8 Essential Black Friday Shopping Tips

Updated

Black Friday is here.

Many retailers have leaked their 2018 Black Friday plans. And, retail giants Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have already started their holiday blitzkrieg. Taking a page out of last year's playbook, they debuted their holiday countdown on November 1.  

Credit: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald/GettyCredit: Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald/Getty

To help you survive the madness, we've pulled together our best tips and advice to ensure you make the wisest buying decisions this holiday season. 

Make a list, check it twice

Credit: ShutterstockCredit: ShutterstockOne of the worst things you can do in the weeks leading up to 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 don't 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. 

Ask for a better price

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 Future, our parent company.) 

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. And if you manage to find a better price elsewhere, ask (politely) if the store you're at is willing to price match. Some stores will offer price matching during the holidays, all it takes is a quick question to a sales rep.

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

Hack those rewards programs

Credit: NYCStock / Shutterstock.comCredit: NYCStock / Shutterstock.com

These days, practically every credit card company features a rewards program. Chase Freedom Unlimited, for instance, offers 1.5 percent cashback on all purchases, whereas Capital One Venture Rewards was named one of the best rewards cards for travelers by CNBC. Even Amazon has a Store Card that earns Prime members 5 percent cashback. Alternatively, Amazon offers a Rewards Visa Signature Card that earns 3 percent back at Amazon/Whole Foods, 2 percent back at restaurants, and 1 percent back on all other purchases. Find out which of your credit cards offers the best cashback program and use that card over the holidays to earn the most money back when possible.

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 the best Black Friday deals will start on Thanksgiving week. 

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

Protect yourself from data breaches 

Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesCredit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Data 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. So pick your favorite card and use it exclusively for your holiday shopping.

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.