Top 10 Black Friday Shopping Tips

A lot of people have post-Thanksgiving traditions, like touch football or the movies. Many other people head to the stores for great discounts as early as midnight, just a few hours after finishing up their holiday meals. The discounts are great. The merchandise is hot. And it's a great way to get a jump start on the holidays. But shopping amid such frenzy can be mind-boggling, so you need to arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can ahead of time and shop smart. These tips should help you get through the day, getting the most possible for your time and hard-earned money.

1. Reward yourself
Now is when you should start thinking about how you're going to pay for all these holiday purchases. You'll get a lot of pressure to use or open a store credit card for an extra 10% off, but don't fall for this credit buster. Instead, plan ahead and apply for a cash-back card with 0% APR for six or 12 months. You'll make 1% (or more) on all your holiday buys, just make sure you don't carry a balance.

And be sure to check the Black Friday ads and shop at stores offering gift cards with purchases. If it's a store you shop at often, it's like cash back.

2. Recalculate
Successful Black Friday shoppers have a plan, an alternate plan, and an alternate alternate plan. Program your GPS for your intended destination, use an old-fashioned map, or utilize an online route-planner like this one from Bing. Calculate alternate routes in case of bad traffic and try to stay in one part of town for all your shopping. If you're taking taxi's or public transportation, don't be too ambitious. Pick one or two stores that are close by and call it a day.

3. Bust the door
It might sound like a burden to stay up all night or stand in line 5 a.m., but it's just one day a year. If you're serious about bargain-hunting -- and you have to be to even head out of your house on Black Friday -- just do it. There really are serious doorbuster deals to be had for early shoppers. This year, stores are opening earlier than ever and some have doorbusters slated for the day before Black Friday, letting you shop after Thanksgiving dinner. And don't just think about the mall or big box stores for this day. Some downtown shopping areas, main street shops, and boutiques offer great deals too.

4. Be selfish
The best thing to shop for on Black Friday is apparel. Retailers will be desperate for you to buy clothing, with the department stores gunning for your dollars with doorbusters and store-wide clearance sales. You should see great deals from Sears, JCPenney and Kohl's, and the mall stores like American Eagle, Express and Gap. The best way to shop for clothing is in person. So browse the deals and pick up a few things for yourself and then for the other people on your list. Just make sure you know sizes ahead of time, so you can just grab the right sweater and move on.

5. Grab that TV
Most of us have already upgraded to HDTV and few, if any, are interested in paying a premium for new 3D TVs. Retailers and manufacturers are very interested in moving big ticket TVs and Black Friday prices reflect that. Typically, only off-brand or lesser quality electronics are deeply discounted or offered as doorbusters. Not this year; look for big screen high-quality TVs from big brands like Sony, Samsung and LG. Just make sure to do your research before heading out, stores will be madhouses and customer service hard to find. Know what you want and don't expect to have questions answered.

6. Be the squeaky wheel
Oh, you think retailers put those price tags on items because that's what they expect you to pay? The recession has brought back bargaining, so find the item you want for less somewhere else, print the ad, and show it to the manager. Or download a Black Friday App to your smartphone and check competitors' prices with the ads right there before checking out. The store might not have an official price-matching policy, but you could still walk away with a discount just because retailers are desperate to keep customers. If that doesn't work, ask for the friends and family discount, birthday discount or simply name your price. If it's reasonable, you just might get it.

7. Dress lightly, carry a big calculator
Leave your coat in the car, dress in layers, have snacks in your pockets and make sure you bring some kind of mathematical device to add up your purchases. The most important thing you can do to ensure you don't blow your Black Friday budget is keep track of what's going in your cart, either with an electronic device or notepad. That said, the other important thing to remember is that you need to set a budget limit for yourself before you set foot out your door. Don't just go and graze, like you would at an all-you-can eat buffet.

8. Facebook your gift list
You've gotten used to social networking, so apply that approach to your gift list. Be like Santa and make a list of who you want to buy for and who you don't. Black Friday is perfect for impulse buys, but you don't want to fall prey. You can't just see some shiny bauble and think it will make a great gift for someone, and two years later still have it gathering dust in your closet. A good list includes all the major family members, plus all those "extra" people: your co-workers, babysitters, mailmen, etc. Think about everyone you know who might be expecting a treat and make sure they are covered.
And, use Facebook to find out about sales and special daily deals. "Follow" your favorite retailers and see what their friendship brings.

9. Get proof
Face it, you're not going to like everything you buy on a whim on Black Friday. Check return policies and be consistent about getting receipts and keeping them with the merchandise (not shoved all in a pile in your desk). Try keeping the receipt in the bag, taking the bag directly to the closet and stashing it until you need it. This is especially important because prices typically drop closer to Christmas, and you'll want to make the most of your discount by returning items for a lower price. Just beware of restocking fees and other hitches to your return.

10. Fly solo
That may sound like no fun, and most Black Friday advice says to pal up for the day. But unless your shopping partner is more of a personal assistant to follow you around and do your bidding, shopping with another person (or worse, a group) will only slow you down. You'll spend time chatting and browsing on another person's agenda instead of your own. If you get separated, as will surely happen, you'll spend too much time trying to track down the other person. Carpooling, on the other hand, is a great idea. But just go with the expectation that you'll split up and meet back at the car at an appointed time.

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