The first time I got up at 4 a.m. to Christmas shop, the journey was one of necessity. My husband had been desperately ill, money was tight and I had two little girls who really needed a bit of Christmas magic.
Over time, the urgency has faded some, but the habit has remained. I enjoy the hunt — and I love talking to strangers who have strategized their Black Friday journey, poring over ads, sometimes assigning different friends or relatives in a divide-and-conquer treasure hunt. I’ve met families, too, for whom the tradition is one of joy because they tackle the task together.
Yup. Husbands and wives who sneak out pre-dawn to score that gift that might otherwise be out of the budget. Sisters who view Black Friday shopping as an appetizer to a great breakfast outing. Friends who do their Angel Tree or Sub for Santa shopping this way.
But getting what you want isn’t always as easy as simply showing up. There’s some strategy — and some luck, as well. And yes, you could stay home and just shop online. But there’s something to be said for making the journey.
With inflation, getting a good deal may be more important than usual. Deloitte Insights reported that this holiday season, 37% of households say their financial situation is worse than last year.
Fortunately, there’s a lot of advice out there. Here are some of the better tips:
- Look at the ads early. Sites like BestBlackFriday.com, GottaDeal.com and BlackFriday.com start posting Black Friday ads weeks in advance. By the time you read this, you’re already a bit behind, but you can do some armchair sleuthing as late as Thanksgiving Day to see what’s on sale and who has the best deal while you want for that turkey dinner to settle.
- Check out the apps of your favorite stores. Consumer Reports points out that retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, Target and Walmart have their own mobile shopping apps. “Amazon’s mobile app, for example, lets you use a smartphone camera to scan products and compare prices when you’re in a store.”
- While you’re at it, check out those retailers’ social feeds: You may score news about exclusive deals and promotions, per Consumer Reports.
- Know store policies in advance. Some stores price match on Black Friday. Some price match almost any time but Black Friday. And return policies matter as well. Don’t forget the gift receipt either.
- See if a deal is really a deal. CamelCamelCamel.com will show you what an item has sold for recently, up to 120 days.
- If the deal’s great, don’t worry about size. The Krazy Coupon Lady says you can fix that later by making an exchange. Except, of course, with clearance items.
- If you do that, though, know those return policies. Some exclude Black Friday deals.
- The Krazy Coupon Lady also suggests shopping at home improvement stores and drugstores.
- Pay attention to mail-in rebates — and don’t forget to claim them.
- Make a list — and a budget — and stick to them. That advice comes from the pros and from experienced Black Friday shoppers alike. A great deal feels like a failure if it turns out that you didn’t need the item or you blew past the amount you can afford to spend.
- Use apps and online tools that let you look at prices across multiple retailers. NBC News says that “tools like PriceBlink allow you to compare prices across multiple retailers, and others — including Amazon Assistant and Karma browser extension — monitor prices and alert you when they drop for products you’re interested in.”
- BlueHost.com says to leave the kids home. Then again, they might want to score some deals too.
- Ask about extra coupons or discounts before you finish the transaction. You never know.
- Don’t fight over items. If someone’s willing to play tug-of-war to get a deal, let them. You don’t need the hassle or the potential for injury. I worked retail years ago during a sale where people were shoving each other around. No discount’s worth that.
- Finally, Kiplinger suggests you have a backup plan in case you don’t get everything you want.