1. Visit your local store. Check their holiday sale hours. Familiarize yourself with where items you're interested in are located in the store.
2. Check the ads before you go. There are web sites, such as bfads.net and BlackFriday.com, that get hold of stores' Black Friday fliers in advance.
3. Look up customer reviews of products. When searching, be as specific as you can with the model number and name of the product.
4. Follow the stores on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for their email. Join their loyalty clubs. Some stores offer special deals to their most attentive and receptive shoppers. It's free to follow or join or sign up, and you can always "un-follow" or unsubscribe after the holidays.
5. Ask yourself, will it pay to shop around and hit multiple stores to get items for a lower price than other stores? Factor in the travel time, parking, crowds, and waiting in another line versus the value of the discount and the item. Only you can decide if it's worth it.
6. Know which stores carry the items you want, in case one store runs out.
7. Know the hours items you want are on sale. More stores are staggering the hours for various doorbuster sales, to keep people coming in beyond the first few hours after the doors open. If you can risk some high-demand items being sold out, you may prefer shopping during the store's extended hours after the crowds have thinned.
8. Make arrangements for the kids. Leave them with a relative, trusted neighbor, or babysitter (maybe offer to do some Black Friday shopping for them).
9. Dress for the weather, and dress in layers. By dressing in layers, you can remove that heavy coat and wear just a sweater after spending hours walking in a crowded mall.
10. Download our StormCenter 2 On the Go app to your phone for radar, hour-by-hour weather forecasts for your current or chosen locations, and watch the 24/7 weather channel right where you're standing. That's self-serving, but you'll get the information you want when you want it.
Check the forecast on the StormCenter 2 24/7 channel before you go out.
11. Bring all your Black Friday ads with you -- and not just the ad for the store you're shopping in. Ask a store manager if they'll match a competitor's published price. If there's any question about a price at the checkout, you'll have the information with you.
12. Have a shopping list -- not your son's Christmas list with every wish on it but a checklist of the specific items you intend to buy. The National Retail Federation says, "If you know who you need to buy for and how much you can afford to spend, you can make best use of retailers' ‘Buy Two Get Third Free'-type deals."
13. Include extra items on your shopping list in case the items on the checklist aren't available. Don't have too many "extras" or you might be tempted to pick them up, too, and you're more likely to exceed your budget.
At the store
14. Park in the first spot you see. Other people are circling the parking lot waiting for a closer spot to open up; chances are you'll get in the store before they do.
15. Split up. You can be in two or three places at once if you go with family and friends and work as a team. Give each person a shopping list or assignment (e.g., someone can grab a shopping cart while you're racing the crowd for that hot toy).
Get the best deal
16. Use your smartphone. Look for price-checking, customer review and Black Friday apps, such as Price Grabber, Amazon and BlackFriday.com. Some stores have their own app and might have special offers on those (e.g., Best Buy's app credits its loyalty club customers with points just for "checking in" while visiting a store).
17. Compare items, not just prices. Some stores may sell products with fewer or lesser features, even though they're from the same manufacturer so they can sell them cheaper as doorbusters, such as DVDs without bonus features or a tablet computer with less memory.
18. Some Black Friday bundle offers may be a better deal in the long run than buying the items at a lower price elsewhere (example: A TV and Blu-Ray disc player bundle may cost more at the outset, but cheaper than getting the TV on sale and buying a comparable disc player later). On the other side of that coin, sometimes bundles aren't better but stores want you to think you're getting more for your money; this is another time it's important to look at model numbers.
19. Beware of promoted "savings" that aren't. If an item has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $39.99 but every store is selling it for $29.99 as their regular shelf price, don't let an ad fool you into thinking you're saving 25% by buying it only from them.
20. Use loyalty cards/store credit cards. Some stores offer discounts with their loyalty cards or for using their store credit cards.
21. Ask a store manager if they will match a competitor's published price. Again, it helps to bring Black Friday ads with you.
22. Know the return policy before you buy, Wisconsin consumer protection officials say. If the item is opened, will they exchange it for something different or only for an identical item? How long does someone have to return an item after Christmas? The policy might be different for some doorbuster items that have limited availability. Many stores will only refund the lowest sale price of an item over, say, the past 30 days -- regardless of what you paid -- if you don't have a receipt.
23. Watch as your items are rung up and check your receipt before you leave the store to make sure the prices are what you expect. Wisconsin consumer protection officials say in 2012 1.3% of 35,000 items tested for price accuracy rang up at a higher-than-advertised price.
Take care of yourself
24. Be patient and understand what you're getting into. Stores will be crowded. Lines will be long. You chose to be here; so did they.
25. Don't lose your head in the competition. Rather than grab that mixer out of someone's hands, look for something else on your checklist. One disorderly conduct ticket can wipe out any savings from Black Friday sales. Remember, you still have 26 shopping days until Christmas.
26. Don't forget to eat. Have some healthy food in your stomach before you hit the stores, or your stamina may end up hitting a wall. Head for the food courts before 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. Better yet, plan a family gathering somewhere away from the mall or stores so you can recharge your body's batteries as well as compare shopping notes -- and regale each other with tales of the hunt.
Don't break the bank
27. It's easy to get carried away. Set a budget and stick to it. This is where it helps to have a checklist. Keep track of what you're spending, and it will help you avoid sticker shock in January when the credit card bill comes and you're paying interest on Christmas gifts until Labor Day.
28. Avoid impulse buys, which can quickly add up. By stacking eye-catching items in the aisles and near the checkout lanes, stores are counting on you to leave with items that weren't on your list.
29. Don't spend your entire budget between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Think about what will still be there when the crowds are gone.
30. If an item is not on sale, not in limited supply or high demand, or offered for Black Friday sales only, you might find it on sale later in the holiday sales season, especially if retailers push discounts closer to Christmas (and again after Christmas) to reduce their inventory.
Be ready after the sale
31. Ask for a gift receipt. Some stores print one automatically, especially during the holiday season, but not all stores do. It helps to ask before the receipt is printed.
32. Tape or staple gift receipts to items right away.
33. Hold on to sales receipts. Keep them together in a large manila envelope -- something that will be easy to find later. This is important not only for returns but for checking against your credit card statements (see Don't be a Victim on Black Friday).
34. Get those gifts in the mail right away. You just survived the busiest shopping days of the year; don't stand in line for the busiest mailing days of the year.
Or... don't go at all
35. Shop in your pajamas. OK, that's a trendy style for some, but we mean shop at home. Many retailers will offer the same deals online as they do in the store. Keep in mind you might have to pay shipping costs.
36. Some stores offer store pick-up for items purchased online. If you use this option around Black Friday, you might want to wait a few days before picking it up if it's allowed. Either way, be prepared to stand in line at the pick-up desk.
37. Gift cards are popular.
Sources: Best Buy; BlackFriday.com; Green Bay Police Department; National Retail Federation; Prevention magazine; US News & World Report; Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
We invite you to contribute your Black Friday shopping tips in the comments below. Off-topic comments will be removed.
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