The day after Thanksgiving should be a budgeter’s best friend.
After all, it offers some of the year’s biggest sales and is chock full of unheard-of prices and giveaways.
But ironically, the day called Black Friday has spawned some alarming money stories, which run something like this: Store offers unreal limited-quantity discounts starting at ungodly hours, like 3 a.m. Shoppers line up outside the store, stampede in and work themselves into an adrenaline-induced frenzy. Shoppers return home with bags full of discounted items they do not even need, over budget on their credit cards.
However, Black Friday and the following Monday, nicknamed Cyber Monday in honor of the huge discounts offered by online retailers, need not be financially fatal.
To make sure you tackle them with more savvy than the average shopper, we reached out to consumer savings expert, Andrea Woroch, who shared her strategies for navigating these mega-deal days while keeping your sanity—and budget—intact.
Why You Should Shop Then:
- This is your best opportunity to buy merchandise that you want to try on, feel or see in person, as well as to pick up items that would incur high shipping costs. Think clothing, accessories, furniture and home furnishings.
- Believe it not, there are still stores that don’t sell online (ahem, Pier 1, H&M and outlet stores), so Black Friday is definitely your day to score big savings at those.
The Stores’ Strategy:
- Many big-box stores offer “loss leaders”—jaw-dropping deals that the stores lose money on. (For instance, last year, TJ Maxx sold iPads for $100 off.) The stores hope these loss leaders lure in customers who buy enough other items to more than offset the loss.
- Freebies! Getting something for nothing helps buyers justify spending more on other items—and free stuff makes people happy, which studies show makes shoppers likelier to buy more. In the past, Costco has given away its now-favorite Costco Cookbook; Ikea, breakfast; REI, $20 gift cards; Toys ”R” Us, crayons and a coloring book; and Office Depot, computer software.
- Stores offer only limited quantities of their biggest deals, making shoppers feel that if they don’t buy the item, they’ll lose out. People rarely make level-headed shopping decisions in such high-pressure situations. (Here are nine more ways stores seduce us into buying.)
1. Research prices beforehand.
Know the average non-holiday price of the item you are eyeing, then compare that figure to the ones you see in the Black Friday advertisements in the weeks prior. Check out sites that aggregate Black Friday deals, such as Savings.com and BlackFriday2011.com (run by Brad's Deals). Also, pick up store circulars, check store websites and befriend the sales associates ahead of time. Some stores, like Target, have different deals in-store and online. So if you’ve had your eye on a specific item, find out if the best deal will be offered in-store on Black Friday or online the next Monday.
“Be prepared, or you’re more likely to buy things you don’t need, or miss out on something you really wanted,” Woroch says.
2. Make a budget and a shopping list—and stick to them.
Using your research, draw up your list and a game plan for which stores to hit for which deals. Cap it off with a budget and take that with you. (If you’re still worried about succumbing to an unexpected offer, only bring a set amount of cash and leave your credit cards at home.)
Whenever you feel tempted to buy something not on your list, remember that you should never get something just because it’s a great deal—or because the store gave you a free muffin.
3. Increase your options.
Instead of one stand-alone store, go to a shopping center or mall. That way, if you don’t see the item or the price you want at the first store, you can check out options at others. Just remember to stick to your list and budget.
Why You Should Shop Then:
- If you’re an internet adept who would rather stay home in PJs than wrestle someone for a PlayStation, this is your day.
- The deals are particularly great on electronics like TVs, cell phones and video gaming systems. In fact this is the only day that Apple discounts their products during the holiday season.
- This is also the better day for discounts from smaller retailers and luxury brands, like Coach and Kate Spade, who don’t want to compete with the big-box stores on Black Friday.
The Stores’ Strategies:
- To get you to spend more, stores will often offer free shipping once you hit a certain price threshold. Don’t go over budget or buy things you don’t need just to avoid the shipping fee—you'll cancel out your savings. But, if you’re buying things at different sites, see if you can bundle purchases at a bigger store to save on shipping.
- They'll also set time limits. The fact that this is a one-day-only deal creates a similar deadline pressure to Black Friday that makes people feel as though they have to buy now.
1. Research and set your budget beforehand.
As with Black Friday, know what deals you want before you log on. Make a list and a budget, and set a rule to buy only the items on your list. That way, you won’t spend that day trying to decide whether to blow another $200 on that nifty gadget you just noticed was on sale.
2. Shop only on secure sites.
Keep your identity and credit/debit card information safe by shopping only on sites whose addresses, after you log in to pay, begin with “https:// …” (instead of http:// …”). Your browser will also show an image of a lock or a key either next to the address or in the bottom right corner. Both the extra "s" in the address and the lock/key image signify that your information (financial and otherwise) will be protected from theft.
3. Don’t forget social media.
If you have a favorite store or designer, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, where they will sometimes advertise a one-hour sale or a deal-of-the-day before it happens.
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4. Scour the web for additional savings.
In the weeks leading up to Cyber Monday, visit online coupon sites, like couponsherpa.com or freeshipping.org, for additional savings or free shipping offers.
5. Take your time.
If you see a deal you hadn’t known about before, don’t succumb to deadline pressure. Wait. Think it over until Free Shipping Day, which is December 16th this year. Founded by the folks at freeshipping.org, more than 2,000 merchants—like Victoria’s Secret, Best Buy and Target—offer free shipping, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.
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