There’s a chill in the air, and leaves are falling. For dedicated bargain hunters, that means one thing: Black Friday will soon be upon us.
If you want to make the most of the killer deals this Black Friday, you need to start getting ready now. That’s right: We said now.
So we talked to seven Black Friday experts to learn how best to prepare for the upcoming shopping madness.
1. Create a Budget and List
Though you may be tempted to jump directly into list making, you should determine your holiday shopping budget first — that way, you’ll know what you can (and can’t) include on your list.
“If you don’t have the money, it’s not a deal — no matter how great the sale is,” Jenny Martin, founder of couponing and budgeting blog Southern Savers, wisely points out.
Once you know how much you can spend, make a list of what you need to buy.
Keep in mind you probably won’t know prices yet, so to make it easier, divide the list into two groups: items you definitely want to purchase, and items you’ll purchase if you have money left over from your original budget.
All of the experts emphasized the importance of making a list — so whatever you do, don’t skip this step. Why?
“It’s probably going to help you not make as many impulse buys,” explains Brent Shelton, PR director for online deals site FatWallet.
“We’ll see deals that are really hard to pass up. … [A list] can help you from overspending.”
2. Use a Credit Card With Price Protection
“Buy it now at the higher price, then submit a Price Rewind request for it,” suggests Rebecca Lehmann, content marketing manager for Brad’s Deals. “The credit card company should actually refund the difference.”
This tactic won’t work for every purchase, though.
“I would be very wary of doing it with electronics though — anything with a serial number,” she warns.
“Black Friday items tend to have different serial numbers … [but with] a particular toy that’s going to sell out, you have a really good shot at it.”
3. Buy Gift Cards
If you know you’re going to shop at a particular store, you can save money or earn rewards by purchasing gift cards ahead of time.
“Sites like Raise.com offer gift cards at reduced prices,” says Martin.
“You can also find deals at your local grocery store. I can go to Kroger and get a $50 gift card to Target — and when I do that, I’m actually going to get a good $7 off a tank of gas… Looking for deals with gift cards before you go shopping is another way to increase [your] savings.”
4. Follow Retailers and Deals Sites
With today’s technology, preparing for Black Friday is easier than ever.
One of your first stops should be the websites of all your favorite retailers — both big and small. Sign up for their email newsletters and follow them on your preferred social media networks.
“If there’s a specific retailer you really like, let’s say you have a Sears or Macy’s card, and you’re going to get points… then you definitely want to follow their social media channels,” says Shelton.
“They’re going to offer those social media fans exclusives that the normal public probably isn’t going to see. There’s a lot of opportunity to win stuff as well as just get special coupons.”
And it’s not only discounts; you could also get some good advice. “Sign up for email [lists],” Shelton says. “You’re going to get tips and insider information on the best ways to save money.”
5. Participate in Online Forums
Want to educate yourself before the season starts? Log into some online-shopping forums, where deal-hunting veterans share tips and answer questions.
“We have very active consumer forums,” says Shelton of FatWallet. “Some of the savviest deal hunters… [are] posting deals, what they think is hot… It makes FatWallet a really good resource to stay on the inside.”
6. Update Your Profiles on Your Favorite Sites
Have you ever found a great Black Friday deal online — only to have it disappear by the time you click “purchase”?
Don’t let that happen this year: Update your profile on your favorite retailers’ sites ahead of time.
“Be sure your billing information is up to date, you know your username and password, your credit card is still valid,” says Dev Shapiro, spokesperson for GottaDeal.com. “Every second literally counts when it comes to online shopping.”
7. Familiarize Yourself With Store Policies
Let’s face it: Buyer’s remorse happens to the best of us. And when it strikes, it’s essential you’re able to return the items.
Also good to know ahead of time? Which stores offer price matching.
“Get comfortable with the store’s price-matching and return policies; sometimes they change during Black Friday,” explains Collin Morgan, founder of deals site Hip2Save.
“[If] you go just crazy, it’s good to know you can at least return the item… Definitely do your research.”
8. Let Deal Sites Work for You
Don’t waste hours digging through Black Friday ads online and in the newspaper; that’s what the experts are for.
David Varble manages BFAds.net, which he says is the source of “about 80%” of leaked ads.
“We’re like a news source of everything Black Friday: We try to dig through all the ads, all the news. We do all the homework and hard work for people. … Kind of like a CliffsNotes guide to Black Friday,” he explains.
“To be honest, [the] vigilance is very intense,” adds Lehmann of Brad’s Deals. “The average person is not going to have time to do it day-to-day.”
So choose your favorites from the sites listed throughout this article, then subscribe to their newsletters and follow them on social media.
9. Before Shopping, Analyze the Deals
Many Black Friday shoppers skip this step, and it’s a big mistake. Not only should you determine which stores have the best prices — you should also analyze whether the prices are actually a bargain.
Price predictions, which are released by many of the sources cited in this article, are a good place to start.
“We compare [the prices] to our historical data going back several years… so we can give a sense of whether the price on Black Friday will really be a good deal, or whether you’re better off waiting until after the holidays are past,” explains Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor of DealNews.
10. Seize the Teachable Moment
If you have kids, you can use Black Friday as an opportunity to teach them important lessons about budgeting and patience.
“Teaching them that we’re not going to just grab the item today — we are going to wait… that’s a big lesson,” explains Southern Savers’ Martin, who has five daughters.
“Get them involved in the thrill of the hunt and the thrill of the savings… That excitement will hopefully translate to other items they may need to buy later in life.”
Bottom line? “There are a lot of stores carrying a lot of similar things, and the price range is going to be very close,” says Melissa Martin, spokesperson for BlackFriday.com.
“And that’s why it’s really important to plan and process your holiday season so you’re not in a frenzy the whole time and can enjoy it.”
Whether you’re a deal-hunter extraordinaire or a Black Friday newbie, take that advice to heart.
By planning ahead, you’ll be able to enjoy your shopping experience with as little stress (and as little money!) as possible.
Your Turn: How are you preparing for Black Friday?
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true “penny hoarder” would be a fool not to take the company’s money.
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.