“Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, is the unofficial kickoff to the Christmas shopping season. On this day, retailers offer some of their biggest discounts of the year.
If you just browse the stores on Black Friday, you can probably pick up a Christmas gift or two at a good price, but true power shoppers know that to properly take advantage of Black Friday, you need to approach it like General Eisenhower organizing D-Day.
1. Gather the information.
You can learn about Black Friday sales by contacting stores directly, reading mailings, looking through newspapers, going to retailers’ websites, getting on retailers’ e-mail lists, talking to friends, and checking the third party websites that gather and post ads from all different retailers.
Note, among other things, the time parameters for the specials. Some items will only be discounted for a very limited time, where realistically the only people who will get that price will be those who line up at the door well before the store opens. Some stores open and start their sales at midnight, some at 4:00 AM, some at the store’s usual opening time, etc. Some sales are for the entire Thanksgiving week starting Monday, if not starting earlier in November, even though they bill themselves as “Black Friday” sales.
2. Organize the information.
Go through the ads carefully to see what’s available that you may be interested in. Use this information combined with your list of people for whom you need to buy gifts (though don’t forget you can also make non-gift purchases on Black Friday at excellent prices), and your budget to put together some notes on what you want to buy and where.
3. Plan your itinerary.
Decide what stores you most need to hit when they open. (Of course if they open at the same time, you can only be at one of them, unless you’re working as a team.) Put your stores in an order that makes the most sense relative to traffic patterns and parking and such. Estimate how long you’ll be in each store so you’ll have a sense of how many stores you can hit, and roughly when you’ll be arriving at each.
4. Bring what you need.
Don’t forget your ads and notes. Bring enough money, including making sure you have credit cards that are good in these particular stores. Make sure you have plenty of gas in the car so you don’t have to stop at a gas station, where there may be long lines. Maybe bring some food and beverages so you don’t lose time stopping for a meal. Certainly if you’re going to be out in the cold in the middle of the night for an extended period waiting for a store to open, bring all the appropriate supplies, like a folding chair, blanket, thermos of hot beverage, etc.
5. Keep control of your spending.
Don’t let the psychology of Black Friday cause you to buy more than you responsibly should. Be wary of impulse purchases that you weren’t already planning on making before you entered the store. That doesn’t mean never make such purchases, but just pause and think carefully about them and only make them when you’re sure it’s right and you aren’t just responding to the emotion and frenzy of the occasion.
6. Stay sane.
If you feel yourself losing your temper, getting mentally or physically exhausted, feeling claustrophobic in the crowds, etc., you may need to take a break after all, or just call it a day and go home. You want to take advantage of the bargains, but not at the cost of your mental and physical health.
7. Be aware of thieves.
Large crowds are very attractive to pickpockets. Don’t leave purchases unattended, even for a moment. Don’t be in such a rush you forget to lock your car in the parking lot.
8. Be flexible.
You may need to skip a store if you’re running behind schedule. You may even need to bail out of a store where you’ve already invested a certain amount of time picking out items because you see the lines are monstrously long and you’ll be there forever. You have to be willing and able to adjust your plan as conditions change.
9. Keep your receipts.
Unfortunately, gifts often have to be returned. Also, many of your best Black Friday discounts are in the form of rebates, where one of the items you need to send in is the receipt. Make sure you get and keep all your receipts, and if possible organize them all with your rebate offers when you get home, so you don’t put off the task and possibly lose them or never get around to sending them in.
10. Don’t forget about online shopping.
Many Black Friday specials are also good on items bought through the store’s website. Not to mention there are many online-only retailers like Amazon, and naturally any Black Friday specials they run have to be for online purchases. You also have Cyber Monday coming up just three days later, and that’s a day with an even greater emphasis on online discounts.
You may well be able to limit your time out in the madness of Black Friday stores, or even skip going out entirely, depending on how many of your purchases you can make online instead.
With these tips, you should be able to make the most of Black Friday savings, while safeguarding your budget and mental and physical wellbeing.