8 ways to simplify Black Friday shopping

Besides readying your house for company, preparing a Thanksgiving meal and, well, working, nabbing the top deals on Black Friday can seem like an impossible task. However, with experts predicting that the average consumer will spend more than $935 on the holidays this year, some shoppers may be hesitant to opt out of the deal-heavy weekend entirely.

Luckily, there are several ways to simplify your Black Friday strategy to secure both savings and your sanity. Consider the following tips to avoid stressing during the busiest holiday shopping weekend of the year.

1. Take advantage of savings now. Many stores are offering Black Friday deals ahead of Thursday and Friday, enabling shoppers to spread out their shopping beyond the hectic holiday weekend. For example, Target is offering "Black Friday Early Access" on Wednesday and Thursday of this week to online and in-store shoppers who use their Cartwheel app. Example deals include a dollhouse with a 15-piece furniture set for $69 ($50 savings), Beats Solo wireless headphones for $199.99 ($180 savings) and "Battlefield 1" for Xbox for $35 (compared to $59.99). With some deals available for the picking now, there's no sense in fighting the crowds for all your holiday gift needs.

2. Leave deal-finding to the experts. One of the most time-consuming tasks leading up to Black Friday is all the deals research you have to do to determine who has what you want for the best price. However, there are several sites that do this legwork for you, not to mention news broadcasts highlighting top deals leading up to the big shopping event. Check out Dealnews.com for Black Friday buying guides and comprehensive lists of top deals from popular product categories, such as TVs, tablets, home appliances and more.

3. Know what products to avoid. By now, most consumers know that Black Friday isn't the end-all, be-all of holiday savings. In fact, there are some popular gift items better purchased after the shopping holiday, including winter apparel, fine jewelry and even kids' toys. Scratch these items off your Black Friday shopping list and focus instead on the real deals, like HDTVs, gaming consoles, cookware and other electronic gadgets.

Stores that will be open on Thanksgiving and Black Friday:

4. Shop online for early access. Many stores offer Black Friday deals online before opening their doors to in-store shoppers. What's the point of queuing up for hours when you can score the same deals from home? Wal-Mart, for example, is expanding its online Black Friday deals inventory by over 50 percent compared to last year, and giving digital shoppers access to the deals starting Thanksgiving morning. While Kohl's is opening its doors at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, the department store has been offering Black Friday deals online since Monday, Nov. 21.

Online deals are also available for those stores choosing not to open physical locations on Thanksgiving Day. The Home Depot, for example, will make Black Friday deals available to online shoppers starting at 6 a.m. on Thursday, with doors opening at physical locations 24 hours later. Similarly, Sam's Club is not opening on Thanksgiving, but will make doorbusters and Black Friday deals available to online shoppers starting at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday.

5. Beware of derivative products. The only reason to interrupt Thanksgiving or stand in line during the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday is for a chance to get your hands on a doorbuster deal. However, not all of these deals are what they seem. Some products are manufactured specifically for Black Friday – called derivative products – and were likely never sold at full price. Consumer Reports recently analyzed Wal-Mart's Black Friday ad to determine how good its TV offers really are based on the model numbers, as well as their features and typical selling prices. In most cases, the TVs are lower-end versions of popular models, which isn't inherently bad. It's just misleading for shoppers who think they're getting one product, but come home with something else. Use resources, such as Consumer Reports, to help research model numbers of products, so you know exactly what you're getting and whether it meets your needs and expectations.

6. Nab extra savings. To keep up with the competition, some retailers offer extra savings in the form of coupons. It's important to read the fine print on these deals as they may only be good for the duration of the sale, whether it's five hours or three days. Macy's, for example, will provide anywhere from $10 to $25 off select purchases, including sale items but excluding doorbuster deals, starting on Thanksgiving. JCPenney is giving out coupons to the first shoppers starting at 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, valued at $10 off $10, $100 off $100 or $500 off $500 for use on Thanksgiving and Black Friday purchases. Use Flipp.com to view high-resolution Black Friday circulars and find out which of your favorite stores is offering extra savings in the form of coupons.

7. Map it. One of the biggest time sinks on Black Friday is not knowing where to find the deals you want. The frustration is intensified when you add hoards of people in your way. Retailers want to help you find the products you want faster, which is why stores like Target and Wal-Mart have included store maps in their apps. Use these maps to quickly find the products you want or scan barcodes to read user reviews before you buy.

8. Skip it. The truth is that Black Friday is just the beginning when it comes to shopping holidays. You'll see sales all weekend, plus save major bucks on apparel, shoes and select electronics on Cyber Monday. Then there's Green Monday on Dec. 12 (great for toys), Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16 (best for apparel and food gifts) and Super Saturday (last-minute gifts on sale) the weekend before Christmas. Ultimately, there is no shortage of opportunities for money savings, so if you end up skipping Black Friday entirely, it's not the end of the world.

Copyright 2016 U.S. News & World Report

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