Black Friday deals are here

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Standing in line all night long to save $10 on a crockpot is how people become billionaires, I have been told. Michael Summers via Pixabay

Shameless consumerism or clever financial hack?

Growing up in South Asia, the first time I remember hearing about big weeks-long sales events was when I was already in college. Until then, most businesses around me were small businesses that kept modest hours and never tried anything too flashy or bold. At any rate, the concept of offering enormous discounts on things so that even people who do not need them will buy them sounded like a concept that had no reason to work.

I am not sure when I first became familiar with the idea of huge annual promotions like Black Friday, Boxing Day, and these days, Amazon’s very own Prime Day sometime in the summer. The idea is simple: for a span of time anywhere between three days to a month, stores offer deep discounts on their inventory and people are on the lookout for scoring some great deals, saving a lot of money on these deals.

Actually, the saving part of it is often not the focus. As the cliché goes, if you buy something you did not need just because it was on sale, you actually did not save any money. This of course makes sense. You never really needed the item, so you were saving 100 per cent of the price. But then you saw giant red letters flashing “50 per cent off” and now you are out the other 50 per cent cash and have something your life was fine without. But after all, that is the point of businesses offering such discounts. People will always buy the things they need at whatever price is being offered when they need it. What businesses want is to make us buy the things we do not need, simply because they are now cheaper.

There is also the sardonic observation on how Black Friday and Boxing Day are paired with festivals that are supposed to make us more grateful of what we have, more mindful of how the relationships we build and the time we spend taking care of each other is the real deal. We sit down with loved ones for a meal and express gratitude and contentment in our lot in life. Then we go online to see if there is a great deal to be scored. A rather strange, modern-day ritual on the altars of capitalism, I suppose.

I began by saying big sales events like Black Friday were not a thing when and where I was growing up. They are now. Starting from mostly the USA, this culture has now spread pretty much all over the world, as well as online. Many big brand stores offer exclusive online deals as early as the first week of November, lasting well into the end of the month. This is then promptly followed by deals in December for the holidays and the new year. Who knows, with the healthcare situation what it is next door, perhaps the day is not far when medical professionals will offer discounts on a triple bypass if done on Black Friday week, or buy one get one free deals on insulin for Prime Day.

Enough with the cynicism, though. For one, that would be hypocritical of me. The truth is I find much about Black Friday (and other similar events) problematic. However, I have also benefitted from such events almost every year for the past five or so years. All it has taken on my part is a little planning and a lot of patience. There are several items one needs these days for work and/or school – computers, a phone, portable hard drives, noise-cancelling headphones. Perhaps this is not true for everyone, but I certainly have felt the need for everything on that list in recent years.

I also appreciate that I have been immensely fortunate in that none of those needs were an emergency – like being left without a computer a week before a research paper was due. I have always been able to take my time, look at what exactly I want to buy, and then (this is where the patience comes in) simply hunker down and wait for the next big sales event when I can buy what I needed and save a ton of money. Pretty much every gadget or work tool I own now was bought during some promotional event. While the relentless drive of capitalism to produce, own, and consume can be overwhelming, I tell myself that until the day we make a better world, I might as well leverage parts of it to save myself some money.

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