Smart Buying

How to Score Holiday Deals on Black Friday and All Season Long

Hosts Sandy Block and Ryan Ermey interview online editor Andrea Browne Taylor about holiday shopping tips and tricks. The pair also discuss the basics of bear markets and dish about deals that aren’t as good as they seem.

Ryan: This is it, folks. The year you finally get proactive about holiday shopping. But are Black Friday sales all they're cracked up to be? And what are the season's best bargains? Kiplinger's has got you covered.

Ryan: Online editor Andrea Browne Taylor is here, talking holiday shopping tips and tricks in our main segment. On today's show, we'll discuss the basics of bear markets, and wrap up by solving some consumer conundrums. That's all ahead on this episode of Your Money's Worth. Stick around.

Ryan: I'm Ryan Ermey. I'm a staff writer here at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. I'm here with Senior Editor Sandra Block, and Sandy, we're going into Thanksgiving here. Are you going to go home for Thanksgiving?

Sandy: Not really. I'm just going to go up to our house in West Virginia. I think it's going to be kind of a quiet Thanksgiving for us this year.

Ryan: Well, I'll be going back to Jersey, and I'll tell you what, I have to show up with some presents in tow. My birthday is in late October, followed right by my father's, and then my mother's and then my sisters, and so I'm going to have to come back with presents, having spent all my birthday money on it. Plus, I'm going to have to come up with Christmas stuff right after that. So I'm actually pretty excited for our main segment today, with the tips on holiday shopping. Do you ever get down with that Black Friday stuff?

Sandy: I try not to. Actually, we've reached the point in our family where we realized that we really don't need any more things. So my brother and I have been doing more experiential gifting the last few years. He'll give me, I think I have a gift certificate to the Kennedy Center. He's given me gift certificates to the Barns at Wolf Trap, and I buy gifts for his grandchildren. And sometimes I bring a bottle of wine. So it's kind of low key in our case.

Ryan: Yeah, for years my sister promised that she would reorganize all of my mother's photo albums. So I think I feel like I need to start giving those kind of gifts. You know, the kind of experiential ones. Especially if, like my sister, you can put them off for years.

Ryan: So we'll be getting into the shopping stuff with Andrea in our main segment, but first, we're going to do a little quiz. In our November issue, we had a bear market quiz that ran, and I didn't get a chance to read it. I'm our resident market expert on this podcast, so Sandy, you're going to be asking me some questions. Some bear market basics.

Sandy: Ooh, I'm excited about that, Ryan. Let's start with, why do they call it a bear market, anyway? Is it because the term originates with early bearskin traders, or is it because bears sneak up on their prey and attack suddenly, in the same way that bear markets feast on investors? Or, is it because bears are notorious for ransacking campsites and stealing provisions in the same way bear markets can destroy your personal finances?

Ryan: You know, I'd like to think it was like a sort of Yogi Bear kind of thing, more than that they're ransacking, you know. But no, I think it's probably that first one, the bear pelts.

Sandy: That's exactly right. It does date back to bearskin traders, which tells us that bear markets have been around for a long time.

Ryan: That's exactly right.

Sandy: Now, how about this one, Ryan. I think this one's really interesting. Which of the following is least likely to cause a bear market? Is it a military conflict or geopolitical crisis, because that's scary? Is it higher interest rates, or is it rising inflation?

Ryan: So, it's the geopolitical thing. It's the military conflict. And history tells us that military events rarely have a negative effect on the stock market, and when they do, downturns tend to be sort of mild, and sort of short lived. So Pearl Harbor is one, I think it's probably the worst one. And Kuwait, in the '90s, was another one. But in both cases they were relatively mild in terms of bear markets, and counter-intuitively, war tends to actually be kind of a good thing, or can be kind of a good thing for markets.

Ryan: So ultimately, what drives markets is the same old stuff. It's economic growth, and it's corporate earnings.

Sandy: That's right. So how long do bear markets last on average? There's been a lot of talk lately, people are really worried about when the next one's coming. When it does come, how long is it going to last?

Ryan: Well, you know, it depends on who you ask. But I think the general consensus is a little under two years. So, no one's ever going to tell you to time the market here, because we don't know any better than you, when the next bear market is coming. But maybe, considering that these things last about two years, it's probably a good time to consider what you're saving for, and what you're investing for.

