Two simple words can trigger fear in even the savviest of shoppers:
Last year, eager shoppers spent an estimated $11.4 billion on Black Friday sales — and $52.4 billion over the post-Thanksgiving four-day weekend.
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If you’re game to do a little research ahead of time, and purchase items online, taking advantage of the Black Friday sales can score you great deals—if you're smart about it.
“Not everything is a door buster, and you should stay committed to your shopping list,” says consumer expert Andrea Woroch. “Otherwise, you’ll end up overspending and buying items you don’t need just because you’re lured by the sales signs.”
So what's the secret to spotting the great deals and avoiding spending pitfalls—while also keeping your budget intact?
Before you hit the stores, check out Woroch’s Black Friday tips, so you can skip the side of buyer’s remorse with your turkey this year.
1. Research Prices
While both Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer stellar deals, Woroch says that you shouldn't assume that they'll have the top discounts of the entire season. If you have time to spare for advance research, consider using Decide.com ($2.49 per month for a membership) or check out LearnVest’s What to Buy When chart to see if there could be a better time to purchase the key items on your list. You can also sign up to receive retail newsletters that tout Black Friday updates, as well as follow favorite brands on Facebook and Twitter for discount news.
2. Make a List
“Keep in mind that a lot of those sales will continue throughout the holiday season,” says Woroch. “Black Friday isn’t the last day to get incredible deals.” So you should only plan to buy items on this day that you've researched ahead of time to determine if you're truly getting the best prices. For example, Black Friday has traditionally been the day to snag deals on big-ticket household items, like washers and refrigerators. Other items to add to your buy-in-person list: Anything you’d like to see or try on, like clothes and shoes.
And you can track your purchases with the Holiday Gift List app, which lets you record your shopping list, mark things off as you buy them and manage your spending budget (particularly this time of year), so you’ll know when you’ve reached your limit.
3. Map Out a Route
If you know which stores offer the deals that you’re looking for—and how to get there—you'll save time, money (in gas) and aggravation. “Opt for a mall where you have multiple store locations in one place that are easily accessible by walking,” suggests Woroch.
RELATED: 9 Ways Stores Seduce Us Into Buying
4. Double Your Savings
Buy discount gift cards ahead of time from places like eBay Auctions, Plastic Jungle and GiftCardGranny.com and you can save an average 12% off the face value of your purchases at stores where you plan to shop.
5. Get Appy
Put your smartphone to use on Black Friday by tracking your purchases and spending (even cash!) with the free LearnVest app. Woroch also recommends downloading these money-saving apps:
- CouponSherpa’s Mobile Coupons for additional savings
- RedLaser or SnapTell for instant price comparisons
- BuyOrNot for on-the-spot consumer reviews. After all, buying that blender at 30% off isn't a steal if it’s just going to break the next day.
6. Read That Fine Print
Keep in mind that most Black Friday door buster promotions are limited in quantity, so unless you camp outside the store in the early morning hours, you likely won’t get your hands on the truly incredible offers.
Woroch's advice: “Read the fine print on any circular promoting offers, or call the store to find out specifically how many are offered.” And if you know that what you’re hoping to buy will be in limited supply, try shopping for it online instead.
7. Beware of Sneaky Add-Ons
According to Woroch, it’s best to skip the extras on Black Friday. “If you scored a great deal on a TV, stay away from the extra cables that may not be discounted,” she says. “You can buy those at a later date when they’re on sale, or scope out deals online.” Speaking of which …
8. Shop Online
If you can’t bear the thought of standing in line (it's just another opportunity to buy!), or battling the crowds, don’t worry. Most retailers post incredible deals online as early as Thanksgiving evening, says Woroch. And sites like FreeShipping.org offer online coupons and free shipping codes for even deeper Black Friday discounts.
Something else to keep in mind: This year, Monday, December 17 is Free Shipping Day, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve from over 2,000 participating merchants. So if you miss out on the deals and steals of Black Friday, there’s always a last-minute chance to make up for it.