32 Ways To Avoid Overspending on Black Friday

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Geber86 / iStock.com

For decades, Black Friday has reigned supreme in the retail realm, signaling the start of the holiday shopping season. Initially, Black Friday was limited to the day after Thanksgiving, but in recent years, the extravaganza has grown. Now, retailers often host Black Friday events through the weekend and on into the e-commerce holiday Cyber Monday (launched in 2005). In fact, November has become so chock full of shopping momentum built around Black Friday, that it’s become known as Black November, with stores rolling out epic deals all month long.

Read: The 14 Best Holiday Deals From Costco’s Early Black Friday Coupon Book
See: Is It Smart To Wait For Black Friday This Year?

It’s no understatement to say that things may be a bit different this year as the pandemic rages on, with new COVID-19 cases rising again and the country prepping different types of retail shortages. Amid all this unrest, holiday shopping is still happening, and so is Black Friday. According to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, shoppers plan to spend $997.79 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and more. Read on to find out how you can save money and prepare for this unique shopping season.

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Black Friday Will Be Longer and Quieter This Year

If you are lining up at a store for an in-store savings experience, you’ll probably be waiting longer than usual as retailers enforce social distancing measures. 

What else will be different this Black Friday? According to DealNews, which extensively covers Black Friday discounts and other savings events, consumers can also expect longer-lasting deals. That means that the Black November phenomenon is in full effect this year, with sales dropping throughout the month from major retailers like Amazon, Home Depot and Kohl’s. Shipping delays are looking extra likely for shoppers. Jenny Robertson, the senior vice president of integrated marketing and communications for FedEx encourages people to shop — and ship — early, noting that FedEx has been shipping at “holiday levels” since March.

Additionally, while in recent years we saw a growing trend in gifting experiences over new physical gifts, the pandemic has left us all fairly housebound, and since we don’t really know for how much longer this thing will last, we’re going back to the tradition of giving physical gifts instead of experiential ones

So, after all that, how can you save money this year? Here’s a look at 32 techniques to cut down on your bill.

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Make a List of Gift Recipients

Take a tip from Santa, 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,” says Amy Chang, senior manager, content operations 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 former DealNews features editor Benjamin Glaser.

Learn: How To Resist the Temptation of Overspending During the Holidays

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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% 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 from your kids’ wish list to your shopping list. Instead, talk with your children about budgets and trade-offs, said Marty Allenbaugh, senior relationship manager with T. Rowe Price. In fact, having a conversation about family finances can be the most valuable gift you give your kids, he said.

Giving: The Best Type of Store To Shop For Holiday Gifts by Age Bracket

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Leave Fido Off the List

Almost half of the 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. Or, check out these ways to spoil your pet on a budget.

Planning: How To Handle Holiday Invites and Events While on a Budget

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Know Exactly What You’re Looking For

“My top tip to avoid overspending on Black Friday is to know exactly what you are looking for,” said Michelle Schroeder-Gardner from the personal finance blog Making Sense of Cents.

“Black Friday can be a hectic day to shop with long lines and lots of ‘deals’ that may entice you to buy,” she said. “So, having a budget and a list of exactly what you plan on buying is key so that you don’t stray and fill up your cart with lots of unnecessary spending.”

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Research Prices on Desired Items

Researching prices before you shop on Black Friday will help ensure you get items at the best prices.

“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. Price comparison tools like Rakuten and Capital One Shopping (formerly Wikibuy) are also quite handy browser extensions.

See: Why Black Friday Is My Favorite Holiday

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Create a Shopping Budget

After you find the prices for items you plan to buy, create a budget for Black Friday shopping. Then, adjust your gift list to fit within what you can actually afford without racking up debt.

“The more realistic your budget is, the easier it is to stick to it,” said Glaser. That means being brutally honest. If you know you’re going to end up buying something for yourself, write it down so you can at least plan for it.

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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.

Money is tight enough as is, and these are tough times. Don’t fret over proving your love by way of the best gift ever. Your recipients — including kids — will appreciate anything done up in some fun holiday wrapping.

“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.”

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Identify the Best Buys

Some of the best Black Friday buys will be smart home devices from Amazon and Google, the New York Times reported, along with kitchen appliances Instant Pots. In sticking with tradition, you can also expect to find tons of deals on electronics, possibly even on high-price tech like iPads and other Apple gear.

“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.

PromotionCode.org publishes up-to-date promotion codes and coupons available online. Mike Catania, its owner, 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.

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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. Glaser recommends setting a timer on your phone to remind you how long you’ve been in the store.

