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Financial Expert: Beware of 'Black Friday'

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Thanksgiving, for many, may be a time for food, family and fellowship, but the day after is widely-known as the biggest shopping day of the year with discounts galore. Money coach Alvin Hall tells listeners how not to get caught up in the frenzy by offering tips to avoid overspending.


It's time for Money Coach, where we check in with personal finance guru, Alvin Hall.

Okay, admit it, we just talked with the Mocha Moms about Thanksgiving traditions, and there is one that has nothing to do with turkey. It's Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, where many people will be staked outside of their favorite stores in the wee hours of the morning to try and get those elusive sales and deals. I don't know if I'll be out there, but we got to thinking, is really saving your money in the long run? Is it a scam?

Well, Alvin Hall joins us from our New York Bureau. Alvin, welcome.

ALVIN HALL: Thank you, Cheryl. I'm glad to be here today.

CORLEY: Well, Black Friday - it's a tradition. There will be long lines of people - at least that's what merchants are hoping for.

HALL: Yes.

CORLEY: And they'll be heading for the cash registers. So is it really worth getting up before dawn to stand in line for that laptop?

HALL: I think not. I think for most people, they ran out on the day after Thanksgiving because the child or a person in their family wants a specific gift, and there's a limited quantity of them. So it started out, you know, with the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze, and everybody had to have that particular doll. Then it was some electronic game. So now it's become somewhat self-perpetuating. The news media feeds it. Individuals feed it. The one person that doesn't feed it? Alvin Hall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: So you're saying you're not shopping on Black Friday, then?

HALL: You couldn't pay me. Well, you could pay me, but my number would be so high that nobody would ever give me that kind of money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HALL: And in reality, it hasn't been the best economy for these stores. A lot of the merchandise is going to be stacked higher and higher and higher. Wait a week or so. It'll probably be down another 10 or 15 percent.

CORLEY: So hold off. Don't go with the crowds on Friday.

HALL: That's what I think. And I also think people need to make up a list of alternate gifts. If a person wants A, then why not come up with B? So you don't have to go out there and spend all of your time looking at the - for that thing on the first day. And also, people should set price limits. When they go out -I know how it was, because I used to be one of these shoppers who could do this, too. You go out and you find the perfect pair of shoes or the perfect sweater, and you come back with it taupe, heather, heliotrope, all these colors that don't exist in the real world, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HALL: But you would do it. Set a limit and stick to it. And when you have bought all of things that are on your list - and that's the key, go shopping with a list - get into your car and drive back home, and have a calming cup of tea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CORLEY: Well, you know, I'm one of those list people, and my friends think I'm really weird. I go in and out, and that's it.

HALL: That's because your friends are people probably who want that sort of buzz from being able to come across that thing. It's like, you know, Christopher Columbus discovering America. Huh? There it is. I can buy it now. I can see it now. That's what they really want.

You're more practical, that in the holiday season, you can keep your emotions in line and your budget intact by making a list and sticking to it.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. So why do people get in that mindset that they have to get their child that hot toy or their husband that hot gadget?

HALL: Pester power. Mommy, mommy, I really want it. Mommy, mommy, I really want it. And then mother's thinking, if I don't get it, I won't be loved. If I don't get it, I won't be loved. That's all it is, really. It's emotion-driven spending rather than practical-driven spending. And people need to step back and say, you know, does my child need that particular gift? Is it going to make them go to therapy when they're age 21 and talk about how much their mother did not love them? No. They won't even remember it, more than likely.

CORLEY: Well, Alvin, online stores are getting into this mix as well.

HALL: Yes.

CORLEY: They're offering their own version of Black Friday online, but not on Friday…

HALL: Yes.

CORLEY: …the Monday after Thanksgiving.

HALL: Yes.

CORLEY: So does it make sense and better sense to shop online?

HALL: I think so. I think it's easier to compare. It's more green, if you will, because you're not burning all that gas driving from mall to mall to mall. And you may not get the gift you want. That's why I say it's always important to have a backup.

CORLEY: Well, to switch gears just a little bit, we've been talking a lot the last few days about the downward mobility of African-Americans born in the late 1960s who…

HALL: Yes.

CORLEY: …aren't doing as well economically as their middle class parents. And I was wondering, what's your thought maybe about why this is happening and what steps people can do to reverse the trend?

HALL: I see this trend among my friends' children. I think, in many cases, that children were taught - or at least came to believe - that there were fields that they did not have to work as hard in. So some of them focused on becoming musicians. Some wanted to become models. Some wanted to become actresses. They all seemed to be attracted to these professions where there was a strong element of luck, but yet the majority of people there did not succeed.

I find this in a friend of mine's son that's telling me about Jay-Z, and he wants to be the next Jay-Z. And I asked him, what are the odds of his achieving that? And they're pretty slim.


HALL: I think part of it is the dreams that are - that the children from that generation have. I think they look at their parents working hard, playing the corporate game, going to work, and they think there must be an easier way, when there really isn't.

CORLEY: Hmm. All right.

Well, Alvin Hall, a financial expert who joined us from our bureau in New York. Thank you so much, Alvin.

HALL: You're welcome, Cheryl.

CORLEY: And happy Thanksgiving.

HALL: Oh, I'll be eating lots of turkey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

CORLEY: And that's our program for today.

I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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