Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season. Sure it’s cold, it’s crowded and it all begins at a ridiculous hour (like, on Thursday), but if you’re up to the task, you’ll enjoy deep discounts on your holiday shopping! The key to a successful Black Friday shopping experience is to start right now.
Create your gift list so you know what gifts you’d like to buy on sale. Study the store ads that are already leaking to Black Friday websites l to find your deals. In short, plan ahead and prepare yourself for a hectic (but fun!) day of holiday shopping.
Knowing what sales the stores are planning will help you determine if, and where, you’ll shop. There are literally dozens of sites dedicated to Black Friday deals. GottaDeal has typically been the first to publish a store’s list. BlackFridayAds.com has a great checklist feature so you can print a custom shopping list. If you prefer to see the actual store ads, BlackFriday.info has the ad scans laid out nicely.
You’ll also want to be sure the amazing deals you find are something you actually need to buy. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment — rushing crowds, bright signs, one-day only hype — and blow your budget in a single morning. Make a list of people and/or gifts you plan to buy before you even check out the sales. Then, compare it to the sale fliers to find your best bargains.
Map Your Route
Even if you already know where the stores are located, take some time to look at a map. Decide where to shop first, based on the store’s opening time and proximity to your next stop. Some store deals begin at 5pm (Toys R Us), while others begin at 8pm (Target). More stores will open at midnight or early Friday morning. The time will be announced in each store’s Black Friday ad. Most of the deal sites are including this information along with the sale items.
What to Bring
Friends Black Friday shopping is more fun with a friend (or two), but you’ll also have an advantage in scoring the limited deals—one person can grab the hot items in electronics, while another snags the toys. Shopping is a team sport!
Cell Phone Stay connected with your shopping team, and friends shopping in other areas, to be sure you never miss a deal. My brother will often search his location for items I may have missed in my own store (and vice versa). There are several smart phone apps & tech tools that can improve your shopping experience.
GPS Use your navigation system or phone map to find stores or alternate traffic routes. (If you don’t already have one, you can probably score a really great deal at your first stop!)
Cash Cash is not only easier on the budget, but credit cards have security protection that can affect your shopping day. I once had my credit card shutoff for “excessive use” when I hit 3 stores before 6am.
List & Pen Avoid impulse buys — bring a list (try our holiday shopping guide) and stick to it! Be sure to cross things off the list as you go to keep track of your purchases.
Ads & Coupons It may be helpful to have your store ads in hand, to verify pricing or price match. If you belong to rewards programs or have valid store coupons, don’t forget to bring them with you for even greater savings.
Gloves, Hat, etc It is super cold at 3am — be sure you are dressed weather appropriate and prepared to stand outside until the line moves into the store. Lip balm, hot cocoa or coffee, and hand warmers might come in handy as well.
Snacks Black Friday is a long day; be prepared with snacks to get you through an overnight slump. I’ll have granola bars & candy with me for a quick energy boost. There’s no stopping until my list is complete!
Black Friday is my favorite way to save on holiday gifts, and these tips will help you tackle it like a pro. Are you planning a Black Friday trip this year?
A version of this post was originally published on 11/19/2010