Why do normally prudent (or cash-strapped) shoppers go spend-crazy on Black Friday – the post-Thanksgiving annual shopping frenzy?

The superficial answer of course is that we shop on Black Friday to get the one-day only deals, allowing us to buy stuff we would have bought anyway for less, or buy stuff we otherwise couldn’t afford. So far, so obvious…

But here’s an interesting insight from the ever-insightful psychologist Dan Ariely who suggests that Black Friday works like a ‘Cheat Day’ when dieting, calculated cheating that involves a day off to treat or indulge ourselves in order to provide temporary relief that can make a long-term plan bearable.  Thanksgiving works like a ‘cheat day’ too – it’s a day off prudent eating that makes long term prudent eating bearable.

Black Friday works in the same way, it is a Cheat Day that allows us to take a day off from financial prudence to treat or indulge ourselves – thereby making long-term financial prudence bearable.  For many of us, a cheat day helps us stick with the long term plan, and that is a good thing.

This insight of Black Friday as a ‘cheat day’ points to some interesting marketing opportunities for optimising sales around Black Friday. Rather than merely focusing on the deal itself, pitch the day as an ‘everyone needs a day off’ day.  Brands and retailers can assuage feelings of guilt (that could dampen sales) by framing deals in such as way they are presented as saving us money in the long term, and helping us stick to our overall spending budget. Spend to save.

Just as long term dieting is about more than balancing energy intake and expenditure, personal or household finances are about more than balancing income and expenditure – it’s a mental game as well. Thinking of Black Friday as a Cheat Day, and positioning Black Friday sales accordingly is psychologically smart and will unlock sales.