The Season For Thrift

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People who value money more than time get involved in Black Friday sales. I don’t, because I value time more than money.

If you are after a specific high-ticket item, such as a new computer, shop on-line. Avoid stores.

The great thing about the free market is that it lets people decide: money vs. time. There is an inescapable trade-off between the two.

When you are young, you are short of money and long on time. You give up time to save money. The older you get, the more the values should reverse.

When I was younger, I tried to learn new things on my own. Today, I prefer to pay a specialist and ask. Better yet, I hire him to come to my office to show me. Best of all, I hire him to come and show me, but ask him to make a screencast if he is working on a computer-related issue, which it probably is.

A screencast is a video of whatever is on your computer screen. You can also add narration with an external microphone. A screencast is great for teaching. For free screencast software, go here.

The idea of going to a store at 5 a.m. to save 30% on an item that I probably do not need is silly. After Christmas, it will probably be on sale again. If it’s digital-electronic, it will be obsolete in six months anyway. Why do I need to get to a store early?

I do not like to fight crowds. I much prefer on-line ordering.


Black Friday is a day when you can buy presents more cheaply. This assumes that you have a good idea of what the other person wants. Then you must wander the aisles to find it. You probably won’t be able to.

I prefer to write a check. My children are adults. They want money. They prefer to buy on sale after Christmas. My wife and I taught them to buy smart.

“It’s the thought that counts.” Indeed, it is. “I think you know what you want better than I do.”

“But money is so impersonal.” Indeed, it is. That’s why you can buy almost anything with it. If it were highly personal, hardly anyone would want it.

For grandchildren, just about anything will do. They like stuff. You can buy stuff on sale at a used goods store. If it looks new to the grandchild, who cares?

What about expensive tools? Use Craigslist. The deals are amazing.

Black Friday buying borders on mania. It’s best not to buy in a seasonal mania.


For Americans, every season should be a season for thrift. That is because there is so little of it.

The time to go cold turkey on buying stuff is the Christmas season. “But Christmas comes but once a year.” Quite true; that is why a bit of Scrooge is healthy. The payoff in increased thrift is so much greater from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

Americans are not Scrooge. Scrooge was tight-fisted with his money. He accumulated money addictively. He was old. He should have been concerned with the ticking of the clock. That was what the three ghosts were trying to tell him. That was what Jacob Marley told him. Marley had not heard the ticking of the clock.

When you hear the thing, the only reason to worry about money is because of your final years, when you cannot earn a living. That is a good reason to save more, invest more wisely, and get back into the labor force while you still can. It is not the time to spend money on discounted gadgets.


Hangovers on the morning of January 1 are common. But by the end of the day, bowl games h

ave replaced them.

The real hangovers begin on January 2. The postman brings them. People who open their bills from their credit card companies will be in a somber mood — a mood for selling used goods.

People overspend at Christmas, as surely as they overeat. The time to sell diet books is January. It is also the time to buy used durable goods.

The sales that begin on Craigslist on January 2 are the ones worth your time to save a lot of money.

People who got a new gadget for Christmas will want to sell the gadget it replaced.

Then there are retail stores. They will be feeling the effects of a Christmas season that was expected to be bad and turned out to be worse.

Wal-Mart may do OK. It sells cheap. Maybe Target will still be in the black. But the also-rans will be having their post-Christmas sales. The red ink will be flowing. No more customers.

For any local store whose manager or owner who has the authority to mark down prices without asking headquarters, January will be a last-gasp month. With these stores, the listed sales price is only the starting price for a brief negotiation. If you have money to spend, the owner will be ready to sell.

Make an offer. If it is turned down, ask to see the owner. Meanwhile, write down your offer on your shopper’s card. What is a shopper’s card? It’s like a business card. You can make a shopper’s card with your word processor. On the card is your first name and your cell phone number.

On it, you write down the model number and the price you are willing to pay. You agree to buy the item when you receive a call from the owner. Tell him/her that you are off to shop for the item from another store. You will buy it from this store if you get a call saying that it’s for sale before you buy from the next store.

The owner will see that you want that item. You are not interested in other items. You are therefore a hot prospect. If he is going to sell it at your offered price, you will get it. If he isn’t, it does not matter. You are off to the next store.

The card puts the seller on the spot. The shopper’s card is money. The clock is ticking. The pressure to get your money is high. The pressure is on your side. More people want your money than want to buy that item at the listed price in January.

Ho, ho, ho. ‘Tis the season to be jolly . . . if you’re a buyer.


If you feel the urge to go shopping in a store, resist it. If you feel the urge to buy a big-ticket item on a Website before Black Friday ends, this might be the time to buy. But don’t spend time on trinkets. Your time is too valuable.

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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