Ryan: And so, if you have long term goals, if you have a long . . . investment people like to call it a time horizon. If your goals are sort of far off in the future, then you can probably afford to stay the course for those two years. But if you have shorter term goals; let's say you want to buy a house, maybe you're saving for a car, maybe you're saving for some fabulous family vacation. Then you want to have the appropriate amount of your assets tucked away in something that's a little bit lower risk, and something that gives you some access to it. Some liquidity.

Ryan: So we're talking savings accounts, money markets, CDs.

Sandy: Yeah, and I think that's particularly important if you're retired. We tell retirees to have anywhere from two to five years, ideally five years, of basic easy, low-risk money that they can live on, because you don't know how long a downturn is going to last. We know how average they last, but some last a lot longer, and you don't want to have to sell your stocks to sell the bills when they're seriously depressed.

Ryan: Exactly right.

Sandy: Okay, Ryan, last question. Which of the following is not a good investment for getting through a bear market? US Treasury bonds, high growth stocks with a broad following, or classically defensive plays, such as utilities, consumer staples and healthcare companies?

Ryan: Well, you've got defensive in the name there, so that's not going to be it. No, it's the high growth stocks with the broad following. So, during bears, there's typically what we call a flight to quality, meaning that investors rotate out of the really sexy, high growth investments of stuff that's been bid up by investors over the course of the bull market, and they tend to pile into safer stuff, either bonds, or like you said, sort of defensive stocks.

Ryan: Some of these sectors, healthcare, you mentioned staples. Those are companies that make things that people use regardless of market conditions. What was the other one?

Sandy: Utilities.

Ryan: Oh, utilities.

Sandy: Utilities, yeah. Got to turn the lights on.

Ryan: Yeah, the other one being utilities, because yeah, people have to turn the lights on, people still need heat. So once again, we never tell you to time the market. We're not going to tell you to rotate into safer stuff in anticipation of a bear market, but maybe it might make sense to sort of batten down the hatches a little bit when it comes to your portfolio. Take a look at your asset allocation, maybe ramp up your exposure to some of those defensive sectors. And that's something that we're going to have Anne Smith to talk about on next episode.

Sandy: Great. That's all good advice, Ryan, and I think I learned a lot.

Ryan: And when we come back, online editor, Andrea Browne Taylor demystifies the deals on Black Friday. Don't go anywhere.

Ryan: All right, we're here with Andrea Browne Taylor. She's an online editor at, someone who covers all things consumer and retail related for the website. And thanks so much for coming on. Our very first guest. It's very intrepid of you.

Andrea: Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Sandy: So Andrea, if you do decide to shop on Black Friday, what should you be watching out for?

Andrea: Well, something that consumers should know is that retailers will be trying their hardest to get you to spend your money, and there are certain tricks that they employ. A big one is that some of the advertised discounts that you may see can be misleading. And this is very big, and you'll see this most often with online sales. And a lot of times, what they'll do is they'll compare a product to a manufacturer's suggested retail price, or the MSRP. And what shoppers don't realize is a lot of times those items that are getting advertised don't ever sell for the MSRP price.

Andrea: So for example, you're interested in a product where the MSRP is $100. And the advertised sale price is $70. So that discount is about 30%. But actually, that product never sold for $100. It sold for $80. So that discount is really about 12%, not 30%.

Sandy: Sneaky.

Andrea: Yeah, very sneaky.

Ryan: And some deals require you to do some legwork, right?

Andrea: Yeah, yeah. You definitely will see a lot of retailers offering discounts for items that require you to send in a mail in rebate, and mail in rebates can be very, very tricky. A big reason for that is that you'll have to up front, buy the product at full price. And when you get home, you'll have to remember to fill out the rebate form, include that proof of purchase, and then actually mail the thing in. And that can be very hard to do, especially during the holidays, which are a busy time for a lot of people.

Sandy: Right.

Ryan: And I get the sense that they really want you to come in on Black Friday, they want you to log on to your computer, but is that really your last chance of getting deals?

Andrea: No. And it's funny that you say that, Ryan, because retailers are very good at instilling this sense of FOMO, or fear of missing out on an exclusive deal. And that's just not something that you should be concerned about. Online you'll see this a lot when you go to websites, and they have those holiday sale countdown tickers. As you're clicking through pages, you see this ticker that's just winding down, winding down.

