Black Friday Shopping 101: Your Complete Guide to Black Friday

For those of us with tight budgets, the holidays can be a nerve-wracking time. But here at HC, we're always looking out for you! We know you know about Black Friday, the infamous day after Thanksgiving when you can get the most amazing discounts and deals for everything on your shopping list. But for many people, Black Friday conjures up images of absolute chaos: overnight campouts in front of department stores, people trampling one another as the doors open, or your feet falling off from exhaustion before noon even rolls around.

There are a lot of rumors and hype about Black Friday, but we're here to help you understand the trends and offer some survival tips. We can't promise there won't be long lines, but we can help you be as prepared as possible to get the most out of your day. Who knows; you might be able to get all your holiday presents in one trip, and even do a little shopping for yourself!

Do Your Research on Discounts and Don’t Get Scammed

We don't just want you to survive Black Friday; we want you to thrive! To make sure you get the most out of your day, it's always best to do your research before you even get to the stores. Michael O'Hara, CEO of Yumani, a website where buyers can post items they want and sellers compete for their business, is an expert on online shopping and retail trends. "Leverage your internet expertise and find the best deals," O'Hara says. "Retailers count on some impulse shopping, but especially 18- to 24-year-olds have to be savvy shoppers. Search online before you go into a store, and get that price." Check the websites of your favorite stores for deals and promotions that they'll be offering on Black Friday, as well as sites like that list deals from lots of different department stores. Print out the best coupons and bring them with you when you shop. Don't forget to check across multiple stores if you're looking for a specific product, in case one advertises a lower price.

It's also good to do background checks on the stores you're buying from. "Buy from a reputable outlet," O'Hara tells us. "There are a lot of gray market goods, especially with consumer electronics. They don't come with full warranties, or are reconditioned and are being sold as new." Reputable outlets are stores that will guarantee your purchase, let you have exchanges, and ensure that you will receive a refund if you're unhappy with the product. Check out company policies, especially on big-ticket items and discounted sale items. And watch for telltale scams. "Don't buy from any place that will charge you a restocking fee," O'Hara cautions.

Worth the Wait?

Black Friday is known for the long lines outside stores, but that's not the only way to shop—sometimes, depending on what you’re shopping for, it could be to your benefit to skip Black Friday altogether. Although extremely low prices are common on large ticket items, like appliances and consumer electronics, those huge savings don't extend to everything. "In clothing and department stores, most items are marked up to mark down," O'Hara tells us. "I wouldn't go and stand in line at 2 in the morning for a pair of jeans or a jacket." That doesn't mean there won't be bargains, though. O'Hara says that stores want to clear their inventory, so they might even drop prices further as the holidays get closer. "There will be steeper discounts for goods like coats and sweaters as you build up to Christmas," O'Hara says.

Other experts aren't so sure that waiting is the best plan. MaryAnn Bekkedahl, President and Co-Founder of theSwizzle, a website that allows people to sign up for emails with product information and deals from brands they love, cautions against waiting too late for deals to arrive. "It's like playing chicken. If you wait and wait and wait for the deal to get better, it might only get better the minute it goes out of stock," Bekkedahl says. However, she offers a solution: "Buy it and keep the receipt, and if you see that that store will have a sale, go back and get the sale price." She admits that retailers don't love that strategy, but that they'll usually honor an exchange. Just be sure to check their return policy! Local merchants generally have a 10-day return policy with receipt. Most major retails usually have a 30-day window, if not longer, and the big department stores usually give around six months to return an item, according to Bekkedahl.

Make a List

Once you've done your research on the lowest prices, it's time to actually plan your purchases. Bekkedahl recommends making a list of all the stores you want to go to and the people you need to buy for. "Know what you're going for," she says. But don't be afraid to look around, too! "You will be inspired along the way; you'll see something for your sister that you didn't know you wanted or that you couldn't put on a list," she says. Her personal recommendation is to slip a small notebook into your purse and have it serve as a running list of deals, ideas, and reminders. "Having a list and a structure helps you get from point A to B when you get to the mall," she says.

Don't forget about the research you did earlier, and make sure you work it into your plan for the day! If you know J.Crew has an awesome sale going on, print out the store’s flyer and tuck it in your notebook. Sticking to your list also helps you to not go over budget. Once you get in the mall, it's easy to spend, spend, spend, but it's easier to stay on track if you keep a written list of what presents you need to buy and where to find the best deals on them. If your budget is tight this year, it might be good to not use a credit card for purchases since it’s easier to forget what you’ve spent when you don’t have a physical reminder (a dwindling cash supply) to keep track of. Take out a set amount of cash, and set that as your maximum budget for the day (just make sure you keep an eye on your purse—don’t be a target for theft!).