Millennial Money: Set your strategy for Memorial Day sales

Shoppers exit a retail store in downtown Chicago, Ill., Saturday, May 22, 2021. For consumers shopping on Memorial Day this year, much of that shopping will happen online, as opposed to inside a physical store. But regardless of where you shop over the holiday weekend, there are plenty of ways to save money, including making a list ahead of time, setting a budget and spreading your search across a variety of stores. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Last Memorial Day, Americans were dizzy from the pandemic, recession and widespread shutdowns. Many had shopping for hand sanitizer and toilet paper on the brain.

But this May, life seems to be blooming again ahead of the unofficial start of summer.

And in more typical Memorial Day fashion, the weekend leading up to May 31 will be filled with sales on appliances, apparel and travel — plus a few new categories, too. Here’s where to find the deals and how to save.


Retailers have a few go-to Memorial Day product categories. The day is traditionally marked with substantial discounts on household items like laundry appliances, kitchen appliances and mattresses.

That’ll be true again this year, and some promotions have already started. But in 2021 in particular, some of the sales will also be targeted to the activities Americans care about during the ongoing pandemic and gradual reopening. Think barbecues in the backyard, socially distanced camping trips and home improvement projects.

“We’ll be shopping for apparel because we’ll be seeing more people this summer than we did last summer,” says Barbara Stewart, professor and coordinator of retailing and consumer science at the University of Houston.

“I think consumers are also ready to do some traveling because we’ve been at home for more than a year,” she says.

Add road trip supplies, car maintenance , camping gear, hotel rooms and domestic airfare to the list of Memorial Day markdowns.

After all, businesses can access word searches to see what consumers are searching for online. Retailers often align sales to match trending categories and in turn encourage spending, says Priya Raghubir , Dean Abraham L. Gitlow professor of business at New York University Stern School of Business.

“What really gets people over that last threshold from interest in a category to, ‘Here’s my credit card. Charge it,’ is a financial incentive like a price promotion,” she says.

These types of Memorial Day sales will happen both online and in stores, but don’t expect malls to be as crowded as they were once upon a time.

“I still think that the online trend is going to continue,” Raghubir says. “There is still hesitancy about being indoors.”


Whether you head to a physical store or a virtual one, there are at least three guaranteed ways to save money on Memorial Day.

First, before you start sifting through any sales, make a list of the things you know you want to buy. That way, the scope of your search isn’t influenced by the products you’re seeing.

“Make a list now when you’re in a cool frame of mind about things you might be interested in purchasing if they go on sale, rather than having that list be created by what’s on sale,” Raghubir says.

If the products you want to buy don’t go on sale, refrain from purchasing things that weren’t on your list simply to fill the shopping void.


Next, as you begin combing through sale ads and websites, keep your options — and browser tabs — open.

Memorial Day sales are the bread and butter of big-box stores, department stores, mattress stores, home improvement stores and travel agencies. But you’ll also find savings at less obvious outlets, such as dollar stores, according to Stewart.

Budget retailers can be an especially good fit for products you’ll only use for a limited time, such as pool toys that you’ll throw away at the end of the season anyway.


As is true for any shopping excursion, set a limit for what you’re willing to (and comfortably able to) spend over the holiday weekend. A budget can rein in any potential impulse spending.

“Know what you can spend and don’t go beyond it,” Stewart says. “There isn’t any bargain that is worth putting yourself in financial difficulty. The product needs to have real value to you.”

If you’re finding it difficult to stick to a certain dollar amount, try to change your payment strategy.

For example, Raghubir says she sets aside money in her PayPal or Venmo account as a forced budgeting technique before she goes shopping. Sure, she could spend more than what’s in those accounts, but having a limit gives her a reason to stop spending. It also functions as a mechanism to track how much she’s spent so far.

Memorial Day offers a chance to honor America’s fallen service members. But with a little restraint and discretion, the holiday can provide much-needed savings opportunities, too.