Every year on Black Friday — the day after U.S. Thanksgiving — retailers lure shoppers with a dizzying array of tempting deals. There are various explanations for the name, with one popular belief being that it’s the time of the year when companies get “in the black” (i.e., show a profit) versus having been “in the red.”
With endless lineups starting before sunrise, mobs in big-box stores and promises of mind‑blowing sales, it’s a tradition that’s also taken firm root in Canada. In both the United States and Canada, it’s often seen as a time to buy gifts for the December holiday season.
What started as a single day of sales now goes through the weekend. Whatever is still not sold can be found online on Cyber Monday, or this sales period can even stretch out into a full cyber week. It’s an opportunity to save on gifts — and on something for yourself — but there can also be real consequences to this race to buy.
A potential vicious cycle of overspending
Sales have a way of making us buy things that we wouldn’t buy at full price — things that we can live without, or that are completely unnecessary. And even on sale, any non-essential purchase can create stress for those who are financially stretched or already in debt.
So an event as massive as Black Friday can have consequences for the financial health of Canadians. From there, it’s not hard to picture the suffering that financial problems can cause.
The numbers speak for themselves: 44% of Canadians say that their financial situation has negatively affected their mental health, and 30% say that financial stress worries them more than their overall health does.1
What’s more, people with financial worries are twice as likely to report poor overall health, and four times as likely to suffer from things like sleep problems and headaches. This kind of stress can even result in serious health problems, such as heart disease and high blood pressure.2
It can be too easy to fall into a vicious cycle. The more you buy, the more you need to work to earn money. The more tired and stressed you are from working so much, the less likely you are to make good decisions — this is one way that work stress can increase financial stress.
Also, since money is a major source of conflict for couples,3 overspending can set the stage for serious disturbances to the household peace during an event like Black Friday, when people may already be starting to feel pre-holiday stress as they plan for December purchases, festivities and travel.
All this means that, if taken to the extreme, Black Friday can have serious repercussions for some people. So, how to get through the shopping extravaganza without losing your shirt?
How to keep your balance
Here are some steps you can take to keep your spending in check, especially through Black Friday and the following holiday season.
Create a monthly budget. A budget is a smart thing to have at all times of the year. And it doesn’t need to be in the form of an elaborate spreadsheet. Many financial institutions provide clients with automated tools to help categorize all their spending. Of course, it’s not enough to know where your money’s going; you also need to set goals and make plans for reaching them, and then make a commitment (to yourself) to stick to your budget.
Beware of buying on credit. It’s easy to get credit these days, and that’s especially true for medical students, who are often offered lines of credit with high limits. It’s tempting to open your wallet wide and treat someone (or yourself), but you’ll lose out in the end. It’s much better to take a look at your priorities and rethink how you give.
Rethink your gift-giving. It’s not about how much you spend. There’s no need to check whether you’ve spent as much as you did last year, or as much as your spouse, sister or neighbour has. Consider giving your loved ones experiences rather than objects, or spending time with them instead of giving them things. Treating them to a nice dinner at a neighbourhood bistro, a night out at the theatre or a day on the cross-country ski trails would be a wonderful way to share an experience and create warm memories without emptying your pockets.
Consider observing Buy Nothing Day instead. Those who want a more radical change can join in the increasingly popular Buy Nothing Day, a challenge to Black Friday that’s held on the same date. As the name suggests, the idea is to make no purchases whatsoever on that day.4
Taking advantage of the huge Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for purchases you were going to make anyway is a smart consumer practice. But it’s all about matching your spending to your bank account.
It can also be useful to consult a financial advisor to help you get into good financial management habits. In the long term, looking after your financial health — like looking after your physical and mental health — can only do you good.
1 Credit Education Week Canada, Personal Finance a Root Cause of Stress among Canadians (October 2018).
2 Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, Financial stress and its impacts (March 2019).
3 Business Wire, Money Ruining Marriages in America, www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180207005698/en/Money-Ruining-Marriages-America.
4 Brandi Neal, What Is Buy Nothing Day? Here’s Why Some People Are Observing This Alternative to Black Friday (Bustle, November 2018)