by Danica Lo
Getty ImagesBlack Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. Here are some of our best insider tips on how to get the most bang for your buck. Find out what to look for, how to strategize, and a few cool apps that'll make bargain-hunting super easy.
1. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Plan Your Shopping Strategy and Stick to It!
The key to a successful Black Friday and Cyber Monday is all in the planning. Make a list of your most-wanted items as well as your maximum spending budget. With so much shopping and so little time, this helps focus on the items you want most.
2. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Use Bing Maps to Find Stores at the Mall
Hitting a shopping center or mall? Save yourself time--and avoid the search for elusive store directories--by downloading the Bing Maps app on your Android or iPhone. It not only showcases normal map stuff, like streets, but also provides store locations and floor plans of malls.
3. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Make Sure the Product Is Worth the Price
If you're looking for big-ticket items, watch prices for a few months leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. A Wall Street Journal investigation last year found that some popular gifts actually get priced up right before the holidays, so the discount you're getting on Black Friday might just wind up being the normal price. Other stores put the same old items on sale year after year--and the discounts aren't necessarily significant. Remember: Just because it's Black Friday doesn't mean you're getting the best price possible, though it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all.
4. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Use Your Phone to Compare Prices on the Spot
You know that giant brick of a phone you carry around, day in, day out? It can save you a whole lot of money while you're shopping. I'm a huge fan of Amazon's Price Check app--available for both iPhone and Android--which lets you scan bar codes on popular products and do an instant price comparison on your handheld. Other similar apps include Red Laser (for Android and iPhone), which not only price-compares but also scouts for special online coupon codes and stores your loyalty card info; Pricegrabber, which does the scan-compare thing and also aggregates shopping deals, like Groupons; and Smoopa, which lets you scan a bar code and shows a green light if you should buy, a red light if you're about to get ripped off, and a yellow light if you should consider your options before pulling the trigger.
5. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Do Research Beforehand on Black Friday-Specific Websites
Unless you're hoarding Sunday newspaper circulars, it's pretty hard to get a comprehensive overview of every sale going on near you during Black Friday. Luckily, websites like The Black Friday have made this task so much easier. You can scope out actual PDFs of store circulars as well as comb through e-commerce deals, all from the comfort of your computer screen. Other good reference sites that are similar: BlackFriday.com, FatWallet.com, and BFAds.net.
6. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Choose the Shorter Line, Even If the People on It Have More Stuff, Says Science
Here's how to save time and get to your next shopping destination in a jiffy: Choose the line with the fewest people, even if it's not the "express" line. According to one study, the smaller the number of people in line, the quicker it moves, regardless of how much stuff they have. So much for the "10 items or less" line. We've been doing it wrong at Whole Foods all these years.
7. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Don't Expect to Find Luxury Goods at Deep Discounts
Sure, some luxury department stores start secret, unadvertised sales right after Thanksgiving. For the most part, though, swanky brand names don't slash their prices for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So forget about the latest Prada shoes or Alexander Wang handbag, and use the post-Thanksgiving rush to buy your basics from mass-market retailers--they're more likely to discount.
8. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Shop Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday
Now that lots of stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day, there's no real need to save your shopping for 4 A.M. after gorging on turkey. While there will still be special deals to be had in the wee hours, most sales and offers will be in effect--both in-store and online--before Friday and Monday. Last year, Amazon.com's deals kicked in nearly an entire week before Thanksgiving! So keep an eye out and shop your favorite retailers early, before stock becomes scarce.
9. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Do the Math--Is Your Time Worth the Money?
While it's tempting to get swept up in the moment and rally a group of girlfriends to visit the nearest outlet center (some stores will open Thanksgiving evening), take a minute to stop and consider the value of your time. Is 70 percent off worth getting into a fistfight over some pants from two seasons ago that you don't really need anyway? (And if it is, carry on.)
10. Tips for Shopping Holiday Sales: Read the Fine Print on Return Policies
Watch out for those impulse buys during sales season-and check your merchandise carefully before you swipe that credit card! When the deals are this good, lots of stores and online retailers mark items "final sale." Make sure to read the fine print--or better yet, make sure you really want what you're buying--before you do the deed.