Holiday Shopping and Inflation

If it feels as if the holiday shopping season started earlier this year, that’s because it did. In the past, it traditionally started today — on Black Friday. But this fall, retailers began trying to lure shoppers earlier: Amazon, Best Buy and Target, for example, started offering deals tailored to the holidays or Black Friday in October.

One culprit behind the shift is inflation. With prices for food, energy and other goods up nearly 8 percent from last year, consumers are worried about paying too much. But retailers want customers and have tried to convince the public that their products are affordable. An earlier shopping season, with special promotions, can help get more shoppers in the door.

“If people are cautious about spending, they’re more likely to spend when they see a sale,” said my colleague Nathan Burrow, who covers deals for Wirecutter, the Times-owned product recommendation site. “And retailers are obliging.”

The timing of sales is just one example of how inflation is warping the shopping season. Today’s newsletter will be a guide to what consumers can expect and how they can deal with higher prices, with help from Wirecutter.

You will probably see a lot of signs boasting of price markdowns if you go shopping today. But that does not really mean you are getting a good deal.

“Not every sale is going to be worth your time,” Nathan said. “Yes, there are sales that can actually save people money. But sometimes there are sales that are not all they’re hyped up to be.”

In some cases, items are perpetually or frequently on sale — to the point that the lower price might as well be the regular one. Prices for video games, for example, are so routinely cut that some thrifty gamers exclusively wait for sales. A Lifehacker article captured the sentiment, telling people to “stop paying full price for video games.”

Inflation has also complicated matters. Consider a mundane item: a two-pack of tape measures at Home Depot, now on sale for $25. This two-pack, whose price Wirecutter has tracked since 2018, was on sale for $20 in previous years. So is the $25 price tag truly a deal? It is, compared with the $45 it was selling for a few weeks ago, but it is still higher than it was a year or so ago, thanks to inflation.

Inflation means consumers can expect similar scenarios with a range of products this year.

Still, deals do exist. Nathan has tips on finding good ones in the coming weeks. First, comparison shop: Now that retailers post their prices online, it is easy to browse different outlets to find the best deals. You can also use trackers, like CamelCamelCamel and Honey, to find recent price cuts.

Nathan also recommended setting a personal budget for a set number of items — a wish list — and a separate slush fund for impulse purchases. This not only limits how much you spend but can also push you toward finding good deals, since you know that your total is limited.

“This is very basic,” Nathan said, “but it can save you money.”

N.F.L. tripleheader: The favorites Minnesota, Dallas and Buffalo survived a potential Thanksgiving upset feast. All maintained solid footing in the playoff race, though the Cowboys and the Bills have to deal with the toughest divisions in football down the stretch.

Results: Portugal held off Ghana in yesterday’s highest profile match, 3-2. Brazil beat Serbia, 2-0, Switzerland bested Cameroon, 1-0, and Uruguay and Korea drew, 0-0. Here’s a recap.

Talent: He scored both goals to bring Brazil to victory yesterday. Meet Richarlison, Brazil’s new star.

The new recruits: More than 130 players at the tournament represent a country other than that of their birth. A few of them committed only months before the World Cup.

Matchups: The face-off between the U.S. and England may just be the biggest American soccer game in a decade. The English haven’t lost to the U.S. since 1993. They play each other at 2 p.m. Eastern. Here are today’s other games and results.

There are adults in New York City Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” but make no mistake: The children are the stars. The show is a training ground for young dancers, who generally start as Angels, learning the basics of crossing the stage and counting to music, and progress to more advanced parts over the years.

Eleanor Murphy, a 9-year-old playing the Bunny, first saw the City Ballet production when she was 3. “After the show, I was screaming because I didn’t want to go home,” she said. “I always wanted to be in ‘The Nutcracker,’ and now I’m in ‘The Nutcracker.’”

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