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5 Black Friday Spending Traps to Avoid

Retailers want you to bust your budgets, here’s how to beat them at their game

mouse-trap labeled Black Friday is layered on top of department store shoppers
Bloomberg; iStock / Getty Images

Doorbusters aren’t the only thing shoppers have in store for them this Black Friday weekend. There’s also a chance you’ll blow your holiday budget, and you have retailers to thank for that. Black Friday is a way for retailers to get you to shop, and they’ve got a bagful of strategies to get you to spend more than you may have planned.

“These guys (retailers) have had not one year, not two years but 100 years to figure out how to separate you from your money,” says Howard Dvorkin, chairman of Debt.com. “They are very good at it. They want it to be perceived that you are getting a deal, and sometimes that deal is not a real one.” 

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Whether you’re getting up in the wee hours of the morning to get your hands on a doorbuster deal or are looking for general discounts, there are lots of ways retailers entice you to open your wallet. Here’s a look at some of the popular strategies and how to avoid falling for the trap.  

1. Unfounded sense of urgency

FOMO is real, especially during Black Friday weekend. Who wants to miss out on a hot deal on whatever they covet? Retailers are very aware of that fear and create a sense of urgency to get you in the stores. “Consumers believe Black Friday is the be-all, end-all to get the very best deal,” says Trae Bodge, a shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. “Retailers may limit stock on certain things or make them only available for a certain time period. All those elements give us the sense that we have to jump right now.” 

How to avoid it: Without a doubt, there will be some deals available only during Black Friday weekend, but that doesn’t mean discounts won’t abound throughout the holiday shopping season.

2. Too good to be true

To get you in stores, retailers offer really good deals during Black Friday. Not all of them are what they seem. Sometimes if it sounds too good to be true, it is. “Oh, look, it’s 50 percent off, but a week earlier, they inflated that price,” Dvorkin says. “That’s a trick that has been going on for years.” 

There’s also the bait and switch element of Black Friday deals. Sure, TVs are on sale, but there’s only a limited quantity. After that, you’re steered toward a higher priced one. Sometimes consumers think they are getting a deep discount on the latest model, but it’s really last year’s or one of lesser quality. 

How to avoid it: Read the fine print of all Black Friday ads to make sure it’s the exact product you want. Comparison shop online before purchasing. A quick Google search will show how much the item costs at competing retailers. If it’s nearby and the savings are significant, it may be worth the extra trip. 

Bodge’s rule of thumb

Buy during Black Friday 

  • Laptops and other tech
  • TVs and other electronics
  • Fall apparel
  • Small appliances
  • Beauty products

Wait until later

  • Outerwear
  • Winter apparel
  • Toys
  • Anything holiday-themed 

3. Impulse buys at the ready

It’s hard to resist impulse buys, particularly during the holiday season. Long lines give you a lot of time to browse, and stores make it very easy. “Retailers rely on crowds to create a sense of confusion with shoppers,” Bodge says. “They may do things like put pricey items upfront, place them at eye level and put buzzy, colorful add-on things right near the register.” You didn’t need that gold wrapping paper before, but now you do. 

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How to avoid it: Santa isn’t the only one who should have a list. Create a plan and a budget and stick to it. Inflation is high, which means you get less bang for your bucks. Just because something is on sale or would be a nice additional gift doesn’t mean you need to purchase it. If it’s really hard to stick to a budget, shop with cash and leave your cards at home. 

4. Stores make it too easy to pay

Whether it’s buy now, pay later options or 20-percent-off offers for opening store credit cards, retailers make it easy to pay for your holiday hauls. They also make it easy for you to overspend by offering these deals quickly online and in-store. In some cases, they have sales reps roaming the floor with mobile tablets, opening credit cards for customers on the fly, Bodge says. The problem with that is the bill will eventually come due, and if you don’t have the means to pay, you could end up in financial trouble.  

How to avoid it: Store credit cards and buy now and pay later aren’t bad as long as you’re aware of the costs associated with these methods, Bodge says. Store cards tend to have a high annual percentage rate (APR) if you carry a balance, and there are fees associated with buy now, pay later if you don’t pay your bill on time. ​

5. Bogus bonuses

Spend $50 and get $10 off, 20 percent off when you spend $100, or buy three, get one free are common deals during the holidays. Online, retailers will offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. They seem like savings, but if they require you to spend more money than intended, they’re not, Dvorkin says. ​

How to avoid it: Be careful not to fall into a trap of thinking you have to spend more to save more. It only makes sense if you can’t get it cheaper elsewhere and it’s something you buy a lot of. If you are grabbing this or that to raise your bill and get the discount, put the items down and breathe. Do the calculations to make sure it’s worth it, Dvorkin says. Chances are it isn’t.