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It’s easy to be sucked into holiday chaos. Here’s what you should be doing instead.

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I’m putting up this post on Thanksgiving Day in the US, so I hope you take the time to be thankful for what you have and for your friends and family around you.

And with Thanksgiving, comes the retail generated fake holidays of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, where stores run sales to kick off the holiday shopping season. I remembered that I had done a story back in 2009 called “Black Friday is Stupid and 5 other helpful shopping rants,” and I’ve decided to highlight the key points and then update it for 2012.

5 Reasons Why Black Friday and Cyber Monday are miserable

1) Getting up at 5am
My point here is, even for a morning person, there’s really not a lot of things in life worth getting up for at 5am. Those include road trips, flights to exotic islands, and fresh powder skiing. That’s about it.

And in terms of sleeping out overnight? If the Beatles were playing a reunion tour at my high school? Maybe. Otherwise, that’s it.

2) Sales aren’t that good anyway
When the concept of Black Friday was launched back in the day, it actually meant something. Yes, there were going to be holiday sales, but retailers were willing to do some crazy deals to kick off the season.

Now I feel like everything is on sale, all the time. There is nothing unique anymore.
– Do you really believe it when a company tells you they’re having a 1 day sale?
– Or it’s the lowest price of the season?

Because everyone now has a Black Friday sale, there are several “beat the rush” before Black Friday sales. When will it end?

Do you really think that you can trust Best Buy or WalMart or anyone else that the super exclusive Black Friday price won’t be the same as the mega blastoff Christmas Eve sale or the whoopee doo after Christmas inventory clearance when everything has been marked down to move at 20, 30, 40, 50% off and more?

If you’re going to get a TV, invest in a good one.

3) Spending money on the cheapest quality items
What makes me angry is that many of the deals on Black Friday are electronics. It would be great if Apple offered a 25% off doorbuster sale on every iPad, iPhone, iMac, and laptop, but guess what? Don’t hold your breath.

However, people will still rush out to buy a super cheap flat panel TV. Here’s the problem: That should be a long term purchase. In other words, if you want to buy a sweater or the latest toy for your child – both of which will be found in the bottom of a closet at this time next year – fine.

But you’ll use that TV hours a day, every day for years. Why would you want to go with the absolute cheapest model, which probably has poor resolution, is not the latest technology, and lacks the right connections?

4) Credit card debt
Here’s something that won’t shock you. Credit card debt was up 5% in the third quarter of 2012 vs. a year ago, to an average of $5,000 per person. Oh, the number of people paying their cards late also increased.

Adding all those Black Friday deals isn’t going to help.

5) Clutter and stuff
The other issue is the toll that adding all this clutter and STUFF takes on you. It might not seem like much, but take it from someone that lives in a 400sf studio apartment in Manhattan. If you keep bringing more and more stuff into your home without getting rid of older things, you start to get claustrophobic, both physically and also mentally.

In the 2009 post, I quoted two articles, and I think it’s worth looking at them again. One said that Experiences make us happier than possessions and the other looked at When money buys happiness.

So the bottom line is, what should you be spending your money on?

BUY EXPERIENCES, NOT STUFF

Here are 5 suggestions

1) International Travel
The immediate reaction here is that international travel is expensive, and yes it can be. Flights can eat up a major chunk of your budget, as well as hotel rooms on the road.

However, it doesn’t have to be. Consider the following:
– Renting out your house or apartment on Roomorama or Airbnb to help defray the costs
– Optimizing frequent flier miles from all your purchases throughout the year to put toward the flight
– Visiting countries where your dollar will go farther once you get there (did I mention my $2 lunches in Thailand)

The point is this. Go ahead and think about your best memories in life, or ask your friends the same question. Count how many times “my trip to Italy” or “my honeymoon in Hawaii” or “my semester abroad in Barcelona” come up vs. “My 3-in-1 printer/scanner/copier from Staples.”

Rarely will people look back and think their travels were a bad investment, considering what they can give you… a better view of the world, a sense of adventure, and a break from the grind.

2) Flights to see family
If international travel still proves too expensive, what about visiting family members within your country? In this manner, you can wait until you get a really low price on a flight.

Want to make sure your sister is at your graduation? Have your parents visit you in Seattle? Make sure the grandparents are there for junior’s 3rd birthday? Start planning now for next year.

3) Classes/Education
Setting up a budget for classes and education can also pay dividends. In addition to meeting new people and networking, you can learn new skills that could lead to a better job and more pay, which in turn can lead to a more fulfilling life.

So run to the computer and do it now.
– Take that Improv class you’ve always wanted to take.
– Sign up for that video editing course so you can put those family videos up on YouTube.
– Enroll in that book publishing program and start that novel that you want to write.

4) Long meals
The happiness article talks about one of the key ingredients for a happy life: Long Meals. This could mean a long brunch on the weekend, making sure you sit down for dinner with the family each night, or planning a monthly dinner party with friends.

Again, the benefits are pretty clear… bonding with friends and family, personal and business networking, taking at least 1 day a week to really relax and enjoy life, etc.

5) Improving your environment
What happens on Black Friday is people tend to focus on the short term. Wow, that gadget is 30% off! Hey, I’d look good in that sweater!

Where Black Friday dollars could be better spent are on longer term items that you need anyway, that make your day to day life more enjoyable. For example, if you love coffee more than life itself, and it’s a valuable part of your morning and entertaining guests, but you’re spending $5 a day at Starbucks, maybe now is the time to invest in a high quality espresso machine. They don’t come cheap, but if you can combine a good sale with something that will pay for itself in a few months and also provide you enjoyment each and every day for the next year, then that’s a decent tradeoff.

Same thing for a great blender for healthy smoothies, a juice machine, or a high quality office chair or desk.

Likewise with workout equipment. If you can invest in items that you’ll use several times a week that get you in shape and lead to better health, from a gym membership to a treadmill to new running sneakers, I say go for it.

Long term, think about the really big picture, your living space. For example, a family member just expanded their house dramatically. Yes, the added expense hurts and won’t be made up by not buying a $149 microwave at Sears on Friday, but in having the entire family over last weekend – with plenty of room for 4 kids to play and adults to relax – the change was incredibly noticeable. For me, it’s putting aside money to have a cabin in the mountains some day, to allow me to escape the craziness of New York City.

Why a mountain house way up in the woods? Well, to get away from the holiday shopping crowds of course.

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