Andrea: And what that instills in shoppers is kind of this sense that, you know, oh, I need to hurry up and buy this item before I miss out on this deal. And I can't get it again. And that's just not true.

Ryan: So, I think people like to do this stuff anyway. I mean, I don't know if we're definitely in the business of recommending people go out and sleep in a tent and all this stuff.

Andrea: Definitely not.

Ryan: But let's say I want to do it, I want . . . my Mom has done it for years. She doesn't camp out, but she always goes and swings by the stores on Friday. If I want to do it online, or if I want to do it in the store, what are some tips that I should be aware of, to make sure I'm getting the best deals?

Andrea: Right. So, if you're an avid online shopper, you just absolutely refuse to leave your house. You like shopping in your PJs. You definitely want to do some research in the days leading up to Black Friday, for those items that are on your shopping list that you know you want and you want to spend your money on. You want to have a good sense of how much those things cost before you see the Black Friday sale price. And that will help you get a better idea of how big or little those advertised discounts really are.

Ryan: And then, what if you're actually going in the store, elbowing the old ladies out of the way, to try to get the things you want?

Andrea: So, the tip that I'm about to give you, I'll . . . full disclosure, it might seem a little out of control, but you want to go to that retailer's website. That one that you plan on braving the crowds for, you want to go to their website like maybe the day before, and print out a store map. This will help you familiarize yourself with the store's layout, so when you get there, you know exactly where you want to go, exactly where the aisles are located that you want to shop in. So you're not distracted when you get there, hopping from aisle to aisle, filling up your shopping cart with everything but what's on your shopping list, having lots of impulse buys, and blowing your budget before you even get to that doorbuster deal item that you actually came to the store for in the first place.

Ryan: So Sandy, I don't know about you, but I think I do like maybe 100% of my holiday shopping on Amazon. Andrea, are there deals to be had at the sort of big online retailers, your Amazons, your Walmarts?

Andrea: Right. So Amazon is an e-commerce giant, we all know that. They get a lot of sales from consumers over the holidays, and they'll definitely have some Black Friday deals specifically on their proprietary devices. So we're talking about like your Echo Dots, your Fire TV products, the Fire TV stick and the Fire TV cube, as well as the Kindle Paperwhite items. So if you're on the market for any one of those, Amazon is definitely the place you want to go. I know you can get some of those things at some of the big-box retailers, but an important thing to keep in mind is those other retailers won't ever be able to beat Amazon's prices on their own products.

Ryan: Sure.

Andrea: So, remember that and like I said, if you're looking for any one of those items, definitely pick those up from Amazon. And the discounts on them can vary between, for example, for like the Echo Dot. You can get some models, which would typically be the older generation models, for up to 50% off. So for the second generation Echo Dot model that will be on sale for Black Friday, which normally retails for about $40, you'll be able to get it for $20, which is a good deal if you're looking for that.

Sandy: And Andrea, what about Walmart? I've been in many Walmarts, but they also are very active online. Are there deals to be had there?

Andrea: Yeah, so a big way that retailers get you into their stores is with these doorbuster deals, and Walmart is very good about enticing shoppers in there. A lot of people who tend to be out in the stores during Black Friday know that Walmart has usually the best electronics deals for Black Friday.

Andrea: And one of their standout TV deals this year, I'm going to call out this one specifically, is for the Sharp or TCL brand 65-inch, 4K Roku smart TV. It will be on sale for $400, which is a pretty good price for a TV of that size. The brand and the model will vary by the store and location. And again, at that price point, you want to be one of the early bird shoppers who's camped out ahead of time, to get in line.

Andrea: Because as you know, people who shop these types of deals know that when you have these big doorbuster deals for these TVs and other types of products in-store, they're available in very limited quantities. So there might only be five or six of them. If you're standing in line and there's 20 of you out there, more than half the people on line are going to be pretty upset when they're not going to be able to take that TV home.

Ryan: That's right.

Sandy: And that's what we hear about on the news.

Andrea: Yeah, yeah.

