Is Black Friday the Cheapest Shopping Day?

Support Cheapism: Do your holiday shopping with our retail partners

Every year, Black Friday kicks off a season of shopping mania, with steep discounts everywhere and anywhere. Consumers aim for big-time savings on all manner of goodies, from apparel and jewelry to toys, appliances, electronics, and more. This year, Macy's will open at 6pm on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year, as will the largest mall in western Michigan. With earlier opening times and even earlier retailer marketing blitzes, shoppers can expect long lines, huge crowds, and intense tugs-of-war over popular items.

Why put up with all this? The day after Christmas, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day present bargain-hunting opportunities galore -- without all the mayhem and hype.

Take it from an insider. "The best deals in my experience are right after Christmas and then again around 4th of July, when semi-annual sales typically mean taking an even bigger discount off already reduced merchandise to make room for the new season and new styles," explains Ashley, who worked at a national sporting goods chain for four years and preferred to just give her first name. "At these times we mark down all clearance an extra 25 percent, then 50 percent, and sometimes even 75 percent off the reduced price."

The Day After Christmas.

Numerous online sources name the day after Christmas as a propitious moment to snag seasonal discounts. With hefty sales on all things winter, anyone with storage space and energy can walk away with huge savings on next year's Christmas gifts. Enlighten Me reports that holiday-themed items are drastically reduced and the blog AttaGirl Says spotlights price cuts on holiday-themed items for the home, including mundane necessities such as tape, paper plates, plastic cups, and muffin tins. Additionally, the first two weeks of December -- before rising prices greet last-minute shoppers -- are prime days for frugal shopping.

A list of discounts and deals from post-Christmas 2013 posted by International Business Times offers an intimation of what to expect this year. If retailers follow the same pattern, prices will plummet: 50 percent storewide at Abercrombie & Fitch, 70 percent on sale items at H&M, and 75 percent off everything at Bath & Body Works, to cite just a few examples.

Labor Day and Memorial Day.

A survey conducted by the blog Shop It To Me found that Labor Day sales may actually trump Black Friday sales. Analysis of almost 700,000 discounts posted by more than 150 online retailers in 2011 showed Labor Day weekend price cuts on apparel and accessories averaged more than 48 percent compared with about 42 percent on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The conclusions may be overstated, however. Some business journalists concede that Labor Day weekend is an excellent time to troll for bargains (think end-of-summer and back-to-school deals) but argue that the biggest site-wide discounts pop up on Black Friday.

Consumer Reports likewise touts the cut-price glories of Labor Day weekend shopping, but with a caveat: Sales are largely limited to home-related products, like mattresses, paint, and power tools.

Memorial Day holds its own in terms of winning bargains. Like Labor Day, sales on kitchenware, mattresses, and apparel abound. Outlet stores usually hold Memorial Day sales to kick off the summer season and clear out spring inventory. Deal News cites Memorial Day weekend as a low-price bonanza for hand tools and appliances. Large televisions, laptops, and other electronics are also the focus of rampant price slashing.

Independence Day.

America's birthday on July 4 is often celebrated with barbecues and relaxation and, of course, major markdowns on consumer goods like patio furniture and video game consoles. The holiday also marks the official start of summer-apparel clearance sales, as back-to-school and fall-fashion merchandise begins trickling in. U.S. New & World Report trumpets hard-to-beat deals on children's clothing, travel, and all the stuff needed for home repairs.

Shop Year-Round.

Whether you brave the masses on Black Friday or take the calmer route on other discount-heavy days, remember that retailers offer discounts and clearance prices year-round to move inventory. In the Herald Square shopping district in New York City's midtown Manhattan, for example, Banana Republic, Gap, and Anne Taylor Loft hold frequent sales on full-priced merchandise and Express offers an occasional 40 percent-off full price and clearance items.

If you like a particular brand, research its price-cut history before Black Friday to assess whether to spend now or wait. You can also subscribe to retailers' email lists and receive coupons on a fairly regular schedule. And if you love steep discounts, consider shopping on discount name-brand sites, such as 6pm.com, where you can sort items by the price-cut percentage.