• Black Friday isn’t always a bargain
    October 28,2012
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    As we get ready to flip the calendar to November, we’re officially a month away from the holiday season — and that infamous kickoff shopping day, Black Friday.

    After the joy of making Thanksgiving dinner was passed from my mother to me several years ago, I’ll admit that while I would love to witness the doors opening at Walmart on Black Friday, I am not up at 4 a.m. to observe that phenomenon. I watch it on the evening news and marvel at the fortitude of the many shoppers running for bargains and getting a head start on the holiday gift-giving season.

    That was until I read a study about Black Friday bargains, or so they are called. Sure there are HD televisions in stock at unbelievable prices sitting at Best Buy for the first nine customers in the door, but are the bargains on Black Friday really bargains?

    A national newspaper recently did a study of prices of popular holiday items and concluded that the best days to shop may not include standing outside all night while your turkey carvings and leftover stuffing are barely cold in the refrigerator.

    Based on five years of pricing data, the study concluded that, for example, the best time to buy jewelry and watches is March and that by October, prices are beginning to rise and will continue to rise until the end of the holiday season. Prices will climb steadily from October to December.

    The study looked at Ugg boots and found that the best time to buy is September. The average price of a pair of Uggs rises 59 percent during the holiday season. Another popular item, HD televisions, also gets more expensive as we get closer to Dec. 25. The best time to buy is September and October.

    The study looked at a few hot toy items each year and found that the Elmo toys of last year increased 31 percent on Black Friday from what they were selling for in October.

    Some items do become a bargain as the days to Christmas trickle down to a precious few. Kitchen appliances like mixers and other bigger-ticket items often decline in price through December, as do Xboxes and other high-tech game systems for kids (of all ages). Even Apple discounted its iPad on Black Friday last year.

    Technology has made it very transparent for businesses and manufacturers to track inventory in a way. So they can offer a “deal” to lure people into the store in the wee hours of a cold morning but leave other alluring items at full price or even higher prices.

    This means that retailers are very much in control of their profit potential and almost know what the customer will want even if the customer doesn’t know.

    What this study concludes is that in many cases, prices right now are lower than they will be after Thanksgiving. If you can shop now and put your gifts away so you will still remember where you hid them, late October is a great time to hit the stores.

    I usually advocate for holding onto one’s money longer and spending only when necessary. As we are only a month until the height of the holiday season, if it’s a bargain today and you have the money, buying it now may save you enough that it’s worth purchasing it a month ahead.

    Whatever you decide, please be sure you can afford what you buy; plastic money has a way of arriving in the mail in the form of a bill along with stiff finance charges if you don’t make a timely and full payment. Bargain or no bargain, be sure your gift-giving generosity is realistic and sustainable.

    Karen Paul is president of Paul Financial Services in Burlington.
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