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How to Save on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Shopping for Black Friday bargains has become as much of a Thanksgiving-weekend tradition as turkey dinner, homecoming football games, and guilt-free naps. More than 99 million U.S. shoppers hit the mall last Thanksgiving weekend, while another 108.5 million shopped online for Black Friday bargains.

Perennial predictions that ecommerce will end the annual shopping ritual has been proven false. But there’s no question that online retailers have changed the face of holiday shopping. To track down hottest Black Friday deals, it pays to have a strategy that combines real-world shopping with online bargain hunting.

When considering your approach, the most significant consideration may be that “Black Friday” has become something of a misnomer. Many sales that once began when stores opened the day after Thanksgiving now start at midnight on Thanksgiving morning, and they extend through the weekend to the online bargain blitz known as Cyber Monday. To be first in line for these Black Friday-weekend bargains, you’ll need to be on the move Wednesday night!

To get the hottest deals on Black Friday, here are some suggestions for maximizing your efforts, both online and in the real world:

1. Scout ahead for Black Friday deals.

Hard-copy circulars are still distributed to mailboxes and inserted in newspapers around most of the country. But the quickest way to check out most deals is online, where many are already available to review. Check individual retailers’ websites, or visitBlackFriday.com, a great resource that gathers the circulars for many national retail chains. Use the circulars to zero in on the deals that matter most to you.

2. Read sales disclaimers to avoid gimmicks.

The steepest Black Friday discounts often apply to items that are available only in very small numbers at any given store. Besides too-good-to-be-true prices, you can recognize them by disclaimers like:

  • “Quantities limited” notations in sales circulars.
  • Limits of one item per customer.
  • Indications the items are not available online at that price.
  • Indications that rain checks will not be issued for them at that price.

It’s a safe bet that you’ll need to be at the store at opening time the day the sale starts if you want to take one of those prizes home. If the retailer has more than one outlet in your area, consider traveling a little further, to a less-crowded store, to boost your odds of claiming the hot item.

3. Create a wishlist.

List the items you want to pounce on and when the sales begin at each retailer. Prioritize based on potential savings, and work out a schedule that gets you to each outlet as early as is practical or preferable. Note that some sale items may be available online at the same prices and that the retailer may even set it aside for you to pick-up in the store. When possible, let store personnel do the legwork for you.

4. Check the store’s inventory.

The store probably won’t tell you ahead of time how many of each “doorbuster” item it has in stock, but it can’t hurt to ask. (If you find out, and get in line before the store opens, you can poll folks in line ahead of you to see how hotly contested your target items will be; you may decide you’re better off going back to bed.) You can also ask store staff where they’ll be displaying the item(s) as well, and know the layout ahead of time so you can find it fast.

5. Resist sales pitches.

A tactic common in consumer-electronics stores is to require you to speak with a salesperson to get big-ticket items—a salesperson trained to pitch add-on items such as pricey cables, connectors and adapters. If you resist the pitch, you’ll likely find you can get any necessary accessories more affordably elsewhere. The salespeople also may be trained to push extended warranties or store-repair contracts. Those generally aren’t worth the cost.

6. Search for the best deals on your phone.

Retailers use Black Friday bargains (and sales pricing the rest of the year as well) to lure you in, hoping you’ll be enticed to buy some full-priced merchandise along with your sale items. That’s a great strategy for the merchant, but it can undo some of the savings you’ve sought.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grab some stocking stuffers along with the main items on your list, but keep your phone handy in the store, and check for opportunities to get better deals online or elsewhere. Black Friday weekend leaves ample time for delivery or in-store pickup before Christmas and Kwanzaa, and even before Hanukkah, which begins fairly early this year (Dec. 12).

7. Use your credit card for rewards.

Check the perks connected with your credit card(s), and make the most of them on your Black Friday expedition. Besides accumulating bonus points, travel miles, or cash back, some cards also provide low-price guarantees and extensions to manufacturer warranties.

Note that heavy holiday spending could lower your credit scores, especially if your outstanding balance exceeds 30% of your card’s spending limit. Consider making a card payment soon after your shopping spree, before you even get the bill reflecting those purchases, to minimize the credit-score impact. (See also: Best Credit Cards for You)

8. Determine if opening a store card is right for you.

Cashiers at many retailers are trained to promote in-store credit cards during the holiday season, often by promising to sweeten the deals you’ve racked up by taking off an additional 10% or more.

There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of that, but be aware that accepting the offer will likely result in a temporary reduction of your credit scores. When you agree to accept a store card, you’re authorizing the store to make a hard inquiry on your credit file, which typically causes a small reduction in your FICO® Score and other credit scores.

Your score will likely rebound within a few months as long as you keep up with your bills, but if you plan to seek a loan for a major purchase in the New Year, it may make sense to say no, thanks, or wait until spring to give your credit scores time to bounce back. (See also: Are Store Cards Worth It?)

9. Calculate your total cost.

Before you mount a shopping expedition, consider tallying up what an outing on the busiest retail days of the year will cost, and ask yourself if the bargains you seek are worth it.

Bear in mind the cost of fuel, meals at the mall for you and your entourage, and your precious time and potential frustration over near-miss bargain items. But if the deals or just the thrill of shopping prove irresistible, happy hunting!

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