When I was a kid growing up my father had bad feet and constantly needed to get his big toes drained. That meant he always wore tennis shoes, British Knights to be exact. He would sometimes be at the store the moment they opened to get a new pair when his shoes would get worn down and when it came to the few times he wore dress shoes they were always custom sized, which was hideously expensive. I would later find out as a toddler and little kid he had gotten custom shoes for me as well because I had an underdeveloped heel, and an arch so flatter than a pancake (Also why you will find me in sneakers all the time and my dress shoes are equally expensive). As a kid my father would always instill in me the importance of buying good shoes for my feet regardless of the cost, because you only have one pair of feet. He always reminded me if you mess up those feet you’ll end up walking with a limp for the rest of your life or worse. That meant growing up shoe shopping was always planned out, I knew which brands fit me best, the relative quality I needed and we had to map out when stores had the best deals because it was so costly.
Very early on my father believed in instilling in me the importance of paying for quality for things you really needed or wanted and letting them go the second they were no longer useful. My mother, on the other hand, was always worried about making sure things lasted forever. The idea that any major appliance could not last at least for 30 years would blow her mind. While on face these seem like two warring opinions at their core what my parents always wanted me to focus on was making sure that if we were going to purchase something it needed to be an item of quality, from trustworthy companies (that you could complain to if something wasn’t right) and at the best price possible. I had GI-Joes instead of Action Force because they were from a reputable brand. I had Transformers over Go-Bots because Transformers were metal and not plastic. I had Barbie dolls and not Maxie dolls because my father heard Maxie’s head popped off easier than Barbie’s. My childhood closet was full of branded toys, from reputable companies, but that also meant because my parents valued quality, I couldn't always get what I wanted, whenever I wanted.
I nevertheless was a resourceful child. As soon as the holiday advertisements began to appear in the Sunday paper I would clip out coupons, write a schedule of when the deals would go live and gave alternatives where they could purchase the items if they happened to not be in stock when they arrived. My father found this so amusing he would give me a budget and I could get whatever I wanted if it fit the within the budget, as long as it was of decent quality. He would veto anything he thought would fall apart quickly and/or would give him trouble returning if it turned out to be a dud. That meant usually what I would do is spend days planning to get the maximum amount of stuff I could, from the best brands, at the lowest price I could find. This small habit would stick with me for the rest of my life.
I have camped outside stores for hours to get cashmere sweaters and the free game with a purchase. I have scouted stores weeks or days ahead of time to know the store layout in comparison to any published maps and on occasion put items in other locations that I wanted in the store to quickly retrieve them later (yeah, I am that person). I have ran to get items when some stories decided to allow the mad dash for deals (let me say this: if you are pregnant [and not marathon ready], feeble, or wearing dress shoes, then Black Friday running for deals is NOT for you. The things I’ve seen are the stuff of nightmares). My partner and I once spent 21 hours scouting out deals one Black Friday until I snapped at him that no we do not need to go to Linen & Things because we didn't need linens (he would eventually convince me by saying maybe we needed "things" - that and I was too tired to argue).
I kept up this frantic mode of shopping until the holiday season of 2013 when I myself was very pregnant with my daughter. I will admit now the Black Friday of 2013 I did go out and stand in line, running into a friend who was equally as pregnant as I was. We both joked about being too big to be out. I asked when she was due, she told me January 3rd and that she was using that holiday season as her last opportunity to work before she gave birth. When she asked me when I was due, I laughed and said that Sunday. My doctor at the time had wanted to schedule my delivery on Black Friday but I pushed back on that date. The primary reason, I didn't want to risk having the B squad during my delivery (My grandmother who was for years a labor and delivery unit nurse and had been the nurse on duty at my own birth warned about having major medical procedures during holidays and especially the day after one). Secondly, they had a deal on compression garments and if you are a person who has ever had to buy one, you know how ridiculously expensive they are, and I would need more than the one I was going to get from the hospital. However, the last reason was I didn't want to miss the people watching that I knew being a mother to a small child would not be feasible until she was older.
Black Friday 2020
It would end up being my last Black Friday being out for many hours waiting for a deal. After having my daughter my shopping moved mostly online where having the fastest internet connection, a solid device and reflexes was the path to shopping victory. In years past by October I would have apps downloaded on my phone with deals and a clear plan of attack. My gift shopping for family would have long been done and I would have already indulged in early Black Friday deals that have now encroached into October.
Yet this year between distance learning, working from home, election coverage, surging virus numbers, hunting for PPE, and issues with the post-office, the holidays have snuck up on me. I also find myself confused on what to buy. My grandmother of course was always hard to shop for; what do you give a lady who has seen a century (pajamas, the answer is always pajamas), but this year everyone else is just as hard. With so much uncertainty do we shop for right now, giving everyone things to do inside, fancy bling-ed out masks and hand sanitizer, or do we shop for better days in the future.
Don't Panic and Carry a Towel
For those of us who are fans of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one of my favorite novels as a child, I think is fitting to give us sound advice on how we should proceed with a plan of action. Of course the guide is mostly for the fictional “space traveler” but I think there are a few things that we can glean, for this holiday season.
1. Always Carry a Towel (Mask)
If you must be out this Black Friday, please mask up. There has been a lot said about COVID-19 some true and some outlandish but there is proof that extended time in a crowd, inside, isn't the best way to stay virus free. Be safe and consider buying things online or if you can make a gift. Yet if you must be out stay socially distanced and covered. Additionally, a thick towel in a pinch could be used as a face covering (I am just saying).
2. Don't Panic
Seriously, Don't Panic. Even if you are a prolific gift giver this year the bar has been substantially lowered. There are many of us who would be happy to just get Clorox wipes this year (they are hard to find) and N-95 masks. The perfect gift that speaks to that individual’s unique personality and needs, if you can find it is great, but most people will be understanding if you can't accomplish that this year. Stress is very unhealthy especially during the holidays and during this pandemic. There is no reason to overwhelm yourself.
3. Two heads aren’t necessarily better than one
This year is all about choice, and what head space you find yourself in. Whether you decide to shop for better days or if you shop like a doomsday prepper, make a plan and stick with it. Go into this holiday season with a list and limitations on how far you will go to secure a deal. There are many things that are already hard to get or sold out, with those looking to turn a profit on secondary seller sites lined up ready to take your money this holiday season. This is markedly worse this year with slow production, shutdowns, and just general shortages on all types of products. Be like 1980s kid me and over plan. Come up with alternative gift lists of things to get friends and family. Again, it’s okay if you aren't the holiday hero like in years past and don't second guess yourself. We are all having to deal with this and while children (both minors and adult offspring) may be disappointed, communicate clearly with them the limitations of this holiday season. As a child I appreciated when my parents told me I had a holiday gift spending budget, and if they did not think they would be able to get an item on my list. Communicating this to me helped me not to be disappointed come Christmas morning. Consider having those conversations early if you anticipate issues with making those we hold dear happy this holiday season.
4. Improbable does not mean impossible
Like all things this year we are unsure how things will go, not only this holiday season but well into 2022. Businesses both small and large that have established reputations as solid and dependable are struggling. Some of those businesses may not be around this time next year. If you can, support those establishments you like by purchasing items from them. Likewise, if you get gift-cards tell friends and family to use them ASAP as there is nothing worse than being given a gift-card to a place that no longer exists (I speak from personal experience here). For gift-cards this year I would say the best bet is to pick from places that are still operating as normally as possible where you can get a tangible product. I love experience gift-cards, spas, cruises, movie theaters, but it may be a while before those can be safely used and if you choose poorly they may not be around when that time comes as our experience-based businesses are being hit the hardest in this pandemic.
5. “Just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does.”
If you plan on shipping gifts or having gifts mailed to you plan on delays for shipped items. Plan for things being lost in the mail, slow processing, porch pirates and mistakes to be made. Additionally, make sure you chose to shop from stores with very clear policies about items that do not make it to you, or arrive damaged. USPS and many other shippers have experienced not only delays but issues with keeping up with logistic models. Furthermore, many businesses in order to keep virus numbers low have limited the numbers of employees working in warehouses and processing facilities. I myself had a package of Christmas gift PPE go MIA at the post office in October and was just made whole last week, but I ended up having to chose alternatives because they were out of stock.
6. There are few things in the universe better than a solid cup of tea
Many deals will go live early (like right NOW… yes, go check!) and you may be able to just kick back and leisurely select what you like without even having to be the person with the fastest internet on the block (but if you need internet remember we have been offering hotspot check-outs). At the end of the day remember regardless if you decide to brave going to a store, shop online, make something awesome from your COVID-19 new hobby or just send e-gift-cards know that you have done your best. What matters right now is not what you give but the connections you have with your friends and family. While it may seem like we have lost so much this year we have also gained extra time many of us haven’t had with our families since we were children ourselves. Get a family gift if you can, something you can do together and if you can’t, focus more on making this time magical: put up decorations, blast your favorite holiday music, read a new book, and sit back with a something warm to drink.
By the time you read this Blog I should be finished shopping for the extended family and will be focusing on my partner, my daughter and myself. I know this year has been a wild ride and I would tell you to make sure during the holiday season to take some time to get the special someone you may have forgotten about something really nice (I’m talking about YOU)… and at a discount.
Happy Deal Hunting!
*And any of you happen to see a good deals please send them my way, I am always on the hunt for a good bargain. ;)