Don’t get X-maxed this Black Friday!

Iona Bain

X-MAXED: (adjective) The unwelcome state where your credit card is maxed out after buying Christmas presents for everyone on Black Friday.

Typical use: “OMG, I’ve got totes X-maxed because I went bananas on Black Friday”.

Does this sound like you? Or someone you know?

It’s that most wonderful time of the year when retailers rustle up an artificial buying frenzy and make customers believe they’re getting genuinely good deals just weeks before Crimbo. I don’t want to be a Scrooge about all this but can we take a step back and ask if Black Friday really makes our lives any easier? Or does it tempt a huge number of already-pressurised consumers to spend money they don’t have?

Most (right thinking) people would never spend a Friday glued to their computer screens scouring the web for bargains, but somehow we lose all sense of perspective when Amazon announces a phoney price drop on Dr Dre Beats headphones (cost of production: less than £10. Sale price: usually more than £100, sometimes going up to £600).

Here are the facts about Black Friday. It’s an American import eagerly adopted by British retailers to kick-start the Christmas shopping season early. Many retailers view Black Friday as a loss leader, meaning the initial discounts will be levelled out by shoppers who are bitten by the shopping bug once they’re in the door (or on the website), continuing to buy items whether they’re discounted or not.

The Advertising Standards Authority issues a warning about misleading promotions in the run-up to Black Friday last year and Amazon has been roundly criticised for hiking prices in the run-up to the annual shopping phantasmagoria. A quick perusal of the Amazon customer forums will tell you that prices on many products are quietly raised so Amazon can advertise seemingly generous discounts on the big day itself. Indeed, the US firm was charging up to 15 per cent more on products like Call of Duty Black Ops III and Beyonce’s ‘Pulse’ perfume compared to its competitors in the months leading up to Black Friday last year. Price checking firm Flubit said the “great Amazon price myth” was leaving consumers consistently out of pocket across a range of items, including games, books and toys.

Bertie Stephens, chief executive officer of Flubit, said independent retailers did not charge the same commission to host products, enabling them to pass on savings to consumers. “Take the cost to sell on Amazon out of the equation and merchants are able to price much more competitively, which delivers instant savings to online shoppers. To an extent, you could say that the size of Amazon and strength of its brand have become its Achilles heel.”

Furthermore, research from Bangor University shows that we stop calculating discounts 23 minutes after we first start shopping. After 40 minutes? It’s purely emotional, and when it comes to the thrill of getting something new for the sake of it, we’re mainlining. Hard.

So before you buy into the hype, and do some serious damage to your finances in the process, take a step back and ask yourself the following questions;

  1. Is it necessary to buy all my relatives and friends high-end gifts that could just end up in the Useless Crap drawer?
  2. Is this really a thoughtful, personal gift that shows my love and respect for that person?
  3. Can I spend less than £15 per gift and still show that the thought matters? Good presents that squeeze optimum pleasure from minimum spend include books, photo collages, books, anything handmade, books, small items of really useful clothing like scarves, books, Fair Trade coffee and choccies, books…you get the picture. Books are the gift that keep on giving, IMO. That’s why you could be supporting CIVILISED SATURDAY instead of Black Friday. Book stores throw open their doors, host top authors, put on a lovely spread and generally make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Check if your local indie book store is taking part…
  4. Could I get an ethical alternative? Fair Trade products are available online and a charity gift is a fabulous way to do some good (and do a bit of “virtue signalling” in the process).

If you are at risk of getting X-maxed in the run-up to Xmas, keep a look out on the blog for our new Debt Tamers series where I’ll be talking about ways to avoid falling into the debt trap that captures so many of us.

In the meantime, if you do get X-maxed this Black Friday…don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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