Holiday Shopping (Image Credit: Flickr User Jo_Web)

Your Black Friday Shopping Survival Guide

Holiday Shopping (Image Credit: Flickr User Jo_Web)

Holiday Shopping (Image Credit: Flickr User Jo_Web)

Black Friday shopping. For some, it’s the equivalent of an Olympic event, requiring hours of physical and mental preparation in a quest for the ultimate goal of getting all the deals. For others, it sounds like a waking nightmare and they’d rather just sit at home and eat leftovers all day. I fall somewhere in between, and I have found a happy medium when it comes to Black Friday shopping. I participate, I enjoy it, I get some good deals and I don’t get super stressed out.

So if you’re not the sort of person who wants to wait in line at Best Buy at 2am and punch people in the face to get one of the four cheap BluRay players they  have in stock, but are still interested in taking advantage of some Black Friday deals, this article is for you. Over the past few years, my fiancé and I have gradually refined our approach to Black Friday shopping, and I’m going to share with you what we do and how we stay sane.

Get the ads and go over them the day before.

I do think it is important to put a little bit of time into preparation. Some Black Friday ads are available early online (slickdeals.com has tons, and some stores put their ads up a week or two in advance) if you want to start planning ahead, but I don’t think that’s really necessary. Check out the ads when they come out on Thanksgiving. Most are online, but I like to get the print versions that come with the newspaper. It makes it easier to sort through things, plus it gives me a handy reference when we’re out and about with minimal work on my part. This is also a good way to gather and keep track of coupons – they aren’t common for stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy, but clothing and department stores will often offer coupon deals along with the regular Black Friday deals.

Make a list.

I like to browse through all the ads once, then go back and focus in on the products and deals that really interest me. I’ll make notes for each store, including what items I want, how much they cost, and how long the deal is valid. Most stores have doorbusters, but they all end at different times. Some stores have different tiers of doorbusters, so some deals may end at 10am while others are good until noon, and others last all day.

Prioritize, and make another list!

Once you have a general list of everything that interests you, determine what items you absolutely want, what items you’d really like to get, and what items you’d like to get but aren’t hugely invested in. Use this information, along with the stores’ doorbuster deadlines, to determine which places you want to go and in what order. For example, last year there was a crockpot at Kohl’s that I really wanted, and their doorbusters ended at 9am. Other stores’ doorbusters ended at 10 or later, so Kohl’s came first on the list.

It’s not always that easy – sometimes there will be overlap, and you will need to make compromises. You can’t be too focused on getting every good deal that interests you; you need to determine which ones are most important and focus on those. Everything else is just the cherry on top. Plus, many stores have similar deals on similar items. You can often work around conflicts if you’re willing to pay a buck or two more on an item.

Do make sure that your list of stores also includes a list of items you want, the prices, and whether the item is a doorbuster. This will help you be more efficient once you’re in the store. This is also a good way to stick to a budget (or the general idea of a budget) if that’s something you’re concerned about.

Don’t waste your time standing in line at 2am or rolling out of bed at the crack of dawn.

Sure, there are some amazing deals to be had if you’re willing to go out shopping in the wee hours of the morning. But consider this: stores are opening earlier and earlier for their big deals. Some stores open on Thanksgiving. You will never get ahead, especially when quantities are almost always highly limited on the really great deal items. For some people, it’s worth it, but for me, I’d rather save a bunch of time and energy and spend a bit more on a similar product. We usually start our shopping around 7-8am at the earliest and still have great luck finding what we’re looking for. Plus, the crowds aren’t as thick and surly. All the hardcores are winding down, having their lunch, and going home for naps at this time of day.

Make yourself mobile and comfortable.

On Black Friday morning, bring water or coffee or snacks or whatever you need to keep you going along with you in the car. Gather all your ads and coupons – I like to pop everything in a folder.

Dress comfortably – layers are good, since it can be cool outside but hot inside a busy store. Wear shoes that you know you can count on for a long day on your feet. This stuff seems like common sense but it’s easy to overlook when you’re not used to doing so much shopping in one day.

Once you’re in a store – if you’re getting smaller items and can avoid using a cart, do it. It just makes it harder and more frustrating to get around. If you have a buddy with you, splitting up can be useful if there are a couple of really great deals you’re concerned about being sold out quickly. That said, it’s more fun when you’re not alone so I wouldn’t recommend splitting up for the entirety of your time in a store.

Go to your stores in order; don’t bounce back and forth.

