By Gretchen Roberts
Black Friday and other big shopping days won't scare you if you're armed with these budget-savvy, smart-shopper tips.
Get the insider deals
The National Retail Federation is predicting holiday sales of a whopping $447.1 billion this year, up 2.3 percent from 2009. But the smart shoppers we know aren't willing to spend a cent more than necessary to get great buys for everyone on their shopping list. Here are the tricks they have up their sleeves. Let the shopping begin!
Before you even make your list, check out the online shopping resource FatWallet.com, which is known for leaking Black Friday ads and rumors. Check out its Black Friday Deal Filter when mapping your plan of attack for a big shopping day. The same goes for Black Friday Ads (bfads.net). Both will have their eye on the holiday deals right up until the new year.
Work your social media skills
Before hitting the stores (or while shopping, if you have a smartphone), check out retailers' Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, says shopping expert Emily Hollenbeck. Stores sometimes leak their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to their Twitter followers and Facebook fans first.
A list is not just for purchases. Sometimes you're not sure exactly what to buy everyone, but you do know who you need to buy for. Having your people list handy will help you make those instant decisions that are required during big shopping days like Black Friday if you want to snap up the deals, says Motherboard Mom Dawn Lundien of Knoxville, Tennessee. She never has any regrets when she grabs an extra item that's on mega-sale. "You can always return it later if you don't need it, but you won't be able to repeat the great deal if you don't get it," she says. And it might just be perfect for more than one person on your list.
Roz Cummins of Boston uses a $2 Christmas iPhone app that lets her make a list, track spending and budget, and check off which items she's bought and wrapped. "Since it's on my iPhone, I can use it all year, buying gifts as I see them and recording them on the list," she says. "The only thing this program is missing is a category to enter where you hid the present so you can find it when the holidays arrive!" But it does keep her from making duplicate purchases for the same person, which can happen in the midst of a shopping frenzy.
Go for the green
To avoid overspending, Motherboard Mom Barb Freda of Charlotte, North Carolina, sets a budget and then takes greenbacks only on her shopping trips. "I don't put anything on credit cards. When the cash is gone, I'm done," she says.
Buying for yourself is a common pitfall on Black Friday, says Kevin Gallegos, a consumer finance expert and vice president of Freedom Debt Relief LLC. Don't fall into that trap, he says: "The only exception is when you find a great buy on an item you already planned to purchase, and you have the cash in hand." Take a fellow shopper along and not only will you have somebody to stop you if you're spending too much, but he or she can help you plot strategy or take turns standing in line with you.
Do pick up practical items
Black Friday store deals aren't limited to gifts, so scan the ads for household and office equipment you need to replace anyway, suggest Savings.com DealPros Alex and Cassie Michael. That flat-screen TV (the item that most Motherboard Moms had on the top of their shopping list this year, according to a recent survey) may be at the lowest price all season right now.
Shop at dinnertime
"Stores are slowest and have the shortest lines at this time," says Rick Grossman, a toy store executive in New Jersey. "You'll find a closer parking space and can get in and out quickly."
Choose a theme
Melody Warnick of Austin likes to get everyone a similar gift, like books for all the nieces and nephews. "Not only is this a time-saver, but you're in one store instead of several, so you're less likely to impulse buy," she says.
Grab the hot toys
Competition is fierce on must-have toys like Toy Story 3 Blast-Off Buzz Lightyear and Paper Jamz guitars and drums. Laurie Schacht, publisher of The Toy Insider (thetoyinsider.com), says to shop early. "If you see an item at the top of your child's list, get it now or you may not see it again until after the holidays." Paying an extra $5 may be worth it to you to save five hours of crowd battle on sale day, but you may not have to. Some stores have a policy that allows you to return the product to get a reduced price if you do so within a specified amount of time. Buy the toy now and take it back on or around the sale date to see if you can get the reduced price.Compare prices online
For shoppers who prefer to point-and-click than hoof it to a brick-and-mortar, try installing a price comparison browser add-on so you know you're getting the best deal. PriceBlink (priceblink.com) searches more than 3,000 U.S. retailers while you're browsing one site and shows you if there's a better deal elsewhere.
Cut yourself off after December 21
"I always panic the last few days before Christmas that I don't have enough for the kids, and then I drop money on junky things just to fill up the stockings," Motherboard Mom Warnick says. "Needless to say, they're always swimming in stuff on Christmas morning and don't need all the extras."
Gift cards can save the day
If all else fails, simply go the gift-card route. Buying them a few at a time over the months spreads the spending out and takes the sting out. "I pick up a small iTunes gift card every few weeks starting around Thanksgiving," says Nancy Hall of Madison, Connecticut. "When I need an emergency nonpersonal gift, I have a few on hand." Include a plate of cookies, a CD, or a $5 gift to personalize the present.
Tell Us What You Think: Bargain Crazy!?
What is the best bargain you ever scored?
About the Motherboard Motherboard is the source of great ideas, info, and inspiration for women. Its unique combo of mom-to-mom intelligence and down-to-earth advice celebrates the successes-and solves the challenges-of family life in today's busy world.
Life Made Better Newsletter If it's on your mind, it's in Motherboard's FREE weekly Life Made Better newsletter that's by and for you! Sign up today to be heard and for inspiration, ideas, and secrets you can use every day Sign Up for the Free "Life Made Better" Newsletter
See More Stories from the Motherboard: