black-friday1-300x225Please enjoy this guest post from Ben Luthi.  Ben is a personal finance blogger who does his thing over at The Wealth Gospel. He’s passionate about helping people to stop thinking about personal finance according to the template society has created, and to find their true potential and align their behaviors with it. His favorite food is chips and salsa and his spirit animal is Warren Buffett.

I love a good discount. In fact, I can’t remember the last time my wife and I went out to eat without some form of a discount, whether it was through a Living Social or Groupon deal, a gift card, or a restaurant special. But when I scroll through online deals or go through mail ads, I can’t help but think, “There’s a whole lot of useless crap on here.”

When normally-rational human beings see discounts, their first thought isn’t, “Do I need this?” Rather, it’s usually more along the lines of, “OMG OMG OMG! I’ve always needed a Thighmaster! I better buy it now so I don’t have to pay full price later!” The only problem is that you’re a dude and you have no business owning a Thighmaster.

Junk is Junk…Even When It’s On Sale

I’m sure you’ve done it. Maybe not with a Thighmaster, but there has probably been a time in your life where you’ve fallen for the trick. Whether or not you need it is absolutely irrelevant, because it’s freaking 75% off! And really, that’s all it is. A big trick. Retailers don’t give discounts because they think you’re great. All they want to do is drive traffic into their stores, so they’ll slap a discount on a few items and then wait for all the suckers to come in. Oh, and a few other things that just so happen to be in the same aisle. And they do it all in the name of “customer appreciation.” That way you feel like they care about you and not your money. They also like to try to get you to think that you have to buy it now or else the deal will go away and you’re never going to be happy. Ever. Again. Case in point: Black Friday. But in all honesty, most of that crap you and your loved ones don’t need anyway and a lot of it is going to be on sale again at some point in the future.

Two years ago was my first—and my last—Black Friday experience. My mom and sisters love doing Black Friday shopping every year and convinced my wife to join them. I wasn’t planning on going, and my wife knew better to push me on it because I hate shopping to begin with. But a few minutes before they left, I realized that with school and work, my wife and I didn’t get to spend a lot of time together, so I thought she would really appreciate it if I went.

Let me just say the brownie points definitely weren’t worth it. In fact, I was a big butt the whole night because of how ridiculous it all was, so I probably didn’t get any brownie points anyway.

We first went to Target, where we found a line snaked back and forth around the back of the store. I didn’t bring a warm enough coat, and I drank too much water before we left. I was seriously contemplating wetting myself just for the few seconds of warmth. After an hour of waiting, they finally opened the doors. And we spent another hour in the cold before we finally made it inside.

As soon as we got in, I bolted for the bathroom while my wife, sisters and mom split up with their battle plans. After joining up with them, I started searching the aisles and shelves for something I could really use. And I found nothing. Where are all the deals I saw in the newspaper? Oh yeah, all that stuff was gone within the first 2.6 seconds after they opened the place. But look at all the other stuff! After a total of four hours in the store, three and a half of those hours spent waiting in line to get to a cashier, I made out with a Country Christmas CD for my wife, which I paid full price for. After Target, Wal-Mart was a blur and I was so annoyed by that point that I just sat down on a bench and waited for everyone to finish.

So what is it? Are discounts good or bad? Well, that depends on how you use them. To me, it’s a lot like a credit card. Credit card companies don’t give you that money because they like you. In fact, they keep the minimum payments low to lull you into a false sense of security, making you focus on the small payment rather than on the fact that you’re spending more to begin with. But if you use credit cards the right way, you can enjoy the benefits of rewards points and other perks at the expense of the credit card company without paying them a penny of interest. Now who’s the fool?

The same goes for discounts. If you only use discounts on things you actually need or will realistically use, it’s a great way to live frugally and save that extra cash for something more important. But when discounts are tricking you into spending more because you’re focusing more on the discount than on how much you’re spending, you’re in trouble.

When it comes to online deals like Groupon and Living Social, the best way I have found to cut down on my spending was to unsubscribe from their emails. That way I can go search if I want, but I don’t need the daily solicitation. I also generally try to avoid big sales or discount circulars unless I actually feel like I need it. Does that mean I miss out on deals every now and then? Yeah. I hear about some things too late and kick myself. But I’d rather miss out on a deal now and then than spend all my money buying more crap than I need.

Are you planning to hit the stores on Black Friday?  Have you ever bought something you didn’t need just because it was on sale?