8 Black Friday Shopping Strategies

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Whether you’re a diehard tent-popper or stage a silent boycott every year, there’s no ignoring Black Friday. But are these deals as life-changing as we’re led to believe? Sometimes, yes, but in most cases, not really. After all, doorbuster discounts aren’t exclusive after Thanksgiving. In the past several years, retailers have held “Black Friday in July” sales, pre-holiday sales in October, and early bird sales the week before Black Friday.

Still, Black Friday is coming whether you like it or not. While some of you die-hards may have your strategy in place, newbies may need a tip or two if they plan to go shopping. Here are eight things to keep in mind as you prepare for Black Friday.

1. Make a List

Black Friday shopping can be overwhelming, so if you want to avoid going off the rails and buying a bunch of gifts you don’t need — or winding up in debt, which could drag down your credit — don’t keep your list in your head. Instead, use a gift-list app like Gifted (available on the Apple Store and Google Play) to keep track of recipients’ likes and dislikes, sizes, ideas and budgets.

2. Focus

Historically, the deepest Black Friday discounts are on electronics, apparel and beauty products, so instead of trying to conquer your holiday list in one day, focus on those three areas and tackle the other categories later. Also, since you still have plenty of time in the holiday shopping season to look for deals, go for only the deepest discounts (40% and up).

3. Sign Up for Store Emails

Now is a great time to sign up for emails from the stores you want to hit on Black Friday. You might be privy to advance details on sales or private discounts. Set up a separate free email account to capture that mail — there’s going to be a lot of it. Following stores on Twitter or Facebook can also keep you in the know.

4. Discounted Gift Cards

If you have a general idea of where you plan to shop, search online for “discounted gift cards (name of store),” and see what comes up. Many gift card merchants sell digital or printable gift cards that are discounted between 2% to 30%. Use that gift card to make a purchase, and you’ll save a bundle!

5. The Early Bird Bonus

If you’re game for getting up at the crack of dawn, you could be well-rewarded. In previous years, stores like H&M, Best Buy, JCPenney, Kohl’s & Kmart have handed out goodies like gift cards and even movie tickets to folks at the front of the line.

6. Consider Opening a Store Charge Account

Once you’ve made it to the store, you may consider asking about opening a store charge account to get an extra discount. While most stores offer 10% or 15% off your first purchase with a new account, some may have restrictions on sale days like Black Friday. If they don’t, you’ve scored an extra discount off of your Black Friday merch! Keep in mind, store cards usually have a high annual percentage rate (APR) so it’s a good idea to pay them in full. If you can’t, the rewards won’t be worth it. (Not sure if your finances can handle another credit card? You can view two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

7. Divide & Conquer

If there’s a store where you need to get several items, see if you can find a friend to join you. Compare lists and help each other out. You can dash off to the electronics section to grab discounted Apple Watches, and they can check out those doorbuster beauty deals you read about.

8. Don’t Ignore the Internet

If you just can’t bear the thought of pounding the pavement and fighting the crowds for deals, stay in, grab a cup of coffee, and check out the online deals. E-commerce retailers like Amazon (see my shopping hacks here), Target, Wal-Mart, Newegg and Best Buy are your best bet, as year after year they have offered Black Friday deals. Those with physical stores (like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy) may have exclusive online deals.

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4 Things To Watch Out for This Black Friday

Black Friday is right around the corner, and shoppers are already being primed by retailers for the kind of buying gluttony that makes eater’s remorse look like a bloated post-Thanksgiving walk in the park.

In the same way that dieters count calories before they start gorging in order to avoid weight gain this time of year, the best way to avoid the accumulation of extra debt is to create a spending plan, a.k.a. a budget, and then stick to it.

While this may sound simple, it’s not something that should exist in a nebulous way. You can’t have a list in your head and engage in sensible spending unless you have an army of elves on your payroll. Make that list. Check it twice. And then forget who was naughty or nice: Spend what you can afford. Here are some more tips that can help protect your finances this holiday shopping season.

1. Carefully Consider Store Credit Cards

One way to stretch your spending power is to increase your available credit. Many retailers offer credit cards with zero interest for a certain period of time, instant approval, and occasionally a decent discount

Before you accept the offer or decide that you can manage more available credit while maintaining a utilization ratio under 10% (a best practice for maximizing your credit score), make sure you understand the terms of engagement. That zero-interest period offered in big type on the card application may morph into a high-interest loan before you know it, and with that, the likelihood increases exponentially that any discount you received for signing up will be lost to interest payments.

If you do elect to get a new credit card, just make sure you can manage your credit responsibly by keeping your debt levels low and making payments on time. (You can check on your finances by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. Note Deal Exclusions

It is not unusual to be mugged by your own expectations during the holiday season. This is especially the case when it comes to special offers and deep retailer discounts. Never forget that they were engineered by marketing pros to get you to the store.

What happens when you get there can often be an infuriatingly familiar tale of holiday shopping woe: The particular item that you want — generally something that a lot of people want, and which sells briskly without the aid of the proffered discount — is not eligible for the promotion, something you would have known had you been able to understand the auctioneer-speed exclusions read at the end of the 30-second ad spot or taken the time to read the print ad.

