MONEY deals

6 Black Friday Deals So Crazy You Won’t Believe They’re Real

dogs with "adopt me" signs
Jim McKinley—Alamy

Black Friday deals on TVs, tablets, toys, clothing, and jewelry come as no surprise. But how about Black Friday promotions featuring guns, giveaways of cats and dogs, and the requirement to strip down to your underwear?

Here are a half-dozen downright bizarre Black Friday deals:

Free Cats & Dogs
At least one Humane Society (in Oregon) is waiving the usual $50 adoption fee on cats now through December 1. In addition to free cat adoptions, the shelter is knocking $50 off normal dog adoption fees, which generally run $100 to $350. Other humane societies around the country are hosting Black Friday pet deals such as free dogs if they’re black and at least six months old (Kansas) and a promotion of $5 to adopt a cat 5+ years old and 50% off the adoption of rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals (in Massachusetts).

Buy a Car, Get It Free If It Snows on Christmas
A car dealership in Chicago has a sales pitch that’s tempting for those who like to gamble—and that could wind up being extremely costly for its promoters. The deal is that all customers who buy a new Buick or GMC automobile at the dealership on Friday or Saturday will get full refunds on their purchases if it snows six or more inches on Christmas. The dealership is calling the promo its “White Friday” sale.

Guns & Ammo
It may not be what your family expects to find under the tree or stuffed in stockings on Christmas morning, but guns have come to be hot sellers on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. Last year, the number of FBI background checks conducted for each firearm purchase on Black Friday was nearly triple that of a typical sales day. Why are guns hot sellers during this period? Largely for the same reasons that so many other items are hot sellers right about now—because stores have big promotions to attract customers. Walmart is discounting all firearms by 20% for its Black Friday sale, while gun enthusiast websites are filled with firearm and accessory deals—weapons, targets, ammunition, and more—from a wide range of retailers around the country.

Wait Outside in Your Underwear, Get Free Clothes
Among the many early Black Friday sales that have popped up this week, probably the strangest took place on Tuesday at Desigual in San Francisco: As the Consumerist pointed out, the first 100 shoppers waiting outside the store wearing nothing but their underwear received free tops and bottoms from the Barcelona-based fashion retailer.

Buy a Car, Get a TV
The first ten customers to buy new cars at a Toyota dealership in Missouri received free flat-screen TVs thrown into the deal on Black Friday. What’s more, the first ten people in the door at the dealership on Friday were handed $25 gift cards for ham—no car purchase required.

Loans and Online Bank Accounts
Everyone else feels comfortable glomming onto Black Friday for sales and marketing purposes, so why not financial institutions as well? The Utah Community Credit Union, for instance, is advertising “BLACK FRIDAY DOORBUSTERS!” in the form of auto, home equity, and personal loans with supposedly great terms. Capital One 360, meanwhile, is hosting a Black Friday Sale, with bonuses like $100 for new savings and checking accounts and, depending on how much you invest, $150 to $1,250 bonuses for those opening a new online trading account or IRA.

Bear in the mind that even if these offers are truly good deals, taking out a loan or opening a new bank account is certainly not something you decide impulsively because of some flashy promotion. For that matter, no one should go adopting a pet or buying a gun on an impulse either.

MONEY online shopping

Best Black Friday Deals You Can Get Without Leaving Home

Since Black Friday sales now start on Thanksgiving, or even the week before, it sorta makes sense that e-retailers have launched huge Cyber Monday-like sales already.

Websites used to wait for the Monday after Thanksgiving (a.k.a. Cyber Monday) to launch their biggest, across-the-board online sales on all merchandise—deals like 40% off, even 50% off sitewide, with some discounts going even higher.

But in a market in which retailers are aggressively trying to grab shopper dollars earlier and early each year, and when “Black Friday” promotions start at least a week before actual Black Friday—perhaps even occupying all of November—why wait?

Amazon.com, the world’s largest e-retailer, sure isn’t waiting. The site has been rolling out a new Black Friday deal as often as every ten minutes this week. Virtually every other retailer has deals online that were live as of Wednesday, and are especially impressive because they’re so expansive: Instead of offering a select few discounts and “doorbuster” deals, they represent markdowns on virtually everything the retailers are selling.

We’ll update as the epic Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend progresses, and remember: All of these offers are available online, meaning none requires a trip to the mall.

40% Off
Abercrombie & Fitch: Use the code 15555 for 40% off all merchandise, online and in stores, through November 26.

American Eagle: 40% off sitewide (use code GOBBLEUP) now through November 30, with free standard shipping on all orders—plus a free blanket thrown in with all orders over $60

Ann Taylor: 40% off regular-priced items and 50% off “Sale Styles” with the code SHOPANN at checkout, valid through November 26

Banana Republic: 50% off one full-price item and 40% off the rest of your order with use of the code BRFORTY, on November 27 only

Lucky Brand: A “Pre-Black Friday” sale knocks 40% off sitewide

Tommy Hilfiger: Use the code BF40 for 40% off sitewide, valid through November 30

50% Off
Children’s Place: 50% off everything plus free shipping on all orders, through November 28

Gap: 50% off all merchandise (use code BLKFRIDAY) through November 28

Hollister: 50% off everything starting at 6 p.m. on November 27 (Thanksgiving), through November 28

Fila: Get 50% off nearly everything (there are a scant few exceptions) on the footwear and apparel specialist’s site, now through Black Friday

Lane Bryant: 50% off everything in store and online (use checkout code HOLIDAYLB), through November 30

