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How to get the most out of Black Friday without overspending

Navigate the chaos, land the hottest deals and maximize your savings with these expert tips.
Image: Black Friday
A Black Friday sale sign is displayed outside a makeup store at Roosevelt Field shopping mall in Garden City, New York, on Nov. 24, 2017.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Black Friday is one of the most historic shopping holidays, tracing back to the inception of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. In the mid-60’s, the day after Thanksgiving was given its famous name by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe the chaos of shoppers creating traffic jams around stores downtown.

Surely, a lot has changed since then, and with the boom of ecommerce and the influx of other mega shopping holidays, Black Friday as a one-day brick-and-mortar extravaganza has lost some steam. Now, Black Friday exists both online and offline, and heralds the official beginning of the holiday shopping season (if you didn’t already stock up on Amazon Prime Day, that is). Cyber Monday happens just a few days later, and last year out-performed Black Friday, bringing in nearly $6.6 billion compared to Black Friday’s $5 billion (a number that also considers buys made on Thanksgiving Day itself).

Black Friday may not be the be-all and end-all blowout it once was, but it’s still a significant time for savings — and with that, spending.

“Shoppers plan to spend $803, which is $60 more than last year,” Sara Skirboll, resident shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot tells NBC News BETTER. “As Black Friday is transforming from a singular shopping day to more of a weekend shopping event, [our] data shows that 78 percent shopping throughout the weekend, and 33 percent of those shoppers will be getting a head start by shopping the night of Thanksgiving, spending an average of $191.”

What awesome sales can we expect on Black Friday and which are the dud deals we may want to avoid? Try these tips to navigate the holiday weekend without getting overwhelmed.

Make a list into two sections: ‘For me’ and ‘For others’

“Holiday shopping can be stressful and expensive if you don’t have a strategy in place,” notes Chelsea Hudson, consumer shopping expert at “According to a recent survey by, 60 percent of Americans report holiday shopping is stressful and overwhelming. To ensure you have a smooth shopping experience: create and calculate a budget and then split purchases into two categories: presents [for others] and household purchases such as entertaining costs. The more prepared you are for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season, the better.”

By breaking the list into two sections, you can more aptly stay on budget, and also narrow down specifics to meet all your holiday shopping goals. Additionally, making a list helps you dodge impulse buys, which can cost Americans over $5,000 a year.

Act early (even before Black Friday) on trendy toys

Though big box retailers started pushing out holiday deals earlier this month, generally you want to wait until Black Friday to maximize savings — unless you’re shopping for something hotly in demand, like certain toys.

“Based on shopping and purchasing habits over the past several years, you’ll want to snag top toys by Black Friday, thanks to supply and demand,” says Hudson.

For a look at what some of the most wanted toys are this holiday season, check out Amazon’s Top 100 Toys list. You can see which items are featuring discounts, and search according to which sport the strongest savings.

When searching online, remember to use a browser extension for cashback or automatic application of coupon codes. I recommend EBates, Honey, Wikibuy, TopCashback and RetailMeNotGenie.

Take advantage of deals on electronics, travel, winter apparel and kitchen goods

Per Black Friday tradition, retailers will be delivering doorbuster deals. Typically rolled out on Black Friday morning (though we also see them slide in on Thanksgiving Day), these can be the trickiest sales to navigate because they all seem so worthy, but undoubtedly there will be some mediocre offerings.

The key is to know what to look for.

“There are definitely some categories that will be more discounted than others,” says Skirboll. “The best things to buy on Black Friday include electronics, appliances, winter wear and time-specific travel.”

Retailers are still keeping details of doorbuster deals top secret, but if history is any indicator, we can expect the following type of sales, according to Skirboll:

Best Buy: Up to 75 percent off Black Friday Doorbusters

Walmart: up to 70 percent off Black Friday deals on electronics, toys, home and more

Target: 20 percent off coupon with $50 purchase (on Black Friday)

Macy’s: 20 percent off select items + free shipping on $49 purchase

Hudson adds that we can also expect to see appetizing deals on kitchen appliances.

“Whether you’re looking to upgrade your kitchen or simply need a new blender, Black Friday is the time to shop all kitchen appliances,” says Hudson, adding that big-ticket items won’t be the only steals to jump on.

“Retailers such as Kohl’s, Macy’s and JCPenney, for example, will feature kitchen appliances like slow cookers, mixers and coffee makers for $10 or less.”

Beware of lackluster tech products on sale

Retailers will likely be pushing savings on tech, but be cautious and read up before making a (discounted) splurge here.

“I'm always wary of tech deals, specifically laptops, tablets and TVs,” says Krista Fabregas, retail/ecommerce analyst at Fit Small Business. “Stores will promote loss-leader savings [in this category]. Consumers need to look at and compare the specs of discounted goods to others on sale, and even those at regular price. This will help ensure they're good values — not lower-end models that look like a great deal, but really aren't.”

Most likely, you’ll find tech that is strong in some areas and weak in others, so just read up on the item before buying it. It may be just what you’re looking for.

“An older model on deep discount, say, with a slightly slower processor (or lower resolution) but higher memory and storage, can be the better deal than a new release,” says Fabregas.

Pass on phones

“Cell phones are typically a false economy,” says Hudson. “Most of the time, you won’t receive a discounted phone, but you may receive a bonus on incentive such as a gift card to entice users to upgrade to a newer phone. The deepest discounts on phones are found when the latest generation retires and a new one is ready for pre-order.”

Amazon will slash prices on its own brands

Amazon holds its own Black Friday-like event with Prime Day in July, but the mammoth company is not about to miss out on another goldmine. Consumers can expect an ongoing festival of Amazon sales around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

“Prime Day is usually a pretty good indicator of what to expect from Amazon during the holiday season,” notes Cooper Smith, director, Amazon IQ research at Gartner L2. “This year we saw discounts span a wider range of categories with the most deals occurring in Home, Electronics and Sports & Outdoors. We also expect deep discounts in the Toys category as Amazon looks to fill the void left by Toys 'R Us.”

Smith adds that Amazon's exclusive offerings will be featured prominently across the site in an effort to raise awareness for its more than 130 private label brands — “which sell everything from mattresses to activewear”.

“We'll see a range of discounts across Amazon's portfolio of internet-connected Alexa devices, with the newest models such as the Echo Look being discounted the most at up to 50 percent off,” said Smith.

Pro-tips for staying sane and saving dough

To bring more structure (and sanity) to the Black Friday shopping mayhem, Fabregas offers the following pro-tips for consumers:

  • Set your budget as early as possible (like, now).
  • Get sneak peaks. “Search online sneak-peek Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals now — they're out there already, just Google ‘Black Friday 2018 sneak peek’. Compare sneak-peek deals to your list and note where you find the best deals, and the sale dates and times.”
  • Pre-purchase if you can. “Amazon has a pre-sale list that you can create to trigger the purchase when the item is put on sale.”
  • Plan your in-store trips. “Note any big-ticket items that state limited quantity — these will go fast.”
  • Make a small bonus budget, if able. “If your budget allows, set aside an amount that you're comfortable spending if you find [an unexpected] deal that you just can't resist.”

Black Friday deals you can snag right now

BETTER editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, BETTER does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.

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