As the holiday season quickly approaches, so too does the biggest shopping day of the year: Black Friday! I was introduced to Black Friday years ago when I first moved to the States, and I immediately embraced the 4am battle over deep discounts and holiday deals.
But I also understand that the Black Friday hustle isn’t for everyone. In fact, some people downright hate the idea of shopping the morning after Thanksgiving. And while there’s something to be said for staying home in your pajamas, there are ways to make Black Friday shopping a little less painful and ensure you score stellar deals. Use these tips to tackle your holiday shopping like a pro and to get the best deals with the least amount of stress.
Brave the Crowds: Tips to Shop at Retail Locations
The most important part of Black Friday shopping actually happens during the days leading up to the big event. By preparing and planning your shopping in advance, the experience becomes easier and more enjoyable.
1. Set a Budget
A 2012 Gallup poll found that the average American family spends $770 on Christmas-related expenses. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend less? Before you start combing through ads and looking for deals online, you need to nail down your total Christmas budget and your Black Friday budget.
Start by creating an overall Christmas budget including all holiday-related expenses, such as gifts, food, decor, and entertaining. Then, allocate funds to each category. Add up the total to see if it’s an amount you can afford to spend. If not, prioritize your list of expenses and reduce the amount you allocate to low-priority categories. It’s also a good idea to split your gift budget among your friends and family so you have individual spending limits for each person on your shopping list.
Use your total budget to determine how much you plan to spend on Black Friday, and set a realistic amount based on the items you plan to purchase. I like to set an overall budget, plus a limit on specific items. For instance, if I know I don’t want to spend more than $70 on a dollhouse, it narrows my search and makes it easier for me to say “no” to overpriced impulse purchases.
2. Create a Game Plan
Black Friday is not a day for window shopping. It’s a hardcore shopping experience, and if you don’t make a plan, you could get lost in the shuffle. Retailers are famous for advertising teaser deals, also known as Black Friday doorbusters, to get you in the door and then making a bundle off other items in their inventory. These instances are by design. Know what you want ahead of time, stay focused, and only purchase items you need.
While paper ads for Black Friday sales usually come out on Thanksgiving, most ads are actually available online weeks prior to the event. You can find ad scans and deal roundups on sites such as BFads.net and BlackFriday.com, where you can search by store and item. Look through the ads for each store and start prioritizing your purchases. Note the stores’ hours of operation and specific sale hours that could affect a product’s priority. For instance, if a particular store offers deep discounts only until 6am, the products from that store should be prioritized over stores that offers deep discounts all day.
Also, keep in mind that high-demand purchases (such as game consoles) may be limited, so they should receive higher priority. Finally, prioritize purchases within each store. If you need to grab three or four items, number the products in order of importance.
3. Start Your Shopping Early
If you feel the need to get off the couch on Thanksgiving evening, go shopping! In years past, I just relaxed at home after enjoying a day of eating. But now, with many retailers opening on Thanksgiving night, I can capitalize on great deals and avoid the long lines. Plus, many Black Friday discounts will be in effect on Thanksgiving night.
4. Check Online
Before you head to the stores, always compare your in-store deals to online deals. While Cyber Monday technically doesn’t start until the Monday after Thanksgiving, many online retailers kick off sales early. You may find better prices online that negate the need to fight Black Friday crowds. Just be sure to factor shipping costs and retailer ratings into your online purchases to ensure that you’re getting a great deal from a trustworthy source.
5. Download Apps
By downloading the right smartphone shopping apps, you can check prices and track down friends when you get separated. Here are some of my favorite free shopping apps that I use on Black Friday:
- ShopSavvy: With ShopSavvy, all you do is scan the barcode on any item and instantly compare the price to prices offered online and at nearby stores. It gives you peace of mind that you’re getting the best price available on any given product. Available on iOS and Android
- Black Friday App: If you don’t want to tote ads from store to store, the Black Friday app allows you to fit them in your pocket. The app includes all the Black Friday ads, with sale hours and store information. This comes in handy if you need to price match – some stores match competitor pricing if you have the ad to prove the lower price. Available on iOS and Android
- Nifti: If you’re wondering if that flat screen TV really is a good deal, Nifti tracks prices based on historical sales data. It can tell you if the Black Friday price is really worth it, or whether you can look forward to a deeper discount later in the season. Available on iOS
6. Check Store Policies
Price matching is one of the best kept money-saving secrets on Black Friday. Some retailers match competitor pricing, giving you two distinct advantages: First, by cutting down on the number of stores you visit, you save both gas and time, and second, you can take advantage of product popularity discrepancies between stores.