The Limited: Enter the code THANKS for 50% off and free shipping

J. Crew Factory: 50% in store and online for the Factory line, as well as 30% to 40% off standard J. Crew merchandise

60% Off
Aeropostale: 60% off everything online and in stores through November 30, with a bonus $25 gift card for purchases of $100 or more

MONEY Shopping

Lazy Bargain Hunters Are Hiring People to Wait in Black Friday Lines

Customers wait in line outside a Target Corp. store ahead of Black Friday in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013.
Customers wait in line outside a Target store ahead of Black Friday in Chicago, Illinois. Patrick T. Fallon—Bloomberg via Getty Images

For $20 an hour, you can hire someone to save your spot in line

There’s nothing sweeter than a Black Friday deal… except maybe a few extra hours of sleep. And thanks to the internet, some lazy shoppers have figured out a way to have their sleep and 70%-off TVs, too.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports consumers have been using TaskRabbit, a platform that lets users pay to “outsource” any job, no matter how minor, to hire people to wait in line for Black Friday doorbusters.

“Every year hundreds of taskers are hired to wait in line for Black Friday deals,” said Aaron Gannon, a spokesman for San Francisco-based TaskRabbit, told the Chronicle in an interview. And how much does line-waiting pay, you ask? In high-demand areas like San Francisco and New York City, the average wage is $22 an hour.

That’s hefty chunk of change—enough to make this journalist wonder why he didn’t double major in standing-outside-a-Target—and shoppers must be careful to weigh their line-waiting payroll against any potential savings.

But I suppose if the deals are good enough, and you’re sufficiently immune to feelings of shame, hiring a “tasker” (the technical term for a TaskRabbit employee) could make a lot of financial sense. For example, Walmart is offering a 65-inch Vizio television for $648 this Friday. On Amazon, that same set will cost you nearly $1,300. After, say, two hours of personnel (line-waiting tasker) costs are deducted, that could still yield savings of roughly $600.

Perhaps that’s why line-waiting has turned into a big business, even outside of Black Friday. The Atlantic noted the emergence of line-waiting businesses, like SOLD Inc. (an acronym for “Same Ole Line Dudes”), as well as entrepreneurs who use Craig’s List and similar sites to sell their services. Robert Samuel, SOLD’s founder, has made as much as $1,000 a week just taking up space.

And make no mistake, high-level line-waiters don’t mess around when it comes to their trade. “I’m a professional line waiter, here’s a business card,” said Samuel in an interview with Racked, describing a potential encounter with a curious pedestrian. “I can wait for you for your next sample sale or your next sneaker release.”

Line-waiting is apparently such a money-maker for TaskRabbit that the company has an entire page advertising its cast of warm, upright bodies. Paying a tasker to wait in line is “the easiest way to get the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus” announces the firm’s website. TaskRabbit even created a marketing campaign around the event: #SkipTheLine.

So is this new societal trend good or bad? On one hand, there’s something a little unfair about giving people with money to burn an advantage on holiday deals. There’s something meritocratic, even American, about giving extra savings only to those motivated enough to wake up before sunrise to wait outside a Best Buy. With paid staffers snapping up all the doorbusters, the rich would seem to be using Black Friday to get richer.

But at the same time, using your hard-earned cash to free yourself from unpleasant labors is also very American. Besides, it turns out that professional line-waiters may make life easier for actual retail employees. As one former Ralph Lauren cashier told MONEY, “The people who go out [on Black Friday], they’re just not afraid to really get angry… I’ve had a lot of merchandise thrown at me.”

Maybe leaving waiting to the pros will at least result in more relaxed shoppers, and a little less stress for the poor souls forced to work on Thanksgiving weekend.

Read More: Meet The People Who Work On Thanksgiving (So You Don’t Have To)

MONEY consumer psychology

Stop Making These 5 Shopping Mistakes And You Won’t Overspend!

Jennifer Martinez filled a shopping cart with toys at the Toys R Us store on County Line Road in Arapahoe County Thursday night, November 28, 2013.
Karl Gehring—The Denver Post via Getty Images

Shoppers feel smart when they've snagged a great bargain. But during the frenzy of sales on Black Friday and the holidays, it's common for bargain hunters to make dumb mistakes that wind up costing them big time.

The biggest shopping season of the year is upon us. We shop more, and when we do, we’re overwhelmed with products and price promotions in today’s hyper-competitive retail environment. In effect, everyone is shopping with at least a touch of “bargain brain.” That’s the term I use to describe the confusing, pressure-filled state of mind of the average shopper during the holiday period. And it’s this mentality, combined with some classic sales strategies practiced by retailers, that makes it more likely for shoppers to wind up making some regretful shopping decisions, including but not limited to choosing the wrong gift or buying at the wrong price.

As a consumer psychologist, I interview lots of shoppers, and this year, with few exceptions, they said that if it wasn’t on sale, they weren’t buying it. We’ve come to expect discounting, and won’t buy until they appear. Promotional sales are ubiquitous, and shoppers understand that the “regular” price of many products has been inflated to leave room for markdowns. Therefore, as you’ve likely already seen, it’s a deal-a-minute holiday out there.

