The Thanksgiving holiday weekend — which includes Black Friday — is the most popular holiday weekend for shopping, according to a 2016 holiday survey from RetailMeNot. About 50 percent of consumers plan to spend part of the long weekend at stores and online scouring the best Black Friday deals and doorbusters.
Such deals mean Black Friday is rife with opportunities to overspend. However, there are many strategies you can use to keep spending under control and ensure you're getting the best price.
1. Make a List of Gift Recipients
Take a tip from Santa Claus, and make a list and check it twice. Doing so should keep you more disciplined so you don't overspend.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the Black Friday madness and end up getting suckered into buying things that are good ‘deals’ that you don’t really need or want,” said Amy Chang, lifestyle savings expert at Slickdeals.
Write down the names of everyone you need to buy a gift for and the gift you want to purchase for each. Take the list with you as you shop and stick to it. “It will stop you from throwing things in your cart that you don’t need,” said DealNews features editor Benjamin Glaser.
2. Don’t Get Everything on Your Kids’ Wish Lists
A majority of parents say they spend more over the holidays than they should, according to a survey by T. Rowe Price. In fact, 53 percent agree with the statement, "I try to get everything on my kids' lists, no matter how much it costs." As a result, some parents pay for purchases by raiding their retirement accounts or emergency funds, or getting a payday loan, the survey found.
Don’t feel compelled to add everything on your kids’ wish list to your shopping list. Instead, talk with your children about budgets and trade-offs, said Marty Allenbaugh, a certified financial planner with T. Rowe Price. In fact, having a conversation about family finances can be the most valuable gift you give your kids, he said.
3. Leave Fido Off the List
Almost half of households nationwide are expected to buy gifts for their animal companions, according to a survey by accounting firm PwC. These households will spend an average of $62.
Ask yourself this, though: Will your furry friend be disappointed if he gets a dog treat from the pantry wrapped up with a bow instead of a new treat? If you want to avoid overspending on Black Friday, consider skipping the pet store this year.
4. Create a Shopping Budget
As you make a shopping list, research the prices of items you plan to buy, said Glaser. You can do this online by checking retailers’ sites and deal sites such as DealNews.
This will give you an idea of how much you can expect to spend on Black Friday. It will also tell you whether you need to adjust the gift list to fit within the budget of what you can actually afford without racking up debt.
“The more realistic your budget is, the easier it is to stick to it,” he said.
5. Don’t Feel Pressured to Give the Perfect Gift
"The perfect gift" is a phrase we hear often around the holidays, said Donna Freedman, author of "Your Playbook For Tough Times."
"Usually it’s in advertising, but sometimes we say it ourselves,” she said. Feeling like you have to get the perfect gift can lead to overspending.
You don’t have to get the "perfect gift" to show your love, Freedman said. “While little kids have no concept of cost, the adults in your life would not want you to go into debt to make a big show of the holiday,” she said. “Stick to your budget.”
6. Research Prices on Desired Items
Researching prices before you shop on Black Friday not only will help you create a budget, but also will ensure you’re getting items at the best price.
"To avoid getting duped during the biggest promotional event of the year, research prices on the items you want to buy so you know if a sale is a deal or a dud,” said money-saving expert Andrea Woroch.
Sites such as CamelCamelCamel and MyAlerts offer price histories and price-drop notifications so you can receive emails when items you want drop in price.
7. Identify the Best Buys
Some of the best Black Friday buys are tablets, select TVs, select laptops, kitchen appliances, gaming consoles and Apple products, said Woroch.
“If any of these products are on your list, determine who has the best price so you can map out your Black Friday route,” she said. Woroch also urges you to look for such deals online so you can save "in-store energy" for items only available at brick-and-mortar stores.
Meanwhile, Mike Catania, owner of PromotionCode.org, which publishes up-to-date promotion codes and coupons available online, said you should avoid purchasing things that aren’t on sale specifically for Black Friday. “Off-sale items are marked up by as much as 300 percent by retailers who know they're going to have lots of foot traffic that is ready to spend,” he said.
8. Know How Retailers Get You to Spend More
Retailers use a variety of tactics to get you to spend more. You should be especially aware of these strategies on Black Friday.
For example, Glaser said stores place more expensive items or items with higher profit margins in prominent places, such as at the end of aisles, in the checkout area and at eye level on shelves. “Be extra vigilant in those areas,” he said.
Also, many stores avoid putting clocks on their walls because retailers want you to lose track of time and spend more. So Glaser recommends setting a timer on your phone to remind you how long you’ve been in the store.
9. Be Aware of Your Spending Triggers
We all have hidden triggers that cause us to spend more. Holiday music is Freedman's trigger.
“Let me hear even a lousy synthesized version of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem,’ and I want to open my wallet," she said. "That’s because I associate the carols I sang in the junior choir with a happy holiday season and want to share that happiness with everyone on my list — even if I’ve already finished shopping.”
The holidays in themselves are a big, common spending trigger for many consumers. Be aware of this as you do your Black Friday shopping. Keep your list and budget in hand so the holiday spirit doesn't carry you away.
