Black Friday Cheat Sheet: Your Guide to Shopping Smarter

Our Black Friday Cheat Sheet will help you shop smarter, happier, and safer this Black Friday, as well as help you streamline your Holiday shopping so that you get to spend more time with those you cherish. And when it comes down to it, that’s what the season is really all about.

The Best Ways to Prepare for Black Friday

Figure out your budget and stick to it. This is one is a biggie if you want to have a great Christmas season.

Decide what you want to buy in advance. Make a list that can be carried with you when shopping.

Be tactical. Know which stores you’ll be visiting, and which sections contain the items you want.

In order to do this, you’ll need to figure out which stores have the best sales on the items you need the most. Check websites such as,,, and for a wide variety of retailer’s ads, which are updated numerous times throughout the day.

Alternately, you can check out retailers’ ads in your local newspaper, although this is typically a slower process than searching specifically for what you want online.

Newspapers are so 20th century, though. So be sure to also check out retailers’ social media pages (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) for other sources of “insider” knowledge.

Finally, sign up for retailers’ e-mail lists in order to receive advance notification of sales, as well as to receive coupons or discount codes.

Embrace technology and download one (or more) price comparison apps for your smartphone, including ShopSavvy, PriceGrabber, ShopAdvisor, and many others.

Think about backup gifts, especially for the important people on your list. Products fly off the shelf quickly on Black Friday, so if your first choice isn’t available, you’ll immediately know what to go after next.

Familiar shopping malls are always the best since you already know their layouts. But if you spot a deal that’s too good to pass up at another mall, grab a map instead of constantly stopping at kiosks for directions. You’ll save a ton of time.

In fact, most mall maps can be found online. Simply type the name of the mall into a search engine followed by the word “map,” and you should be good to go.

Whether you’ll be visiting familiar or new retailers, you can also do some advance reconnaissance by figuring out the best places to park (apps such as ParkMe can help with this), where the registers are located, and what part of the store the restrooms can be found.

Find out if any stores you plan on visiting offer price matching services (usually big box stores and nationwide chains). By doing so, you might be able to pick up in one trip what would have otherwise taken you 2 or 3.

However, you might be able to avoid malls altogether by shopping online. Many times, retailers will offer some of the same online deals as they would in their stores.

Black Friday: The Day of Reckoning

Understand that there will crowds. Stop complaining, breathe deeply, and go grab some great deals! After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?

If you have personal space issues, you might think twice about Black Friday shopping. Even though many stores are huge, they’ll be packed to the gills with shoppers who are bumping around looking for the best deals. Smile and be polite, and you’ll receive much of the same.

Dress comfortably. You’ll also want to layer your clothes since it’s cold outside, and the difference between the temp outside the store and inside can be significant.

Continually hydrate. Black Friday is more of a marathon than it is a sprint, but either way, your body needs adequate water to pull an all-day shopping spree, especially because you probably didn’t get much sleep the night before.

When shopping, one of the easiest ways to blow your budget is by grabbing whatever’s on sale. Don’t, or you’ll end up overspending. Instead, stick to your list.

Black Friday is generally a great time to score deals on TVs, consumer electronics, cookware, and appliances, so keep this in mind if these are relevant to someone on your list. ValPak also has a handy infographic about the more popular Black Friday products.

However, accessorizing isn’t good on Black Friday. In other words, if you’re buying electronics, don’t also buy cables or other basics, since many retailers will jack up prices on these in order to help even out their bottom line. Instead, if you know you’ll be buying electronics on Black Friday, stock up on the essentials in advance when they’re priced much lower.

In addition to electronics accessories, Black Friday is almost never the best time to purchase toys, furniture, jewelry and watches, and winter clothing.

Bring your own bags. No, this isn’t the grocery store, but it can save a shipload of time over the course of the day, and they’re much sturdier than cheapo plastic bags. Not to mention they’re good for the environment.

See Also: 40 Black Friday Shopping Tips for Scoring the Best Deals

Bring your own food. Yeah, brown bagging it isn’t glamorous, but neither is Black Friday. However, packing a lunch ahead of time means that you won’t have to wait in long lines at the food court.

Partner up. Having a friend (or 2) along can help keep you motivated, keep you on track, and—perhaps most importantly—keep you entertained.

If you’re all business, though, you and your friends can fan out to take advantage of limited supplies in different areas of a store.

One of the easiest ways to blow your budget is by grabbing whatever’s on sale. Don’t, or you’ll end up overspending. Instead, stick to your list.

Doorbusters “go bust” quickly. Once you’re in the store and find out the doorbuster that you wanted is gone, sales staff may attempt to convince you to purchase similar, but higher-priced, options. Resist the temptation, look at your list, and forge ahead.