For instance, if there’s a killer deal on electronics at Best Buy and Target’s deals aren’t as good, buyers are likely to swarm Best Buy to purchase electronics. But if Target offers price-matching, you could score the same deep discounts there with much less competition.
Before you assume a store offers price matching, scan the store’s ads – most retailers include their matching policy somewhere on the ad. Walmart, Target, Staples, and Best Buy often match prices, but offers vary by geographical region. Some brick-and-mortar stores even match Amazon pricing, so bookmark or print online product sales so you can ask the cashier about their policy.
Keep in mind that most retailers only match prices available at the same time as their own sale, so pay attention to when discounts are offered. If you’re unclear about a store’s policy, call customer service to ask for clarification. And be sure to have the ad on-hand that you want the store to price match.
7. Beware the Extended Warranty
To compensate for their reduced profit margins, retailers will be determined to get you to buy the extended warranty for any product that you purchase on Black Friday. Keep in mind, however, that many credit cards extend the manufacturer’s warranty for one year for free, and the extended warranties offered by retailers are usually rife with exclusions and restrictions.
If you consider buying an extended warranty, make sure you know exactly what you are getting first. You do not want to duplicate coverage you already have via a credit card.
8. Pay with Plastic
This tip only applies to those who can pay off the credit card balance in full and on time when the bill arrives. From a safety standpoint, carrying a large amount of cash with you on Black Friday is not a good idea. Furthermore, if you use a credit card for all purchases, you can rack up additional benefits, such as accumulating rewards points and receiving purchase protections and extended warranties.
9. Always Get a Gift Receipt
As much as you might think you have chosen the perfect gift for everyone on your list, sometimes it just doesn’t turn out that way. Always ask for a gift receipt and include it with the gift. This will give the recipient the option to easily return anything he or she may not want.
10. Bring All Appropriate Ads
Have ads handy in case you need to reference a sale or if you’re planning to take advantage of a retailer’s price matching policy. Remember, many retailers offer price matching, but taking advantage of these guarantees involves a lot more than mentioning a better deal from a competitor. Be sure to at least stow paper copies in the car if you haven’t downloaded an app that stores Black Friday ads for you.
11. Prepare Your Credit Cards
By the time Black Friday rolls around, I know which of my credit cards will offer extra discounts on purchases in certain categories. Check your cards for extra cash back in rotating categories and be aware of caps on purchases. For example, online shoppers can benefit from the Discover it card which currently rewards 5% cash back on up to $1,500 of online purchases. Or if you expect to run up some debt this year, choose a card with a long-term 0% APR offer. The Citi Simplicity is one such card, currently offering a 0% APR for 18 months. Depending on how much you spend, taking advantage of credit card discounts and rewards can really add up.
12. Bring a Friend
Shopping with friends makes Black Friday more fun, teamwork can also help you score big deals. Together you can cover more ground and hit up different areas of each store before meeting back at the cash register – and this improves your chances of nabbing every item on your list. When I go Black Friday shopping with my friends, we check our lists together and split up the shopping to help share the load. Just make sure you have charged cellphones so you can touch base about unexpected deals and meet up before checking out.
13. Bring a Snack
Shopping while tired is one thing, but shopping while tired and hungry is a recipe for disaster. Make sure you pack a snack or plan to stop for a quick healthy breakfast. Choose something with complex carbs for energy and protein for staying power – sliced fruit topped with two tablespoons of peanut butter works well.
