Black Friday foolishness

Forget Friday the 13th. Black Friday shopping is spookier.

I try to stay as far away from any retail store or outlet on the Friday after Thanksgiving. And I certainly don’t plan to leave my warm bed or family gathering to jostle with holiday shoppers who trek to stores in the wee hours of the morning.

But clearly throngs of people enjoy the tradition of discount shopping on Black Friday. The crowds of consumers looking for bargains, however, can often get crazy.

In 2008, a Wal-Mart temporary worker, hired for the holiday, was trampled to death on Long Island as an estimated 2,000 people raced to snag sale items when the doors opened (or were smashed) at 5 a.m. The worker died of asphyxiation.

In 2005, at a Wal-Mart in Grand Rapids, Mich., a pregnant woman had to be taken to the hospital after being knocked down by fellow shoppers. Ranker.com has compiled a video list of the 13 most brutal Black Friday incidents.

Now several major retailers are planning to start the Black Friday madness even sooner. As I wrote in my column Wednesday, many stores are planning Thanksgiving openings. Toy “R” Us is opening at 9 p.m. and Wal-Mart at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving day.

If past habits play out, that means people will have to leave their families to line up for the deals after dessert.

Anthony Hardwick, a Target employee, has started an online petition on Change.org hoping to persuade Target to cancel the early opening. “Thanksgiving is about family and spending quality time with the people you love,” Hardwick told me.

Of course, you can avoid the mall madness and still buy items for the Black Friday price by shopping online. The Washington Post has a complete guide for Black Friday shoppers, including tips from the Associated Press on buying downloadable gifts.

Do you have plans to spend wildly this holiday season or scale back, and if so, why? Send your comments to this week’s Color of Money Question to corlorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Black Friday Foolishness” in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Unconfident Consumers

I suppose the people who are lining up for Black Friday sales aren’t the cynical consumers who answered a recent Nielsen poll, which found that nine out of 10 Americans believe the country is still in a recession, reports The Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui.

“This persistent pessimism has perplexed economists,” Mui writes. “Economists say something will have to give — Americans will perk up or, more worrisome, the recovery will conform to their low expectations.”

Still, the worry doesn’t stop some people from shopping.

Let’s Talk Money

Join me today at 11:45 a.m. for my live video chat followed by a text chat at noon ET.

It’s just me and you, so be sure to so send your money questions in early or read the archive later.

Beware of Retailers Bearing Gift Cards

Many companies are luring shoppers, diners and theater-goers by offering promotional gift cards, reports Brad Tuttle of Times.com.

AMC Theaters is giving away a $5 gift card good for concession items for each $30 spent on gift cards. Outback Steakhouse is offering a $20 card for each $100 gift card purchased.

“When customers show up with gift cards in hand, they’re very likely to spend much more than merely the gift card balance,” Tuttle writes. “This is especially the case because the bonus gift card promotion values tend to be small (often $5 or $10), so it’s nearly impossible for the shopper to avoid spending out of pocket. Another win for the retailer or restaurant.”

A Consumer Reports study found that two-thirds of people who receive a gift card end up spending more than the card’s face value.

Debt Defeaters

Have you achieved financial peace?

Tell me how.

Send your debt defeater story to corlorofmoney@washpost.com, and Put “Debt Defeater” in the subject line. Include the how much money you paid off, the time it took and how it feels being debt free.

If I read your story during my live video chat, I will send you a T-shirt.

Responses to ‘And the Rich Get Richer’

For last week’s Color of Money question, I wanted to know: “Does having so many millionaires among our congressional leadership hamper their sensibility to the average working family?”

A study by Roll Call found that members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, a nearly 25 percent increase over the 2008 total.

Here’s what some of you had to say about our wealthy lawmakers:

“They live in a different reality, and even those with good intentions miss the harsh reality of the daily life of regular common-folks,” wrote Lorenzo Canizares of Harrisburg, Pa. “Here in Pennsylvania one out of every 10 Pennsylvanians don’t know when they are going to eat next, and we have 13 million Pennsylvanians.”

Carolyn Hargrove of Macon, Ga., said: “My [state] Senators and representative don’t represent me at any level that is important to me--not women’s reproductive rights, environmental conscience, human rights, nor giving away my rights in favor of the business community. I think many politicians run for office, and someone has to be elected, to enrich themselves and they end up in the perfect position to do that.”

According to Marnie Johnson of Belgrade, Mont., “The fact that the very people making the financial decisions for the people who feel their decisions the most are the last to identify themselves and their lifestyles as part of the problem is a definite statement of why our country cannot help itself.”

Wrote Alexine of Rockford, Ill., “Congressional members have so much wealth they have little or no sense of what those with not only less, but much less or nothing at all have to do to survive.”

And Marie Isbell of Memphis said, “I don’t think any member of Congress has ever experienced being laid off from their job and taking 18 months to find a new one that pays half of what they were making.” She went on the explain: “No one can really ‘live’ on unemployment benefits. They are really out of touch when they imply that someone has it so good on unemployment that they aren’t looking for a job! And with health insurance tied to the employer, losing a job means losing healthcare, and paying for COBRA is next to impossible when you don’t have enough money to buy food. I say that members should have the same health care and pension benefits as the least of their constituents: nothing.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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