Sandy: Andrea, if you do fall victim to FOMO, and you buy something on Black Friday, and then later determine that you don't want it, or the person you bought it for already has it, how easy is it to get your money back on some of these big deals?

Andrea: Well, it's good that you bring that up. You definitely want to pay attention to return policies over the Black Friday shopping weekend. A lot of retailers will have extended holiday return policies, but there will be stipulations for items such as mobile devices, tablets, smartphones, things of that nature. And on those types of items, the return policy might not be as extensive.

Andrea: So for example, at Apple, you only have 14 days from the date of purchase to return that type of item. So again, you definitely want to do your due diligence and read the retailer's return policy ahead of time. That way you know whether or not you should buy that item, especially if you're buying items to give as gifts that you won't be giving to the recipient until late December. Again, like you mentioned, if they decide that they don't like the item or they already have it and you need to return it, you might find yourself in a situation where you're not able to get your money back.

Ryan: Well Andrea, listen, thank you so much for coming on. It's been an absolute pleasure. I mean, the people out there I'm sure are already seeing a million commercials for this stuff, and the holiday shopping season goes on from now until Christmas at least, so I'm sure they'll be checking back in. We have a lot of content running about that on, right?

Andrea: Yes, we do. We have a lot of shopping deal roundups from Amazon, Walmart and Costco at, as well as a roundup of some of the other retailer tricks that will be used over the Black Friday weekend. So you can arm yourself with that knowledge and be prepared, so you don't end up going over budget.

Ryan: Well, fantastic. We're looking forward to reading that.

Andrea: Thanks, guys.

Ryan: After the break, Sandy and I separate the steals from the shams. It's deal or no deal, coming up next.

Ryan: Okay. Before we go, plenty of offers we come across may seem like deals. They may seem like steals. But are they really? Sandy and I are always on the lookout for you, dear listener, the consumer. So we're going to play a quick game of Deal or No Deal, and Sandy, what do you have for us?

Sandy: I have a deal with a caveat. H&R Block came out a couple of weeks ago with an announcement that it is offering more transparent pricing for people who walk into one of it's many offices, and want to have their tax returns done. Basically, they've broken down customers into a handful of categories. Someone who's single, has a W-2 only, somebody who is a student or retired, a family with dependents, or a homeowner. And they're saying most of these people will be able to know going in, exactly how much they're going to pay to get their taxes done.

Sandy: That is encouraging, because what often happens is people will think they know how much they're going to pay, and then their tax preparer will so "Oh, by the way, you have this mutual fund capital gain. That's going to be an extra form, and that's going to cost you an extra $20." So I really do think that it is great that people will have a better sense of what it costs.

Sandy: Why I say it's not necessarily a deal is because, just to get a basic Federal tax return and State tax return at an H&R Block office is still going to cost you $118. If your return is that simple, and for 90% of people, they're going to be claiming the standard deduction, which means their tax return is going to be pretty simple, you can do it on line for less than $50, probably $25, and maybe for free.

Ryan: Right.

Sandy: So if you really can't stand the idea of doing your own taxes, at least you know how much you're going to pay. But I would really encourage people to do the most transparent thing, do their own taxes, and don't pay anything at all.

Ryan: So, yeah. I mean, what might be . . . so you say 90% of people probably don't need a preparer?

Sandy: Because under the new tax bill, the vast majority of people will no longer itemize. That means you're no longer going to have to sit down and figure out how much you donated to charity, and whether you donated some books and how much they're worth, and whether you paid property taxes. You'll just take the standard deduction. It should make doing your taxes very easy. And there are a lot of tax return programs online that are very inexpensive, or if your tax return is so simple that you only have to pay H&R Block $118, you could do it for free.

Ryan: Yeah, and not to pile on H&R Block, because I use H&R Block. I use their Free file thing through the IRS.

Sandy: That's right. And H&R Block does offer its own tax software program, and they're claiming that that will be more transparent, as well. And I think that's really encouraging. So I think any time that people have a better idea of what they're paying, that is good news, that is a good deal. But get the best deal.

Ryan: No doubt about it. So, I have a story, and I found a personal finance story in the wild, which is always exciting.

Sandy: I know your deal's going to be spicier than mine.