We’re flooded with news of “unmissable,” “unbelievable,” and “never before” rapid-fire sales from all directions: advertising, catalogs, emails, texts, through social media feeds and all other sources of digital communication. With each bit of information coming our way, we’re constantly pushed to reevaluate what to buy, and when to buy it. Considering all of the decisions that must be made, it’s no wonder we make some less-than-great ones during the holidays. And so bargain-brained errors are common around this time of year, especially those that fall into these five categories:

Fear of Missing Out
Because sales are short-lived and hot holiday gifts are often available in limited supply, shoppers are well aware that if they don’t bite, the item could soon return to full price or disappear entirely. That’s why sales cause FOMO (fear of missing out) fever, and it’s this mix of fear and excitement that can muddle thinking. Add in the emotional pressure and competitive fuel of crowds and it’s understandable why so many end up making regrettable purchasing decisions at this time of year.

To keep your cool, it helps to understand that the vast majority of holiday sales are carefully planned long in advance of the season. With few exceptions, retailers have ample supplies of what they expect to be top sellers. Many of the seemingly great doorbuster deals that appear in limited supply on Black Friday are not only cheaply priced but cheap quality as well. So overall, in all likelihood you’ll be able to find the best gifts in stock somewhere during the course of the holidays, and you shouldn’t sweat missing out on a few chintzy Black Friday deals.

Actually, one approach to the pressure of the season is simple resignation: Enter the holiday shopping season full assuming that at least once and perhaps multiple times you’ll miss the lowest price or see something later that would have made a better gift. Frankly, it’s not a bad strategy. It preserves time and saves energy that might be better used for enjoying the holidays. If you’re not scared about the possibility of paying a little more than is necessary, or of purchasing some gifts that are decent but not necessarily great, then you never experience FOMO—nor do you make the bad decisions spurred on by this common emotion.

Valuing Price Over Value
Even in the face of a jaw-dropping bargain, it’s essential to stay focused on how much you really want the item rather than on the discount. During frenzied moments, people can easily lose focus on what they’re buying and end up with gifts in search of a recipient rather than a thoughtfully chosen gift for someone on your list. Jenny, a busy working mother, for example, told me she has a “gift drawer” stuffed with cashmere scarfs. “I got them online during a flash sale a couple of years ago and I’m still working though that stash,” she recalled. “It’s almost embarrassing because I honestly can’t remember who I’ve given one to in previous years.”

Also keep in mind that when we’re emotionally charged while shopping, we’re also more prone to impulse purchases. Whether online or in store, tempting add-on items (especially those stocking stuffers and knickknacks that can hammer your holiday budget) will be especially prevalent this year. The solution is to breathe deeply and take an extra moment to consider what you’re really buying.

Getting Confused by Deals
Another problem with the swift and steady stream of promotions we’ll be wading through this year is managing the complexity of offerings. Neil, an engineer by profession who is used to tackling complexity, says that even he’s often confused by the way sales, coupons, and promotions piled on top of each other. “I have a coupon for $50 off if I spend $200 so that’s a 25% discount, but what if I find something for $150 for my wife?” he said. “Then I’d probably end up spending more to get the discount which blows the discount. Or I can wait for Black Friday but maybe what I want won’t be included in the sale.” Stay calm, use your phone’s calculator, and never ever spend in order to save.

Too Much Bargain Hunting
In my research I’ve found that consumers who are heavily bargain-focused actually spend more total money shopping than others. Why? They spend more time shopping, which means they see and therefore often want and buy more merchandise. Also, because their focus is on how much they’re saving, they more easily lose track of what they’re spending.

Speaking of which, a classic silly bargain-brain move is to mentally consider the money you’ve “saved” off list prices as “earned” money—and this found money often gets spent pretty easily. Consider what Angie said in a recent interview: “I got these pants I needed on sale, so I treated myself to the matching top. It was full price, but that’s okay because I saved all that money getting the pants on sale.” Get the irony? In no universe is spending money actually saving money. But it can feel like that. Beyond that, remember that in our discount-crazed world, original prices are usually wildly inflated, so sales “save” far less money than you think.

Ignoring the Fine Print
Yet another potential pitfall to bargains is that they often come with strings attached. For gifts, the most problematic of these issues is a no-return policy, a short return window, or returns that only qualify for merchandise credit. Take is from Carly, an avid online shopper, that unless you’ve seen and considered the product before, losing the ability to return merchandise can be costly. “I spent half my Christmas budget on clearance blow-out merchandise” last year, she said. “While a few of the items were perfect and I got them for a steal, at least half were ungiftable and totally wrong. I’m stuck with them so it’s not really a bargain in the end.”

If you find yourself succumbing to “bargain brain,” do your best to remain mentally calm. Try to focus on the value and cost of a product rather than simply the reduced price of a tempting sale “opportunity.” Above all, stay loyal to your gift list and budget.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

_____________________________________________________

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

Read next: 7 Black Friday Haggling Secrets You Need to Know

 

MONEY Shopping

12% of Black Friday Shoppers Will Be Drunk (and More Crazy Facts About the Holiday Frenzy)

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Shoppers wait to enter the Aeropostale store in Tyson's Corner, Virginia during 'Midnight Madness' at the Tyson's Corner Center in Tyson's Corner, Virginia.. Tyson's Corner Center is the largest shopping center in the Washington, DC area. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

How many people will go shopping this weekend? What day actually has the best deals? How much will the average shopper spend? How many of them are tipsy while they're browsing for gifts?

Read on for answers to the above, as well as other nuggets about what’s in store for consumers during the annual Thanksgiving-Black Friday weekend shopping extravaganza.

Less Than 5% The average discount on Black Friday for 6,000 items tracked last year by the deal-hunting site ShopAdvisor; researchers found that the average discount during the holiday period was highest on December 18 (17.5%).

5 Number of hours that RadioShack will shut down on Thanksgiving (noon to 5 p.m.); it had originally planned to stay open from 8 a.m. to midnight, but decided to close during the middle of the day after receiving complaints from employees.

10 Number of employees at a Virginia Best Buy whose sole job is to restock items as soon as there are gaps on store shelves on Black Friday.

12% Proportion of Thanksgiving Day shoppers who admit to hitting the stores on the holiday while under the influence of alcohol, according to a survey conducted on the behalf of the coupon site RetailMeNot.

16% vs. 50% Respectively, the percentages of shoppers ages 55+ and 18 to 24 and who think it’s “a great idea” for stores to be open on Thanksgiving.

22 Number of days before Black Friday that two women in California began camping out at a Best Buy in order to be first in line for deals. They hope to buy a cheap TV.

25% Amount of extra trash thrown away by Americans during the Thanksgiving-New Year’s period, compared to any other time of the year.

28% vs. 32% Percentages of women and men, respectively, who plan on spending $250 to $500 on Black Friday (yes, more guys than girls).

At Least 3 Dozen Number of national retailers, including Costco, Bloomingdale’s, Dillard’s, and Nordstrom, that have decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving.

38% Percentage of shoppers who plan on purchasing holiday gifts with credit cards, up from 28.5% last year and the highest level recorded since the National Retail Federation has asked the question in surveys.

39% Proportion of Americans who feel pressured to spend more than they can afford during the holiday season.

42 Number of consecutive hours that Kmart stores will be open, starting at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving and lasting through midnight on Black Friday.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that stores should be closed on Thanksgiving this year, up from 60% in 2012.

70% Percentage of consumers who say that Black Friday is meaningless because “there will be more sales throughout the holidays.”

71% Percentage of consumers who say they may not like the gift they receive over the holidays.

96% Percentage of consumers who say that discounts are important to their shopping decisions during the holidays, up from 94% last year—and three in ten say that they’ll hold out for discounts of 50% or more before making a purchase.

$407 Average amount spent by consumers over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, down 4% compared to the year before.

$450 Minimum you must spend at one of two malls in southern California in order to receive a free Uber ride home, starting on Black Friday and stretching through Christmas Eve.

140 Million Estimated number of consumers who will shop in stores or online this weekend, according to the National Retail Federation, roughly the same as the expectations leading into the 2013 Thanksgiving-Black Friday period.

 

MONEY Shopping

7 Things to Know About Thanksgiving Shopping Boycotts

Dillards retail department store.
Dillards retail department store. Jim Parkin—Alamy

Hundreds of thousands of Americans are up in arms about stores like Walmart and Target being open on Thanksgiving. What kind of impact will their protests have?

Like it or hate it, Thanksgiving shopping is a growing trend, and based on the crowds of consumers that will surely show up to browse and buy on the holiday, it’s a tradition that is likely here to stay. Here’s a deeper look at which stores are open, which are closed, and why, as well as the campaigns being waged around the country to try to keep Thanksgiving as a sacred, family-first, non-shopping day.

Dozens of national retailer won’t open on Thanksgiving. While stores like J.C. Penney, Walmart, Toys R Us, Kmart, and Best Buy are opening on Thanksgiving and trying to attract the masses with some seemingly terrific deals, at least three dozen other national retailers have vowed to remain closed on the holiday. The Boycott Black Thursday and the Boycott Shopping on Thanksgiving Facebook pages, as well as other Thanksgiving shopping haters are encouraging consumers to support the stores that aren’t opening on the holiday by shopping with them later in the season. Among those staying closed on Thanksgiving are:

Academy Sports + Outdoors
A.C. Moore
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Bed, Bath & Beyond
BJ’s
Bloomingdale’s
Burlington Coat Factory
Cabela’s
Christopher & Banks
Costco
Crate & Barrel
Dillard’s
DSW
GameStop
Hobby Lobby
Home Depot
Home Goods
JoAnne
Lowe’s
Marshalls
Men’s Wearhouse
Menards
Neiman Marcus
Nordstrom
Orvis
Patagonia
P.C. Richard
PetCo
PetSmart
REI
Saks Fifth Avenue
Sam’s Club
Talbots
T.J. Maxx
Von Maur

Also, let’s not overlook all of the small businesses that wouldn’t even consider opening up for shopping on Thanksgiving.

Some stores say they’re staying closed on principle. A statement released to the press from TJX, the company that owns Marshalls, Home Goods, and T.J. Maxx, makes a point of it being an “associate-friendly” business that is “pleased to give our associates the time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.” Similarly, Costco explained its decision to stay closed on the holiday this way: “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that.”

The not-so-subtle message being sent is that these retailers care about their workers, their workers’s families, and families in general. The implicit flip side is that stores that are opening on Thanksgiving should be shamed because their decisions to open on Thanksgiving demonstrate they don’t care as much about their employees or about American traditions and family.

Other closures seem a matter of practicality. “We’re not a high-volume, low-margin business,” Neiman Marcus spokeswoman Ginger Reeder, told the Wall Street Journal last year when the topic of Thanksgiving store hours arose. “We’re not trying to make some statement. It’s better for us to be closed.” The same line of thinking applies to other upscale retailers that aren’t opening on the holiday, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. It’s a no-brainer for these stores to stay closed on Thanksgiving because it wouldn’t be a big money-making day anyway. “Thanksgiving promotions are about necessities that are marked down,” Neiman Marcus’s Reeder explained to the Los Angeles Times recently. “It’s just not a part of what we do.”

Likewise, as the Detroit Free Press columnist Georgea Kovanis pointed out, JoAnn, Home Depot, and many of other stores that will stay closed “aren’t generally known for their door busters … where people stand in line, waiting to pounce on dirt cheap large screen televisions or Lego kits.” Surely, stores like Sam’s Club, which is owned by Walmart—open 24/7 even on Thanksgiving—would open on the holiday if the higher-ups thought it would be worthwhile. So before going out of your way to support stores for remaining closed on Thanksgiving, consider Kovanis’s observation: “It’s not difficult to sit out the World Series or Super Bowl when you were never in the game to begin with.”

Boycotters are focused on shoppers as much as retailers. While boycott organizers and petitioners are actively spreading the word about stores that are ruining Thanksgiving by forcing employees to work—especially ones like Kmart, which is opening early in the morning on the holiday—they’re also targeting consumers who are giving stores a reason to open when they go shopping on the day. “We really just want to encourage people to stay home on Thanksgiving,” Brian Rich, the creator of the Boycott Black Thursday Facebook page, explained to his hometown Idaho Statesman. “If we can eliminate the demand for shopping on Thanksgiving, retailers will go back to staying closed. Retail employees can be at home with their families, and that’s really the ultimate goal we’re pushing for with this movement.”

Recently, a group of protesters at a “ProThanks” rally outside of a mall in Michigan also was simultaneously imploring stores to reconsider their decisions to open on Thanksgiving and asking shoppers to consider staying home. “Our hope is that we can make other people conscious that their choices do affect other people,” one protester said, noting that consumers who go shopping on Thanksgiving give stores a reason to be open—and a reason to force employees to work that day.

Thanksgiving hours don’t necessarily boost sales. Obviously, stores that are open on Thanksgiving boost sales for the day—because they’d otherwise be closed and making no in-person sales. But the idea that opening on Thanksgiving boosts overall sales for the holiday period is dubious. Analysts are quick to point out that retailers “risk cannibalizing” sales by opening on Thanksgiving. The sales transactions that occur that day would otherwise probably be made on Friday, or later in the season, and the net sales change is likely to be zero. A big reason why Black Friday sales have declined in recent years is because stores have been expanding sales earlier and earlier into Thanksgiving.

Retailers feel forced to match the competition. The most promotion-driven retailers—Walmart, Target, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Best Buy, etc.—are constantly trying to beat the rest of the pack to the sale. They’re all battling for the business of shoppers with limited holiday shopping budgets, and so it’s essential to get their money before it’s spent elsewhere. This is why price-matching policies are proliferating, and why early Black Friday sales are popping up earlier and earlier. And it’s a big reason why stores are opening on Thanksgiving: They’re scared that if they stay closed, they’ll be losing business to the competition.

The impact of boycotts will probably be minimal. Even if only a very small portion of consumers goes shopping on Thanksgiving—11% are interested, according to one survey—that represents tens of millions of shoppers heading to the mall. And that’s more than enough justification for retailers to open their doors on the holiday.

As for consumer boycotts of Thanksgiving shopping, “In terms of overall holiday shopping impact, there is none. Zero,” Richard Feinberg, a computer science and retail professor at Purdue University, said this week in the South Bend Tribune. “Even if people did not go out (Thanksgiving weekend), they would not boycott any store that they said they would boycott in the weeks to follow, with the many great sales available. And the people who really do boycott a store are just as likely to shop online during the time they are boycotting.”

MONEY deals

Black Friday Is Already Here

A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014.
A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014. "Black Friday" is coming early this year to retailers. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Based on the big discounts already in effect at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Gap, Staples, and plenty of other retailers, it looks like Black Friday sales are well underway.

Many people are upset that dozens of national retailers have decided to launch Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving, thereby ruining the holiday for workers who can’t spend the day with their families—and also ruining the day for families whose shopping-crazed relatives will ditch them for the chance to score cheap tablets, TVs, and fast fashion at the mall. (According to surveys, millennials are particularly likely to go shopping on Thanksgiving rather than continue hanging out at home once dinner is done.)

But based on the proliferation of broad, often substantial discounts that invoke the phrase “Black Friday” days or even a full week before the actual day arrives, it appears as if Black Friday sales are in effect right now. Deal-tracking sites such as TheBlackFriday.com have rounded up long lists of retailers that have already tried to grab shoppers’ attention by launching big holiday sales under names like “Pre-Black Friday Deals,” “Black Friday All Week Long Sale,” and “Cyber Monday Now.”

One week before Black Friday, Amazon kicked off its Black Friday Deals Week, throughout the course of which the world’s largest e-retailer is adding new deals as often as every 10 minutes. Likewise, Walmart launched a “Pre-Black Friday Event” on Friday, November 21, with lots of prices that seem on par with Black Friday’s best bargains: LED TVs for under $150, tablets starting at $40, two-packs of women’s fleece pants for $8, and so on. Similarly, Staples is trying to woo shoppers early with 50% off select merchandise and an array of quirky coupons (a flat $100 off many tablets, laptops, and desk-tops), and Target, Lowes, Sears, and many others are advertising some variation of “Pre-Black Friday” or “Black Friday Now” deals.

Some across-the-board online discounts—the kind normally offered on Cyber Monday—have also surfaced this week, such as 30% off everything at Lands’ End, on top of another 40% off shoes and slippers. On Monday, Gap introduced a sale on denim and cords for $25 and under (normally priced up to $70), on the heels of a 50% off all online purchases (for Gap card members) on Sunday.

The early sales shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the overarching trend of retailers attempting to expand the holiday shopping season and grab consumers’ limited gift-purchasing dollars before their competitors can. Kmart launched its first holiday ad in September, and many studies show that the best deals aren’t on Black Friday necessarily, but can appear weeks before or after Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to retailers’ strategic efforts to boost sales during lulls.

An Adweek story quotes several retail experts of the opinion that “Black Friday” basically occupies all of November nowadays, or at least that Black Friday-type sales appear on the scene earlier and earlier each year:

“We definitely see retailers pushing Black Friday earlier than ever,” said Sara Al-Tukhaim, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail. “This concept of Black Friday is just getting stretched out more” and becoming “more blurry.”

Bear in mind that not all of these early deals are worth getting excited about. The Disney Store rolled out what it’s calling its Black Magical Friday Sale on Friday, November 21, with discounts “up to 40% off,” but most of the deals—16″ dolls for $20 (originally $24.95), play sets from Star Wars, Monsters University, and Toy Story for $10 (originally $12.95)—seem like run-of-the-mill sales, not can’t-pass-up bargains. What’s more, some of the best early Black Friday deals seem all but impossible to buy. For example, Walmart advertised the Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit for Wii U over the weekend priced at $37 (full price around $75), but it has been out of stock for online orders and isn’t available at most stores either.

To sum up, right now many stores have some genuinely terrific, Black Friday-esque bargains. But many of the advertised deals aren’t all that impressive, and the biggest discounts generally apply only to select merchandise and may not actually be available for purchase. In other words, retailers are already using amazing discounts and other tricks to get shoppers into stores—where the hope is that they’ll buy plenty of lightly-discounted or full-price items while they’re browsing. This is the gist of how and why retailers use Black Friday as a sales-boosting tactic in the first place, and it’s a strategy that is indeed well underway.

MONEY consumer psychology

12 Ways to Stop Wasting Money and Take Control of Your Stuff

Digging in overflowing closet
Steve Cole Images—Getty Images/Vetta

If you're swimming in stuff, not to mention debt, check out this list of a dozen tips to stop the madness and streamline your lifestyle.

In my work as a consumer psychologist and author, I’ve read countless studies about consumer behavior, and I’ve conducted plenty of research on my own, interviewing hundreds of shoppers about how, when, and why they shop. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to avoid piling up too much stuff and how to stop making unnecessary, excessive, and ultimately unsatisfying purchases.

Do an inventory check. Jenna Suhl, who has worked as a wardrobe stylist in San Francisco for more than a decade, told me, “It’s not uncommon for people to buy new things because they have so much they can’t see what they already have.” Suhl recommends weeding out what’s worn, ill-fitting, unmatchable, or a style that no longer suits. That’s not only true for clothing and accessories, but also tools, household products, and knickknacks. Another woman once mentioned to me that she actually bought the exact same serving platter twice, forgetting that she already owned it. “At least I have consistent taste,” she laughed, “but clearly I have too much stuff.”

Buy good quality—and use it. Perhaps counterintuitively, I’ve found that it’s common for people to almost never use the things they love the most—a favorite pair or jeans, a vintage Mustang—and that give them the most pleasure. Why? Often, it’s because they want to protect the item in question, because they like it so much and don’t want it to be ruined. Instead of using their favorites regularly, they buy cheaper things—sometimes knockoff imitations—for “everyday” use. The unfortunate result is less satisfaction, and that lack of satisfaction often leads to more buying in the misguided hope that some new item will make us happier. In a similar vein, many people spend more money on an outfit they wear once for a special occasion than they spend the entire year on clothing they use every week, such as workout wear, jeans, or sneakers. The smarter approach is to put your money where you’ll see it in action and enjoy it the most, thereby reducing purchasing cravings.

Count your blessings. First and foremost, being grateful—not just for possessions, but also for the people, places and simple pleasures in life—is good for the soul. But an attitude of gratitude is also a proven antidote to impulse purchasing because it creates a sense of abundance within the individual. When you’re feeling full of gratitude, you’re less likely to subconsciously try to fill emotional holes by treating yourself with gifts and accumulating more stuff.

Turn off the temptation. Imagine having a friend who was constantly telling you about seemingly terrific deals (half-off watches!), or that you simply had to try the new pizzeria in town (free dessert!). Hearing about these offers puts you in the position of considering purchases you might not otherwise have noticed. Worse, you’re likely to get worn down over time, so that you end up jumping at some offer partly to reward yourself for all of the times in the past you behaved virtuously and passed on the latest bargain. These are the effects of signing up for email subscriptions from retailers and deal sites. If you’re trying to rein in your spending, simply cancel those subscriptions. Forget the idea that they somehow save you money. You’ll save a lot more by remaining ignorant of all those seemingly amazing bargains.

Play the waiting game. When you’re tempted to buy something on a whim, wait at least 20 minutes. Then, after clearing your head, reconsider how and when you’ll actually use the product. Instead of simply choosing to have it or not have it, think for a moment about what else you might prefer instead—such as the freedom of having less debt or a bigger purchase that requires saving, such as college tuition, a house or retirement. When considering larger purchases of, say, anything more than $100, make the wait period 24 hours. The typical impulse purchase seems a lot less like a “must-have” after sleeping on it.

Learn to share. I’m not talking about the explosion of “sharing economy” businesses that facilitate things like car-sharing and bike-sharing. I’m talking about the old-fashioned DIY method of buying something with a friend or neighbor and owning it jointly. I recently watched two young women negotiate sharing rights for a relatively expensive gold necklace they both wanted and ultimately bought together at Nordstrom. And I interviewed a family that purchased backyard play equipment with their neighbors. That family is also ingenious about repurposing. For example, they decorated homemade birthday cards with buttons taken from worn-out shirts (which were cut up and used as dust rags). I’ll admit these practices can seem time consuming and not commonplace—but they’re inspiring, and perhaps there’s an opportunity to share or repurpose that will eliminate a new purchase in your life.

