'The biggest mistake people make on Black Friday' and how to avoid it, according to a retail expert

"Going in with a plan can keep you from overpaying or buying beyond what you can afford."


For many families, Thanksgiving week is all about preparation. The process for cooking the turkey, whether baked or spatchcocked or deep fried, starts days in advance. And more than one family will be game-planning around what to say to those relatives when a political debate breaks out at the dinner table.

If you're among the millions of Americans who shop for deals on Black Friday, consumer experts say you'd be wise to extend your pre-planning beyond Turkey Day. "The biggest mistake people make on Black Friday is allowing that FOMO to impact their decisions," says Casey Runyan, managing editor at Brad's Deals. "Going in with a plan can keep you from overpaying or buying beyond what you can afford."

Read on for three strategies for making sure you get the best deals on Black Friday and avoid the red flags that can lead to overspending.

1. Shop where the best deals are

E-commerce has changed the way people shop for gifts, but if you're looking for the best bang for your holiday shopping buck, you're better off sticking with good, old-fashioned department and big box stores. Macy's, JCPenney, and Belk topped a list compiled by WalletHub of the retailers offering the steepest discounts, with an average markdown of more than 56%.

"Big box and department stores offer the biggest discounts because they can afford to," says Runyan. "They can play around a little bit more with loss leaders, or low or negative profit margins to draw people in."

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Look for doorbuster deals, which include bargain-basement prices on lower-end items, such as inexpensive kitchen appliances or casual clothing, such as men's pajama bottoms, Runyan says.

You may be able to find great deals on items that stores bundle together. "These can make some of these items a much better value," she says. "You may see a Roomba, which could come with an extra kit or virtual walls, or a stand mixer might come with an otherwise expensive shredder attachment."

2. Don't assume every sale is a good deal

With sales offered at virtually every retailer, you may think you can't go wrong on Black Friday. But that's where people run into trouble, says Ramhold. The biggest mistake folks make: "Assuming everything is a good deal. This has never been the case for Black Friday shopping and it's unlikely to ever be the case," she says. "There are just some 'deals' that aren't actual bargains on Black Friday."

Across the board, you're likely to find deals on popular electronics, such as smartphones, TVs, laptops, and smart-home devices, but tread carefully, says Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews. "That doesn't mean every offer for them will be worth your time and money," she says. "A 70" onn. TV for $398 is a great deal on the surface, but if you want a well-known reliable brand, this is one you may want to skip."

Some of the advertised sales aren't sales at all. In fact, 11% of items at major retailers will be listed for more on Black Friday than they currently go for on Amazon, WalletHub found. That's why it pays to research the prices of everything you put in your physical or virtual cart on Black Friday, Ramhold says. "Do a little checking to see if someone else is offering it cheaper," she says. "You can also try to find the list price and see if the item is even discounted, and if so, by how much."

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Knowing the pricing history for items at brands you regularly check in on can be a big help on this front, says Runyan. "Items that are listed as a Black Friday special may not be that special. And it's not that it's a bad deal. It's just that the retailer offers this price on a regular basis," she says. "It can be far more valuable to buy from retailers who never offer deals except for on Black Friday. It may not be the deepest discount. For a particular product you want, it's deep because it never goes on sale."

And pay attention to deals sites for insights on whether Black Friday is actually the best time to buy any particular item. Astute readers would know, for instance, that gym equipment is often more widely discounted after the New Year, says Ramhold. And "white sales" in January are often a better time than Black Friday to pick up new bedding.

3. Draw up a plan, but be flexible

Before you begin elbowing people out of the aisles — or, let's be honest, browsing deals from your couch — create a plan of attack, says Runyan. "Take 5 to 10 minutes to make a few notes: things you want, things you're looking to get on Black Friday, and things you may want to get if the price is right," she says. "Make sure you set a budget for nonessential items. If I give myself $75 to $100 to spend on beauty products, I may have to make some hard decisions, but I'll be happy I didn't go outside what I wanted to do."

Supply chain bottlenecks and shipping delays could mean that even your best laid plans might go awry this holiday season. So "the most important thing is to have a backup plan in place," says Ramhold. "Have multiple stores to shop at, and multiple gift ideas for those you're shopping for, just in case. Be prepared for shipping delays that may result in your items not arriving in time for the holidays, even if you order early."

Delays and short supply are rough if you're looking for a gift and are forced to turn to Plan B, but they could actually work out if you shop for yourself, says Runyan. "Supply chain issues could result in surplus later. Stores have been panic-buying, and eventually all that stuff is going to come in," she says.

"My advice there is to keep your receipt, and hold off on opening that item for a bit. Your first choice may come in at a better price, and most retailers offer extended holiday returns."

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