Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S., has long signaled the start of the Christmas shopping season. From the moment Santa dismounts at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Christmas has begun and the race to the stores is on.
The term “Black Friday” originated in Philadelphia in the early ’60s, where police used it to describe the post-Thanksgiving shopping traffic. Referring to the day as Black Friday didn’t come into widespread use until the mid-’80s and, in fact, it didn’t even become the busiest shopping day of the year until 2005.
Now that we’ve accepted Black Friday shopping as part of our lives as Americans, how do you survive the day intact and with a car full of presents? Here are some Black Friday shopping tips for you to live by.
How to be a doorbuster
As the start of Black Friday sales crept up in recent years from early Friday morning to after dinner Thursday night to even earlier on Thanksgiving day, it has become part of the Turkey Day weekend tradition for many families.
Whether you’re hitting up the stores that keep regular hours on Thanksgiving or lining up overnight for Midnight doorbuster sales, the key is to have a Black Friday survival plan.
1. Go before Thanksgiving dinner
Like it or not, Black Friday has taken over Thursday, as well. Some well-known retailers will be open legitimately early on Thanksgiving Day.
This year, go Black Thursday shopping early and then have a chill dinner afterwards and spend quality time with your family. Better yet, maybe don’t go on Thanksgiving Day at all. The sales will still be there on Friday.
2. Make a list
Know what you want, and where to get it. Don’t go to the store just looking for “the best deals” or you’ll come out empty and sad or broke and sad. Figure out what you want for everyone on your list, and for yourself. Consider gifts for big events coming up for the year (a loved one’s milestone birthday or a wedding). If you know what you’re out to get, you’ll have focus and a successful haul.
3. Have a budget and stick to it
Those giant shiny sale signs can be enticing, and it’s also super easy to get caught up in all the great deals. Even if everything is 50 percent off, you can still max out your credit card if you don’t pay attention.
Decide what you can afford and stick to that. Then, you won’t make unnecessary impulse purchases or overspend.
4. Know return policies and get gift receipts
Return policies and restocking fees from Black Friday can vary store to store. Some have no returns on discounted items and others are very liberal but within a limited time, like 14 or 30 days for unopened, undamaged purchases.
Research the store’s policies before you go. With an open return policy, if you see a good deal you can snag it and change your mind later. And always get a gift receipt for presents in case your perfect gift, isn’t.
5. Dress appropriately
Black Friday need not be a fashion show. Dress comfortably. It won’t be unusual to see people in line for midnight openings in pajamas. Wear loose-fitting, easy-to-move-in clothing. Pockets are great for coupons, notes and your phone.
If it’s going to be cold out and you’ll be waiting in line, bring enough winter gear (in layers) so you don’t get sick. But you’ll be going from a cold parking lot to a warm store, so find a happy medium.
Expect a lot of standing, walking and maybe even running. Pick the right pair of shoes to stay on your feet all day. Oh, and don’t wear red to Target or blue to Best Buy unless you want to be bombarded with questions.
6. Use shopping bags
Have you ever tried maneuvering a shopping cart through the aisles on Black Friday? You might as well have stayed stuck in traffic.
Unless you’re buying a giant flat screen, bring bags to hold all the items you’re going to purchase if they’re small enough. Or grab a basket or one of those mini carts instead.
7. Split up
Family time is fun. But not when there are deals to be had. It doesn’t take you, your spouse and your kids to pick out an Xbox. If you all split up (older kids only, leave the young ones at home – but not alone), you can cover more ground and discover more discounts. Go to different departments in the store, or even go to different stores.
8. Target just one store
If you’re setting out at the height of the Black Friday madness, you might be wasting your time and resources to jump store to store.
If you can get everything you want at one store, pick just one and grab as many of your wishlist items as possible.
9. Target one item
Or even better, have just one item that’s your goal. Something big ticket and deeply discounted, or that must-have toy of the season. That way you can go to the store, grab what you need with laser focus, and get out of the craziness.
