5 Holiday Shopping Pitfalls to Avoid

iStock
iStock

Now that the holiday shopping season is in full swing, you'll probably have to navigate a retail gauntlet to pick up gifts for everyone on your list. You may think that as long as you don't headbutt another customer while going for the last Wii or get assaulted in a doorbuster frenzy on Black Friday, you'll be fine. You might want to reconsider, though, as any number of pitfalls could still give you trouble, including some that strike after you get your booty to its carefully chosen hiding place in your home. (And yes, your children know it's all hidden in the guest room closet.)

1. Fisticuffs

Everyone jokes about fistfights to get a particularly coveted item, but every year people forget the holiday spirit and decide to throw down. This year's Black Friday was no exception. Videos of a scrum for the last Xbox 360 trickled onto YouTube, but no story quite encapsulated the merry sentiments of shoppers quite like this one from Friday's New York Times:

At a Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, Nikki Nicely, 19, jumped onto a man's back and pounded his shoulders when he tried to take a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television to which she had laid claim. "That's my TV!" Ms. Nicely shouted. "That's my TV!"

A police officer and security guard intervened, but not before Ms. Nicely took an elbow in the face. In the end, she was the one with the $798 television, marked down from $1,000. "That's right," she cried as her adversary walked away. "This here is my TV!"

2. Store Bankruptcy

Nothing says "I care, but not enough to put any thought into your gift!" quite like a gift card from a big-box retailer. While sticking a gift card in an envelope may seem slightly more personal than giving cash, it carries some added dangers. In the current economic climate, it's not all that uncommon for a store to go bankrupt, which means your gift will also say, "I didn't care enough to investigate this merchant's underlying financials, either." Some estimates state that the bankruptcies of stores like Linens "˜n Things and The Sharper Image this year have killed off close to $100 million in gift card value.

You're not necessarily left out in the cold if you've got a gift card for a company that files for bankruptcy; Circuit City actually received permission to continue honoring their outstanding cards after filing for Chapter 11 a few weeks ago. Other stores will redeem their cards, but there might be a catch. When The Sharper Image filed for Chapter 11 earlier this year, it eventually allowed consumers to redeem their gift cards"¦but only if they were spending twice the card's value on a transaction. Companies don't have to do even that, though, and if the store for which you're holding a card goes totally belly-up and starts paying off its creditors, you're probably not going to see the $40 from your aunt. You can make a claim in bankruptcy court to get your cash back, but as an unsecured creditor, good luck seeing any money. You'll be one tiny step up the payment priority ladder from the kid the CEO borrowed milk money from in grade school and never repaid.

3. Filthy Money

You've probably heard statistics about just how grimy paper bills can get as they circulate. A 2007 Irish study found that 100 percent of tested bills contained trace amounts of cocaine. Your cash isn't just covered in narcotics, though; it's also crawling with germs. A 2001 study showed that 87 percent of bills contained bacteria that could conceivable make someone with a weak immune system sick, and 7 percent of the studied bills carried bacteria that could make even a healthy person sick. You're picking up bacteria everywhere, so you don't need to do anything rash like trade in your wallet for a coin purse. But if you're handling a lot of extra cash during your holiday shopping, you might want to stock up on some hand sanitizer.

4. Drug Trafficking

Just find that hot new toy you were looking for? You might want to give it the once-over to make sure it's not full of narcotics. Colorado authorities got a surprise as they investigated a methamphetamine ring in 2006; enterprising traffickers were packing toys with their wares. Most notably, an Elmo doll contained four pounds of meth. Watch out for this sort of trap if you decide to look for tough-to-find toys on the secondary market. It may seem like a long shot, but if your Elmo sweats and nervously scratches his face instead of giggling when tickled, you might want to keep moving.

5. Deadly Toys

Once you've scrapped and clawed for that perfect toy to put under the tree, you might want to make sure it's not conspiring to harm your child. For this year, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning against five specific types of toy threats: scooters (potentially deadly falls), small balls and small parts (choking hazards), balloons (again, choking), magnets (look delicious but cause injuries if swallowed), and toys with chargers or adapters (burn hazards).

Even if you manage to avoid all of those tempting-but-deadly toys, there's no guarantee that the toy you pick won't have a problem with high lead content. Last year manufacturers recalled close to 4 million toys due to lead concerns. Those Curious George plush dolls may have looked adorable, but The Man in the Yellow Hat never explained the less-cute symptoms of lead poisoning, including nausea, chest pain, and irritability.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

- KitchenAid KSMSFTA Sifter with Scale Attachment; $95 (save $75) 

- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

- Aicook Juicer Machine; $35 (save $15)

- JoyJolt Double Wall Insulated Espresso Mugs - Set of Two; $14 (save $10) 

- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

- Fairywill Electric Toothbrush with Four Brush Heads; $19 (save $9)

- ASAKUKI 500ml Premium Essential Oil Diffuser; $22 (save $4)

- Facebook Portal Smart Video Calling 10 inch Touch Screen Display with Alexa; $129 (save $50)

