Black Friday is the official kickoff of the year’s busiest shopping season. It’s named “Black” Friday because it’s the time of the year when retailers officially go into the black. That means they’re willing to put out all the stops to earn your business — including drastically lowering prices or running insanely good sales.
Which means now is the time to score big with those Black Friday sales. Maybe you’re looking to buy budget-friendly gifts for family and friends. Or maybe there’s a big-ticket item you’ve been waiting to go on sale all year long.
While you can use Black Friday as a way to shop smart and save money, too many people go the other way, buying things they don’t really need just because it’s on sale and ringing up their credit cards beyond their means.
If you want to do Black Friday the right way, we’ve got your tips for getting the most out of the holiday shopping season.
Budget for Black Friday (use it to save, not just spend)
Shopping for deals on Black Friday should help you save money. But if you’re not careful, you could spend too much and wind up going into debt because of all those bargains — that are no longer a bargain once you’re paying sky-high interest on them.
The average American takes on $1,249 in debt during the holiday season. Setting a budget for yourself can help you avoid falling into that trap.
Here are a few useful tips to keep in mind before you start shopping:
- Set your budget. Determine how much money you can afford to spend this holiday season before you even start shopping. Retailers are priming you with targeted advertising to get you to spend more money than you plan to. Know your budget and stick to it.
- Figure out who you’re going to buy gifts for. You might feel pressure to buy gifts for all your friends and family even though that might not be realistic for your budget. Make a list of who you must purchase gifts for. If you’re stumped for gift ideas, ask them what things they might like. See what fits in your budget and scrap what doesn’t.
- Prioritize your shopping list. The holiday shopping season can be a great time to score some deals for yourself too. Create two shopping lists based on things that are nice to have versus essentials. Shop your priority list first. If there’s anything left over in your budget, then start shopping from your wants list.
- Comparison shop. Retailers want your business and they’re willing to earn it. Compare prices across retailers and find the one offering the best deal. Many even have price match guarantees. The more price information you have, the more likely you’ll be able to score the best deals.
Read more: Christmas on a budget: Tips for making your holiday affordable and still enjoyable
Earn rewards to maximize your savings
If you know your budget and have the cash to cover your costs, using a credit card to make purchases can be a strategic way to earn rewards that maximize your savings. (Although we can’t say it enough: whatever you do, avoid going into debt when you go Black Friday shopping.)
Some credit cards, such as cash back and travel rewards cards, have a spending requirement you must reach before you’re eligible to earn a sign-up bonus.
Read more: Best credit card sign-up bonuses
Many major retailers, especially grocery stores, sell gift cards for a variety of other stores. True, 3% or 5% cash back at the grocery store might not sound too exciting when it comes to Black Friday. But if you plan to shop at specific retailers, you can stock up on gift cards from a grocery store ahead of time and essentially get yourself another nice little discount on the price.
Read more: Best rewards cards
Save even more with cash back apps
If you plan on doing the bulk of your holiday shopping online, you’re going to want to use one of the best cash back apps.
These platforms will either give you a percentage of your total purchase back as a cash reward or you can earn points to redeem as gift cards.
Not to mention, a few even crawl the internet for coupon codes helping you save money at checkout, too.
Capital One Shopping
Capital One Shopping is an online portal and Chrome extension that offers coupons, shopping deals, and cash back on qualifying purchases.
What’s great about this platform is that you can also earn rewards for booking hotels and other travel expenses through the portal. If you plan on traveling during the holidays this can be a great way to earn cash back on travel expenses.
Rakuten is a popular cash back website. When you use Rakuten’s platform to make a purchase from a participating retailer, you earn a cash back as a reward. Rakuten will send you a “Big Fat Check” of your earnings. Depending on your shopping budget you could rack up a check worth hundreds of dollars!
Swagbucks is another cash back site that allows you to earn rewards from qualifying purchases. You can earn cash back through PayPal or redeem your rewards as gift cards.
Swagbucks is also an online survey platform where you can earn rewards by taking surveys. You can cash out your survey points and put that towards your holiday spending budget, too.
Honey is a Chrome extension that crawls the internet for coupon codes that it automatically applies at checkout. Many retailers will have special codes for online sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You can use Honey to find the code that gives you the most savings.
Fetch is a rewards app that gives you points every time you snap a shopping receipt. It’s popular with groceries but it also applies to retailers like Amazon and Target. You can even connect your Amazon account to Fetch to earn points every time you shop online.
Fetch has a rewards store where you can cash out your points for gift cards. You can use these to go towards your holiday budget or give a gift card as a gift instead.
Tips for finding the best Black Friday deals
With a little work you can score some really good deals on Black Friday. It’s not only the best time to buy gifts for family and friends but it can also help you save money on a big-ticket item you’ve been eyeing.
Here are four tips to make sure you get the best deals and don’t bust your budget:
1. Do price research
With so many people doing their shopping online these days, there are a lot of different tools you can use to keep track of prices.
Keepa or CamelCamelCamel are two popular extensions you can use on Amazon to tell you changes in price data over time.
While it won’t tell you what the price will be in the future, it will tell you how much the price of something has changed over the past year. And that can tell you whether or not you’re actually getting the best deal by shopping on Black Friday.
2. Set price alerts
Did you know Google has a price tracking feature? You can create a wishlist of things you want using the Google Shopping tab. From there you can compare prices, look for reductions, and set alerts.
If you don’t need something immediately, you can hold out for a bit and buy it when the price is just right.
3. Take advantage of loyalty programs
These are an easy way to score free money to spend on things you want.
Kohl’s is a great example of a popular loyalty program. When you shop at Kohl’s you earn Kohl’s Cash which you can use for items you buy at Kohl’s. When you combine your Kohl’s Cash with an ongoing sale you can score a great deal on a high-ticket item.
4. Follow your favorite brands on social media
More and more people are doing their holiday shopping on social media. Which means your favorite brands are there, too. Follow them and keep an eye out for special discounts announced on their social channels.
Black Friday vs. Small Business Saturday vs. Cyber Monday: What’s the difference?
Black Friday isn’t the only time to score the best deals. Think of Black Friday as an entire weekend of holiday shopping.
Small Business Saturday comes the day after Black Friday. It’s a way for shoppers to support small, local businesses instead of just shopping at big box retailers.
With more and more people shopping online, virtual shoppers get their own special day of sales. Cyber Monday is the Monday following Black Friday.
Depending on what you’re shopping for, it can pay off to be patient. Black Friday offers great deals to savvy shoppers but it isn’t the only day of deals. You might find the same sales — maybe even better ones — online, too.
The bottom line
Black Friday is the official start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers use steep discounts on popular items to entice shoppers to come out and spend money. With a little planning you can score big and save a ton of money in the process.
Set a budget and prioritize what you plan to buy this holiday season. Use cash back platforms to earn rewards and other tools to compare prices.
A little homework can go a long way to help you score the biggest savings this Black Friday.