Will Black Friday Help You Save… Or Spend?

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season, and one of the biggest shopping days of the year across America. For some, it’s a holiday tradition they look forward to all year long, making detailed item lists, scouting out deals online, researching prices, clipping coupons, and planning their shopping strategy. Some even camp out in the parking lot or on the sidewalk outside their store of choice in order to be one of the first people allowed inside once the doors open. But are Black Friday deals really deals, or is it all just a big publicity stunt put on by retailers to get exposure for their stores?

According to some marketing experts, consumers can definitely save money on Black Friday, because it’s the time when retailers go from red to black financially, so they’re doing everything they can to pull customers in the front door and make sure the savings are real, mostly because they know people will confront them if they don’t. Once inside the doors, however, shoppers need to pay close attention to labeled prices, be prepared for big crowds, and know exactly what they want to buy. Doing your research before you arrive at the store will help you zone in on what is an actual savings, and what prices are not true sales.

If you’ve done your due diligence and found true sale prices for those sale items you really want to buy, have the patience to wait in line and fight the crowds, can stick to your list of items, and are prepared to face disappointment if a store runs out of stock before you get yours, then Black Friday sales may be worth all the trouble. If, however, you’re the kind of shopper who is easily influenced to go over your allotted budget if there are big “Sale!” signs all over the store, aren’t clear on exactly what you want to buy, and tend to get caught up in the excitement of a big sale day, you might find yourself spending more than you planned on Black Friday.

A big key to grabbing some Black Friday savings is reading the fine print in the ads. Is the advertised price really just going to be available the day after Thanksgiving, or for a longer duration of time? Is the store offering rain checks for items that sell out? If so, why not save yourself all the hassle of shopping on Black Friday if you can garner the same deals a day or two after the craziness has died down? While you’re reading the fine print, check for any conditions that may make the sale one you want to pass on. Is the item you want only available in limited quantities? Is it only available during certain hours? Are the savings immediate, or do you have to pay full price and wait for a mail in rebate? Bring the printed ad with you to the store when you shop in case there’s a price discrepancy at the register. Some retailers also include coupons in their ads which can provide additional discounts on top of low seasonal prices for even more savings.

If you plan to shop Black Friday and really want to get the most out of it without sabotaging yourself financially, set a strict budget based on your research and your list, and be determined not to go over it. If you’re tempted to carry a credit card into stores “just in case” you see something you can’t resist, leave the card at home and take cash. When it’s gone, you’re done shopping, sale or no sale. Apply the same principle to online shopping by not storing your credit card information online and putting your card somewhere inaccessible (some people actually freeze their cards in a block of ice!) or giving it to someone who won’t cave when you ask for it back.