By employing a few simple Black Friday shopping strategies this year, you can snag all the best deals without the hassle of crowds and frostbite. Mostly. Check out our tips below, and be sure to scroll down for our complete comic strip. (Print it out, and voilà: Instant cheat sheet!)

Start Shopping on Thanksgiving

You've probably seen and heard all from people vowing not to shop on Thanksgiving. Sure, the holidays are traditionally a time to be with family, not wage retail battles. But as a savvy shopper, you know that Thanksgiving sales are better than Black Friday for certain goods like smartphones, HDTVs, and video games. And you know you don't have to choose between seeing kin and saving cash because many of these deals will end up online, especially from Amazon, the reigning king of Black Friday.

Again this year, you can have your turkey and eat it, too. Thanks to online retailers stepping up their offerings, you can shop all the best deals even as you consume turkey amongst your distant relatives. You don't even have to camp out at your computer either; once you've studied the ads and decided which deals you want to pounce on, you can set up an email alert to tell you when they go live. Technology does the work for you! You can, of course, still venture out into the fray if you're so inclined — this year stores are opening as early as 6 am on Thanksgiving.

Decide Between In-Store and Online Deals

To follow up on that last point, you need to decide whether you'll be fighting the crowds in-store or racing the world's quickest clickers to get online deals. You can certainly attempt to do both with your tablet or phone, but as the saying goes, to do two things at once is to do neither. (You just know that Publilius Syrus was a master of Assyrian Black Friday shopping.)

Stores Will Use Deals to Control Crowds This Black Friday

You can't afford the distraction of chasing deals in multiple arenas at the same time, so pick your adventure based on priorities. If Amazon's Lightning Deals have you excited, then it's probably best to stay home and focus on online shopping. If you just can't resist the doorbusters that retailers are already tantalizing us with, you should probably bundle up and head out and wait in line; there's always a chance that you'll find doorbuster deals online, but you just won't know ahead of time which of those amazing offers will make the jump.

Plan Ahead & Stick to Your List

And on the topic of doorbusters, you know how sometimes you just run into Target for a box of mini muffins and a half gallon of milk, then you're drawn in by the siren song of the dollar aisle and you end up leaving an hour later with a cart full of stuff you never knew you needed? Black Friday can be that experience amplified if you're not careful.

To avoid it, know what you're shopping for. Familiarize yourself with the best Black Friday deals and ask yourself the hard questions. Do you really need a $10 waffle iron and a folio case for a tablet you don't even have? Impulse-buy items are generally neither name brand nor particularly desirable in normal circumstances — they're mostly slightly more profitable goods that retailers hope you'll buy when you're also shopping for doorbusters. But, if you've done your homework, you'll be able to tell in an instant which deals are worth your money. In fact, did you know that iPads and iPhones are cheaper at Walmart than Target? Check out our Target ad analysis for more details.

Price-Check Everything

Once you've got your Black Friday wish list in order, it's time to turn to the merchants with a trusty price-match guarantee. Holiday price-matching policies are great for bargain shoppers, because it can ease the tinges of buyer's remorse when you've spotted an item you bought for less at another store. And this year, not only are more retailers price-matching their competition, but they're also stretching out the timeline for qualifying purchases; Target's policy went into effect November 1. While not every store will honor competitors' Black Friday prices, many of the hottest Black Friday deals will be available from retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon, and those three will surely try and beat each other out for your holiday dollars.
Remember the Golden Rebates

Rebates are a favorite promotion for some retailers, as they allow merchants to advertise low prices, but receive more money up front from the customer. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this, it can backfire if you're less than meticulous.

On a normal shopping day, a deal involving a rebate isn't that much to keep track of. But in the frenzy of the Black Friday weekend, it's in your best interest to keep a detailed manifest of all the rebates you need to claim, the dates they're valid, and any other pertinent information: do you need your receipt or proof of purchase? That awesome TV or hard drive deal you snapped up this holiday may suddenly feel less awesome when you're out an extra $100 because you forgot to send in a rebate on time.

Gear Up for Black Friday!

We love Black Friday, but even the most careful of shoppers can get burned. These are just some gentle reminders of the safest ways to shop. First and foremost, know the limits of Black Friday deals. Will the retailer offer a rain check if the item you want sells out? If you're shopping for gifts, will the recipient be able to return what you've bought, or is it final sale? Then there's the temptation to get through online checkout as quickly as possible — remember Amazon's $97 TV Lightning Deal last year? But you should still take the time to double check everything as you go: Did you check for coupon codes? Is your default shipping address the right one? Did the merchant try to default to a costlier shipping option?

We're here to help you make the most of Black Friday, but unfortunately we don't have enough employees to send out Black Friday assistants to each of our readers... yet! So while you'll have to assess some deals on your own, be sure to check out our offerings throughout the weekend to compare and see which deals are the best for your needs.

And don't forget to check out our handy comic strip below; print it off, and keep it in your back pocket for when times are tough and you need a refresher on best Black Friday practices!

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