10 Tips for Efficient Black Friday Shopping

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SPARE YOURSELF

It's no secret that Black Friday means long lines, crowded aisles, and general chaos. Everyone who plans to hit the stores come Black Friday should be prepared. Here are 10 tips for effectively and efficiently conquering the crowds and corralling the best deals without letting the day take its toll on your time and your wallet.

PLAN YOUR ATTACK

Black Friday is a shopping day like none other, so have a plan in place before leaving home. And that means doing some research in advance. Look at your gift list and determine which stores are offering the best deals. Rank order the best Black Friday deals on must-have items, with the most critical gifts at the top. If, for example, a new cordless drill for dad trumps other planned purchases, and Ace Hardware features the best deal, head there first.

CREATE A SPECIFIC ROUTE

When possible, plan to hit up stores near each other to avoid driving all over town and running into the inevitable parking lot gridlock. This tactic will save time, as well as money on gasoline and wear and tear on easily frayed shopping nerves. Setting and sticking to a route, however, may require some flexible rearranging of gift priorities.

SHOP WITH A BUDDY

It pays to shop with a buddy on Black Friday. For one thing, long lines are a given no matter where or when you shop, and if you've forgotten something, a buddy can hold your place. Moreover, holiday shopping is hectic and having a friend along can help lighten the mood and keep your overtired body and stressed-out mind from making rash decisions. And if you're eyeing two spectacular Black Friday deals at the same venue, split up and each snag one of the desired items.

ARRIVE EARLY

With your plan in place, find out when the targeted stores will open. Arrival time should depend on the list. If you're after a door-buster deal, chances are the supply is limited, so you should be one of the first through the door -- yup, that means getting there before the store opens and standing in line. Planning to arrive at least two hours ahead is a safe bet, regardless. Even if you're only shopping around, an early arrival means beating the worst of the crowds and getting the best pickings.

ARRIVE PREPARED

If you're expecting to wait in line for the doors to open, be prepared to hold onto your spot no matter what. That means dressing for the weather, bringing a snack and a drink, having a book or a buddy, and perhaps even toting a beach chair. Whatever will help you stay in line is an absolute necessity.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Once inside, be ready for action. If you're targeting just one Black Friday special, know exactly where to find it (that means scouting the layout ahead of time). If a deal is available only in limited quantities, have a back-up item in mind. For example, if you're targeting a hot HDTV deal from Walmart and the supply disappears before you get there, knowing about other HDTV specials will lead to something similar and save you from leaving empty-handed -- or settling for something that isn't right for you.

LOOK ONLINE

Believe it or not, many people choose not to shop on Black Friday, and perhaps they're onto something. Increasingly, ecommerce is a more appealing alternative. Even before the appointed day, check websites to see if retailers will be offering similar online discounts for Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Maybe, just maybe, you can catch a few extra hours of sleep and do your holiday shopping from the comfort of home this year.

AVOID DISTRACTIONS

The whole point of Black Friday shopping is to get in and out as quickly as possible and return home with the items on your list. That requires discipline. Don't stop to gawk, ponder the lesser deals scattered about, or grab things that aren't on sale. Stay focused and on track to save both time and money.

CHECK THE PRICE-MATCHING POLICY

Many retailers suspend their price-matching policies for Black Friday and the remainder of Thanksgiving weekend. To save time and short-circuit grumbling by others in line behind you, check the policies for exclusions. Even if Black Friday prices are included in the store's guarantee, searching for a competitor's ad on a smartphone in the heat of the moment is unlikely to turn up what you need. Bring along the physical ad (from a circular or printed out at home) to be sure of getting the best price.

DON'T GET DISCOURAGED

If your heart is set on a particular door-buster and you miss out, have faith. Black Friday is only the start of the holiday shopping season, and deals abound right up to Christmas Eve. Just move to the next item on your list. A curated shopping list and a plan of attack will help maximize net savings on Black Friday even if you miss out on one or two deals.

Raechel Conover

Raechel Conover is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Yahoo, blogs, and other websites. She's a self-confessed shopaholic and frugal mom, always scouring the sale and clearance racks for deals and taking full advantage of free community activities and events with her husband and young sons.

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