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Smart Buying

Black Friday Strategies to Help You Save Money

Follow these tips to get the best deals and avoid overspending on holiday gifts.

This Black Friday is expected to be bigger and better than years past, according to dealnews.com. That's because there are six fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas and consumers are expected to trim their holiday budgets, so retailers are offering an abundance of deals to get shoppers to spend over the long holiday weekend.

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There are several other ways that Black Friday will be different this year. For starters, several major retailers will be starting sales online at midnight on Wednesday and opening their brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving. So consumers looking for the best deals will have to start their shopping before Friday.

Here are several ways you might need to adjust your Black Friday strategy this year to get the best deal -- as well as tried-and-true do's and don'ts for shopping on the day after Thanksgiving (or on Thanksgiving this year).

You might have to start shopping on Thanksgiving to get the best bargains. Retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart and Target will offer some of their best doorbuster deals (items that are deeply discounted but limited in number) on Thursday evening. And different items will go on sale at different times during the day Thursday and Friday -- not all at once. For example, Walmart will have doorbuster sales at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. Friday. You can find ads with sale start times at BFAds.net. And here's our roundup of the best deals and the days they will be available.

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You could save time and money by shopping at home. If you don't have any doorbuster deal items on your gift list, you might be better off shopping from home. The majority of Black Friday deals that will be offered in stores also will be online, says Joe Warner, editor of deal site Ben's Bargains. Plus, it's easier to compare prices online and use other tools to get the best deal. See Why You Should Do Your Holiday Shopping Online for more tips.

You should evaluate deals before you buy. Not all deals are good deals on Black Friday. In a comparison of 25 retailers' Black Friday ads from 2012 and 2013, money-saving site NerdWallet found that 23 of the retailers this year listed at least one identical product with the exact same price as last year (see Some Black Friday Deals Aren't Bargains). Plus, some items are sold for better prices at other times, such as Cyber Monday (December 2) or after the holidays (see 12 Things Not to Buy During the Holidays). Most importantly, remember that you're not getting a good deal if you are buying something you don't need.

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You can expect more in-stock guarantees. Walmart, which offered in-stock doorbuster guarantees last year, will again give customers who are in the store during its limited-time sales vouchers for some items if they sell out. Customers can use the vouchers to buy the items at Black Friday prices and pick them up later when they ship to the store. Dealnews.com expects more stores to use this approach this year. So check for in-stock guarantees when scanning Black Friday ads and planning your shopping strategy.

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Following a store on Facebook might not be the best way to get special deals. Previously, retailers offered their Facebook followers access to special promotions and sneak peaks at Black Friday ads. But dealnews.com reports that retailers are now requiring customers to subscribe to e-mail lists, sign up for membership rewards or follow them on sites such as Pinterest to get special discounts or advance notice of sales.

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Your smart phone will help you compare deals and get more discounts. If you haven't already, make sure you download a free mobile app such as Amazon Price Check, PriceGrabber or RedLaser to compare a store’s price on items with offerings at other retailers or online. And you can use apps such as Foursquare and Shopkick to "check in" to stores and receive in-store coupons and special offers. RetailMeNot is another good app for in-store coupons. And many stores also have their own shopping apps that provide exclusive discounts and coupon codes.

You can score additonal discounts if you buy discounted gift cards to use for your own shopping. For example, buy a $100 Macy's gift card for $90 (instant $10 savings) and use it in the store or online. You can find discounted gift cards at sites such as Cardpool and Gift Card Granny.

Don't spring for extended warranties on big-ticket items. There’s a good chance that a salesperson will try to talk you into paying extra for an extended warranty if you purchase a big-ticket item on Black Friday. That’s because revenue from extended warranties helps make up for lost profits on discounted items. Typically, you'll pay 10% to 20% more for an item to extend a one-year manufacturer's warranty through the fifth year of ownership. But most major appliances do not break down within the extended-warranty period. Plus, you might already be covered if you use your credit card to purchase an item (see What You Need to Know About Warranties).

Make sure you check return policies. Several retailers are tightening their policies this year (see Stores Get Stingy About Returns). Also watch out for retailers that charge restocking fees if you bring an item back. And be aware that some stores won’t let you exchange items that were manufactured specifically for Black Friday (to be sold at a low price). So be sure to ask each store what its policy is, and hang on to your receipts.

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