The words "Black Friday"--referring to the big shopping day that comes right after Thanksgiving--can trigger different emotions in people: excitement, fear, anxiety, or just plain indifference. But with our shopping tips and some planning, this year's bargain bonanza should be a breeze.
Prepare Your Shopping List
First, you need to know what to look for. According to Dealnews.com's CEO Dan de Grandpre, this year's best deals will be found on low-end netbooks, 15- or 16-inch laptops, Blu-ray players, HDTVs of various sizes, external hard drives, and name-brand LCD monitors.
Be aware of trade-offs, however: Bargain products likely won't have the specs and performance of more expensive models. Though de Grandpre predicts that some 15- or 16-inch laptops will hit stores for under $300, don't count on such a machine having a powerful processor or a lot of memory. If you're just looking for a secondary computer, however, that kind of price would amount to a great deal.
Black Friday and the holidays are the time to buy a new TV. De Grandpre advises shoppers to look for budget 46- to 47-inch 1080p LCD sets on Black Friday; prices are about 25 percent lower than a year ago. For a discounted high-end set, however, wait until a few weeks before Christmas. Retailers generally don't put higher-end products on sale during Black Friday because they know customers are looking for the cheapest products possible.
The Web Is Your Friend
Getting up at 4 a.m. and waiting in line is no longer your only option for the big day, as many sales will be found online. But be aware that the best deals might be in the weeks leading up to Black Friday or just afterward on Cyber Monday.
To get an inside scoop on when these deals will hit stores, visit dedicated Web sites such as BlackFriday.info, GottaDeal.com, FatWallet.com, and Dealnews.com, and visit frequently up until the big day. Many of these sites have newsletters or RSS feeds you can subscribe to.
BFads.net archives Black Friday ads back to 2004 and organizes them by store. It's a great tool for seeing historically how much certain products have dropped in price. You can use that information as a guideline for this year's sales.
With all these sites, however, use some caution. So-called "leaked" Black Friday ads that sometimes show up on them may be inaccurate or incomplete, so don't jump the gun on those purported bargains.
How to Tackle the Mall
If you decide to brave the brick-and- mortar stores, go to sleep early on Thanksgiving night so you can hit the stores first thing in the morning. Double up with a family member or friend to divide and conquer larger stores and communicate via text messages on what deals are where. Look for unannounced discounts; in previous years, stores haven't advertised every product that's on sale.
Final word: Resist the temptation to sweep something up just because the vendor says it's a good deal. It doesn't matter how much you saved on a dud. Know what you want, do your research, and you'll survive the experience stress-free. And have a cool new toy or two.