It’s hard to believe, but the holiday shopping season will soon be here. It’s time to get ready, because — love it or hate it — the day it officially starts is the day you might find the best deals.
Yup, we’re talking about Black Friday. Though everyone’s heard of it, few know how to make the most of it.
To help you dominate this bargain extravaganza, we enlisted the help of eight Black Friday experts who have years of experience navigating the day’s madness.
We’ve already shared their secrets for preparing for Black Friday — but what about the actual day?
Where do you find the best deals? When should you shop? How do you stay on budget?
To learn the answers to these questions (and many more!), keep reading. Here are 13 insider tips for scoring big this Black Friday.
When to Shop on Black Friday
Timing your Black Friday shopping is crucial. Here’s when you should plan to shop.
1. Shop on Thanksgiving Instead
The bad news? Black Friday is no longer just a single day; it has crept into the weeks surrounding.
The good news? If you want to grab the best deals, you may not need to wait until the day itself.
“We actually see not only the most deals — but the best deals — on Thanksgiving,” says Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor of DealNews.
Though that may sound depressing, take solace in the fact you don’t need to leave your house to score big.
“Almost all these deals have completely migrated online… [So] using Thanksgiving as a shopping day to get the best deals is definitely a worthwhile strategy,” he explains.
2. Create a Schedule
Savvy Black Friday shoppers plan their excursions down to the hour; they don’t only know where they’re going, they know when they’re going.
That’s because stores offer doorbusters (discounts for an extremely limited time) at different times throughout the day.
So once you’ve created your Black Friday shopping list, research the doorbusters at nearby stores to see if any match up.
Collin Morgan, founder of deals site Hip2Save, says this is also a reason to bring a buddy with you.
“The doorbusters go so quickly,” she warns. “Split off: Maybe break the list in half… It also makes the whole experience a bit more fun.”
Where to Shop on Black Friday
Want to find great deals? You might want to get creative and look outside the big box.
3. Shop Online
Nearly all our experts stressed that you don’t need to fight the crowds to get great prices on Black Friday.
Most of the deals available at brick-and-mortars are now available online as well. Not only is it nice to shop from the comfort of your home, but it can also save you money (more on that below).
“Don’t go in stores unless you know you really want to and know what to expect,” says Glaser of DealNews. “Almost all Black Friday deals are available online at this point … which is going to be much more convenient and makes it easier to compare prices.”
Of course, if you shop on Black Friday for the experience, then by all means, continue to do so — but don’t feel pressured to go just for the deals.
4. Always Check for Price Matches
Spot a great deal in the local circular? Don’t rush out to grab it; you may find it online at the same price.
“If you find a deal in a local store on a top brand name, many times you’ll find that online sites will price match,” says Jenny Martin of couponing and budgeting blog Southern Savers.
“I’ll open up the Lowe’s Black Friday flyer… and then I’ll pull up Amazon and turns out they have the exact same price.”
She says Amazon is the “best at it,” so be sure to check there before hitting the stores.
5. Think Outside the Big Box
When you think of Black Friday, you probably think of what Rebecca Lehmann, content marketing manager for Brad’s Deals, calls “the big four”: Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Toys R Us.
But Martin from Southern Savers suggests visiting smaller stores in search of nontraditional items.
Drugstores top her list: “CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens all have freebies every single Black Friday — sometimes upwards of 30 items that are completely free,” she says. “They’re easy to grab and they’re things you need, like free toothbrushes and free toothpaste.”
“A lot of the smaller retailers have really gotten into the Black Friday game,” adds Dev Shapiro, spokesperson for GottaDeal.com. If you have a unique hobby or special interest, he recommends checking specialty vendors like Christian bookstores and model train shops.
Travel is another nontraditional industry offering hefty Black Friday discounts, according to Martin.
“It’s a huge day for cruises, all-inclusive vacations, hotels, even airlines,” she says. “Don’t get yourself stuck on: ‘We’re just looking for a TV.’ Think big picture; there’s savings to be had on almost anything.”
How to Shop on Black Friday
Alright. You now know when and where to shop — but what about strategies for once you’re in the store?
We’ve got you covered.
6. Maximize Your Online Shopping With Rewards and Coupons
Another big benefit of staying home to do your Black Friday shopping? You can earn rewards and use coupon codes.
A great way to quickly compare the cash-back and travel rewards available from each site is with Cashback Monitor. To find coupon codes, we recommend the browser extension Honey, or the shopping portal Ebates.
7. Carefully Consider Cash vs. Credit
This was one point on which our experts disagreed: Some thought you should use cash only (to control your spending), while others recommended credit cards (for the additional warranty).
“When you go shopping during Black Friday, you get engulfed in all that excitement and stores make everything look like it’s the most amazing deal,” warns Morgan of Hip2Save.
“And so you’re thinking, ‘Well I don’t necessarily need this, but it’s such a great deal I’m just going to buy it,’ and then in turn you’re really wasting money — not saving money. Carry cash — then you have to stick with [your list].”
But if you’re going to purchase electronics, plastic might be the better choice.
“All four major card payment networks — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — offer similar extended warranties for products purchased with their cards adding up to an extra year to the warranty that came with the item,” states CreditCards.com.
Check their site for a chart detailing the warranties offered by your credit card provider.
One solution: Use your credit card like a debit card, only spending the amount of cash you have saved up at home.
“Especially with electronics, you do want to pay for those with a credit card, because of the warranties,” explains Lehmann of Brad’s Deals. “We definitely recommend saving up cash for your holiday shopping, but when you’re actually in the store, pay with your credit card.”
But there’s an important next step: “Then, when you get home, pay the credit card off in full. Take advantage of the warranties your credit card offers. Rack up the rewards points.”
8. Wear Comfortable Clothes
If you plan to brave the crowds and shop in stores on Black Friday, make sure your wardrobe is up to the task.
“You don’t want to be wearing heels at three in the morning,” says Morgan of Hip2Save. “Wear workout clothes or something. You can’t be uncomfortable when you’re going from store-to-store and running around trying to find all these doorbuster[s].”
9. Stay Connected
Whether you’re home on the couch or out in the stores, maintaining online access is key to scoring all the latest and greatest deals.
Let the deal sites do the work for you by signing up for price alerts or downloading shopping apps.
“Put your wishlist together; we’ll let you know when those items are coming up for sale,” says Melissa Martin, spokesperson for BlackFriday.com. “You could be out shopping… and [your smartphone] alerts you immediately when that item goes on sale.”
10. Compare Prices in Real Time
Whatever you do, don’t just go to one store or website and call it a day. Use a website or app to help you track and compare prices while you’re out shopping.
“The one thing we know about the holiday is everyone’s participating, and every time you think you’ve found the best price, there’s probably a better one,” says Shelton of FatWallet.
“Don’t make impulse buys this time of the year.” (We’d add to that: Don’t make impulse buys at any time of the year!)
11. Tread Carefully
Black Friday is a huge opportunity for retailers to pad their bottom lines, because they know shoppers are quick to hop on every — and any — deal. So it’s important to do your research.
“Not everything that’s in a Black Friday ad is a great deal,” warns David Varble, manager of BFAds.net. “They definitely sneak in some so-so prices or items that were cheaper even in the off season. … Don’t trust it immediately to be great pricing.”
“Know what you’re buying,” seconds Shapiro of GottaDeal.com. “[The] computers some of these retailers offer, they intentionally don’t put enough RAM in them, and they put a smaller hard drive in them.”
He says it’s important to ask yourself: “Does it have enough processor power to do what I want? Am I going to be gaming with it, or do I just want something to get on the Internet?”
12. If You Can’t Find Something, Ask Customer Service
Can’t find an item you wanted? Don’t despair: That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone.
“A lot of people go crazy and come to the register and then decide ‘I don’t want this item,’ so they have carts in the front of the store with all the stuff thrown back in,” explains Morgan of Hip2Save.
“I always go to customer service or I’ll ask if they have any sort of abandoned carts [with] items in them people decided not to purchase.”
13. Stick to Your List and Budget
Lastly, remember to stick to the list and budget you created. You’re bound to see deals that sound appealing, but if you didn’t need it at full price, you probably don’t need it at a discount, either.
“The biggest mistake that people make is just getting caught up in the excitement of Black Friday and buying things that they don’t need,” says Lehmann of Brad’s Deals.
One TPH bonus tip: Don’t stress if you miss a deal or completely sleep through all the Black Friday madness.
“If you can’t get the product, be patient; there are still great deals all the way through the holiday season,” says Melissa Martin of BlackFriday.com. After all, it’s almost Cyber Monday!
“We see it time and time again, people getting in a frenzy and forgetting what it’s all about,” she explains.
Don’t let that be you. The most important thing is to remember the holiday season is about so much more than new TVs and killer bargains.
Your Turn: How do you prepare for Black Friday? Any insider tips we missed?
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.