If you see a promotion this holiday season, if the must-have toy that cannot be found is supposedly available, or if a promotion has you thinking that you’re going to get off easy financially on a particular gift purchase, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make sure you’re not hitting the shopper frustration zone.

Remember: If it seems too good to be true, it may well be.

3. Beware Gift Card Fraud

There’s nothing worse than hitting 10 outlet stores on Black Friday and coming up empty for someone on your list. Gift cards can be a great way to solve your holiday shopping shortfalls. Who doesn’t like store credit? But beware of the scams.

Fraudsters have been known to photograph the numbers on gift cards at a store and then call the customer service departments identified on the back of the cards to see if (and when) they have been activated, so they can drain them. If you give a card, you might want to tell the recipient that it’s best to use it as soon as possible.

Avoid buying gift cards from a third party, since there are many counterfeiters out there and you cannot be sure that you are getting what you paid for. That said, the multiple retailer card displays that you encounter at supermarkets and pharmacy chains are generally a safe place to buy gift cards.

4. Research Store Promotions

The best way to navigate Black Friday deals is to master them before you go shopping. Thinking about applying for a store credit card? Do the research before you’re at the checkout counter and facing down a 10-to-20% discount. If you know which retailers you are going to visit, go online and find out what promotions they have. Plan your day according to those promotions, since other shoppers will have done their homework as well, and the best deals will be where you encounter the longest lines if you don’t get in line at the crack of dawn.

As with all things shopping-related, if you do the legwork before you actually hoof it to your local mall or outlet center, you will get the best bang for your buck. Make a plan and stick to it.

Bottom line: Anyone can get through the holiday season without suffering the personal finance version of seasonal weight gain, but you can’t wing it.

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Mall of America to Close on Thanksgiving This Year

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Big stores make headlines for keeping their doors open during the holidays, but not every major retailer will be open this Thanksgiving.

In fact, Mall of America, the nation’s largest shopping space, told employees and tenants Wednesday morning that it has, for the first time ever, no plans to open on Thanksgiving Day. Though its 520-plus stores have the option to remain open on the holiday, mall executives told the StarTribune they expect they’ll stay closed.

As the paper notes, most of the 1,200 mall workers will get the holiday off, and if stores follow its lead, their employees will also not work that day. A small number of security and maintenance personnel will be on hand at the Minnesota shopping center, however, in case some stores are open.

In recent years, the Black Friday craze has crept into Thanksgiving Day, but some major chains are bucking the trend. Among the many stores that refused to open on Thanksgiving Day last year were DSW, Nordstrom and Costco.

According to TheBlackFriday, a site that tracks Black Friday deals among big-box retailers like Best Buy and Wal-Mart, several stores will remain open on turkey day this year, including Walgreens, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Target.

How to Shop Smart This Holiday 

The Mall of America may be closed on Thanksgiving, but that won’t stop some shoppers from going shopping and racking up debt. With all the door-buster deals and temptations out there, it’s understandable. But having a field day with your credit card can be a recipe for trouble if you can’t manage your debt or make payments on time. If you find yourself in trouble after a holiday spent racking up charges, be sure to check in on your credit to see where you stand and what you need to improve. You can view a free snapshot of your credit report on Credit.com.

Image: Kikovic

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What the Heck Is ‘Spring Black Friday’?

How to Avoid Panic Buying on Black Friday

If you’re among those people who get up before the sun rises just to save a few bucks on a TV the morning after binging on mashed potatoes and gravy, listen up: Lowe’s and Home Depot are having a special spring Black Friday sale, giving you the chance to get all the mulch and wheelbarrows your heart desires.

These sales last longer than a day (Lowe’s goes through April 11; Home Depot’s ends April 18), so you won’t need a tent to camp out this time, although you may pick one up while shopping.

Why Is This a Thing?

Retailers really like the idea of having promotions tied to Black Friday deals. The term causes consumers’ internal “big savings alert!” alarm to go off, so it’s an easy campaign for brands to run. If winter weather took its toll on decks, yards, or fences, these companies will likely see an additional boost in sales for things needed for repairs. Plus, many shoppers are looking for big-ticket summer items, such as grills and patio furniture.

How to Make the Most of It Without Breaking the Bank

If you’re escaping cabin fever brought on by the latest Nor’easter (or your city’s equivalent), these deals may sound appealing. Just make sure they’re in your budget, discounted or not. Making large purchases, especially on your credit card, can cause you to rack up unwanted debt if you’re not careful. (And maxing out your credit cards for the perfect outdoor furniture set can also ding your credit score. You can see how your credit card balances are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

If there is something you want to purchase at a sale, it’s still a good idea to shop around, even online. Just because big letters in bright colors are saying there’s a sale doesn’t mean you should hand over your money right away. Read the fine print — are there restrictions or limitations on returns? — and make sure what you’re buying really is a good deal (and something you actually need).

More Money-Saving Reads:

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