10. Shop With a Friend
Shopping with a companion might help you keep spending in check on Black Friday. Catania urges you to exchange credit cards with a friend until checkout.
"As you do the handoff, ask each other if you really are serious about the purchase,” he said. “Taking an extra 30 seconds in the elongated checkout lines can help assert the voice of fiscal responsibility.”
11. Leave the Kids at Home
Even if Black Friday has been a family tradition, you might want to head out without your children this year.
“When shopping for holiday gifts, leave the kids at home to avoid getting roped into additional unnecessary spending,” said Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot.
12. Shop Online to Resist Temptation
More than 90 percent of holiday shoppers plan to spend in-store, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. When you shop online, it’s easier to avoid overspending because you are not touching items, aren’t overwhelmed by product displays and can compare prices easier, said Glaser.
Plus, when you shop from the comfort of home, you won’t be tempted to spend money on things other than gifts. The ICSC found 80 percent of consumers surveyed will participate in activities other than shopping when visiting a shopping center, including dining at restaurants and having their kids’ picture taken with Santa.
Learn More: Tricks to Curb Your Online Shopping Addiction
13. Don’t Buy Things Just Because They’re on Sale
It can be tempting to buy more than you need on Black Friday because you don’t want to miss an opportunity to save. In fact, half of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they shopped in stores over the Thanksgiving weekend because the deals were too good to pass up.
Glaser said he interviewed one hardcore Black Friday shopper who bought eight TVs because they were on sale. She put one in every room of her house and gave two away, he said.
To avoid buying things on Black Friday just because they’re on sale, stick to purchasing items on your gift list. If anything else catches your eye, ask whether you would want it if it wasn’t discounted. If you wouldn’t pay full price, skip it.
14. Don’t Shop for Yourself
Fifty-eight percent of consumers plan to make purchases for themselves while holiday shopping this year, spending an average of $139.61 — up 4 percent from 2015, according to the National Retail Federation.
“Many shoppers are taking the approach of ‘one for you, two for me’ this holiday season,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release. If you know you’ll end up treating yourself, factor this into your shopping budget. Otherwise, resist the urge to buy — even if it is on sale — by reminding yourself that you’ll be getting gifts from others.
15. Avoid Gifts People Don’t Want
The last thing you want to do on Black Friday is overspend on gifts people don’t want — such as clothing and shoes, which is the gift most likely to be returned, according to a survey by cash-back shopping site Splender.
Rather than taking a chance of buying something someone doesn’t want — and spending too much on it — opt for a gift card.
“Figure out your budget. Then, think of the gift cards you’d like to buy for each person,” said Shelley Hunter, who works for GiftCards.com and is known as the "gift card girlfriend." After all, gift cards are the gift that the majority of people want, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 holiday sales survey.
16. Get Gift Cards Attached to Black Friday Deals
If you plan to get gift cards for the people on your shopping list, save money by taking advantage of special offers around Black Friday, said Hunter. You’ll see offers for free gift cards with purchases, buy-one-get-one free cards, and a percentage or dollar amount off certain gift cards. You can find a roundup of gift card deals on Hunter’s Gift Card Girlfriend blog on GiftCards.com.
17. Purchase Discounted Gift Cards Online
Another way to get cheaper gift cards is to find them selling for less than face value at sites such as GiftCards.com, Cardpool and Raise.
For example, before shopping on Black Friday, check one of these sites to see if discounted gift cards are available for the stores where you plan to shop, said Hunter. Not only will you save money if you buy an item on sale, but you’ll get an additional discount by using a gift card that you bought for less than face value. Plus, using gift cards to make purchases can help you stick to your budget, said Hunter.
18. Be Flexible With Where You Shop
If the same item can be purchased at several stores, buy it at the retailer for which you can get the biggest discount on a gift card, said Hunter.
Or, buy a discounted gift card for a retailer that offers volume discounts. Then, do as much of your holiday shopping as you can at that store. Old Navy and JCPenney, for example, often have threshold sales such as “save $10 when you spend $100” or “save $25 when you spend $200,” Hunter said.
“The more you spend, the higher the discount,” she said. Stack your discounted gift card with the marked-down merchandise to save even more.
19. Shop With Cash Only
About 74 percent of consumers surveyed by TransUnion said they are likely or extremely likely to use cash for their holiday shopping. This can be a good way to stick to a budget. In fact, Skirboll recommended leaving your credit card at home so you're not tempted to buy more than you can afford.
For online shopping, use a gift card that you’ve purchased in advance with cash from a retailer. Or, you might be able to pay through PayPal — which you can link to your bank account — depending on the retailer.
20. Pinpoint the Best Black Friday Deals
To figure out which retailers will have the best sales on Black Friday and where you can find the lowest prices on the items you want, take advantage of deal sites that do the research for you. For example, DealNews pinpoints the best Black Friday deals.
Slickdeals.net has more than 10 million community members who share and vote on the best deals daily. Its Black Friday section features shopping lists and advice from seasoned shoppers, along with ad scans, said Chang.