Ryan: So, I was on the train, and I saw an advertisement. It was a picture of a very nice looking model. Just her face, and this pink background, a nice font, and it said "Low sex drives now optional." And I thought, who would opt in? So I had to figure out what it was, and it was for a website called Hers. And there's Hers and there's Hims, and it turns out that the drug that they were advertising in this case was to increase sex drive for people who suffer from sexual hypoactivity.

Ryan: So both of these companion sites sell sort of wellness stuff. Hair products, skin products, nail products, vitality products, that sort of thing. And you know, for things like beauty products, skin care, whatever, I tend to think, like pay whatever you want. Like whatever makes you feel beautiful, whatever makes you feel good, I'm never going to judge.

Ryan: But some of it is prescription drugs. And like FDA approved prescription drugs, and in that case, I start to get a little more curious. So I went to Hims, because I happen to be a him. And so, their mission statement says guys are allergic to doctors. True. So through their site, within minutes, a doctor can prescribe you the stuff you need, and ship it overnight. And while these products usually cost $100 to $300 a month at the big guys, we changed that, they say. We cut that price in half, and then we slashed it in half again. Which sounds like a deal.

Ryan: So I tested it. And I went to GoodRx.

Sandy: You didn't test the product, you tested the price.

Ryan: That's precisely right. So I found one of the prescription drugs on there, and it was finasteride, which is Propecia. It's for male pattern baldness. And on the site, 30 one milligram tablets of finasteride, so a month's worth, they charge $18.50. I know I'm breaking my math rule here already. But $18.50 plus $10 for membership. I think that's a monthly cost. But $18.50, $10.00, $5.00 for a medical fee, that's what you're paying to get a doctor to prescribe it to you. That comes out to $33.50. If we waive the membership thing, $23.50.

Ryan: Now, I went to GoodRx, which is a site that we've recommended numerous times in the magazine. It basically allows you to type in the prescription drug that you might be looking to buy, and it will tell you what it costs at various pharmacies in your area, and gives you coupons that you can just print out and give to your pharmacist. I've used it before. It's like a miracle.

Ryan: And so, I went on GoodRx, and I typed in finasteride, and lo and behold, for 90 tablets at the same dosage, so a three month supply, the charge was $15.78 at the pharmacy closest to me.

Sandy: Wow.

Ryan: So, on one hand, Hims is sort of telling the truth, because it says on GoodRx's site that this would usually cost 200 some odd dollars if you just paid for it out of pocket. And so the advice is, you have to shop around when it comes to prescription drugs, because there's no sense in paying this huge markup for Hims. And I'm not . . . if you like to have things in a pretty bottle, and have it come to your house, I like the sort of millennial targeted stuff. I have Warrior Parker glasses, I wear indochino suits. Sometimes they really are a savings, but when it comes to prescription drugs, you have to shop around. And in this case, you could get your finasteride for far, far cheaper at your local pharmacy, and then buy a very nice bottle to put it in.

Sandy: Well, I think two things, one is I can testify that Ryan, you do not need finasteride, and second, I think there is just so much marketing around drugs, and particularly life-enhancing drugs. I mean, as a woman, I see it all the time, with cosmetics. And certainly, that seems to be what Hims and Hers is doing. They're really appealing to your emotions, your insecurities. And confidentiality.

Ryan: Right.

Sandy: I've seen ads for some of these things, that part of the push is that you don't have to go to the drugstore and be embarrassed with you buying baldness remedies or something more personal. But as you said, there's a huge variation in price. If it's the same drug, why would you pay more just because you saw a cool subway ad, and maybe it comes in a nifty, masculine looking box?

Ryan: You're right. And look, we get it. People are embarrassed to see their doctor, they're embarrassed to go to the pharmacist with something that they don't necessarily want to advertise. But doctors are here to help you, and pharmacists are here to help you. And we're here to help you, too, but to save money. So this one's a no deal, but we encourage you, as always, to shop around and make sure you get the best deal you can.

Ryan: That's it for this episode of Your Money's Worth. Another huge thanks to Andrea Browne Taylor, the online editor at For show notes and more great Kiplinger content on the topics we discussed on today's show, visit You can stay connected with us on Twitter, on Facebook, or by emailing us at And if you liked the show, please remember to rate, review and subscribe to Your Money's Worth wherever you get your podcasts.

Ryan: Thanks for listening.

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