Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tips for making the most of your time and money on Black Friday

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
There's been a lot of discussion regarding Black Friday and stores opening earlier than ever, some even staying open through Thanksgiving.  The bottom line is families are anxious to save money. That's understandable. With Michigan's economy and family budgets being what they are, holiday shopping this year will depend on careful deal-hunting and focused buying. 
To help with the process here are a few Black Friday tips from the editors at Woman's Day Magazine , retailers and experienced Black Friday shoppers:

1. Make it a fun experience
For some shoppers Black Friday is an annual event. Those who are traveling long distances will even stay in a hotel. However, in order to make it enjoyable, all of the details are planned out carefully. For example: a group might meet on Thursday night (after Thanksgiving dinner) at the hotel. Once everyone has checked-in they will read through all of the Black Friday fliers to determine which stores they want to hit. A woman from Ontario who has planned a Black Friday girls' weekend for a number of years said she always includes a second option in case the lines at a particular store are too long to endure.

2. Read the fine print
Black Friday sales are designed to look fantastic. And it could very well be a great deal, but before you commit to purchasing any big ticket item (such as a big screen TV or recliner), make sure you read the fine print. "We found that, a lot of the time, the savings advertised are savings off the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), which is misleading," said Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of ConsumersSearch.com, a product review site. As she explained it, because stores usually price items below the MSRP anyway, those deals are not as great as they may seem. Other details to look for include store limits. Albeit a great deal, it could be that the special is limited to four products per store. So, if you are not among the first shoppers in line, you cannot count on scoring that bargain.

3. Do a search for coupons
Jeanette Pavini, consumer finance expert for Coupons.com said shoppers should never click "purchase" until they've searched for a coupon or discount code. Sites like Coupons.com and CouponMom.com were designed for exactly this, to find coupon deals such as free shipping, 10 percent off or buy one, get one free coupons available at stores such as Sephora, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble. Look for in-store coupons too. How often have you been standing in line at a store and noticed that the person next to you had a 50 percent off any regular-priced item coupon? It takes a few minutes to search for coupons but it can make a difference in the purchase of big ticket items.

4. Keep your receipts
What seems like a great idea on Black Friday when you're rushing to find something on your list may turn out to be a mistake once the excitement of the day wears off. "Even with the great deal you're getting, by the time the holiday comes and goes, your item or gift may be discounted even more," said Joanie Demer, cofounder of TheKrazyCouponLady.com. "In case it needs to be returned, you want to get full credit back."

5. Pay with cash
If you want to really save money on Black Friday, leave the credit cards at home. Experts will tell you that doing so not only saves you from paying the interest that will accrue if you can't pay off the balance in full, but it also helps you stay within your budget and avoid post-holiday debt.

6. Take full advantage of the sales
If you have the time and money, consider buying items that might not be on your Christmas list but that you know you'll need, such as a wedding shower, birthday or upcoming graduation. "Look for smaller ticket items in less heavily trafficked stores," said Teri Gault, co-author of "Shop Smart, Save More." "Not only will you likely get a deal, you'll be set for the rest of the year."

7. Arm yourself with shopping tools
There are plenty of apps that have been created specifically to help holiday shoppers get the best deals, so be sure to have your Smartphone charged for the trip. Black Friday Apps available for iPhones and Androids, let you browse "leaked" ads from more than 60 major retailers, and according to the report by Woman's Day, offers will be organized in one place so you can comparison shop or search for specific items when you're on the go. If you don't have a Smartphone, the information can also be accessed via the Web.

8. Follow through on rebate offers
If you're going to purchase an item that requires you to mail in rebates in order to cash in on savings, be prepared to do the paperwork - otherwise you didn't save a thing. "Manufacturers count on people forgetting to mail in their rebates," Pavini said. "Make sure you get copies of the original receipt, the UPC Codes and any other information the manufacturer needs. Then mail it in."

9. Stay focused
A lot of the deals offered are designed to get you into the store, but not every single item will be a major sale. "They put the great bargains at the back of the store so you have to walk through everything else to get to them," said Frietchen. Shop with a list, a budget and stay focused. Also, getting the best price, if it takes all day may not save you money in the end. A smaller store might be offering the item you want at a higher price but you have to consider how much easier it will be to find a parking spot and getting in and out. The time you saved in one store might be used to find another great deal.

10. Stick to your budget
When you find that one incredible deal, do not be tempted to spend beyond your means. All of the stores will be offering shoppers the opportunity to open a store credit card to get extra savings, but be sure to think long and hard before you consider it. "Store credit cards are usually higher than bank cards. On average, a store credit card is between 21 and 24 percent. Some cards will increase that rate up to 30 percent if you are late on a payment," said Pavini. Here's an idea: Set up a buddy system so that whenever you are tempted to ditch the budget you have someone that you can call for advice.

The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her -- Marcelene Cox


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