Buy only what you need, right now. Part of what makes shopping so alluring is the mental vacation that comes with imagining how a product can be used, such as, “I’ll turn heads in this outfit,” or “We’ll have the wildest parties with this cocktail shaker.” But most homes are cluttered with unused merchandise (often with the tags still attached) purchased for, say, an African safari that never materialized or a slimmer figure that has yet to be acquired. Don’t let your imagination divert attention from the cost and practicality of an object, nor from reality. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if you’ll be using the item in the very near future. If the answer is no or not likely, pass.

Focus on the bottom line, not freebies. “Free” is the four-letter word that always seems to work in marketing. But the free gift with purchase, the free bottle of water while you’re shopping, and the free samples can all cost you. For one thing, getting something for free creates a sense of obligation that makes it harder to say “no” to a persuasive salesperson. Shoppers also often use the free gifts included with purchase to rationalize buying something that’s way beyond their budget. I’ve seen otherwise highly intelligent, logical people spend a fortune to get something for free. And the irony is completely lost on them.

Remember that it’s okay to buy nothing. Shopping takes time, and it can feel like time wasted if a purchase isn’t made. Outlet malls, which typically require a significant drive, are particularly dangerous places for people trying to reduce their consumption. It’s not uncommon for people to purchase something they don’t really need rather than to leave empty-handed, with the feeling like the trip was a total waste. The same phenomenon occurs in upscale “destination” boutiques and at e-retail sites that have drawn shoppers in for significant amounts of time. But don’t fall for the notion that you’ve wasted time if you shop and don’t buy. The truth is that buying something you don’t need only makes for more waste.

Do some quick math as a reality check. If you earn an hourly wage, do a little simple division to see how much of your time, effort, and work is eaten up by a potential purchase. The thought that three hours of your work barely covers the cost of some restaurant meal is likely to inspire you to cook more. The same concept works for salaried workers, just first do the math to break down your roughly per-hour take. Alternately, you could compare the cost of a new purchase to the amount in a savings account, or how long it took to save that amount. Calculating that the cost of a new TV would swallow 50% of the savings that took you two years to compile should be enough to give you pause. Likewise, if you’re really trying to get a better sense of how much you’re spending, don’t use credit cards. Spending with cash feels more tangible, more like you’re spending real money that required your real time, sweat, and effort to earn—and that’s the whole point.

Buy for the right reasons. Research shows that we can think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty, think we’re tired when in reality we’re bored, and so forth. In other words, we’re pretty good at identifying when we need something, just not so good at identifying precisely what it is we need. The concept translates directly into the world of shopping and buying: People often buy stuff not because they truly need the stuff, but to fill a variety of other psychological needs, including the craving for human contact, relief from boredom, the opportunity to feel totally competent and in control, and the mental stimulation of something unique or beautiful. To buy less, don’t confuse the real reasons you’re shopping; the tips above about practicing gratitude and waiting for a specified time period before making a purchase should help boost awareness of what it is you truly need.

Shop for stuff you need, not sales. Another of the psychological reasons that many people over-shop and buy is to get a burst of feel-good dopamine that accompanies sale shopping. Snagging a coveted item at 30% off can feel like winning a prize. But sales are nothing special: Virtually everything is discounted at some point in today’s retail world, and at least three-quarters of the purchases shoppers tell me they regret making were bought on sale. They often say they the item isn’t quite the right size, color, shape, or style—but what got them hooked was that the price was right. This is silly, of course. If you don’t like the item, there’s no price that makes it a smart buy. I’ve also found that sale-focused shoppers, ironically, tend to spend more total money than others. Remind yourself when shopping that the point is to seek good-quality items you need, not random stuff that is appealing solely because of a seemingly good price.

MORE: How Do I Set a Budget I Can Stick To?

Hey Impulse Spenders, Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

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Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

MONEY groceries

Rumors Are Flying of a Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage

Turkeys in a grocery store
Richard Levine—Alamy

You may have heard that there's a turkey shortage, and that prices are rising just in time for Thanksgiving. Hogwash.

Supermarkets have plenty of turkeys, and prices are incredibly cheap right now. How cheap? How about 79¢ per pound? That’s what the Kroger chain of supermarkets is offering in a special deal valid through Thanksgiving, so long as the customer buys an additional $35 or more in groceries.

If that’s too pricey, check out the offer from Meijer: When a customer spends at least $20 in the store, the chain’s own brand of turkeys are 50% off, which translates to 54¢ per pound for frozen birds and 98¢ per pound for fresh ones. In competitive markets such as western Michigan, meanwhile, some local grocery stores are selling turkeys for as little as 49¢ a pound. The latest Stop & Shop circular is advertising frozen turkeys for 59¢ per pound with a $25 purchase, and the chain says it will match the turkey prices of any grocery competitor. Yet another large player in the grocery field, Hy-Vee, has a coupon valid for a free 10- to 14-lb. Honeysuckle White Turkey for customers who purchase a Hormel whole ham. And ShopRite is giving reward club members a free turkey once the customer meets certain spending requirements (usually $400) over a period of a few weeks.

So why are so many headlines are making the rounds lately indicating that turkey is getting expensive?

