How to Prepare for Black Friday Conscientiously

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Photo by Matthew Simoneau

It’s that time of year again. Ads for huge sales are popping up everywhere and retailers are doing all they can to lure you through their doors to partake in “huge sales events.” I recognize fully that with the state of the economy, sales tend to be a win-win: They let consumers save money and give businesses some traction. However, the only way you can really save money during a sale is if you shop conscientiously.

For the past few years, I have been pretty militant in my refusal to shop on Black Friday, preferring to chill out and eat leftovers. I have done Black Friday before, and I had no intention of participating in the insanity that ensues when doors open at crazy hours of the morning (or night) with thousands of shoppers racing to score the same deals. Not to mention the fact that SO many people shop just for shopping’s sake, feeding the over-consumerism that I work every day to reverse.  This year though, I’m tempering my Black Friday militancy with a bit of realism.

At the end of the day, people are going to shop. So why not give them tips to make their shopping less of a compulsion and more of a conscious effort, right? So here are my tips:

Shop only if you need something or find a great deal on something you would’ve bought anyway.

For example, this year, we have a strategy for giving gifts to our kids (courtesy of Karen Walrond of Chookoolonks). We’ll give them “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read” — 4 gifts per child in all. I asked my daughter to think long and hard about what she wanted for Christmas because she’d only get one opportunity to ask. After thinking for a few days, she said she wanted a Nintendo DS. She uses my nieces’ handheld games all the time and now wants one of her own. My first thought: Can I find a used game in good condition? Obviously, this will eliminate packaging and take a game out of the eventual waste cycle. But if I can’t find a used one, Walmart has a Black Friday special on the Nintendo DS Lite for just $89, plus games for $7, $10, $29, and $35. It might be worth it to me to head out and get one, since it costs $130+ full price. I’ll also shop around other sale papers to see if anyone else has a better deal. This isn’t the greenest gift, I know, but I also know my daughter will use it — which brings me to my next point…

If you’re buying gifts, buy gifts the recipients need and will actually use instead of ones they’ll discard in a hurry.

My daughter got a lot of gifts last year, and ALL of them were green in some way. Know how many of them she played with for more than a day? Maybe 2. The others sat unused in her toy box and some were donated when we moved. So my point is that no matter how green your gift is, it is absolutely pointless if it won’t be used and loved. So although I wish my daughter has asked if we could plant a tree as the gift she really wants (a mother can dream, right), I’ll give her the one gift she really wants so it won’t end up discarded later.

Do your best to buy green.

This can mean a lot of things, obviously. Pay attention to what you are buying, what it is made of and where it was made. It means buying items that are energy efficient, made with FSC-certified or otherwise sustainably harvested wood, or renewable materials. It means personal care and beauty products that are made with 100% organic or at least natural ingredients (ie. NOT your average cosmetics or perfume). It means clothing made of sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, linen or hemp. It means toys made of wood or recycled materials instead of plastic and ones that will stimulate the mind and imagination, and that your kids will actually use. It means shopping for vintage or handmade jewelry and goods that come with character instead of mass-produced “stuff.” It means buying used items when you can. Need help finding green gift ideas? Check out the Green Gift Guide, which includes ideas for handmade gifts.

Have a plan, a list and a budget.

This will help stop you from buying random stuff just because it looks like a good deal. In other words, if you went to the store to buy an Energy Star-certified TV, buy that Energy Star-certified TV and get the heck out of there.

Support green retailers and products online.

Lots of retailers — including green ones — have Black Friday deals. It’s usually easier to find these green deals online than it is in person, since many stores don’t make it obvious which products are eco-friendly and which aren’t. And while Cyber Monday is the traditional online shopping day, Black Friday is pretty popular online as well. In addition to the daily green deals I post every day on the coupons page, I will do my best to do a roundup of green deals for Black Friday.  Ditch the crowds and buy online, and buy green.

Take your reusable bags, or forgo bags altogether.

I have a set of reusable shopping bags that I use for groceries and another set of larger bags that I use for other shopping (clothes, shoes, etc.) Be sure to take your own bags if you will shop in person, or tell the cashier you don’t need a bag. While you’re at it, tell them you don’t want that BPA-laden receipt either.

THINK BEFORE YOU BUY.

At the end of the day, none of us are perfect, myself included. My best gift giving and shopping strategy is to do it thoughtfully — thought about what you’re buying, about what will happen to it when it’s no longer useful, about whether it really is useful or just shiny and pretty, etc. Remember that an item’s value is determined by MUCH more than just its price. And this is the most important tip of all, for Black Friday and for all your shopping throughout the year.

Disclosure: I am a member of the Walmart Moms program. Walmart has provided me with compensation to share my personal Black Friday shopping tips with you. Participation is voluntary and as usual, all opinions are my own. Check out more tips from my fellow Walmart Moms, many of whom are much better at saving money than I am. Erin Gifford at Coupon Cravings has some great money-saving tips, and Lori a E Living Media has some tips for hardcore shoppers.

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4 comments… add one

  • Condo Blues November 18, 2010, 4:44 pm

    Do you have a Gamestop? They buy and sell used video games. In fact, a couple of the titles I wanted I could only find used – double win!

    I made fleece pajama pants for all of the nieces and nephews on my list. They live in cold climates and I knew they would wear the fleece in their favorite sports teams than the thin organic fabrics I found in only baby themes. (The kids are older)

    I believe that you can shop Black Friday and be green. The only way to get the deals is to preplan, get up at waaaaaay too early and go to that specific store for that specific deal, get it and move on to the next store to get the next deal. The crowd’s are little too crazy for me so I do my Black Friday shopping via the computer. I envy those who can finish all of their shopping in one day, even if it looks like they are over consuming.
    Condo Blues recently posted { CleanGreen Pet Stain Cleaner Giveaway! }

    • jennae November 19, 2010, 7:02 am

      Thanks for the recommendation! GameStop is one of our favorite places to go when we get bored of our games. The hubby and I are big gamers as well, so we know where she gets her interest :)

      And fleece pants for your nieces and nephews are awesome! I actually still wear the fleece pajama pants I got from my mother-in-law as a gift a few years back, so they are definitely useful. And that’s what I mean about giving gifts that are useful rather than ones that are just green. The fact that they are handmade still makes them better than something you’d buy at a store, too :)

      The Black Friday crowds are crazy for me too, so I always used to go alone rather than forcing my daughter to go into sensory overload. I’m really hoping I find a used console or a good deal elsewhere so I don’t have to brave the crowd on Friday.

      Thanks for your input!

  • Anna November 19, 2010, 11:09 am

    Thanks for posting this! Shopping conscientiously is super important.

    Along with Energy Star, in the Pacific Northwest, a new label to keep an eye out for is Energy Forward. The campaign is working with utilities and retailers to promote super energy efficient products — the Energy Forward label now indicates products that are 30% more efficient than Energy Star requirements. Keep an eye out for the orange signage in stores.

  • Danielle November 20, 2010, 9:10 am

    That was a wonderful post and values that I hold true. I have such a hard time with black friday every year and it makes me soooo depressed imagining tons of people just buying stuff. I actually started a blog about green interior design and my intent is to share in the idea of being more mindful. Yes many like to make their homes pretty, but you still can with buying used or using your purchasing power to by things that last or things that come from environmentally reputable companies. Do we really need this much stuff, when there are incredible things out there that are at salvation shops, on CL or flea markets? Ok, sorry I could go on and on.

    Thanks for the awesome post…I’ll have to share on FB!!!

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