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Know 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 and its associated sounds, tastes and events are a common spending trigger for many consumers. Be aware of this as you do your Black Friday shopping.

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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 extra-long checkout lines can help assert the voice of fiscal responsibility.”

Since you might not be able to do this in person due to the pandemic, ask a friend ahead of time if you can text or FaceTime with them while online browsing. You can both help one another stay accountable and on budget.

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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.

In COVID-19 times, this just means not showing your kids your screen while you’re shopping from home.


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Shop Online to Resist Temptation

When you shop online, it’s easier to avoid overspending because you’re 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.  

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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.

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Don’t Shop for Yourself

Of the $997.79 consumers plan to spend this holiday season, some of that money will go towards “non-gifts” to themselves, the NRF found. Hey, this year has been a nightmare and it’s perfectly fair to treat yourself, but if this pushes you into debt, it’s more stress than it’s worth.

“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 at the time.

If you know you’ll end up treating yourself, factor it 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.

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Avoid Gifts People Don’t Want

The last thing you want to do on Black Friday is overspending 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 the chance of buying something someone doesn’t want — and spending too much on it — opt for one of the best gift cards instead.

“Figure out your budget. Then think of the gift cards you’d like to buy for each person,” said GiftCards.com’s Shelley Hunter, who is known as the “Gift Card Girlfriend.”

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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 cards and a percentage or dollar amount off certain gift cards.

Buyer Beware: The Worst Gift Cards to Buy This Holiday Season

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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 Cardpool and Raise. You’ll save money if you buy an item on sale, and 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.

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Be Flexible With Where You Shop

If the same item can be purchased at several stores, buy it at the retailer where 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.

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Shop With Cash Only

Using cash for your holiday shopping is traditionally a good way to stick to a budget, but physical cash is harder to come by these pandemic-ridden days, when more shopping is done online.

For online shopping, use a gift card that you’ve purchased in advance with cash from a retailer. Or, pay through PayPal — which you can link to your bank account — depending on the retailer.


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Pinpoint the Best Black Friday Deals

To figure out which retailers will have the best Black Friday sales, take advantage of sites that do the research for you. Many sites can also help you find the lowest prices on the items you want.

Consider these sites and apps:

  • BlackFriday.com
  • DealNews
  • Digital Trends (for tech)
  • RetailMeNot
  • Rakuten
  • Slickdeals


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Compare Prices Before You Buy

If you’re shopping online on Black Friday, compare prices at sites such as PriceGrabber before you click the buy button. That way, you’ll make sure you’re actually getting the best deal.

When 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.

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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.

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Shop Before Black Friday

One way to avoid overspending on Black Friday is to shop before this major sale event, and that won’t be hard this year with a drawn-out and staggered Black Friday extravaganza. 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, said Glaser.

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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 Promotion Code 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. 14 this year.

Online retailers tend to offer more sitewide deals on Cyber Monday, said Chang. “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.”

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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,” advises Woroch.

Download money-saving apps such as Coupon Sherpa to find coupons while you’re shopping for extra savings, or use the Santa’s Bag app for gift-list and budget tracking. 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.

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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, said Chang.

“Be in the know and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Quite often, these coupons are only available to their followers on that social media outlet. Make sure you don’t miss out,” she said.

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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 recommends creating a new email account to receive retail newsletters. That way, you can keep better track of offers without flooding your regular email account.

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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 that shipping fees wipe out one retailer’s low price, and 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, said Woroch. Top retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot, Kohl’s and Walmart offer this service. 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,” said Woroch.

You also can put off your holiday shopping until Free Shipping Day on Dec. 14, when many merchants offer free shipping with no minimum order requirement. The items are guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve, said Kendal Perez, former savings expert at Coupon Sherpa. Retailers also tend to offer discounts on this day.

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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 recommends this in case you buy too much and need to return some of the items. Check major retailers’ return policies to ensure you take items back in time to get a refund.

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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?”

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Find Something Else to Do on Black Friday

This year, ask yourself why you’re really shopping Black Friday sales. If you’re not going to be having holidays with family or friends — or if you’re all in agreement to not spend money on one another, consider starting a new tradition. Or use it just for self-care, which we could all use more of.

According to a study by Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of APA, nearly 8 in 10 adults said the pandemic was a significant source of stress in their lives, and nearly 1 in 5 adults said their mental health was worse now than it was in 2019’s holiday season.  Shopping can make you feel happy for a little while, but it can also bring on stress. It’s perfectly okay to take this year off from shopping — and might benefit not only your budget but your well-being, too.

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Nicole Spector contributed to the reporting for this article.