Black Friday 2019: Highs and Lows, Deals and Steals

This year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales numbers are on track to be huge. Growing e-commerce and omnichannel has changed the shape of some of those sales, but by no means did the internet kill the brick-and-mortar star.’s Dylan Lewis and Dan Kline look at some of the shifting trends in Black Friday sales, how different retailers have changed their Black Friday strategies, who’s getting left behind by changes in technology and consumer habits, what items seem to be flying off the shelves this year, and more. Plus, they share some tips for getting good Black Friday deals without wasting too much time, how to keep your holiday shopping more controlled and less expensive, and more.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool’s free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Dec. 2, 2019.

Dylan Lewis: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market every day. It’s Tuesday, December 3rd, and we are recapping Black Friday. I’m your host, Dylan Lewis, and I’ve got’s Dan Kline with me in the studio.

Dan Kline: Hey there, Dylan. How are you?

Lewis: Hey, Dan. Did you go out on Black Friday?

Kline: I did. So, here’s the thing. My wife and I have kind of a tradition. Now, I just got back from a cruise. I was completely disoriented, hadn’t slept much in five days. But, we always go to Target (NYSE: TGT) at like four o’clock because there’s no longer a line. And knowing I was going to do shows like this, and I did MarketFoolery yesterday, you can get a sense of what people are buying by how the piles are gone. So clearly, Target sold a lot of televisions. Target sold a lot of Legos. There were some bare sections. If you go the next day, they’ll fill that in, they’ll move merchandise around. But they set up pallets of the best deals, and you could tell which ones were empty. You don’t see a lot of people, but we have learned some lessons. In years past, we used to buy the $5 coffee maker like, “This will be useful.” The $5 coffee maker isn’t going to last for three cups of coffee. Just buy the $12 coffee maker. My wife went through like four $5 toasters year after year after year to have in her office. Don’t do that. Some of the deals just aren’t worth it. And then, we went a little bit to the outlet malls near our house, which were still very, very crowded, but I think they always are. I don’t think it’s necessarily super Black Friday oriented.

Lewis: We had different Black Fridays, because I slept in, relaxed, made myself a leftover turkey sandwich. [laughs] But I’m glad that you were there on the ground. We have a ton of data on Black Friday to go through. We’re gonna pair that up with some of what you saw anecdotally. Sounds like you beat some store clerks to some of the major deals and the showcases that they had there.

For people that are casually following Black Friday, they might get a conflicting sense of what’s going on depending on the headline they’re reading.

Kline: Yeah. The media portrayed this in ways that I don’t think are fair. Now, it is fair to say Black Friday is not the big deal it once was. I’m older than you — [laughs] as we’ve discussed many, many times.

Lewis: [laughs] It’s not a necessary disclosure every episode, Dan.

Kline: But I think it is on this one. When I was a kid and there was no internet, if you wanted deals, you physically had to get up. There were no Thursday openings. Everything was Friday morning. You had to get up and get in line for hours, and people fought. All those old-time pictures you see of people, like, killing each other for Cabbage Patch Kids, those were true. And stores also were more deceptive. They’d have a TV — of course, TVs weren’t what they look like now — for $199 that would normally cost $499, but they’d have one. That’s not really how doorbusters work anymore. You will have a reasonable selection. Yeah, you might not get it if you go in at two o’clock, but you’ll probably get something pretty close the next day, or as good. The entire dynamic of it has really, really changed.

Lewis: I think it’s a good thing that we’re not seeing people getting trampled in stores anymore. I think we can agree on that.

Kline: I think that’s what’s important. If you look at the season, it’s been diluted, in that you had shopping that started before Halloween. Some of the Target deals, some of the Walmart (NYSE: WMT) deals, they came out well before the season. And the idea wasn’t that you would actually consider that Black Friday, but, if you were someone who wanted something and wanted to make sure you’d get it, you were going to get a pretty good price on your 55-inch television. Maybe not as good.

