I remember loving Black Friday.
After we got married and had earned a little expendable income, shopping the sales immediately following Thanksgiving became a kind of game. After family gatherings we would pull out all of the newspaper ads, pour through the circulars for our favorite stores, and make a plan of attack. Like kids in a candy store, we would look at the shiny colors in the ads and the advertised low prices and whether or not we needed or even wanted the items, we would make our Black Friday shopping list.
One Thanksgiving, when my sister came with her family to celebrate and stay with us, we headed out and braved the crowds kid-free, coming home in the wee hours of the morning with Christmas shopping lists nearly complete. Another Thanksgiving, when my in-laws came to celebrate, they slept in the guest room as overnight babysitters while Jeff and I went out to 10:00 showing of Lincoln and then hit the stores that were opening at midnight.
Even when Jeff and I buckled down to be more responsible with our spending habits and became more intentional about everything that we bought, there was something about Black Friday. The percent signs made us feel like we were getting a really good deal, like somehow we were sticking to capitalist markets intent of making money off of us.
Of course, we all know that was just the point. They were using the sales for the sole purpose of making money off of us. I usually returned home exhausted, tired of people, and questioning my purchasing decisions. Even when I knew that I had knocked off a significant number of gifts off of my shopping list, it didn’t matter. I still questioned whether all of that driving and standing in line was worth it.
Then Jeff and I made the decision three years ago to go camping for Thanksgiving. We toured the Gulf coast, watched people fish, explored an aircraft carrier, and spent quality time together as a family. As we traveled home on the day after our first Campsgiving, we realized that we had missed the Black Friday madness. We thought that we might feel a pang of regret that we had missed out on some major sales, but we looked at each other, looked at our happy kids, and realized that we hadn’t missed a thing.
That moment forced us to be honest with each other about our Black Friday history. The sales didn’t save us a lot of money. Instead, we probably spent more money “saving” money than we would have if we hadn’t left the house. We didn’t really want more stuff and those sales often encouraged us to bring things into the house that we didn’t need or have room for. And the time we were spending shopping was taking away from time that we could be spending together as a family.
The following year we hiked in Dinosaur Valley State Park to spectacular views in north Texas. Last year we spent the day touring the French Quarter, walking around Louis Armstrong Park, and eating bennets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans. And this year we plant to wake up, take one more look around yet another Texas state park, and head home where we can unpack from our latest Campsgiving.
I know that not everyone can get on board with this approach and I’m also fully aware of the economic dependence on Black Friday, but if you are like me and you are tired of giving in to wasteful spending and craving more quality time, maybe this year stay up late with your loved ones and instead of standing in line at Starbucks before the sun comes up, sleep in and cook up some breakfast. If you still really need that one item, then head out and see if it is still available after the initial lines die down. Better yet, instead of hitting all of the major chain stores, surprise a local merchant and give them your business.
I’m not calling for an end to the modern tradition of spending money we don’t have on stuff we don’t need after spending a day celebrating everything we are thankful for, but I am giving permission to step away and try something new.
You never know. It may forever change the way you approach the holiday season.