Retailers have been strategizing all year long, coming up with ways to separate you from your money. And it's not just this year – they're building on decades of experience and billions of dollars in marketing investments.
So if you want to stay within your budget this Christmas, yet still have some fun on the busiest shopping days of the year, you'll want to watch out for some pitfalls and tuck some tricks up your sleeve.
What to avoid:
Full-price accessories within arms reach. You might as well grab that cellphone case and car charger while you're in the store buying that discounted iPhone, right? Actually, that's a bad idea. Stores will often put high-priced accessories near sale items to make up some profit. It's probably a better idea to shop around for your accessories elsewhere on another day.
Minimum purchase requirements on free shipping. It's Black Friday, baby. Free shipping is everywhere. You're likely to throw something in your cart that you really don't need or want, just to meet that shipping threshold. The only exception is if you've done the math and find you're still coming out ahead.
Percentage-off discounts. An ad for 80 percent off is sure to catch your attention. But you can't gauge how good of a deal they're advertising until you've seen the original price. Even then, you can't really tell what kind of deal you're getting unless you know how it compares to other prices. Often, the percentage is subtracted from the manufacturer's suggested retail price, which is a higher price almost no retailer actually uses. And high-percentage-off deals are sometimes used on items that can't be price checked. In other words, don't get too excited unless you've done your homework and comparison shopping.
Flash deals. These are fun, but they're designed to prevent you from thinking clearly. What's this? Evening Primrose Oil? Never heard of it, but it's 58 percent off. Oh no, I only have 5 minutes left before the sale ends! That barely gives me enough time to figure out what it does, let alone see if it's a good price or a good brand. I'm just going to grab it. It's only 12 bucks and I can return it later.
Doorbusters are limited. You may already know this, but it bears repeating, especially since more shoppers are expected to show up this year, meaning lines will probably be longer and the steeply discounted merchandise may run out faster. And don't forget, a lot of these rock-bottom deals are the bottom of the barrel. TVs, for example, are often knockoff brands of poor quality with no frills and misleading specs.
What to do instead:
Have a detailed plan. Know what you are going to buy, where you're going to buy it, and what time you're going to hit that store. Take some time to plan out your shopping lists, then map out which retailers you will visit and in what order. Stick to your game plan so you don't get carried away in the heat of the moment. Do all of your homework and comparison shopping ahead of time. The last place you want to be comparing prices is in an aisle on Black Friday. If there are coupons, cut them out and put them in separate envelopes according to store, or download them to your phone ahead of time. Mapping out the layout of stores is helpful, too.
Use shoppers' bags instead of shopping carts. Bring your biggest reusable bags into the stores with you. You'll be able to walk right past the bottleneck in the front of the store, and it will be much easier to navigate the store and squeeze past people in the aisles. This isn't going to work if you plan to buy big, heavy things; but other than that, it's definitely worth considering. You've heard the horror stories about people taking scarce items out of other people's carts? That's much less likely to happen with a bag slung over shoulder. Yet you can still set things down on the floor in front of you if you need your hands free.
If you don't find an item on your list, don't panic. Don't try to comparison shop at that moment or grab something similar off the shelf. You'll likely be better off shopping other sales from home later in the day or throughout the holiday season. There are often limited quantities on the sale items that are designed to get you into the store, hoping you'll buy other ones that are not as low priced. Resist the temptation to get your shopping over and done with and try again later when you have a level head.
Split up. If you're a serious shopper, you can cover more ground as a team. Recruit some friends, then combine your lists and divide them equally. Save your receipts and divvy up later. I do not recommend holding spots in the checkout line for each other (and definitely not in the line to get into the store before the store opens) unless you want to go down in local history as the person who started a brawl on Black Friday.
Find a baby sitter. Don't take the kids. Just don't. Unless you have a special kind of kid, the kind who never gets bored or hungry, doesn't complain, moves quickly and is happy to follow you around for hours in a heavy jacket carrying packages, leave them home to their cartoons. Otherwise, you'll regret it.