The other thing that didn’t get reported is, some of the Friday traffic was Thursday traffic. More people shopped on Thanksgiving. Again, this is all good, except it’s very confusing as a consumer, because you have no idea when to get the best deal. I’ll repeat something I said on MarketFoolery — don’t worry about getting the best deal. Do your homework and get a good deal, and then only track that item at that retailer, because that retailer might make up the difference if they lower the price. Don’t look at comparables. Don’t look at other stores, because you’ll drive yourself insane to save another $3.

Lewis: Yeah, it’s not worth the mental stress. But, the Christmas creep that you’re talking about, Dan, is 100% real. I was picking something up for my Friendsgiving, so this was before Thanksgiving, and I heard Christmas music being played. I knew that the season was getting earlier and earlier this year in particular. Why don’t we talk a little bit about some of the numbers coming out from the folks that track this stuff?

Kline: Yeah, absolutely. It was $7.4 billion in online sales. It’s important to note, online sales are easier for third parties to track. We won’t get a brick and mortar thing. The other thing we should think about with online sales — and we will get back to this in a big way later — is online sales includes buy online, pick up in store. It’s where the transaction happens. So, if you’re in a store because you want to see the bezel on that TV you’re buying, and you go, “Alright, that’s the right one,” and you order it on your phone, that’s a digital sale. That’s not an in-store sale. So, there’s a huge amount of blurring in this. But, $7.4 billion in online sales Friday, which is the second biggest online day ever, with last year’s Cyber Monday being the biggest. I would suspect that when we get numbers — we’re taping the show on a Monday for a Tuesday episode — that Tuesday morning, we will probably find out that Cyber Monday was the biggest Cyber Monday ever.

Lewis: There seems to be a steady march forward when it comes to growth in that every current year winds up being the best year, just because the economy has generally been so strong, and consumer spending has been so strong.

Kline: And the ease of it has gotten stronger. You will see headlines that say that digital sales have outpaced brick and mortar sales. That is not true. That is not even kind of true. We are years away from that happening. But what is happening is, the rate of growth for digital sales has been much stronger. Part of that is due to the fact that more people are comfortable buying something on their smartphone. In the old days, you’d have to go back to your computer — by the old days, I mean two years ago. [laughs]

Lewis: [laughs] Ages ago!

Kline: Days that we have in common! Now, it is very reasonable — I made purchases on cruise ship internet, on a cruise ship. That’s preposterous! You shouldn’t be able to do that, but you can, and there’s a level of comfort. And when you look at, this is a season where the rich get richer, the biggest online retailers are getting the bulk of the sales — well, if you’re comfortable buying from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), you’re going to be comfortable buying on your phone or on Black Friday or on Cyber Monday. It doesn’t really matter. It’s really the overall comfort in using our phone that’s driving a change in behavior.

Lewis: And I think a lot of the retailers, particularly ones that have invested in omnichannel, are very happy to see that activity flowing, and making sure that those investments are paying off. Now, if you look specifically at the brick and mortar numbers, the picture is not quite as rosy, Dan.

Kline: Yeah. The overall number is down. These are predictions not based on sales figures. But, overall traffic down about 6.2% on Black Friday, up about 3% on Thanksgiving. So total, it’s down about 3%. That’s not bad, because when you factor in the fact that that’s not actually accounting for all foot traffic — because you do have the people who are doing curbside pickup and buy online and pick up in store. This becomes a very messy number, but it does show you that if you’re a retailer that didn’t fully integrate, unless you’re a very specialized company that has some major draw — you could have argued Costco three years ago, before they had much of an online presence, but I can’t really think of too many now — you need to offer consumers whatever they want. If I want to buy something on my phone, but I’m more comfortable picking it up in the store because maybe it’ll get stolen on my porch — not true in my case, because I live in a building —

Lewis: Definitely true in my case.

Kline: — an issue for a lot of people — that makes sense. Or, I drive a Nissan Versa. I can’t bring a couch home, or a 55-inch TV, or really a big bag of groceries.

Lewis: [laughs] I’d love to see you try.

Kline: [laughs] I’ve tried. I brought a 50-inch TV home, and I had to tie things. It was not pretty. So, there are a lot of reasons why stores want to do everything. One of the things you’re starting to see is barriers breaking down. There used to be a pressure when you walked into a Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) to complete the sale physically in the store. Now, they will walk you through buying something they don’t have in stock in the store on their website. So, clearly, stores have changed how they either pay their people in terms of Best Buy, where it’s no longer commission-driven, and just the general mindset, where you’re not penalizing the local store for a sale generated digitally that they had a hand in.

Lewis: I think a big part of that, too, is that you have all these retailers that have finally built out loyalty programs, so they understand the benefit of getting somebody online, because it’s not just about that one transaction; it’s about the lifetime of value of that customer.

Kline: Yeah. I find that the places I shop have become a smaller and smaller circle because of loyalty programs. I’m not saying if I go to three stores and can’t find what I want, that I’m not going to walk the mall and try to find it elsewhere; but I’m much more likely to go to a store where I already have a relationship, even if I’m not in a loyalty program. If I’ve comfortably done business with, say, Best Buy, where I’ve bought lots of things, but I’m not in their loyalty program, but I know that they stand by their purchases, I know that returns are pretty easy, that a reasonable level of floor help is available, it’s very hard if you were another electronics store — I don’t know that there really are other electronics stores. Or even, I’m not going to buy a Fitbit from Amazon. I’m going to walk in and see it at Best Buy, and maybe place the order online. Of course, Best Buy and other retailers still do have that problem of, someone could pull up the same item on Amazon, see that it’s cheaper, and buy it there. I think you do have a bit of that, though it’s obviously not the showrooming days, where it was clearly obvious and a huge part of the business.

Lewis: Yeah, and I think to mitigate some of that, a lot of retailers are deciding to honor a lot of the online promotions that are available. They’re willing to price-match. They’re trying to meet people so that if they’ve come into the store, they’re leaving with a product from that store, or they’re getting something delivered via the online store that company has.

Kline: You’re also seeing — I’ll say this anecdotally. I price-checked a bunch of things that I wasn’t intending to buy because, obviously, I was going to do shows like this. If you just wanted, say, like, I’m buying a 55-inch TV, or I need an Xbox, the packages might be different, the brands might be different, but you’re getting roughly the same thing at around the same price at all the big retailers. So, yeah, maybe at Target, the cheapest TV’s a Westinghouse, and it’s something else at Walmart, and something else at Amazon, but the features are roughly the same. There’s not as much reason as a consumer to shop around. But, shop around. Do at least a little comparison. What you don’t want to do is buy something for $699 at the one place that didn’t choose to discount it, and every other place has it at $499.

Lewis: Yeah, you want to try to catch the product where it’s going to be a loss leader for somebody, rather than pay full price.

Kline: Yeah. I think generally, if you’re going to do that, your heart can’t be set on a specific thing. If you know you need a laptop with X features, that is much better than saying, “I need a 13-inch MacBook Pro,” or, “I want this specific gaming laptop.” I’m not saying don’t buy those things. This is still the time of year. Apple has discounts, which they never do the rest of the year. Starbucks discounts gift card. I think you get $5 back if you buy $20. So, there are deals to be had on things where there are not usually deals, but the best deals are on more broader categories.

Lewis: More shopping tips to come. But, I think for folks that are trying to square exactly what’s going on here, Black Friday continues to be big. In fact, the retail spend that we’re seeing combined Thursday and Friday is bigger than previous years. Now, specific to physical retail, not so much the case. A lot of that is the sales going online. A lot of it is the online giants also getting more and more of the pie.

Kline: Yeah. I think the overall family practice of “we’re going to go out Thursday night or get up Friday morning,” maybe that pressure has lessened. I don’t feel like I’m losing money by buying things online. I’m sure Kohl’s had doorbusters on certain sneakers or certain things I might have wanted to purchase, but not at a volume enough that would make me get up at six in the morning on a Friday to go stand in line. And it’s a lot more pleasant to stand in line in West Palm Beach where I live up than it us up here, where it’s cold, and not snowing, but pretty miserable.

Lewis: [laughs] The least pleasant part of that sounded like waking up at 6am, to me, as someone who likes to sleep till about 8:30 or nine in the morning.

Alright, Dan. I think the question that people generally want the answer to is, who won Black Friday? We have a tendency to look at this as, who won, who lost?

Kline: This is a rich-get-richer scenario for the most part. I’d like to hope somebody proves me wrong, but it almost never happens. Not in life, [laughs] just in this little piece of reality.

Lewis: To be clear, Dan is right about a lot of things. [laughs]

Kline: But, wrong about many things, as I’m sure my wife would tell you. All of the sudden, I’ve become a Catskill comedian. [laughs]

So, Amazon is the big winner. Amazon is forecast by one account — and it’s only one account — to have 42% of online sales. Walmart, Target. We’ve talked about this earlier. The places that made omnichannel. The big winner has been curbside pickup. You place your order, you drive up, they put it in your car, you leave. You have the item immediately. You don’t have to worry about theft. You don’t have to worry about delivery breakage. Even in my building, you don’t have to worry about the line to get your package, because the poor doorman — they call in extra help, and it’s still like two in the morning, you’re getting your package alert announcement, instead of normally, it’s like four o’clock in the afternoon.

Lewis: [laughs] The poor doorman.

Kline: So, you’re going to see the rich get richer. Companies that do over a billion dollars in sales did dramatically better than those that do less than that. I think the losers are the companies you would expect to be the losers. There’s no numbers out yet. Sears didn’t do well. JC Penney didn’t do well. I can tell you why JC Penney didn’t do well. In their last earnings call, one of the things they trumpeted was that their inventory was down hundreds of millions of dollars. You don’t want to head into Black Friday with your inventory down. The reality is, they don’t have anything to sell you. Not nothing, but they don’t have enough to sell to really have a successful season. The best-case scenario for those two companies, Sears and JC Penney, and some of the very struggling mall retailers, is that they held their own, and they make it through the season, and somehow they live to fight another day.

The ones that are really interesting are the companies that have not proven it to us yet, but have showed us that they might be turning the corner — Macy’s and Kohl’s would be the two that I would bring up. If I had to predict, I would say Kohl’s had a good time and Macy’s didn’t. But that’s just to me because I think Kohl’s has done a little bit more that’s smart with the Amazon returns. That might come into factor in the next week or two. Having the store-within-a-store concept. But, both of them really need a strong season, and the jury’s still out.

Lewis: So much of what you’re talking about with the inventory struggles that some of these retailers have going into the season, and making sure they’re supplying enough, it reminds me a lot of the common elements you see with the downward spiral in retail. When you’re struggling as a business, it’s hard to make sure that you’re making the investments so that you can be in the right position going forward. Instead of focusing on growth, you have to strip down to the stuff that you really need to be able to do. And unfortunately, that makes you less and less attractive to consumers.

Kline: In the two years I spent running a toy store, you start planning Christmas basically on January 2nd. You have to make bets for many of your largest vendors. And the problem is, even if you place those orders, if you don’t pay your bills as the year goes on, they don’t ship you those orders. Even if you, December 10th, send them a payment that was due December 1st, your Legos might have been sent to somebody else. So, yeah, you can absolutely see it. JC Penney, Sears, other struggling mall retailers — Victoria’s Secret would be a good example — they don’t have the money, necessarily, to buy everything they would need. So, they’re counting on being able to get stuff as the season goes on. And it becomes harder and harder to do that. So, this is self-fulfilling. If you can’t stock your shelves, why would somebody come to you on January 10th if you didn’t have a lot on Thanksgiving?

Lewis: And one step further — if you haven’t made the investments in omnichannel and proven that you can offer a really great, integrated digital experience for your customers, and there are the Targets and Walmart’s of the world that can, well, that’s just going to compound all the issues that you’re running into.

Kline: And it’s even more important. Omnichannel is great. And if you’re a consumer, you might want that delivery option, the pickup option. But Target and Walmart are spending a lot of money to encourage you to pick up because delivering it to you is very expensive. If all they have to do is get it from the warehouse to a pickup station or to curbside — now, I’ve had some bad experiences with that, where at Walmart, I ordered an item that it said was in the store, and it was nine days later before I got the item. And I kept getting emails saying, like, “It’s almost ready!” Let’s assume they’ve sorted some of that out for the holidays. It is cheaper for them, but they can spend the money to message you. They can offer you incentives. “Pick it up in the store and we’ll give you a $5 gift card.” “Pick it up in the store and we’ll put it together for you.” Whatever it is. Even if some of the lesser chains have built out some of that capacity, they can’t do that. They’re also less efficient when it comes to delivery. If you’re ordering from Walmart for delivery, there’s a decent chance it came from a Walmart in your neighborhood. If you order from JC Penney and get four things, it might come from four different fulfillment centers, and maybe a JC Penney’s. These supply chain logistics are very complicated. It’s why you’ve seen Walmart and Target and Amazon spend billions of dollars, and your Best Buys maybe are a step behind that but still doing well, and everybody else is fighting to keep up.

Lewis: Alright, Dan, enough on stores. Why don’t we talk about a couple major products? What’s selling off the shelves right now?

Kline: Anything Frozen II is doing well. FIFA 20, Madden 2020, doing really well.

Lewis: Good year for Electronic Arts.

Kline: Great year. Here’s the thing, when is it not? Apple laptops and AirPods are doing really well. No one has reported this, but I’m going to say that Amazon devices are selling exceptionally well because, frankly, everyone I know has bought three more because they were just so cheap on Friday. PAW Patrol, very big with little kids. We’re a little early to know exactly what the biggest things are. The one that’s kind of funny is — I don’t know, are you a Disney+ subscriber?

Lewis: I am not, Dan.

Kline: You know The Mandalorian?

Lewis: I’ve heard of it.

Kline: I’m not going to give away any spoilers here, but I think we’re four episodes in. If you haven’t seen the fact that one of the main characters is a younger version of whatever Yoda’s species is —

Lewis: OK, I’ve seen this online.

Kline: Because this was a secret, while there were some toys put into production, they were very careful to not put a toy into production with spoilers, where you see spoilers about the movie based on toys going on sale in other countries. So, there is a huge demand for, but a shortage of baby Yoda toys.

Lewis: [laughs] So, is that going to be the hot item that all parents are fighting for this year?

Kline: I don’t know. It seems odd to me. That’s a very adult show. It doesn’t seem like a show your eight-year-old should be watching. It’s very Wild West, gunslinging, a lot of violence. But, I do think it’s one that you’re going to be a hero if you can find. Probably the same with Frozen II based on the last round of Frozen merchandise.

Lewis: Based on everything that we’ve been talking about with retail dynamics, and your focus in particular on pick up in store, it seems to me like the physical locations are still going to play a pretty big part this holiday season.

Kline: Yeah. I think it’s important because all the reasons we’ve talked about why delivery doesn’t make sense for everyone. Even if you don’t live in a theft place, it’s snowing in the Northeast now. I don’t want a TV sitting on my porch in the snow if I go to work. That’s just not practical. So you’re getting that sort of practical aspect of it. You’re also getting the, “Oh, no, the party’s today? OK, I’ll order it, go pick it up at Target, and have the gift.” There’s also — and I don’t think you’ll ever be able to, well, not never, because maybe someday there’ll be immersive virtual reality, where you can really look at what you’re buying, but I know if I’m spending more than like $30 on something and it’s not a repurchase, I want to see it. Even when it’s something like a TV streaming stick, you don’t necessarily know, is it bendable? Does it go into my TV? Does it work? So, you kind of want to go look at it. I might walk to Target, walk around, and just order things as I’m walking around — order them from Amazon.

Sorry, Target, I’ll buy a coffee at Starbucks. [laughs] And I grocery shop at Target. But, I think there’s going to be a benefit, but retail stores are going to have to continue to become smarter. Every Target, every Walmart is a hub for delivery. Maybe not every one, but the vast majority of them. So, they’re using back-end space, and maybe even taking some front-end space and turning it into back-end space, to pick and stage orders and to set things up for the most efficient ways possible. And we’ve talked about this before, we’re in the absolute earliest stages of automation when it comes to those processes. You’re going to be looking at, probably as soon as next Christmas for some Targets and some Walmarts, where there is a very automated function picking gifts, and certainly picking groceries that ties into humans bringing it to a pickup point, and it gets very, very efficient, and it starts to build a pretty big advantage over retailers that have no money.

Now, that said, there will be white label solutions for your next tier of retailers, like your Best Buys, and maybe your Macy’s and your Kohl’s. But the companies that don’t have hundreds of millions of dollars to even license those white label solutions are going to see a much bigger gap very quickly.

Lewis: I’m sure that a lot of retailers are happy that this trend has emerged, because in addition to all the logistic savings elements of this — where they aren’t shipping it directly to your door, they’re not doing the last mile that winds up being so expensive-it gets you in the store. You might wind up buying something. I know this is something that is very much in response to the growth that they’re seeing in the market.

Kline: Yeah, it gets you in the store. The big loser in all of this is the traditional mall. It’s not that anchor stores aren’t doing well. It’s not that physical foot traffic is necessarily down in the best malls. But a small store — let’s say The Gap, which is a struggling store that we’ve talked about before. The Gap cannot afford to put in all the technology, even across the whole chain, that Walmart can. No one has come into the mall and said, “Hey, let’s aggregate all of this stuff so I can get a Wetzel’s Pretzel and a pair of pants from The Gap, and a game from GameStop, and something from Books A Million,” or whatever it is, and that’s going to be delivered in one thing. That service, which might eventually be integrated into malls, isn’t a thing. All of those smaller retailers have their own website, but they’re not getting the buy online pick up in store. They’re not necessarily getting the customer who’s going there to buy. We’ve seen a lot of those chains go bankrupt or have real trouble this year. That’s going to increase, and it’s going to play back into the whole malls becoming a truly different thing, which I think we’re seeing. They’re becoming experiential and food-based and all of that.

Lewis: Boy, if you’re getting a Wetzel’s Pretzel as a pickup tied to some clothes, you’d better nail that delivery window. Nobody wants a hard or stale Wetzel’s Pretzel.

Kline: I only bring that up because the Grubhub near me, Cinnabon is one of their delivery choices. And in my mind, unless you’re getting a bunch of Cinnabons, like for the office — I can’t get my head around Starbucks delivery. I’ve tried it a bunch of times, and there’s like a $4.99 fee to get a coffee. It comes to like $18 for a latte. So, again, it’d be worth it for the office, but you can just order from Grubhub with no added fee and get a Cinnabon.

Lewis: Yeah, I’m generally a skeptic of food delivery because it is prohibitively expensive.

Kline: For exactly that reason!

Lewis: And I’m right near a supermarket. I’m right near all these pickup joints anyways, so I can get stuff on my way home. But yeah, the idea of paying $5 to get $15 worth of food is a little ludicrous to me.

Kline: I go back to — this is getting a little silly — back in the day, there used to be a mattress delivery service that promised same-day delivery no matter when you called. So I, of course, waited until a blizzard and called. [laughs] And of course, they wouldn’t do it. But I was proving the point I’m proving now — that scale is possible for Walmart, Target, Best Buy, a few other retailers. Scale is not possible for The Gap. You are not ordering regularly enough from The Gap for them to build out all of the technology necessary for it to be efficient. There’s still going to be a lot of people who want to come try on a shirt. So, you’re either going to see outside providers like you’ve seen with websites with Shopify, and maybe malls will start doing some of that, in order to keep tenants, or you might see a whole category of retailer really struggle.

