5 tips for saving on Black Friday

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The holiday season has only just begun, but it’s never too early to start preparing your wallet for impact, especially as the busiest shopping day of the year approaches.

The National Retail Federation predicts that 165 million people will shop over Black Friday weekend this year and that sales over the entire holiday season will grow between 3.8 and 4.2 percent compared to last year for a spending total between $727.9 billion and $730.7 billion. That’s a lot of dollars being spent over the next couple months.

But you don’t have to go into debt in order to make the most of the season, and shopping great Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals is a great way to save on gifts for all of your loved ones (and maybe a few for yourself, too).

Here are some tips for the best ways to save this year over the holiday weekend.

1. Start with a plan

If you really want to maximize your Black Friday shopping, it helps to do some pre-planning.

“The main way you will know whether the deals are actually a good deal is by researching and price comparing,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “We suggest creating a list of the big purchases you are thinking of buying prior to Black Friday or Cyber Monday and looking around at the different price options that are being offered right now so you have an idea of what a good sale price would be. Then when the item goes on sale, search around and price compare to see if other retailers are offering a steeper discount.”

Many retailers will advertise their best Black Friday offers beforehand as well, so you can research and map out a plan for your shopping, which can both save you money and time. For example, Amazon has already announced discounts on items like the Echo and Fire TV Stick and Walmart has previewed deals on toys, electronics, home goods and more.

2. Shop before and after

Black Friday seems to begin earlier with each passing year, which can make it difficult to score the best deals before they’re gone if you’re not willing to go out in the early morning hours or even Thanksgiving Day.

Not only should you start planning beforehand if you have your eye on something that’s bound to be a popular pick, but you can also look for price drops throughout the week before Black Friday itself.

Or you can avoid long lines in-store by going directly online. You may have better luck crossing off your list by shopping retailer websites on Cyber Monday, especially if you’re looking for clothing, laptops, smart home devices or new items from popular brands, according to Skirboll.

3. Use the right card

In addition to the savings you can score on retailers’ Black Friday sales, shop smarter by using credit cards that can save you a few extra bucks in points or cash back.

If you plan on shopping exclusively at your favorite store, it may be worth looking into a co-branded retail credit card to get the biggest savings, early access and doorbuster deals. Just watch out for any retail cards offering sky-high interest with little savings. Cards like the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card or Target REDcard are great options for co-branded cards that can add value year-round.

Amazon is even offering extra savings for cardholders. With the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card, you can receive an additional 15 percent back on electronics bestsellers and 10 percent back on select Amazon devices.

Otherwise, a general cash back card like the Citi® Double Cash Card or one with rotating rewards like the Chase Freedom®, which includes department stores this quarter. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card is another good choice; it offers a choice among a standard set of categories each quarter, including department, electronic and sporting goods stores, among others.

You can also score extra savings by navigating to a retailer’s site through your credit card’s online shopping portal to earn extra rewards on each purchase when available.

4. Stay organized

To keep your shopping in check, Skirboll recommends organizing the items on your list into a holiday gifting spreadsheet. “Have this be where you keep track of your shopping list and budget all in one place,” she says. “By logging gift lists and tracking how much you spend, shoppers can stay on top of their budget and avoid overspending while taking note of gifts that still need to be purchased.”

And bring friends along to keep things streamlined and ensure you don’t miss out on any hot ticket items.

“On the day of Black Friday, start early and form a shopping task force team to divide the holiday shopping wish list and accomplish the most in the least amount of time,” Skirboll says. “Also, when you arrive at the store, considering starting in the back and making your way towards the front, moving in the opposite direction of most other shoppers.”

5. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale

Black Friday is a great time to save on your holiday shopping, but not everything is worth the splurge.

Skirboll recommends applying the “40 percent off rule,” especially when it comes to often-discounted fashion items. “Bargain-hunting experts say Black Friday is actually not the best time of year to score the best deals on clothing or accessories, but if you are in the store and get tempted by these items, don’t settle for anything less than 40 percent off the full retail price,” she says.

No matter what you’re shopping for, always remember that just because an item is on sale or you’ll earn extra credit card rewards, doesn’t mean that it’s a smart choice. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, but you should never succumb to pressure to overspend or take on a higher credit card balance than you can afford to pay off just because an item is on sale.

The information about the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card and the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.