Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Last year, Black Friday resulted in $6.2 billion in revenue. More than 170 million Americans went shopping over the Black Friday weekend in 2017, and this year the average adult expects to spend about $400.
As Black Friday approaches (this year, Black Friday is on November 29, followed by Cyber Monday on December 2), it’s time to start thinking about how to save and spend wisely.
Tips for Smart Spending
In our consumer culture, it’s unlikely you’ll go without spending money over the Thanksgiving weekend—whether it’s Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday.
The holiday season is a great time to save, but retailers know that shoppers are ready to spend. Marketing campaigns take advantage of that predisposition and will do whatever they can to get you to spend money on items you don’t need. If you’re going to spend money on Black Friday, here’s how to spend wisely:
• Set a budget.
• Make a list.
• Check it twice.
• Compare deals.
• Use your rewards cards responsibly.
• Consider store credit cards.
• Review your transactions.
• Pay off your credit cards right away.
1. Set a Budget
Don’t go into debt for your holiday shopping. (Too late? We’ve got you covered with our top tips for getting out of holiday debt.) Before you start getting excited about upcoming Black Friday deals, know how much you can afford to spend. Let’s be clear: a hazy idea of what you can afford is not a budget. Get specific.
Write down your holiday budget now. As you plan your budget, you’ll want to consider gifts as well as food, decorations and charitable donations. Black Friday isn’t an independent event: it’s part of your whole holiday budget.
2. Make a List
With all the deals out there, anyone could easily blow their budget before they’ve even left the first store. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, make a list before you go.
Brainstorm every gift you need to buy. A common mistake is leaving out all of the little gifts that can add up. I’m talking about everything from the White Elephant gift for the family party to the office Secret Santa exchange, ingredients for the cookies you deliver to your neighbors, and all the service workers you tip extra.
Make a list of the people you want to buy for, what you hope to buy for them, and the advertised prices you see online or on flyers. Assign a dollar amount to every line item. Every person and event needs a specific budgeted amount.
3. Check It Twice
Add up the balance from your list and compare that to what you can afford based on your holiday budget. Once you get the total for everything, you may find that you have to pare down spending for some people or eliminate others altogether.
You’re going to check this list much more than twice: keep referring to it as you shop to make sure that you are staying on track.
4. Compare Deals
Stores are just starting to advertise their Black Friday deals. As you make and check your lists, look for the best deals on those item—and keep your eye out for alternatives or similar items you can swap out to stay within your budget. Look at specific store sites, like Amazon’s HoliDeals, and check out deal sites like Pricegrabber.com or Forbes Black Friday Preview.
Add these expected prices to your lists and don’t spend more than the best deal you find. If you’re shopping online, don’t forget about shipping costs. Those added fees can cut into your budget if you’re not careful.
5. Use Your Rewards Cards Responsibly
Remember, you don’t want to go into debt because of your Black Friday shopping. It may be easiest to do this if you commit to using debit or cash for your holiday purchases. But if you have a rewards credit card and you know you can pay it off responsibly, use it to reap rewards for you while you’re doing the bulk of your holiday shopping.
If you want to save the most money on Black Friday, you have to use the right rewards credit card. This means finding the card in your wallet that will deliver the most cash back, points or miles for purchases at the stores where you will be shopping. This can be tricky if you have a card that offers bonus categories of spending that change each quarter. Review your card policy before you start shopping so you know when and where to use it to best effect.
6. Consider Store Credit Cards
Armed with your budget, your list and your knowledge of available deals, you’re ready to shop. Many retailers offer store credit cards with zero interest for a certain period of time and occasionally a decent discount. While many stores offer 10% or 15% off your first purchase with a new account, some may have restrictions on sale days like Black Friday. But if they don’t, you’ve scored an extra discount off of your Black Friday merch!
Before you accept any offers, make sure you understand the terms of engagement. That zero-interest period offered in big type on the card application may morph into a high-interest loan before you know it—and with that, the likelihood increases exponentially that any discount you received for signing up will be lost to interest payments.
7. Review Your Transactions
As you shop, check in with your transactions and your budget. Are you staying on track? It’s not enough to simply have a budget; you also need to use it. And because holiday spending can add up so quickly, you need to be tracking your money in real time.
While you could use an old-fashioned pen and paper to record purchases as you shop, a smartphone app may be the best way to ensure you’ll always have your budget with you should you end up doing a little impulse buying. Download a budgeting app to help you keep track and avoid any unpleasant surprises in January.
8. Pay off Your Credit Cards Right Away
If you choose to pay with your credit card instead of cash, that’s OK. Just make sure you pay off your credit card right away. This may be harder to do over the spending-heavy holiday season, but it will help you maintain the healthiest credit all year long. If you can’t pay them off, work to keep the balances as low as possible. Keeping your credit card balances low—that is, using a smaller percentage of your available credit—can help your debt utilization ratio, which is a major factor in your credit score calculation.
Be Smart on Black Friday
The holidays are a good time to get familiar with your credit (if you aren’t already). To do that, you can pull your credit reports—which you can get for free once a year—and look for errors or unauthorized accounts (which could be a sign of identity theft). You can also monitor your credit scores to track your credit health—which you can do for free using a tool like Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card.