Lewis: Yeah, and that’s going to be some missed growth for them if they don’t wind up investing in the buy online pick up in store. The numbers that I’ve seen, at least, are 40% growth year over year, which seems pretty crazy. I think that a lot of retailers are desperate to tap into anything that’s showing growth, based on where the industry’s been.

Kline: Yeah. I’d also be curious to know, and maybe we’ll find out in, say, the Walmart earnings call, how often buy online pick up in store is within an hour, or maybe from even within the store. I know it’s sometimes easier to go to the kiosk and get it after you paid for it online than it is to wait in a line — certainly on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, not that it’s a huge physical retail day. But sometimes those lines are really long. If you can just bypass it — I don’t know if you’ve ever used the kiosk at Walmart, but it’s a very simple system. You type in a thing, and your order comes out. It kind of makes the process better.

Lewis: Alright, Dan, we’re going to wrap up in a second. Before we do, though, I want to get you with some holiday shopping tips for our listeners. As someone that spends a lot of time in stores during the holiday season, what do you recommend?

Kline: Be skeptical. I’ve seen a lot of things online where people say, “Oh, they just jack the price up so they can mark it down.” I’m sure some retailers do that, but if you look at the heavily pushed big retailer deals, they’re deals. But make sure you know what you’re getting. Again — I’ve pointed this out 100 times — all I care about with a TV, as long as it sounds OK, is that it’s big. I don’t need the clearest picture. Pictures are really good. I had a 13-inch black and white TV when I was 13, so a 55-inch color TV in my living room is […] fine! [laughs] But, if you care about it being a smart TV, not only should you make sure it’s a smart TV, you should see what version of the software it is. We’re seeing some older smart TVs can’t use Netflix anymore. That’s not going to be true immediately if you buy one now, but if you buy one that’s two or three years old, it might not be useful in two or three years. You really need to do your homework.

The other thing — and this is the personal finance writer in me coming out — is, you need to decide, do I need this, and can I afford it? If your family has a broken stove, find the best deal you can on a stove, because even if you have to take credit card debt, you need a stove. That is a life essential. Your family doesn’t mean new mountain bikes. They don’t need another Xbox game. It is a hard thing to do, but if you’re a grown up and you look at your financial picture and say, “Geez, we’re tight. We can afford a fun dinner together on Christmas and stocking stuffers; we can’t afford all these gifts,” it is a lesson you have to teach your kids that you don’t get everything you want. Maybe you’re saving to buy a house. Maybe you’re saving to take a European vacation this summer, or go to college, or whatever it is. You have to make those choices, and not do the short-term, “I’m just going to put $2,000 on my credit card so the kids are happy.”

Lewis: Yeah. It’s something where, you look at the stats around consumer spending during the holidays, and there are a lot of people — I don’t have the stat in my mind here — who wind up carrying balances from last year’s holidays even now. So, yeah, spend within your means. I think it’s a great time to also plug, the best gifts that I’ve ever gotten have been relatively homemade, or ones that have been cobbled together through someone thinking about what I’d really love, and making that happen for me. The best gift that I’ve gotten in the last three or five years, my Aunt Mary put together a recipe box, one of those old Land O’Lakes tins that they used to give as a little giveaway with butter, that my grandmother had on her stove when she cooked, and she made all this Syrian and Lebanese food. And so, for my uncles, she bought all these tins. They were probably like $10 total, something like that, and then put all those recipes in there on index cards.

Kline: That’s amazing. I was about to say, for me, I try to focus on experiences. We live in a very small downtown condo. If we buy something new, something old has to go. We’re not getting a lot of stuff. But if I didn’t have the money to afford the holiday, I would put in a card to my kid, “You may take one day off from school to go to any museum in town you want,” or other culture of the zoo, or whatever it is. When he sees that he can skip a day of school — I realize that’s being a tiny bit irresponsible, but, there are things you can do that will be very exciting, that will be spending time together. I live near 50 beaches. “We’re going to go to this beach we’ve never been to.” “We’re going to go stand up paddle boarding,” which is not particularly expensive to rent. You don’t have to break the bank.

