Return to The Money Mentor Blog

Black Friday shopping tips from a veteran

Friends shopping for black friday
November 23, 2015

By Pam Leibfried

I am a veteran of Black Friday bargain-hunting expeditions. About 15 years ago, my mom and I decided to check out these epic sales we kept reading and hearing about. We had a great time and saved loads of money on holiday gifts, so we’ve made it an annual tradition. In the years since then, we’ve added a post-shopping late lunch with my sister and sisters-in-law. We get some great deals, but more importantly, we have some quality mother-daughter time and a fun girls’ lunch out. I’m confident that we’ll keep up this tradition for as long as my mom is able. And considering that my 103-year-old grandmother gave Mom some major-league longevity genes, that will likely be for many years. 

But even if you can’t shop with your mom or don’t have a group to go shopping with, you can still have an enjoyable Black Friday getting bargains and crossing names off your holiday gift-giving list. Below are a few of the lessons I’ve learned over the years on our Black Friday shopping trips. I hope they help you to have a great Black Friday experience.

Make a plan 

Make a list for each store. Because of the crowds, it’s important to know which of the “door buster” Black Friday deals you want to pursue at each store. I use a small notebook or notecards, with one page/card per store, but you could also use the notes feature on your smartphone. That way, you’re not standing in an aisle blocking traffic while you search your long list of items trying to find everything you wanted to get at that retailer. You can go through ad fliers while watching Thanksgiving football games if you’d like, or you can do some research before Turkey Day and check out the online ads on websites that post the ad fliers from major retailers. Blackfriday.com is one of my favorites.

Bring your Black Friday coupons with you. If a deal you want requires a coupon, clip it out of the ad flyer or print out the email from your inbox and take it with you. It’s frustrating to get to a store and realize that you left your 20-percent-off coupon sitting on the coffee table at home. If you have the coupon on your smartphone and prefer that method to a printed coupon, be sure to have the coupon up on your phone screen before you get to the register or you’ll be a source of frustration for the already-harried clerks and the impatient shoppers waiting in line behind you.

Have a plan B for popular Black Friday items. Let’s say you’re looking for a specific item like an iPad. You’ve researched and found the lowest price and you’re going to be at the store when the doors open. That’s still no guarantee that you’ll get that iPad. It depends on how many sale items they have in stock and how many people are lined up to get them. So it’s always a good idea to take note of the other stores that offer the item at a sale price. That way, if your first store is sold out, you will know which other stores have it at a good price. 

A couple of years back, I wanted to buy discounted iTunes cards at Target, but by the time we got there, the cards were sold out. I didn’t panic because I knew that Walgreens had them on sale also, and it was our next stop. Because I had the cards on my list in multiple places, I was able to get the gift cards I needed at a still-great price (only a couple bucks more than Target’s door buster). And I didn’t have to frantically leaf through ad fliers in the car to find out who else had them. Worst case, there’s also Cyber Monday, just around the corner. 

Dress for shopping success

Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be traipsing through stores and standing in lines, and if your feet are killing you an hour into the day, you’ll be sorry. 

Dress in layers, with two coats. If you live in northern climes and are heading out in very cold weather, you’ll obviously need a warm coat, hat and gloves, especially if you are going to be in line outside a store waiting for the doors to open at four or five in the morning. But once you get into a packed store, your insulated winter coat may make you feel like a roasting Thanksgiving turkey. The solution?  Dress in layers and bring both a lighter jacket and a warm winter coat. You’ll be glad to have your winter coat for the pre-dawn line in front of that first store. But you can switch to the lighter jacket after that, when you’re just trekking from car to store and back. I generally start with an Underarmour shirt as my base layer; it helps keep me warm while I’m outside, but it also wicks away sweat if I get hot in a store.

If you’re in warmer states or you’re planning on shopping for clothes (and are not particularly self-conscious), you might want to wear a tank top or outerwear-appropriate camisole as your base layer to facilitate trying on clothes in public. This can be especially useful if there are long lines for fitting rooms. In a pinch, you be able to avoid the wait and try on a shirt right at the display rack without being inappropriate. 

Don’t buy things you don’t need (even if they’re free!)

Some stores offer rebates that are equal to the sale price of select items, so you end up paying nothing. Walgreens has had toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, ponytail holders and razors free-after-rebate for the past several years. Menards often has batteries, tools, holiday gift boxes and other items. Ace Hardware sometimes has tools and outdoor holiday decorations. All they cost is your time and a stamp (and gas if you drive out of your way for a specific item). 

But even free-after-rebate items are not always a good deal:

  • If you are a procrastinator and might not send in that rebate form before the deadline, you’re no longer getting it for free. 
  • For many store rebates, you receive a store credit to use on your next purchase instead of a reimbursement via cash or check. If you don’t normally shop at that store or you may not use the credit before it expires, think twice about purchasing it unless it is something you really need and the sale price without the rebate is a good one. 
  • Is it something you might use someday, but won’t use in the immediate future? An outdoor decoration that will only be used after you save enough for a down payment and trade your apartment for a house is not a good purchase. Styles change, and by the time you get that house, the cute Santa might not seem so cute anymore. I made this mistake at Joanns about 10 years ago, shortly after I started quilting.  Flannel was on sale and I had a 20% off coupon, so I bought 15 yards of fabric for next to nothing. What a deal…or not! Although I thought I’d make a bunch of baby quilts to donate to my church’s annual craft fair, the fabric is still sitting in my closet today.  

Pro tip: If you are a deal addict, make sure that you don’t end up just accumulating stuff that you don’t have the space for after Black Friday ends. If you can’t bring yourself to drive the cart past the display of free-after-rebate razors or batteries, but you don’t need any for your home, do a good deed; donate them to a homeless shelter or an organization that helps people in need to set up new households. Local examples here in Chicago are Wings, a charity that helps victims of abuse to start over, and Foster Care to Success, an organization that helps young adults who have aged out of foster care to go out on their own.