Double check the store’s return policy. Often times, items that are heavily marked down may come with a more restrictive return policy, such as 20 days instead of 30. Or, perhaps they’re only good for store credit, or you might subject to steep restocking fees. Whatever it is, it’s always a good idea to ask.

Remember to get a gift receipt. In all the hustle and bustle, we can forget about some of the basics, like what your recipient will do if they choose to exchange your gift.

If you’ve never attended a Black Friday event, your jaw might drop when seeing the extraordinarily long lines for the first time. In fact, most of your time spent “shopping” on Black Friday will actually be spent standing in lines, so bring something along to keep you occupied, such as a book. Or you can rack up a ton of points on Candy Crush. It’s your call.

Pace yourself. Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Super Sunday, and Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving hallmarks the beginning of a weekend-long smorgasbord of shopping and sales.

Scoring the Best Black Friday Deals

Bring sales ads with you, just in case you need to prove that an item was priced lower than what you’re being charged. Black Friday gets hectic, so it’s perfectly reasonable that honest mistakes will be made.

Instead of just opening early, many stores now remain open later. So if you prefer staying up late, you might be able grab what you need before those who like getting up early on Black Friday.

Regardless of whether you’re a night owl or an early bird, in addition to the opportunity of grabbing a doorbuster or two, being one of the first few customers through the door might also help you save money. This is because many stores will offer rewards to their first 20, 50, or even 100 customers, such as coupons, gift cards, and more.

As we mentioned in our How to Save Money & Shop Smarter on Black Friday article though, not all doorbusters are created equal. In other words, some retailers change their advertising tactics to make their deals appear better than they are, such as comparing their current price to the MSRP, which it was never offered at in the first place.

Many retailers are also repeating deals from last year by using the same products sold at the same prices, but which are now a year older. According to a NerdWallet analysis of “27 Black Friday advertisements, 25 retailers listed at least one product for the exact same price in 2014 as in their 2013 Black Friday ad. That means 93% of retailers are repeating Black Friday products—and prices—from year to year.”

Also, retailers have started to roll out their doorbusters at different parts of the day in order to stagger traffic, so it’s important you know what these times are in order to get your hands on one.

One more note about doorbusters: Just because a retailer is advertising (for example) a 64” LED TV  for $99 doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good deal. This is because it may be from an unknown manufacturer, and/or be of lower quality.

If you’re trying to score Black Friday deals online, if available, chat with a representative before checking out. Often times they’ll be able to give you a coupon code for additional savings or free shipping.

If you plan on shopping in-store, try going for a “triple play,” which occurs when you 1) purchase an item on sale, 2) push the price even lower using a coupon, bonus points, or a price match, and 3) take advantage of a cash back rebate.

Remember, sometimes the best deals occur before Black Friday, as retailers begin opening increasingly earlier. Or in some instances, never closing at all.

To check Black Friday opening times, has a fairly extensive list of retailers.

The Best Methods of Staying Secure on Black Friday

Decisions, decisions: Carrying cash makes it easier to remain within budget, but it’s the least secure payment method. Debit cards are better but don’t offer many of the same consumer protection measures that credit cards do. Credit cards offer the most protection, but also make it extremely easy to go over budget (in many instances, 12-18% over budget), which can quickly add up.

Speaking of consumer protection: Credit cards can provide immediate warranty coverage, return protection, and sale price protection on most of your Black Friday purchases, above and beyond anything provided by the retailer.

In some instances, pre-paid gift cards can work as a good form of currency to carry with you on Black Friday. However, it can be cumbersome to continually check the balance or to add up your receipts and see how much money remains.

Whichever payment method you choose, make sure to keep your purse closed tightly (a zipper is ideal, from security and time perspectives), with the strap placed firmly on your shoulder, and one hand on it at all times.

For men, empty your wallet of all but the bare essentials in advance at home, such as cash, one or two credits cards, and personal identification. When shopping, most experts recommend carrying your wallet in your front pocket to avoid theft.

Be sure that your billing and email addresses are up to date with your credit card companies, as well as your phone number. This will help prevent ID fraud from happening by having your bill mailed to the wrong address, and will allow the company to get ahold of you quickly if they suspect fraudulent activity.

Stealing credit card numbers, cases of identity theft and other types of scams skyrocket during the Holiday shopping season. After you’re finished shopping, log into your credit card accounts frequently to check for any suspicious activity.

See our holiday shopping, hosting and traveling guide for more tips and ideas.

Derek Lakin

With more than a decade of experience as a copywriter, Derek takes a detail-oriented, step-by-step approach to help you shop smarter. Whether it’s nutritional supplements or new scams, he believes an informed consumer is a happy customer.

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