Before shopping online or hitting the stores this Black Friday, check out these organization and budgeting techniques.
1. Make a list and check it twice. Determine where items you want to purchase will be the cheapest and what time the stores will open. Then, map out a plan of attack. Being knowledgeable about what you're shopping for will also help you avoid being lured into impulse purchases.
2. Set a budget. It's easy to get swept away in the shopping frenzy and end up spending more than you can afford. Designate a specific amount for each item or person on your list, and don't deviate from the plan.
3. Research before you shop. Compare in-store and online deals. In the past, several big box stores such as Walmart and Target have offered pre-Black Friday online deals that were the same as their in-store Black Friday deals. Some retailers also offer online shopping exclusives that you can't find in stores.
4. Sign up for email alerts. Visit websites for your favorite stores and sign up for email updates. Not only will you get the latest information on new products and upcoming sales, but retailers often send out coupons via email. Print them out and bring them to the store with you; or better yet, see if the retailer has an app that stores all the coupons, and download it to your smartphone before you hit the stores.
5. Understand return policies. Sometimes an incredible deal comes with strings attached, and Black Friday is no exception. Knowing store policies before you go shopping can help you decide where to shop and what places to avoid. Keep an eye out for no-return policies, shortened return/exchange time frames and restocking fees.
6. Know the early bird specials. Also known as "doorbusters," these hot-ticket items are either sold at a massive discount or hardly ever go on sale. Doorbusters usually sell out right away, and consumers often wait in line before the store even opens in order to take advantage of the low prices. Keep in mind that stores never have ample stock to match their advertised doorbusters, so if you're not one of the first 10 in line, you'll likely be out of luck.
7. Dress comfortably and bring snacks. It's likely that this is going to be one of the longest shopping days of your life – with lots of walking and standing in long lines and no time for eating meals. Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers as some lines may require you to stand outdoors. In between shopping and waiting in endless checkout lines, make sure you keep your energy levels up by taking that time to refuel and hydrate as necessary.
8. Be safe. It's sad to say, but pickpocketing and purse snatching rises around the holidays. When you are out with the masses on Black Friday, bring a small purse and only take essential cash and credit cards. Never leave your purse unattended and be mindful of your surroundings at all times.
Black Friday is the unofficial start of the holiday season, but it doesn't have to be a painful one when it comes to your wallet. Mapping out what you want and sticking to the plan will ensure everyone gets what they want on their lists without you losing your mind in the process. And if you don't like Black Friday shopping, you can always shop from the comfort of your couch on Cyber Monday. Happy holidays!
Hitha Prabhakaris a consumer spending and retail analyst and Mint.com spokeswoman, the leading web and mobile money management tool that helps people understand and do more with their money.