People are very ready to criticise Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and many of these criticisms are justified. The rampant consumerism encouraged by sale days like Black Friday is a product of capitalism, the system that has been critiqued for its role in entrenching global wealth inequalities, and in contributing to the climate crisis through pollution, deforestation and exploitation of the world’s resources.
However, for poorer families, these sale days are important. I know this because after my parents divorced, we never had enough money to buy the latest gadgets. It’s often overlooked that some people will have waited a whole year to get a chance to buy nice things that they would not normally be able to afford.
I remember when I was trying to get the new iPhone 5 on Black Friday, and I had to ask people if they would allow me to use their bank card to pay online – as the deal was better – and I would give them the money in cash. My mother could not afford to pay over £150 by card and I was so desperate that I had to ask someone.
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Sale days like Cyber Monday are just stunts from retailers to make shoppers believe they are getting the best deals, but I relied on them for years. I couldn’t afford to buy myself a new phone or new clothes otherwise, and my mother always saw wearing branded clothes as important, despite not having the means to afford such items.
My mother, mostly relying on benefits, taught me how to get the cheapest stuff and grab the best deals even if it meant bargaining for them, from buying in bulk and asking for discounts, to encouraging me to give “what I had” and get people’s sympathy to give me something to eat.
When my parents divorced, we became poor because my mother couldn’t find a job. I understand why days like Cyber Monday or Black Friday matter to some people, and although there is a certain stigma, they do give those who live in precarious situations a chance to feel like they own something “nice” or “pricey”.
I used to be ashamed of how we struggled and the lengths we would go to so we could get something new. It also meant I grew up quicker than others my age. I wish I’d only had to worry about going to secondary school and getting good grades when I was a child.
So, while it’s easy to sneer at those who want deals, don’t forget that for many of us, they represent our best chance of feeling normal.