Just do your research and make sure that one item is worth it – Black Friday isn’t the best pricing day for everything. Electronics have the best deals that day, and clothing has the worst.
10. Online shop only
Not willing to brave the crowds and the lack of sleep? Just shop online. You may not get 60 percent off a new television online (and you probably won’t in the store either), but you can get some good deals from Amazon or on major retailers’ sites if you do the research and work.
Last year, 70 percent of Black Friday sales were available, at least briefly, at the store’s websites, according to DealNews.com.
11. Eat out
Many stores start their Black Friday sales right after dinnertime on Thanksgiving night. If hitting shopping after dinner is your plan, an alternative is to go out to eat. That way, you’re not wasting your time cleaning up or puttering around while Uncle Steve regales everyone with stories of his fishing trip.
As soon as you’re done eating, you can head out and hit the stores. This works especially well if your chosen restaurant is in the same shopping center with your targeted store. Just be sure you make dinner reservations right now.
12. Comparison shop
When you go shopping with your phone in hand, it’s easy to make sure the price you’re getting on an item is a good deal. When you see something you want to throw in your cart, look up the item on your phone at other stores and see if you’re getting a good, or similar, price.
Amazon has a feature that lets you scan the product barcode and look it right up. Apps like PriceGrabber, NexTag, Pricewatch and Shopzilla will do the research for you in an instant. And always check that the price you’re paying matches the ad you read, and nicely insist on that price if it doesn’t.
13. Stalk Twitter
The first place a new sale, special discount or flash deal will appear is on a store’s Twitter feed. Create a Twitter List of your favorite stores and check that feed regularly throughout the day, especially when you’re in or near the store.
Everyone focuses on first-through-the-door sales, but stores want to get rid of stock so be on the Twitter lookout for announcements for late night deals, too.
14. Be careful
In the last decade or so, there have been 10 reported Black Friday-related deaths and 111 injuries in the U.S. Be careful, watch out for others acting suspicious or irrationally and stay out of rushing mobs.
If you ever feel unsafe, remove yourself from the situation and find security. And in the parking lot, drive like everyone else is an old lady.
15. Scout ahead
If you’re gung-ho to hit the stores the moment they open, you’re going to want to know exactly where to go. Check out your targeted stores in the days leading up to Black Friday and see where your wishlist items will be set up, where special displays are being erected and where each department is. You may even spy an early sale if you’re vigilant.
16. Wait for Cyber Monday
If Black Friday seems too much or too overwhelming, then hold off and wait for Cyber Monday. This is the day that you’ll find the most deeply discounted items online and tons of special deals and flash sales.
Your best bet on Cyber Monday? While Black Friday is about deep discounts at big box stores, some of the best deals online on Monday are from smaller retailers and online-only stores.
17. Shop off-price stores another time
If actually going to a store and physically walking the aisles and feeling the items is part of your process, but you’d rather lock yourself in your apartment than go out on Black Friday, consider doing all of your shopping at “off-price” stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Sierra Trading Post another time before Christmas and Hanukkah. The stock is inconsistent at these type of stores, but the prices are nearly always discounted.
18. Use one credit card
Identity theft and data breaches are an everyday threat, but your guard should be especially up on Black Friday among all the craziness. Keep an eye on your wallet or purse, cover the keypad with your hand if you’re entering a PIN number and don’t log into stores’ free Wi-Fi.
And find one credit card you like and use only that one during the day. The more credit cards you’re actively using, the more chance you’ll be a victim of a data breach.
19. Use rewards programs
And if you’re following that advice and only using one credit card, make sure it’s a rewards card with significant benefits if you’re going to spend a lot of money on Black Friday. Make those dollars work for you with cash back, airline miles or hotel points.
20. Don’t go
For many of us, the giant discount on a huge TV just isn’t worth the trade-off of rushing through Thanksgiving dinner or waking up at the crack of dawn on a holiday Friday.
Maybe the best survival tip for Black Friday is skipping it and spending your Thanksgiving concentrating on family and friends and leave the shopping for later.