As adults, my wife and I don’t generally give each other gifts because we put a new floor in this year, we bought new couches — those are the things we need. If there was something she needed, I probably would have bought it for her anyway. So, we’ll exchange little gifts because you don’t have to spend money just because there’s a pressure to spend money. I think that’s a very hard lesson to remember when everyone is screaming, “Oh my god, it’s Cyber Monday!” and you end up sitting in a room full of Echo Dots that are just talking to each other.

Lewis: Yeah, I know, it’s hard to do that weeks away from the holiday. But a couple years ago, I had the conversation with my mom and I said, “I think I’m at a point now where we both live pretty comfortably, and I can buy a lot of things that I generally want for myself, and I’m pretty judicious when it comes to shopping for deals and getting good prices and stuff like that, so let’s do a couple small things that mean a lot and not go crazy with gifts.”

Kline: I’ve always said to my mother, who lives in Massachusetts, and I live in Florida, “I’ll bring you down.” That is a better gift than me sending her — now, that said, there are things. My mother never would have bought a Roku stick if I hadn’t sent her one. But that’s more technology than it is a gift. So, I think, look at the people in your world. The best gift my wife ever gave me, she said, “I have to give you your gift. It’s two weeks early, I know.” I was like, “I want a gift on Christmas. I don’t want a gift now.” And I sat in a room in the basement while I thought she was wrapping the gift. She got me a cat, and it was hiding under the couch. [laughs]

Lewis: [laughs] Yeah, I guess you can’t put that under the tree for two weeks.

Kline: You can’t! And I was getting angrier and angrier, like, “What is taking her so long?” And the cat just didn’t come out. And finally, she’s like, “Look under the … “

Lewis: [laughs] On the note of stuff under the tree, too, I’ll plug, you don’t have to buy gift wrap. This may seem like a very curmudgeonly, old man kind of stance on things, but there are a lot of really awesome recyclable things that you can use, whether it’s your local circular or pages from old books or things like that. I love repurposing that kind of stuff and using that as a way to wrap gifts.

Kline: We have a drawer full of gift bags, and one of our traditions is finding the least appropriate gift bag for the gift. My wife’s dainty gift or whatever I got her will be in an Incredible Hulk gift bag. [laughs]

Lewis: And I think that’s the beauty of those kinds of things. We look at them like, “Oh, that’s being thrifty, that’s moving away from the beauty of presenting a nice gift,” but it’s like, you’ve kind of created your own tradition out of that.

Kline: We also — we order a lot from Amazon. Sometimes we’ll tell each other, “I need this, just get it for me, it’ll be a gift,” and we’ll just leave it in the Amazon box. But then, when you open the Amazon box, you realize you also ordered, like, ground pepper. Like, “Oh, that’s where the Tylenol I bought two weeks ago is!”

Lewis: “Merry Christmas!” [laughs] Well, Dan, thank you for hopping on today’s show, and thank you for the tips! Always a pleasure, and it’s so great to have you in studio.

Listeners, that does it for this episode of Industry Focus. If you have any questions or you want to reach out and say hey, shoot us an email over at, or you can tweet us @MFIndustryFocus. If you want more stuff, subscribe on iTunes or catch video content over on YouTube.

As always, people on the program may own companies discussed on the show, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against stocks mentioned, so don’t buy or sell anything based solely on what you hear. Also, as earlier disclosed, Dan is a bit older than me. We’re not going to define that, we’re just going to leave it at that. Thanks to Austin Morgan for all his work behind the glass today. For Dan Kline, I’m Dylan Lewis, thanks for listening and Fool on!

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Dylan Lewis owns shares of Shopify and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix, Roku, Shopify, Starbucks, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Electronic Arts and Grubhub and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2020 $130 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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