7 Essential Black Friday Shopping Tips

Believe it or not, Black Friday is almost here. You could even argue that the holiday shopping season has already begun. Many retailers, like Amazon and Sam's Club, have released their holiday gift guides, and a few stores have gone so far as to unveil their actual Black Friday hours.

Credit: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald/GettyCredit: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald/GettyBut before you make a single purchase, there are a few things we recommend you do. Remember, Black Friday was created by retailers to benefit retailers. But with our pointers below, you'll be able to turn the tables and ensure you make the wisest buying decisions throughout the holiday season.

Make a list, check it twice

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockOne of the worst things you can do during the holidays is purchase items blindly without a shopping list. This is true whether you shop online or in-store. Shopping without a specific list causes you to spend more and purchase items that you may not necessarily need. By creating a shopping list with specific items, you avoid falling into the trap of buying unnecessary stuff.

To avoid buying that last-minute Star Wars fidget spinner, you can use Amazon to create customized lists of gifts you intend to purchase. You can make lists for just about anyone, and you can even use Alexa to create your shopping lists. Alternatively, you can create your own wish list and share it publicly to ensure your friends and family get you the gift you want.  

Alternatively, you can use Pinterest to create secret boards and fill them with visual gift ideas. (To create a secret board, just flip the "Secret" toggle while creating a traditional Pinterest board.) You can even invite others to pin items to your secret board.

Embrace your inner Scrooge

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockSo you've found what looks like the perfect deal, and you're ready to pull the trigger. Stop. Before you buy anything, there are two things you should always do. First, use a price-comparison engine such as Google Shopping, ShopSavvy or PriceGrabber to make sure you're getting the best price on the item you want to buy. (Full disclosure: ShopSavvy is owned by Purch, our parent company.) It pays to shop around; you'll be surprised by how easy it is to find lower prices.

After you've done your homework and ensured you're not being overcharged, find out if there are any perks to purchasing from one store versus the other. Maybe you're an Amazon Prime member, and Amazon's offering free next-day shipping. Or maybe you have a Best Buy rewards card that promises double points. Any opportunity to stack on additional savings — even if small — should not be missed.

MORE: Is Amazon Prime Worth It? Here Are the Best Perks

Start your shopping early

Credit: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/GettyCredit: Sandy Huffaker/AFP/GettyBlack Friday is no longer a one-day event. As a matter of fact, the best sales aren't even released on Black Friday; they're actually unveiled throughout Thanksgiving week.

So the earlier you start your shopping, the better your chances of finding the items you want on sale and in stock.

Last year, we noticed some of the best deals were released on the morning of Thanksgiving Day. That's not to say you should avoid Black Friday, but be aware that "Black Friday" is now a season that includes most of November and December.

Be wary of doorbuster sales

Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesCredit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesBlack Friday wouldn't be the same without a head-turning doorbuster sale. However, these time-sensitive sales were designed to lure shoppers into stores in hopes of getting consumers to spend on other nonessentials.

Oftentimes, a store will have a very limited number of doorbuster items in stock. Moreover, they'll release them at odd hours in the morning. So unless you're first in line, your chances of scoring a doorbuster deal are slim to none.

Get social

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockWant to get a leg up on the latest Black Friday offerings? One of the best ways to see what's coming down the pipes is by following your favorite retailers on social media. Facebook and Twitter tend to be the most active platforms for retailers, but don't be surprised if stores start using Instagram to reveal secret coupon codes or early preview deals as well.

Where to follow the big retailers:

Amazon: Twitter | Facebook

Best Buy: Twitter | Facebook

Dell: Twitter | Facebook

Jet.com: Twitter | Facebook

Newegg: Twitter | Facebook

Target: Twitter | Facebook

Walmart: Twitter | Facebook

Use one card

Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesCredit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesData breaches are bound to happen — especially during the holidays — and the best way to safeguard yourself against any potential identity theft is to limit the number of credit cards you use during the holiday season. While you could make your purchases with cash only, there are many benefits to using a credit card, whether you're earning cash-back rewards or using your card for the added protections it offers.

MORE: What to Do After a Data Breach: A Step-by-Step Guide

Know your return policies

Credit: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg/GettyCredit: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg/GettyRetailers tend to tweak their return policies during the holidays. While some may extend them, others might restrict them or increase their restocking fees. Doorbuster and "final sale" products tend to have the strictest policies, so be sure you're comfortable with a store's policy before you buy anything. Also, be sure to ask for and save your receipts. You never know when you may need them.

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