Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the best days of the year to grab some real bargains and knock out a good percentage of your holiday shopping. But don't be fooled. It's not all savings and rainbows. Having a game plan for your spending is a basic but effective way to avoid a whopper of a not-so-happy psychological ride.

Control, stress and logic

People have an innate, biological need for control--or at the very least, they have a need for the perception of being in control. Research indicates that, when you feel like you've got a handle on things, when you feel like there's still some choices left, your body's stress response gets put on the back burner. That's a big deal first because stress can have so many negative consequences for your body, stuff like impaired sleep, increased blood pressure and weight gain.

But looking a little closer at the brain, stress--from a perceived lack of control or otherwise--essentially tells the rational, logic-based centers to go on vacation. Scientists think that this happens as a survival mechanism. If you're in real danger, you can't always take the time to think about what to do. You just have to react and get to safety!]

What happens when you don't have a strategy

When you don't have a plan for Black Friday or Cyber Monday, you give up many opportunities to feel like you're in the driver's seat. For example, if you don't do your homework with your sales ads, you might end up feeling frustrated and cheated if you find out another store was selling what you wanted at a cheaper price. You also might have a stronger fear of missing out. Remembering that stress physiologically makes it harder to really think through what you're doing, a lack of a plan can mean you buy more on impulse or how you feel in the moment. It becomes easier not only to get swindled by retailers pulling out less-than-honest tactics, but also to overspend. And then guess what. You have even more ongoing stress, because you now have to deal with the buys you regret or work harder to make up for the cash that slipped through your fingers.

From the retailer's perspective, a lack of a plan quickly can turn into issues with inventory supply, delivery or handling of returns. You might not be able to collect and analyze data that could make sales better for you for the following year, too. And as stress from these problems mount, workers might engage in more conflicts.

Getting yourself together

Putting together a Black Friday/Cyber Monday plan doesn't have to mean creating a minute-by-minute play-by-play, but you should have a fairly clear concept of how you want the day to roll. Ask yourself questions like

  • What is my budget overall and per person?
  • What safeguards do I have in place to keep me from going over my budget?
  • What method(s) of payment will I use?
  • What items are my first priority once I get online or in the store?
  • How long am I willing to shop?
  • How and when will I get to the physical stores or visit the retailers' websites?
  • Do I know the stores' return and shipping policies?
  • Are any stores willing to price match so I can save both money and time?

A good rule of thumb to include in your Black Friday/Cyber Monday plan for the long-term is to set aside money each month through the year so you avoid having to acquire debt. Additionally, acknowledge the pressure to keep up with the Joneses. You might feel like there's something wrong with you if you don't buy a lot of stuff or "go big", or that you're losing out on specific benefits if you don't offer everything and its brother to your buyers. But think about what you want your recipients or customers to remember, the real purpose behind the gifts or promotions, and focus on that as the benefit. You're not losing out. You're merely exchanging one benefit for another.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be anxiety-laden events, but they don't have to be. Think ahead and give yourself a road map to make the experience mentally, physically and financially exhilarating for you.