The Debt Guru’s Official Black Friday Survival Guide

By Mike Peterson
In November 12, 2012

Halloween is behind us, Thanksgiving is on the way – and the holiday shopping season is nearly upon us.  That’s right:  Now that November is here, those big holiday sales are right around the corner.  But are they worth it?  Where do you find the best Black Friday deals? Should you wait for Cyber Monday instead?  And what the heck is Cyber Monday, anyway?  When should you pounce on an “early-bird” special?


Whew!  Just thinking about holiday shopping can be almost as stressful as fighting the 5 a.m. doorbuster crowd at Best Buy.  But don’t worry:  Black Friday doesn’t have to be overwhelming.  If you’re planning on doing a little post-Thanksgiving bargain hunting this month, I’ve put together a guide to help you get through the shopping season with your sanity (mostly) intact.


Use these tips for a significantly less stressful Black Friday shopping experience:


Tip 1:  Check out the pre-Black Friday store circulars.  Right around Thanksgiving, most newspapers are bursting with inserts from every big-box store you can think of.  Even if you don’t typically read the sales inserts, you should make a point of scanning the Black Friday-themed ones – especially if you’re looking for the best deal on specific, big-ticket items like TVs, laptops, or major appliances.  Plus, these circulars may contain other useful tidbits, such as “early bird” or “doorbuster” specials, extended store hours, and special coupons or shopping passes.


If you’re not much of a newspaper person – or if you want to make sure you get the lowdown on all the best deals and special shopping events, you might want to expand your deal-hunting to the Internet.  This brings me to my next tip . . .


Tip 2:  Follow your favorite retailers online.  Sign up to receive special offers and notifications via email – often, email subscribers hear about the best sales and deals before everyone else.  Email subscribers also get special coupons and promo codes that the rest of us never see.  Another way to stay connected to your favorite stores?  “Like” them on Facebook.


Tip 3:  Don’t get blinded by doorbusters.  On Black Friday, most stores offer all sorts of crazy “doorbuster” or “early bird” specials on certain items:   Dirt-cheap laptops, ridiculously inexpensive flat-screen TVs, you name it.  You can score some great deals by shopping Black Friday sales – but remember that the deals are only really “great” if you’re getting a good-quality item that you were planning to buy anyway.  In some cases, those doorbuster deals are actually stripped-down versions of the regular product – you’ll pay less, but you may also get a lower-quality item (think:  lower picture quality, fewer features, and fewer – or no – accessories included).


This tradeoff isn’t always a deal-breaker – but it is something to consider.  For instance, if you’re buying a cheap laptop for your ‘tween, you may be fine with the fact that it’s got a significantly smaller hard drive or doesn’t have a built-in Blu-Ray player.  But if you’re buying the family a brand-new television, you might want to pay a little extra for all the bells and whistles.  You might even be able to do a little bargaining with the sales staff.  They profit more from the sale of regular items than doorbusters, so they may be willing to work with you a bit.


Tip 4:  Make a schedule.  Speaking of doorbusters and early-bird deals, many of them have strict time limits – you can only get the price if you shop between certain set hours, or before a certain time, etc.   If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on these deals, it’s a good idea to have a game plan before you hit the stores.  Prioritize your shopping – start with the sales you’re most interested in, and go from there.  Make sure you know when stores open and close.  It’s also a good idea to check out their policy on rainchecks.


Tip 5: Bring store ads with you.  One of the great things about Black Friday is that every store wants to give you the best deal.  Many stores offer some sort of price-matching or low-price guarantee – but most of them also need to see proof that you found a better deal.  Remember the sales circulars I mentioned in tip #1?  Hang onto them and have them with you when you shop.  One thing to keep in mind, though:  Brick-and-mortar retailers typically don’t match online sale prices.  But many stores will give you a discount to keep you from going down the street to a competing store.


Tip 6: Read return policies carefully.  Before you make a purchase, it’s a good idea to check out a store’s return policy.  Many retailers have special return policies specifically for holiday shopping.  Does the store charge a restocking fee?  Is there a time limit on returns?  Can you get your money back, or are you limited to store credit only?  Even if you don’t think you’ll be returning anything, it’s worth investigating.  Better safe than sorry.


And speaking of returns, if you’re buying things for other people, make sure you ask for a gift receipt. A gift receipt won’t tell how much you paid for the item – but it will serve as a proof of purchase in case the item needs to be exchanged or returned.


Tip 7:  Skip the stores entirely.  If the thought of fighting the Black Friday crowds seriously makes you cringe, you might want to consider online shopping instead.  “Cyber Monday,” which takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving, is a day when many online retailers offer super-low prices and discounts.  Many offer free shipping, too.  While Cyber Monday has typically been associated with online-only stores, you can also find deals from the online versions of brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart or Target.  You’ll get the same great deals – but without the added stress of finding a parking spot and dealing with the crowds.


So, there you have it:  My best tips for making the most of Black Friday.


P.S.:  Want to make sure you’re on top of the latest Black Friday sales?  There are a few websites that actually do this for you.  Not sure where to start?  Check out and to see the latest deals.


Safe and happy shopping!

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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