“If there is a specific item on your shopping list, set a deal alert and you'll get notified immediately once a deal becomes available,” she said.
21. Compare Prices Before You Buy
If you’re shopping online on Black Friday, compare prices at a site such as PriceGrabber before you click “buy.” That way, you'll make sure you’re actually getting the best deal. While in stores, Catania recommends using an app such as RedLaser to scan the bar codes of the item you want to buy to confirm that the price you're about to pay is indeed the best available.
22. Make Sure You Can Get Price Matching
If a price-comparison app indicates the item you want is cheaper in another store, you might not have to go to another retailer to get that price. Many major retailers match competitors’ prices. Be aware, though, that some retailers — such as Walmart — exclude prices on items sold between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. So check a retailer’s policy online before trying to talk a sales clerk into matching a competitor’s price.
23. Shop Before Black Friday
One way to avoid overspending on Black Friday is to shop before this major sale event. That’s because you might find great prices on items on your list during pre-Black Friday sales, Woroch said. For example, Amazon has daily deals as part of its countdown to its Black Friday sale. Walmart already is offering early bird online specials.
To avoid missing early bird deals, sign up to receive email alerts from DealNews when there are deals available on products you want to buy, Glaser said.
24. Shop After Black Friday
You might be able to save more money by waiting until Cyber Monday to do your holiday shopping. Catania said an analysis by PromotionCode.org found that Black Friday ranks as the third-best day to save after Cyber Monday and Green Monday, an online shopping day that falls on Dec. 12 this year.
Online retailers tend to offer more sitewide deals on Cyber Monday, Chang said. “So if you’re not looking for a product that would typically be discounted on Black Friday, Cyber Monday may be your ticket to save,” she said.
25. Download Money-Saving Apps
In your quest to save, don't overlook your phone. “Your smartphone is your most treasured shopping buddy this time of year, so it's important to prep it for the chaos to come,” said Woroch.
Download money-saving apps such as Coupon Sherpa to find coupons while you’re shopping for extra savings. You can use the Santa's Bag app for gift-list and budget trackings, she said. And apps from retailers such as Target and Walmart will help you navigate store aisles so you can find what you need before the item sells out.
26. Use Social Media to Score Deals
You might be able to score exclusive Black Friday discounts from retailers if you follow them on their social media channels, Chang said.
“Be in the know and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook,” she said. “Quite often, these coupons are only available to their followers on that social media outlet. Make sure you don’t miss out.”
27. Sign Up for Retailers’ Newsletters
One of the best ways to stay on top of retail promotions is to sign up for retailer newsletters, said Woroch. This will help you know which items will be on sale during Black Friday. Some retailers offer exclusive coupons in their email newsletters.
However, Woroch recommended creating a new email account to receive retail newsletters. That way, you can keep better track of offers without flooding your regular email account.
28. Don’t Spend Extra for Shipping
Don't blow the savings of shopping online by paying to have items shipped. If the item you want is sold by several retailers, compare shipping costs. You might find shipping fees wipe out one retailer’s low price, and that you can get a better deal from another retailer with free shipping.
You also might be able to avoid shipping fees if a retailer offers in-store pickup of online purchases, Woroch said. Top retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Kohl's and Walmart offer this service. Stores such as Sears and CVS Pharmacy offer a curbside carry-out option where you can have items brought to you. “Options like this help you avoid the temptation to pick up other items in-store, a retail trick consumers commonly fall for,” Woroch said.
You also can put off your holiday shopping until Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16, when up to 2,000 merchants offer free shipping with no minimum order requirement. The items are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve, said Kendal Perez, savings expert at Coupon Sherpa. Retailers also tend to offer discounts on this day.
29. Keep Your Receipts
Keep all of your receipts from Black Friday shopping and put them in a folder, desk drawer or place where they won’t get lost. Freedman recommended this in case you buy too much and need to return some of the items. Check each retailer’s return policies to ensure you take items back in time to get a refund.
30. Remind Yourself of the Consequences
If you often overspend, remind yourself of the consequences before you start shopping. “How did you feel last January when the big bills came in?” said Freedman. “What did it do to your budget? To your ability to sleep soundly?”
It’s OK to splurge a little during the holidays and use your credit card, said Allenbaugh. But if it’s going to take more than two months to pay off what you owe, dial back your spending, he said. Otherwise, the interest you’re paying on your credit card will wipe out all the savings you think you’re getting by shopping on Black Friday.
31. Find Something Else to Do on Black Friday
This year, ask yourself why you’re really shopping on Black Friday. The National Retail Federation found that about 31 percent of consumers said they shopped because it is a tradition, and around 25 percent said it provides them with something to do over the holiday weekend.
If those are your motivations, consider starting a new tradition this year by avoiding unnecessary spending. Use the day to organize family photos and reminisce. Watch free DVDs from the library. Or go through the closets and garage to find items collecting dust — perhaps Christmas gifts from years past — that can be sold for cash to help cover the cost of the holidays this year.
Keep Reading: Better Ways to Spend Your Black Friday Budget