Make the Most of Black Friday Sales, Offers and Deals with The Black Friday Survival Guide

Every year, we create a list of people we want to buy holiday gifts for, of things we want for ourselves, and start to plot ways to nab the best prices. Then, while we’re full of too much turkey and roasted butternut squash with spinach custard, Black Friday approaches. We’re not fans of the crazy crowds or the race to spend money that comes with this national shopping day, so some years we choose to sit it in—as do people in over 150 countries worldwide by celebrating Buy Nothing Day instead.

Whether you choose to rise above and acknowledge Buy Nothing Day or will enter into the fray because there are items you need at a low price, the key is to be smart about it. Since we’ll never leave you out in the cold (unless you’re camping out waiting for a store to open), we’ve prepared the comprehensive LearnVest Black Friday Survival Guide.

Read it and (don’t) weep.

Here’s how to get through Black Friday and make the most of it:

Hit The Books—Or The Computer

If you want to make a big purchase on the big day, plan ahead by knowing exactly what you’re looking for. Rather than wandering into Best Buy thinking camera, you’ll be better off if you know ahead of time that you’ll want the Nikon D300 in order to take stunning pictures on your trip to the South Devon coast. One of our favorite sites for reviews of electronics is CNET.

Knowing all you can about the products you’re shopping for will help you avoid being drawn in by loud ads for products that aren’t as good—or aren’t what you really want. Similarly, know store policies before you head out, since you may choose to go with the store that can sell you the same item but does let you return it. Many stores have short deadlines for returns or exchanges, nearly always require receipts, sometimes charge restocking fees, and may even have a top-secret list of customers who “abuse” return policies. Come prepared.

Collect Those Numbers

Before you ever set foot in a store, know what good prices would look like for the items you want. Check out sites like PriceGrabber and Bizrate, which let you look at the prices for the same objects from a bunch of different stores. Also check out by-the-minute deals by following the #blackfriday Twitter hashtag, in addition to your favorite retailers (like @AmazonDeals) and other Twitter feeds like @BlackFriday and @BlackFridayWeb. Jot down the prices of the things you want at different stores, so you’ll know where to go for what. When it’s finally show time, take all of the product ads with you in order to nab lowest price guarantees requiring stores to match other stores’ great prices. A lot of stores won’t honor online prices for comparison, but it’s worth a try—and a bargaining chip to try to get salespeople to waive different fees instead to make it up for you. Crunching dollars in advance also means knowing what not to buy on Black Friday. For example, don’t bother with that HDTV, since these prices are likely to be low all season. Go back another time when you’ll get more personal attention.

Come Up With A Plan Of Attack

We recommend entering the fray with two lists in hand, one with things you absolutely need and another with items you’ll pick up if the price is right. That way, you’ll stay on track and avoid wasting money—and time—on products you don’t need or even really want. For a more tech-friendly solution, try the free iPhone app Gift Planner. If you plan to shop for clothes, don’t forget to write down the sizes of all of your nieces, nephews, and anyone else you plan to buy for. Once you know exactly what you're going to buy, plan your route: Many of the big retailers announce their deals early online and in weekly flyers, so look at the paper throughout this week and especially on the morning of Thanksgiving Day. Some stores offer bonus discounts for shopping early, while others tell consumers how many of each item they’ll sell at the advertised price—so know if you'll have to get up early. Be realistic in your plan, both in terms of setting priorities and being reasonable in your time estimations. We love new things as much as anyone else, but sometimes sanity is worth something, too.

For 4 more tips (and a trick for chronic over-spenders!) click through our slide show.

View Slide Show

Tell us in the comments: Have you ever joined a pre-opening Black Friday line? Was it worth it?

  • Anonymous

    Good point about gift cards. Going out without money makes me nervous, though.

  • Way to get us ready Allison. Black Friday is a serious thing!

  • mb is my favorite site to visit for black friday ad listings. they usually have most of the deals listed well before the stores release the info.