Black Friday can get a bad rap, what with all the news footage of the crazy lineups and huge crowds, but it can be a lifesaver for your college holiday budget or your new-grad-salary December madness. It’s one of the biggest sale events of the retail year, and can score you great deals on everything from your holiday gift list to furnishing your apartment and refreshing your wardrobe.
That is, as long as you plan it properly. Done wrong, Black Friday - and the week of sales that tends to accompany it - can be a huge money pit right at the time of year you can least afford it.
Let’s make sure your Black Friday experience is more “helpful way to save money” and less “total disaster for your budget,” shall we?
Start Your Research Ahead of Time - Like, Way Ahead of Time
It’s fun to complain that Christmas decorations start to come out basically as soon as classes have started again in September, and make fun of stores for jumping the gun on holiday promos. However, you can use this to your advantage if you’re planning to knock out some holiday shopping (or personal shopping, no judgement) on Black Friday.
Start doing your research now, because believe it or not, some stores are already publishing their Black Friday deals - or they will be soon. You can prepare by making sure you know what a reasonable, normal amount is to pay for different items now, so you can tell what’s actually a killer deal on Black Friday, and what’s barely discounted. It’s also good to scope out store policies, so you know which stores will allow returns past Christmas, and which ones will price match other offers.
Make a Shopping List
There’s so many good deals on during Black Friday sales that you shouldn’t feel bad if your shopping list includes things you need for yourself in addition to holiday gifts. But you know what you should feel bad about? Going into Black Friday without a shopping list, period.
The best way to make the most of Black Friday sales is to know what you need. Plus, just think about how much easier all that research you did will be if you only need to figure out prices and sales for the items on your list.
Trust me, I know that shiny new iPhone 7 will be tempting when you’re running through Best Buy to grab a portable phone battery for your sister’s present, but stay strong! Your 6S is fine, and a new phone isn’t on the list.
Decide on Shopping In-Store or Online (Or Both!)
All the attention goes to the in-store experience, at least if you look at media coverage, because no one wants to watch someone quietly and calmly order a new TV from their laptop. However, as long as you’re quick to click and you pay attention to the deals on items you want, you can easily save as much money as you would in store, from the comfort of your living room.
Since in store and online are both valid Black Friday shopping options, you should make a plan well ahead of time about whether you want to brave the in-store experience, or if you’ll be doing an online-only shopping spree this year. Combining those approaches can score you some good deals too, especially if you can check online deals from your cell phone while you’re in the store.
Who knows - maybe Amazon can beat their price, and save you from waiting in the checkout line at the same time?
Prepare for the Possible In-Store Experience
If your plan does include the in-real-life store experience, you need to make sure you know what you’re in for. Ask around, or look at the media coverage of Black Friday in your area last year. If you’re in a smaller city or a suburb, you might not be facing big crowds, but if you’re in a populated area, you might be in for the true Black Friday experience.
Before you can prepare, make sure you know which stores you want to visit, whether you want to be there when they open, and what times are usually best for scoring deals at the stops you want to make.
Once you’ve got that structure, don’t forget that you’re still human, no matter how much of a deal-finding robot you aspire to be. Find a comfortable outfit to wear, pack snacks and make sure to stay hydrated.
Yes, I’m everyone’s mom right now, but you’ll thank me when you wore warm shoes to wait outside of Best Buy in the morning.
Stay Tuned During the Weekend
Some stores will release deals at specific times, and have new items discounted in waves over the weekend. To make sure you don’t miss the best deal of the day, sign up for emails from your favorite retailers, especially ones that typically have good deals on the items on your list. (Because you definitely made a list, right?)
Pay Attention to the Other Promos That Week
Black Friday is the one that started it all, but it’s more of a two-week shopping event than a single day these days. You’ve got some pre-sales that happen before Thanksgiving, some deals that go live on Thanksgiving Day, and Black Friday is followed up by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Those events usually attract different retailers, like your local independent stores and that online t-shirt place you like, allowing you to score deals on items that might not be in a big box store.
Now is not the Time for Impulse Buys
Remember that list we talked about before? Here’s one more reason it’s crucial: unless you’ve done your research and prepared to buy something, you might not actually get a good deal.
If you remember that you really do need a new pair of mittens mid-Black-Friday, try to stay focused on your list and don’t grab extra items just because they’re there. Stores will try to stock convenience purchases near the best deals, because they know people will want to save themselves a trip.
Don’t fall for it! Stick to the list.
Facebook Isn't Just for Creeping Your High-School Ex
One extra way you can take advantage of your existing social media habits to score better deals on Black Friday is to make sure you’re following all the retailers you want to hit for items on your list. Whether you’re on Twitter or Facebook on Snapchat, you never know where those brands might announce a short-lived sale on exactly what you’re looking for, so stay tuned.