Before Black Friday
1. Visit your local store. Check their holiday sale hours. Familiarize yourself with where items you're interested in are located in the store.
3. Look up customer reviews of products. When searching, be as specific as you can with the model number and name of the product (see #17 for details about that).
4. Follow the stores on Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for their email. Download their apps. Join their loyalty clubs. Some stores offer special deals to their most attentive and receptive shoppers. It's free to follow or join or sign up, and you can always "unfollow," unsubscribe or delete after the holidays.
5. Ask yourself, will it pay to shop around and hit multiple stores to get items for a lower price than other stores? Factor in the travel time, parking, crowds and waiting in another line versus the value of the discount and the item. Only you can decide if it's worth it.
6. Know which stores carry the items you want, in case one store runs out.
7. Know the hours items you want are on sale. More stores are staggering the hours for various doorbuster sales to keep people coming in beyond the first few hours after the doors open. If you can risk some high-demand items being sold out, you may prefer shopping during the store's extended hours after the crowds have thinned.
8. Make arrangements for the kids. Leave them with a relative, trusted neighbor or babysitter (maybe offer to do some shopping for them).
9. Dress for the weather, and dress in layers. By dressing in layers, you can remove that heavy coat and wear just a sweater after spending hours walking in a crowded mall.
10. Download our app to your phone for radar and hour-by-hour weather forecasts for your current or chosen locations. That's self-serving, but you'll get the information you want when you want it, and for where you're standing in line.
11. Bring all your Black Friday ads with you. If there's any question about a price at the checkout, or an item is sold out and you need to find it somewhere else, you'll have the information with you.
12. Have a shopping list -- not your son's Christmas list with every wish on it but a checklist of the specific items you intend to buy within your budget. The National Retail Federation adds, "If you know who you need to buy for and how much you can afford to spend, you can make best use of retailers' 'Buy Two Get Third Free'-type deals."
13. Include extra items on your shopping list in case the items on the checklist aren't available. Don't have too many "extras" or you might be tempted to pick them up, too, then you're more likely to exceed your budget.
At the store
14. Park in the first spot you see. Chances are good that while other people are circling the parking lot looking for a closer spot to open up, you'll be in the store before them.
15. Split up. If you go with family and friends and work as a team, you can be in two or three places at once. Give each person a shopping list or assignment (e.g., someone can grab a shopping cart while you're racing the crowd for that hot toy).
Get the best deal
16. Use your smartphone. Look for price-checking, customer review and Black Friday apps, such as Amazon, ShopSavvy and ScanLife. Most shopping comparison apps let you scan the barcode of an item in the store to compare prices online and read user reviews. Some stores have their own app and might have exclusive offers on those, such as Target with Cartwheel.
17. Compare items, not just prices. Some stores may sell products with fewer or lesser features, even though they're from the same manufacturer, so they can sell them cheaper as doorbusters, such as a tablet computer with less memory or TV with fewer HDMI inputs. This is where knowing the exact model number can come in handy.
18. Some Black Friday bundle offers may be a better deal in the long run than buying the items at a lower price elsewhere (example: A 4K TV and 4K Blu-Ray disc player bundle may cost more at the outset, but cheaper than getting the TV on sale and buying a comparable disc player later). On the other side of that coin, sometimes bundles aren't better but stores want you to think you're getting more for your money; this is another time it's important to look at model numbers and compare features.
19. Beware of promoted "savings" that aren't. Some stores will say an item is regularly $39.99 but it's on sale for $29.99 -- when every other store sells it for $29.99 as their regular shelf price. Don't let an ad fool you into thinking you're saving 25% by buying it from them.
20. Use loyalty cards/store credit cards. Some stores offer discounts or extra incentives with their loyalty cards or for using their store credit cards.
21. If you put an item on layaway, make sure you understand all the terms. Consumer advocates say you should ask questions first: Are there upfront costs? How long do you have to pay? What happens if you're late or miss a payment? Will the store make a price adjustment if the item goes on sale while on layaway? Can you get a refund, or what costs will you incur, if you decide you don't want the item before your last payment?
22. Know a store's price-matching policy. Some stores will match online prices as well as in-store prices, while some only match store prices. Stores may also suspend their price-matching policies during Black Friday sales.
23. Ask a store manager if they'll match a competitor's published price anyway. Maybe they're in a festive mood or have a sales goal you don't know about. Again, it helps to bring Black Friday ads with you.
24. Stores will usually match their own online price, regardless of their competitor price-matching policy, so compare a retailer's prices in the store to the prices on its website. You might find a retailer has a different price online.
25. Know the store's return policy before you buy, consumer protection officials say. If the item is opened, will they exchange it for something different or only for an identical item? How long does someone have to return an item after Christmas? The policy might be different for some doorbuster items that have limited availability or for clearance or "open box" items. If you don't have a receipt, many stores will only refund the lowest sale price of an item over, say, the past 30 days -- regardless of what you actually paid.
26. Watch as your items are rung up and check your receipt before you leave the store to make sure the prices are what you expect. Consumer advocates say they tested 58,629 items in 2016, and 1.2% rang up at a higher-than-advertised price. Under the law, if you are over-charged the retailers must, at a minimum, refund the difference.
Take care of yourself
27. Be patient and understand what you're getting into. Stores will be crowded. Lines will be long. Tempers may be short. You chose to be here; so did they.
28. Don't lose your head in the competition. Rather than grab that mixer out of someone's hands, look for something else on your checklist. One disorderly conduct ticket can wipe out any savings from Black Friday sales. Remember, you have 32 more shopping days until Christmas.
29. Don't forget to eat. Have some healthy food in your stomach before you hit the stores, or your stamina may end up hitting a wall. Head for the food courts before 11 a.m. or after 1 p.m. Better yet, plan a family gathering somewhere away from the mall or stores so you can recharge your mental batteries as well as compare shopping notes -- and regale each other with tales of the hunt.
Don't break the bank
30. It's easy to get carried away. Set a budget and stick to it. This is where it helps to have a specific checklist, not everyone's wish list. Keep track of what you're spending, and it will help you avoid sticker shock in January when the credit card bill comes and you're paying interest on Christmas gifts until Labor Day.
31. Avoid impulse buys, which can quickly add up. By stacking eye-catching items in the aisles and near the checkout lanes, stores are counting on you to leave with items that weren't on your list.
32. Don't spend your entire budget between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Think about what will still be there when the crowds are gone.
33. If an item is not on sale, not in limited supply or high demand, or offered for Black Friday sales only, you might find it on sale later in the holiday sales season, especially if retailers push discounts closer to Christmas (and again after Christmas) to reduce their inventory.
Be ready after the sale
34. Ask for a gift receipt. Some stores print one automatically, especially during the holiday season, but not all stores do. It helps to ask before the receipt is printed.
35. Tape or staple gift receipts to items right away.
36. Hold on to sales receipts. Keep them together in a large manila envelope or something that will be easy to find later. This is important not only for returns but for checking against your credit card statements
37. Mail those gifts right away. You just survived the busiest shopping days of the year; don't stand in line again for the busiest mailing days of the year.
Or... don't go at all
38. Shop in your pajamas. OK, that's a trendy fashion for some, but we mean shop at home. Many retailers will offer the same deals online as they do in the store. Keep in mind you might have to pay shipping costs.
39. Some stores offer store pick-up for items purchased online. If you use this option around Black Friday, you might want to wait a few days before picking it up if it's allowed. Either way, be prepared to stand in line at the pick-up desk.
40. Gift cards are popular.
Sources: Best Buy; BlackFriday.com; Green Bay Police Department; National Retail Federation; Prevention magazine; US News & World Report; Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection