‘Avoid Stampedes’ and Other Things I’ve Learned From Shopping on Black Friday

Jen Smith sits at her coffee table, the same table she used growing up, as she flips through store ads before Black Friday
Writer Jen Smith flips through Black Friday store ads at the same coffee table she used growing up. Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

I remember standing outside in the cold with my mother.

It was dark, around 4 a.m., and we weren’t alone.

There were roughly 100 other people with us, waiting outside of the local JCPenney for a free Mickey Mouse snow globe to commemorate that year’s Black Friday.

For my mom and me, Black Friday wasn’t just about the free snow globe or the big deals on stuff we didn’t need. It was a visceral experience we looked forward to even more than stuffing our faces the day before.

Black Friday was our holiday.

But our beloved Black Friday has changed a lot in recent years. People get shot at Walmart. Cyber Monday produces better deals. And now — to get any doorbusters — you have to head to the mall before your pie digests.

Meanwhile, we’ve discovered that we’re actually happier with less stuff.

But in the 16 years I’ve been shopping on Black Friday, setting my alarm to wake up in the dark, I’ve seen the long lines and fake deals. And it has taught me a lot. So I want to share these insights with you in hopes that whether you shop that day or not, you might be able to think of it with good cheer.

Black Friday Is a People-Watching Paradise

The most profitable day for stores is the Saturday before Christmas

But Black Friday is the busiest day in terms of people.

That means Black Friday is a treasure trove of people-watching. It’s the most fun you can have the day after Thanksgiving if you don’t like football or leftovers.

I love walking around with my first peppermint mocha of the season and identifying the types of shoppers in each store (spoiler: I’m a traditionalist).

And if you really want to have a blast, customizable Black Friday bingo cards exist. And I assure you, they provide a good time.

There Are Still Deals, but They Are Not The Best

Jen Smith sits at her coffee table, the same table she used growing up, as she flips through store ads before Black Friday
Amazing Black Friday deals might be a thing of the past, but Smith says they are still out there: “You just have to know where to look — and when.” Aileen Perilla/ The Penny Hoarder

The days of epic Black Friday deals are over. I remember when you could hit up doorbuster sales and get 70% off items, a free gift card at the door and snacks while you shop.

You can still find deals, you just have to know where to look — and when.

Cyber Monday has become a consistently reliable source for deals. It now even extends beyond Monday.

But if you want the real deals, you’ll have to head out on Thanksgiving Day.

DealNews reports that 31% of their “best deals” were on Thursday, beating out Cyber Monday deals by a small margin. And don’t even think the deals are confined to three days. There are a slew of days throughout the holiday season that provide deals just as good as Black Friday.

Avoid Stampedes

That’s how people die.

It’s Still Worth It to Get Up Early

If you are going out with the intent of buying something, you’ll need to shop early.

The deals worth going for are the doorbusters, and they do sell out. By the time noon rolls around, Black Friday is basically just another shopping day with 10 times the crowds.

So if the idea of setting an alarm on your day off makes you numb inside, maybe Black Friday isn’t for you. But if the thought of holiday music and overzealous commercialism lights you up like a Christmas tree, I’ll see you out there.

Jen Smith is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She gives money-saving and debt-payoff tips on Instagram at @savingwithspunk.