to say they can't plan because they don't know what deals they might find.
“A bargain isn't a bargain if you're spending money you don't have,” she said.
Consumers prone to overspending should stay home or, at the very least, bring cash or a preloaded card to use for purchases. When the money is gone, it's time to stop. And keep the receipts so if buyer's remorse hits, returns are possible.
Consumers prefer to spend money they already have for holiday gifts and more than 40 percent will use debit cards as their primary form of payment, the National Retail Federation found in a recent survey. Nearly 30 percent will pay with a credit card, 25 percent will use cash, and 2.8 percent will write a check.
“Consumers are keen on scoring hot holiday deals this year,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director of BIGinsight, which conducted the poll for the National Retail Federation. “Trying to stay within budget, shoppers will map out their holiday season shopping strategy before stepping foot in any store or logging onto any website.”
This year, 19 percent of consumers plan to spend more than last year and 5 percent say they will spend substantially more, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers. It's the highest percentage of consumers planning to increase spending since the council began asking the question in 2004. Still, 40 percent plan to spend about the same and 26 percent say they will spend less or substantially less.
Certified financial planner Troy Jones, of Access Financial Resources, said spending is one of the few aspects of our financial lives we have complete control over.
“Most people don't have adequate savings in retirement, or insurance. And yet, they are the first in line at Black Friday,” he said.
There is no mathematical formula for consumers to determine how much is appropriate to spend on Black Friday, or for holiday shopping in general. Each person has to look carefully at their finances and decide for themselves, he said.
And they shouldn't forget to factor in their investment of time, which is worth something.
“Five years from now, nobody's going to remember what they bought in line on Black Friday. But if they have money in their savings account ... that could make a real difference,” Jones said.