Follow these tips to amp up savings on, and before, Black Friday

Is Black Friday worth it? That depends on what you want to buy – and your family's holiday shopping habits

Constance Sommer
Personal Finance Writer
Writes about personal finance, health care and other topics.

Is Black Friday worth it? Credit card tips for maximizing savings

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The jammed parking lots. The crowded changing rooms. The long lines at the checkout counter. Are Black Friday sales really worth it?

Well, experts said, that depends.

The sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the day after Thanksgiving, and the following Monday, respectively) aren’t necessarily the best of the year.

  • The ideal time to snag a sale on last year’s iPhone, for example, may be after the new model debuts in September.
  • And some people would rather spend the days before and after Thanksgiving relaxing with their family and friends, rather than scouring stores or website for bargains.

But for those who are determined to pay less for more, Black Friday, as well as the weeks preceding it, can yield some lovely deals.

See related: Price protections ensure Black Friday's lowest prices now

Best Black Friday deals can hit before Black Friday

Kristin Cook, managing editor of BensBargains.com, recommends starting early. “Every November, there are some crazy deals online,” she said.

Cook and her staff spend the month posting great deals to the site, as well as stocking up their own holiday present closets. The effort peaks late Wednesday night, just before Thanksgiving, when many Black Friday deals are posted online.

She recalled that the Kohl’s department store website last year took its deals live in the wee hours of Thursday and paired them with an online-only, 15 percent off coupon.

“We come into work on Black Friday,” she said, “and it’s kind of a let-down, because the best deals are before Black Friday rather than on the day.”

When Black Friday is a family tradition

Still, many people believe in the magic of the day itself, and quite a number of those insist on experiencing it in person.

“A lot of shoppers have long-standing family traditions built around hitting the stores together,” said Rebecca Lehmann, senior marketing manager for BradsDeals.com. “They’ll have an entire game plan where everyone has an assignment, they pack hot chocolate, and then split up when the doors open.”

Black Friday strategies

Assignments, game plans – those are some of experts’ top recommendations for making the most of what Sarah Skirboll, senior director of public relations for the coupon site RetailMeNot, calls the “five days of savings” between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.

“You must be strategic,” Skirboll said. Among her tips:

Weeks before:

  • Start following your favorite retailers and brands on social media. Sign up for their emails, too. That’s how to get access to any special savings or offers they will post for their followers.
  • Make a list of items you want to buy on sale – and a budget. What do you need? How much do you want to spend?

Days before, scour the internet to see which retailer has what you’re looking for at the best price.

Another tip from Lehmann of BradsDeals: Head on over to BlackFridayArchive.com to see what deals retailers ran on items last year.

  • Say, for example, you’ve got a kid who wants a Razor scooter. Target’s been pricing them at $17-$19 for many years now on Black Friday, she said.
  • Ask a bargains site (BradsDeals is one of them) to stick an alert on the item for that price, and you may find you can cross scooters off your list in September or October.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh, it’s Black Friday, this must be the best deal I'm going to get.' That's not necessarily the case."

Beware of ‘door-busters’

Of course, there are what’s known in the trade as “door-busters.” These are deals offered only in-store, whenever it opens for Black Friday sales, that are both startlingly low-priced and available only in limited quantities.

Door-buster deals often involve electronics such as TVs or computers, and if you don’t arrive early enough, chances are they’ll be sold out when you do get to the store.

But experts warn any deal that sounds too good to be true, probably is.

Take computers, for example, said Amy Chang, representative for SlickDeals.net. “Computers sold during Black Friday, those typically are models that aren’t up to current standards of technology,” she said.

Also watch out for rock-bottom prices on a brand you’ve never heard of, or an in-store brand, Cook said. Department stores which might advertise a store-brand jacket at 80 percent off on Black Friday.

That sounds great, she said, but remember – stores can set the retail price at whatever they want. “The trick,” she said, “is not getting caught up in the hype of it.”

What to buy on Black Friday

As to what shoppers should buy, and when, there are many different, and contradictory, opinions.

Just about everyone interviewed for this story agreed Black Friday is a great time to buy a television, and all the technology associated with it, from Blu-ray to video games.

But some insisted toys should be purchased on Black Friday, while others advised waiting for Cyber Monday.

One thing is for sure: the holiday season is littered with great deals, and they’re hardly limited to one nutty shopping trip at the mall the day after Thanksgiving.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh, it’s Black Friday, this must be the best deal I’m going to get,’” said Holly Peterson, a budgeting expert and retirement planner in Twin Falls, Idaho. “That’s not necessarily the case.”

 

6 ways to maximize credit cards on Black Friday

1. Retail store cash back

Now is a great time to cash in those rewards you’ve been collecting all year. If that’s not the case, consider investing (for this time next year) in retailer cards at places you like to shop.

The Amazon Prime Visa card, for example, gives Prime members 5 percent cash back on all Amazon purchases. The Gap Visa card offers 5 points for every dollar spent for all purchases at Gap, Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy brands, whether in-store or online.

2. Store discount cards

Target and Lowe’s are two brands whose store cards give you 5 percent off their merchandise.

Tip: If you’re considering applying for a retail store credit card, make sure not to carry a balance. Store cards have, on average, an APR of 24.99 percent, according to a 2017 CreditCards.com survey. By comparison, general-purpose credit cards have on average an APR of 17.11 percent according to CreditCards.com's weekly rate report.

3. Cash back bonuses

Rack up travel points while shopping, by using the right card for the right purchase.

Need a computer? The Ink Business Cash Credit Card by Chase offers 5 percent cashback on office supply stores – which carry computers.

Other cards have rotating categories targeted to the season. The Discover it® Cash Back card offers 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs and Amazon purchases of up to $1,500 combined between October and December – but you have to opt in to receive the cash back bonus.

The Chase Freedom card categories for the fourth quarter of 2018 include department stores, wholesale clubs and Chase Pay purchases.

See related: When rotating categories don’t match your spending habits

4. Card-linked offers

American Express offers cardholders the opportunity for extra savings on select brands through card-linked offers.

Current Amex offers may include getting $50 back when you spend $200 at Sunglass Hut or $25 back when you spend $120 at Madewell.

5. Shopping portals

Similarly, other cards, airline and hotel loyalty programs offer holders points bonuses for going through their online shopping portals to purchase from select retailers.

Current United Mileage Plus shopping offers include 3 miles per dollar spent at Aveda, 3 miles per dollar spent at Macy's and 2 miles per dollar spent at Bed Bath & Beyond.

General cash back portals are also a great way to score seasonal deals. Ebates, for example, offered 10 percent cash back on all Macy’s purchases on Labor Day. Other cash back sites to consider include Groupon, Ibotta and Top Cashback

6. Gift cards

Finally, use your credit cards ahead of time to purchase merchant gift cards at a discount.

For instance, RetailMeNot's currently offering a $200 Express gift card for $176. Other sites where you can buy discount gift cards include Raise and Gift Card Granny.

A savvy shopper could save that card for an Express sale and use it to stack savings.


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Updated: 11-15-2018