On Black Friday, Shop with Your Conscience

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A few years ago, if you had asked me if I planned to shop on Black Friday, I would’ve looked at you like you had three heads. When my green journey began, I thought there was nothing about Black Friday that was compatible with the more sustainable way I was trying to live my life. While that is still largely true, there are ways to partake in this once-a-year super sale without letting go of your conscience. Since these sales can help you save tons of money on items you might end up buying later anyway, here are some tips to make your Black Friday efforts more conscientious and less compulsive:

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

This year, I’m making a LOT of homemade gifts. In fact, I’ve already started because I’m making so many that I needed a head start. However, while I’ll feel great about the homemade dress I’m making for my daughter (or will TRY to make, anyway), I know she’d be disappointed if that were the only gift she received. Instead of just buying gifts for the sake of buying, I asked her specifically what she wanted. In fact, my husband and I sat her down with a couple of toy catalogs and gave her a limit of 5 things. We had her pick the things she really wanted (and that we knew she’d use), and told her we would decide which of the 5 she actually receives (she got wise to the Santa myth a long time ago…sorry). That way, the gift is still a surprise, and we know we’re giving something she really wants, and therefore that she will love and use. This strategy has also let me plan ahead. Since I know exactly what I’m buying, I can compare Black Friday sales to get the best price on the specific items that I will end up buying anyway, since they’re on my list. Which brings me to my next point…

Buy gifts the recipients need and will love and use.

A few Christmases ago, I refused to buy any gifts for my daughter if they weren’t green in some measurable way. I felt like an eco-champion! Of course, my ego was deflated in short order when I realized that my daughter was a lot less interested in those “green” toys and gifts than I was.  Many of them sat unused in her toy box and ended up being donated later. My point is simple: No matter how green the gift, your effort (and resources and money) are wasted if the gift will go unused. While I’ll buy greener versions of certain gifts when I can (like organic cotton Christmas pajamas instead of polyester ones covered in flame retardants), I’d much rather give her the gift she really wants rather than what I want her to want.  I take great pride in giving gifts based on the recipient’s personality and interests. For example, there’s one person on my list who loves to bake (and who I know doesn’t read this blog 😉 ). I made them an apron, and I’ll give some tools to help in their craft. I know both will be used, and I got my green fix by making the apron myself from organic cotton fabric that I already had on hand.

Have a plan AND a budget.

We’re all guilty of going shopping for items just on our list, and leaving the store with far more than we intended. Don’t do it this Black Friday. Make a list and stick to it. This will 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 the Energy Star-certified TV and get the heck out of there.

Stock up on necessities.

There are items that most of us buy and use all the time. For me, those include natural hair products, organic, handmade soap, etc. I will absolutely be taking advantage of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales to stock up on these items at a great discount. These consumables will be used and therefore are worth the purchase.

Buy online, where it’s easier to buy green.

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. To make this easier for you, tomorrow, I will post a roundup of green deals for Black Friday, and another on Cyber Monday.  So really, you can forgo the crowds altogether and shop in your PJs.

Take your own bags, or forgo bags altogether.

Obviously, if your list includes a TV or a piece of furniture, bags are completely unnecessary. But if all you’re planning to buy is a Playstation 3, you can still ask the cashier to skip the plastic bag. Just carry it out in your hands. Or better yet, take your own bags. While the typical reusable grocery bags might be too small, take larger tote bags or even a fold-up duffel bag to corral all your purchases. Plus, fabric bags will obscure surprise gifts much better than plastic when you take them into the house! Oh…and while you’re at it, tell the cashier you don’t want that BPA-laden receipt either.

If you can help it, buy green.

Obviously, there are a lot of ways that a product can be green. More important than anything else though, pay attention to what you are buying. Try to find out what it is made of and how and where it was made. It means buying items that are made with recycled materials, FSC-certified or reclaimed wood, or renewable materials like bamboo. It means electronics and gadgets that are energy efficient. It means personal care and beauty products made with organic or at least natural ingredients (ie. NOT your average cosmetics or perfume) shopping online at the cfbloggers.org site is a great idea. It means clothes made of sustainable fabrics like organic cotton, linen or hemp. It means toys made of wood or recycled materials instead of plastic  — assuming your kids will actually use them. It means shopping supporting local artisans and retailers, or thrifting for vintage jewelry and goods that come with character.

I realize that this is easier said than done, particularly when shopping in person. Need help finding green gift ideas? Check out the Green Gift Guide, which also includes ideas for DIY gifts. The gift guide is not just a list of green “stuff.” It includes carefully selected ideas to replace items the people you’re shopping for would request or love anyway. Example? Organic perfume and makeup (instead of toxic stuff with undisclosed ingredients), Fair Trade sports balls, stylish sneakers made of hemp and natural rubber, organic and recycled designer jeans, etc. In other words, these gifts aren’t just green for green’s sake. They’re green gifts that will bring a smile to the face of the recipient.

All of these tips are leading up to one major point…


None of us are perfect, and none of us will shop green ALL the time. I’m guilty sometimes too. However, if you always stop and think before you make a purchase, you’ll be doing both your wallet and the planet a favor. Think:

  • Do I (or the recipient) need this?
  • If it’s not a necessity, per se, will it at least be used regularly?
  • Could I make something similar myself?
  • Is there a greener alternative, like buying used?
  • What will happen when it’s no longer useful to the recipient? Can it be recycled? Thrifted?

Remember, an item’s value is much more important than its price.

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. 

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1 comment… add one
  • Holly November 22, 2011, 8:19 pm

    Jannae, I love this site. As an interior designer and artist I admire your graphic design skills! I am all over this black Friday green thing….last year when our washer and dryer finally died after something like 25 years I was able to procure a Fischer Paykel “eco” series….made in Canada(not too far) and it absolutely rocks! So, some planning and thought can reep great Black Friday benefits and I’m with you, save gas, save stress and shop online!

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