Granola bars, string cheese, and muffins are also easy to pack and eat on the go. If you want something more substantial, arrange to meet at a friend’s house for a quick meal.
14. Dress Appropriately
Since many sales now start on Thanksgiving night, there’s less need to stand outside and wait for stores to open. This cuts down on the time spent out in frigid temperatures. That said, it’s important to dress appropriately for the day. Transitioning between a cold parking lot and a packed store can result in overheating, so dress in easily removable layers. I like to wear a lighter jacket with a scarf and gloves for added warmth.
If you plan to start your day at a store that doesn’t open until Black Friday morning (such as Burlington Coat Factory, REI, or Costco), dress appropriately for the weather. Wear thick sweaters topped with a coat you can sling over your arm once you’re in the store. Hats and gloves are a must in colder climates. Finally, stay toasty from the inside-out by brewing coffee or hot chocolate and carrying with you in a Thermos.
15. Consider Purchasing Gift Cards
There is nothing wrong with buying a gift card for someone who is hard to shop for. That way, they can get what they really want. Just make sure to purchase a card that has no expiration date, no inactivity fees, and no usage fees.
Sometimes stores will offer gift cards at a discount, such as a $100 gift card for $80. Take advantage of these rare deals whenever you can. Also check out discount gift card exchange sites like Raise.
16. Keep Your Cool
It’s easy to become irritable on Black Friday – it’s early, intense, and crowded. I’ve witnessed numerous arguments break out between shoppers over items and places in line.
Before you give that line-jumper a piece of your mind, remember why you’re out shopping in the first place: You want to make the holidays special for your family and friends by finding the perfect gifts. Instead of firing back at that rude cashier, remember that Black Friday is supposed to be about the holiday that inspires peace on Earth. Take a deep breath, smile, and you’ll end up having a more enjoyable experience. And if you have an encounter with a stressed out salesperson or a rude customer, just laugh it off!
Stay at Home: Tips to Shop Online
Oftentimes, you can find even better prices online than you can by visiting retail locations, and it eliminates all the hassle. As I’ve become a savvier Black Friday shopper, I use the Internet more and visit stores less. If you don’t like crowds, do your Black Friday shopping online from the comfort of your own home.
17. Take Advantage of Free Shipping
Over the past two Black Fridays, I visited a total of one brick and mortar store. This was, in part, because most websites offer free shipping if your order reaches a certain amount. Furthermore, you can frequently find free shipping codes by searching online. Since the free shipping threshold can be as low as $50 for some sites, try to bundle purchases at one store to maximize free shipping.
18. Get Companion Discounts
Check your credit card for companion discounts. If your credit card company has an online shopping portal, you may be able to utilize it to buy from your favorite retailers and receive additional discounts.
For example, the Discover it Card has a popular Shop Discover promotion that has saved me a great deal of money in the past. During the holiday season last year, I received almost $400 in promotional discounts just for using my Discover Card.
19. Check Bargain Hunting Websites
Consider shopping through one of the many bargain hunting websites where members are truly experts at finding the best online deals. FatWallet, for instance, is a website that publishes the very best deals, discounts, and rebates for both online stores and physical retail locations.
Additionally, you can receive a percentage of your purchase back when you buy from retailers the site is partnered with. On and around Black Friday, cash back can be as much as 8%, and the money is paid to you in the form of a check after a short waiting period.
20. Remember Cyber Monday
Cyber Monday is a term created by retailers for the Monday following Black Friday, and it was invented to persuade the buying public to shop online. In fact, over $1 billion was spent by consumers on this day last year. So don’t fret if you can’t complete your entire shopping list on Black Friday. You will be able to find lots of great deals the following Monday online.
Black Friday is right around the corner, so now is the time to start preparing. With proper planning and sufficient research, you can snatch up great deals and have a lot of fun doing it. Plan a schedule and a strategy, and stick to it. After all, what’s better than saving hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars on purchases you need to make anyway?
What other ideas do you have for saving on Black Friday? Do you prefer to shop online, or do you hit the stores?