- Bissell air320 Smart Air Purifier with HEPA and Carbon Filters; $280 (save $50)

Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

TaoTronics PTC 1500W Fast Quiet Heating Ceramic Tower; $55 (save $10)

Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Sony

- Marvel's Spider-Man: Game of The Year Edition for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $20)

- Marvel's Avengers; $27 (save $33)

- Minecraft Dungeons Hero Edition for Nintendo Switch; $20 (save $10)

- The Last of Us Part II for PlayStation 4; $30 (save $30)

- LEGO Harry Potter: Collection; $15 (save $15)

- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

- Apple MacBook Air 13 inches with 256 GB; $899 (save $100)

- New Apple MacBook Pro 16 inches with 512 GB; $2149 (save $250) 

- Samsung Chromebook 4 Chrome OS 11.6 inches with 32 GB; $210 (save $20) 

- Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with 13.5 inch Touch-Screen; $1200 (save $400)

- Lenovo ThinkPad T490 Laptop; $889 (save $111)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Tablet (64GB); $120 (save $70)

- Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition Tablet (32 GB); $130 (save $70)

- Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8 inches with 32 GB; $100 (save $50)

Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

- Apple iMac 27 inches with 256 GB; $1649 (save $150)

- Vankyo MatrixPad S2 Tablet; $120 (save $10)

Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

- Apple Watch Series 3 with GPS; $179 (save $20) 

- SAMSUNG 75-inch Class Crystal 4K Smart TV; $998 (save $200)

- Apple AirPods Pro; $169 (save $50)

- Nixplay 2K Smart Digital Picture Frame 9.7 Inch Silver; $238 (save $92)

- All-New Amazon Echo Dot with Clock and Alexa (4th Gen); $39 (save $21)

- MACTREM LED Ring Light 6" with Tripod Stand; $16 (save $3)

- Anker Soundcore Upgraded Bluetooth Speaker; $22 (save $8)

- Amazon Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote; $28 (save $12)

Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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7 Overlooked Thanksgiving Rituals, According to Sociologists

Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
Even what the dog eats takes on a special significance on Thanksgiving.
JasonOndreicka/iStock

The carving of the turkey, the saying of the grace, the watching of the football. If a Martian anthropology student asked us to name some cultural rites of Thanksgiving, those would be the first few to come to mind. But students of anthropology know that a society is not always the best judge of its own customs.

The first major sociological study of Thanksgiving appeared in the Journal of Consumer Research in 1991. The authors, Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould, conducted in-depth interviews with people about their experiences of the holiday. They also had 100 students take detailed field notes on their Thanksgiving celebrations, supplemented by photographs. The data analysis revealed some common events in the field notes that people rarely remarked on in the interviews. Here are some common Thanksgiving rituals you might not realize qualify as such.

1. Giving Job Advice

Teenagers are given a ritual status shift to the adult part of the family, not only through the move from the kids' table to the grownup table, but also through the career counseling spontaneously offered by aunts, uncles, and anyone else with wisdom to share.

2. Forgetting an Ingredient

Oh no! Someone forgot to put the evaporated milk in the pumpkin pie! As the authors of the Thanksgiving study state, "since there is no written liturgy to insure exact replication each year, sometimes things are forgotten." In the ritual pattern, the forgetting is followed by lamentation, reassurance, acceptance, and the restoration of comfortable stability. It reinforces the themes of abundance (we've got plenty even if not everything works out) and family togetherness (we can overcome obstacles).

3. Telling Disaster Stories of Thanksgivings Past

One day she'll laugh about this.cookelma/iStock

Remember that time we fried a turkey and burned the house down? Another way to reinforce the theme of family togetherness is to retell the stories of things that have gone wrong at Thanksgiving and then laugh about them. This ritual can turn ugly, however, if not everyone has gotten to the point where they find the disaster stories funny.

4. The Reappropriation of Store-Bought Items

Transfer a store-bought pie crust to a bigger pan, filling out the extra space with pieces of another store-bought pie crust, and it's not quite so pre-manufactured anymore. Put pineapple chunks in the Jello, and it becomes something done "our way." The theme of the importance of the "homemade" emerges in the ritual of slightly changing the convenience foods to make them less convenient.

5. The Pet’s Meal

The pet is fed special food while everyone looks on and takes photos. This ritual enacts the theme of inclusion also involved in the inviting of those with "nowhere else to go."

6. Putting Away the Leftovers

These leftovers will make delicious soup.smartstock/iStock

In some cultures, feasts are followed by a ritual destruction of the surplus. At Thanksgiving, the Puritan value of frugality is embodied in the wrapping and packing up of all the leftovers. Even in households in which cooking from scratch is rare, the turkey carcass may be saved for soup. No such concern for waste is exhibited toward the packaging, which does not come from "a labor of love" and is simply thrown away.

7. Taking a Walk

After the eating and the groaning and the belly patting, someone will suggest a walk and a group will form to take a stroll. Sometimes the walkers will simply do laps around the house, but they often head out into the world to get some air. There is usually no destination involved, just a desire to move and feel the satisfied quietness of abundance—and to make some room for dessert.