It can be tempting to go back and forth between stores to try to get all the doorbuster deals, especially in the case of the tiered doorbusters that end at different times within the same store. I don’t recommend doing this. Go to your stores in order, get the items that are on your list, do a sweep around the store to see if there’s anything else that catches your eye, then move on to the next store. Part of the fun of Black Friday shopping is the surprise – finding things you didn’t have on your list or just browsing at the options. You’ll miss out on this if you’re too focused on getting every item on your list for the best possible price, and a lot of times it ends up being a bunch of unnecessary stress for something that ends up being sold out anyway.

Be efficient in your stores, but do take some time to browse the places that interest you. Don’t worry about zipping from place to place as quickly as possible. We don’t usually go back to a store we’ve already been to, but if you get through your whole list and you’ve still got time and energy, it might be worth circling back to a couple stores (or hitting stores you didn’t have on your list) to see if you missed anything interesting.

Be prepared for things to be gone, people to be rude, and lines to be long.

Sure, you’ll miss out on some things. If you plan your list appropriately, you can have great success getting the items you’re most interested in, but you need to be prepared for disappointment. That Kohl’s crockpot I wanted? I got it, but then when we decided to go back and get a second one as a gift literally 10 minutes later, they were totally gone. It happens.

While I haven’t had any terrible experiences with rude people on Black Friday, there are people who are a little bit pushy or who are just generally annoying or oblivious to the fact that they’re in the way. Mentally prepare yourself for this. Assume that people will get in your way and that you’ll have to wait in line a long time. It puts you in the right frame of mind to brush it off when those things happen, and be pleasantly surprised when they don’t.

On the subject of lines, with our Black Friday shopping schedule we have rarely run into long lines. It’s the one time of year stores usually have all hands on deck and all registers open. Most people aren’t buying huge cartloads of stuff, so things move fairly quickly. The only place I have ever encountered a really long wait in line is Best Buy, so we usually save that for the end of our trip so we’re not wasting time in line.

Oh, and you’re definitely going to hear a ton of Christmas music. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing for you, I don’t know…but I definitely get my yearly allowance of Santa Baby on Black Friday.

Take breaks.

While you’re out shopping, it’s important to take some time to recover. Stop at a convenience store, get some water or caffeine or a snack. Take a breather. Stop for lunch and, if you’re still out when the time comes, stop for dinner. Don’t rush through these things. It may sound silly to say, but shopping all day can be exhausting. Like any other exhausting activity, taking breaks here and there and refueling is important to keep you in a good frame of mind and prevent you from feeling physically run-down. It’s also a good opportunity to consult your list or your ads and figure out your next move, or reassess a plan if you’re wearing out faster or slower than you anticipated.

Track your purchases.

When you get home from your shopping trip, log your purchases in a timely manner. Everyone has a different way of tracking their money, but whatever you do, do it. For one thing, it’s kind of a drag and you really should just get it over with. For another thing, it will help you make sure you didn’t spend way more than you thought somewhere. It’s really easy to lose track of what money was spent where when you’re going to so many stores in such a short frame of time and paying with cash, debit, and credit. Going over everything at the end of the day is really helpful, plus it gives you some peace of mind.

Remember the deals don’t end on Friday.

Many stores have ongoing deals throughout the weekend following Thanksgiving. They’re generally not quite as good overall, but you can still get some really great stuff. If you really like shopping (or if you don’t have anything better to do because your fiancé’s family lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere), going back out on Saturday can be worthwhile. You’ll find some different items on sale, and the crowds will be less intense overall. It can also give you a chance to visit some stores that may have gotten bumped off the bottom of your list from Friday.

Keep in mind what items you had success finding on Black Friday.

Certain types of items are usually on sale on Black Friday weekend. Kitchen items, electronics, music and movies, holiday décor, blankets, winter outerwear – these are all things that are always on good sales on Black Friday.  Keep in mind what you see when you’re out shopping so that you can plan ahead for next year. For example, we will often avoid buying DVDs or BluRays in the months leading up to Thanksgiving because we know there will be tons of them on sale for $4 on Black Friday. It’s also a good opportunity to get kitchen/home items if you’ve have something break or have your eye on a Keurig. It’s not just about shopping for gifts – it’s a great chance to find good prices on things you may need for yourself as well.

Enjoy your sanity.

Take a moment to appreciate the fact that you got through Black Friday shopping in good spirits and with some good deals to show for it. You didn’t sacrifice your dignity or your sleep, but you still got the $10 Crockpot and some holiday cheer!


Image courtesy of Flickr User Jo_Web
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