Some people think Black Friday was so-named because they can’t imagine anything worse than getting up in the wee hours to fight hordes of people to save a few bucks on a big-screen TV. Actually, the day was eventually dubbed that because it’s the day that stores can finally find their books “in the black” (“black” meaning profit, “red” meaning loss, in accountants’ jargon) through the money they rake in the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers traditionally make at least 30 percent of their sales between Black Friday and Christmas, and this year’s Black Friday sales in the U.S. are forecast to exceed $1 trillion.
And for shoppers, you can actually save more than a few bucks if you know how to go about it in the right way. So Billshark wants to offer you these six tips on getting the most from your holiday shopping list.
1. Plan your battle
There are so many retailers jockeying for your money that it’s hard to know where to go first. This includes both the online and brick-and-mortar merchants. There are thousands of them, and only one you, so before you set out on Friday you need to have in hand a budget, a list, and a strategy for snaring the best deals.
2. Start with the ads
Once you know whom you have to buy for and how much you have available to spend, start checking the ads. Several apps are available to monitor weekly ads for some of the biggest retailers. Or you can go online yourself to browse the ads for your favorite stores. Either bookmark or save the link to Favorites when you see an item you want to buy. And of course, follow your favorite stores’ social media sites to see their ads as soon as they’re posted. (If you’re really old school, get your local Sunday and Thanksgiving Day newspapers, which are crammed with flyers, pore through them and make your list.)
3. Beware of come-ons
This somewhat shady practice comes in two varieties. The first is the “sale” price, which may not be a sale at all. Be sure to check the store’s original price before deciding this is a real bargain. Price comparison sites can also help you get the best deal on popular items between stores.
The second type is an ad offering a jaw-dropping price on a particularly popular item, often called a “doorbuster” or “early-bird special.” Too often you’ll stand in line for hours only to find it’s sold out when you get inside. That’s because some retailers will have only a handful of the super-cheap item which they’ll sell at a loss to get people into the store, and cover themselves in the tiny print like this: “While supplies last.” Unless it’s something you absolutely cannot live without, don’t waste your time hoping to get it while you could be scoring real deals somewhere else.
4. Plan your shopping trip
If you want to make a day of it, divide your list into two: online and brick-and-mortar stores. If you have a smartphone, you can do your online shopping any time, even waiting in line at stores. Then further divide the second list into a logical path from store to store so you don’t waste time and gas zigzagging all over town. Start with the store closest to you, then literally map out an itinerary through your town. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and decide where you’ll eat lunch. And always bring the ads along for price-matching purposes, as well as any coupons you’ve found. For the latter, mark on your list that you have a coupon for that item so you don’t forget it at check-out.
5. Shop smart
Always check out the store’s return policy, and see whether they engage in the increasingly popular (with stores, not customers) practice of charging a “restocking fee.” And ask for gift receipts that you can enclose with gifts to make it easier for your recipients to return the item later.
6. Shop early
Many retailers have already started offering their Black Friday deals. Just because Black Friday is the traditional kick-off to the holiday season doesn’t mean you must restrict yourself to that day. Many stores have started opening on Thanksgiving day, and many more merchants start trying to snare your holiday dollar by offering steep discounts earlier in the month. Amazon, for example, is among them, and the giant website is also offering free shipping on all holiday orders, even if you’re not a Prime member.
Black Friday sales can certainly make your holiday budget go further, but only if you do your homework in advance. And speaking of your holiday budget, if you need extra cash for that or any other purpose, let Billshark’s sharks help you save money on your bills.