It’s true that production is down, and that wholesale prices are up for turkey. But the important takeaway for shoppers is that neither of these factors is necessarily translating to rising prices in stores.

Due to long periods of drought and rising prices for feed, production of all manner of livestock has been on the decline in recent years. Beef prices, for instance, have increased to the point that consumers needed smart strategies to keep barbecue costs down over the summer. The Associated Press recently reported that American farmers will produce a total of 235 million turkeys this year, “the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.”

It sounds pretty dire. And yet, there’s nothing remotely true about the idea of there being a turkey “shortage,” as some have called it. A shortage means there’s not enough to go around—that the supply can’t keep up with demand. But as no less an authority than the National Turkey Federation noted that Americans collectively consumed 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving 2012, and 210 million turkeys during the year as a whole. That, combined with the fact that there are ample supplies of turkeys at supermarkets all over the country, should dispel any claims of a “shortage.”

As far as prices go, wholesale prices may be rising—reportedly up 12% in October compared with last year—but, as USDA agriculture economist David Harvey explained to the AP, “There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at.”

This year—and every year around this time—supermarkets use turkeys as “loss leaders.” The stores advertise exceptionally low prices on turkeys, knowing that doing so will be a draw for customers. The grocers don’t care if they make little or no money, or even if they lose money, on turkey sales; shoppers who come for turkeys almost always buy plenty more groceries when they’re in the stores, especially when they’re required to do so, as the best deals stipulate, and it’s in these purchases where the supermarkets make their money.

What’s more, the idea that there is a turkey shortage and/or that turkey prices are soaring is a myth that pops up regularly around this time of year. Last year’s “shortage” turned out to be hype because, once anyone read past the headlines, it was clear that even as the supply of one particular kind of turkey had declined, the vast majority of turkeys (and consumers) were completely unaffected.

In a story published today by the New Jersey Star Ledger, Ashley Myers, co-owner of Ashley Farms, is quoted laughing off the idea of there being a shortage of turkeys. “They say that every year,” she said.

And every year, everyone who wants to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving is able to buy a turkey very easily, generally at very low prices—or even free. This year is no exception.

MONEY Food & Drink

These Coffees Want To Be the Christmas Version of the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Seasonal drinks from Dunkin Donuts
Jim Scherer

Can the pumpkin spice latte phenomenon be repeated, only in winter? Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and others hope so—and they're heaping on sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and chestnut flavors into new drinks to make it happen.

It’s no wonder coffee chains are trying to replicate the retail magic that appears annually in the form of autumn’s onslaught of pumpkin spice beverages. A hot seasonal beverage is proven to juice sales big time. To milk the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) frenzy even more, Starbucks rolled out the beverage earlier than usual this past summer in many parts of the country, and it boosted sales to the surprise of no one.

Peppermint, which is known to increase physiological arousal and heightens alertness, has been a popular flavor in holiday season beverages, and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, McDonald’s, and 7-Eleven, among many others, are bringing peppermint-laced hot drinks back to their winter menus. But the new holiday beverages go far beyond a mere minty twist, with chestnut, cinnamon, gingerbread, sugar cookie, and other sickly sweet flavors providing the rush. (Perhaps that puzzlingly catchy Def Leppard song was really about holiday season coffees?)

When done right, a hot seasonal beverage succeeds for the seller two-fold by 1) drawing in customers early and often, at least partially because any limited-time offer won’t be around forever and people don’t want to miss out; and 2) getting customers to pay more than usual for their caffeine fix. As NPD Group analyst Bonnie Riggs explained of all unique coffee beverages, customers “expect to pay a premium because the specialty drinks … are not something they can replicate at home or easily get at retail.”

All of which helps explain why Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and others have introduced these new contenders for the 2014 winter season:

Starbucks Chestnut Praline Latte
In the same way that pumpkin spice has come to be the dominant, most eagerly anticipated flavor of fall, Starbucks is hoping its brand-new Chestnut Praline Latte becomes inextricably tied to the winter holiday season. “The rich, earthy, sweet, roastiness of chestnut is a perfect foil to espresso. Then we balanced the nutty chestnut flavor with brown sugar and spice,” Starbucks research and development manager Amy Dilger said of the new latte, which is the company’s first new holiday beverage in five years. “It’s a quintessential flavor of the holiday season.”

To get customers to sample the goods early in the season, Starbucks is having a buy-one, get-one-free special on holiday drinks, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16.

Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Cookie Latte
Less than a week after Halloween, Dunkin’ Donuts introduced its lineup of sugary winter beverages, including two cookie-flavored lattes: the Sugar Cookie Latte and the Snickerdoodle Latte. They’re both available in hot or cold varieties, as is Dunkin’s Peppermint Mocha, which is back again this holiday season.

Caribou Coffee Gingersnap Cookie Mocha
With “hints of ginger, allspice and clove,” the Gingersnap Cookie Mocha from Caribou Coffee is trying to make its case as the hot caffeinated beverage of the season. Previous seasonal brews also are returning to Caribou’s menu, including the Ho Ho Mint Mocha and special Reindeer Blend coffee—and thank goodness the latter is false advertising. (The coffee contains no real reindeer ingredients, but does have “a hint of caramel and a dash of spice.”)

Peet’s Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte
Peet’s is bringing back holiday beverages such as the Sea Salt Caramel Mocha, Eggnog Latte, and Winter Solstice Tea, while also introducing a new seasonal beverage, the Cinnamon Hazelnut Latte. Follow the link for a coupon granting a free small seasonal beverage with the purchase of any food item, now through November 26.

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