Black Friday Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint. Here’s How to Win

Fight against "promotion fatigue" by doing your research, setting price alerts and leaning on budgeting basics.
Amanda Barroso
By Amanda Barroso 
Edited by Kathy Hinson

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Black Friday has transformed from a one-day event into sales spanning two months. Retailers are wasting no time. Target Deal Days popped up last Thursday through Saturday. Walmart rolled back prices yesterday and will keep them rolling through Thursday. And Amazon’s Prime Early Access Sale runs today through tomorrow.

While it might seem too early for holiday shopping, this is a great chance to spread out expenses over a few months to avoid a debt hangover in January.

To make the most of Black Friday, you’ll need endurance. We’ve got some advice for how to fight “promotion fatigue,” sort through the sales, and stretch your holiday budget.

Be savvy about deals

The rollout of holiday sales weeks before Halloween might feel intrusive, but waiting for November to score deals might not pay off. The early Black Friday deals from three major retailers — Amazon, Target and Walmart — are some of the best seen all year.

NerdWallet tracked popular products throughout 2022 to find out whether official Black Friday sales are the best of the year. Most of the tracked products had their lowest price on Amazon Prime Day in July or during Amazon's Prime Early Access Sale happening now.

If you missed Prime Day in July or the recent Target Deal Days, you now have a second chance at scoring great deals at Walmart or with Amazon's Prime Early Access Sale, although you'll need a Prime membership or a free trial membership.

And if it feels too early to buy, you can map out how to make savvy spending decisions in the coming weeks. Sales will be widespread now through the holiday season.

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Have a plan to beat ‘promotion fatigue’

Let’s be honest. A constant barrage of sales for three months is a lot. So make a plan to help yourself navigate and save.

Shop more to save more

As we enter the holiday season, “there's about to be an onslaught of promotion fatigue,” says Mark Bergen, the James D. Watkins Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota. The stream of sales can feel overwhelming. “I think fatigue and exhaustion could lead to mistakes, and overspending could be a very natural mistake,” he says.

It might seem counterintuitive, but Bergen says that to avoid overspending, “actually shop a little more.” Checking competitor prices before buying is one way to do this. It might be worth making a trip to another store or waiting to purchase a product online if it saves you money.

Before making online purchases, visiting a store to see the item in person can be worthwhile. Size, color and quality are often hard to estimate online. Check out the item in store, then buy online when the best deal hits without fear of disappointment once it arrives.

Set up alerts to cash in on price adjustments

Major retailers typically offer price matching or price adjustments on many of their products. While it’s tempting to buy a big-ticket item and move on, it’s worth keeping an eye out through the season. If you find it cheaper where you bought it (or at a competitor), take your receipt into the store and ask for the difference back. If the store doesn’t offer a price guarantee, the credit card you used might.

Take shortcuts to set yourself up for success. Jane Boyd Thomas, a professor of marketing at Winthrop University in South Carolina, suggests setting Google alerts on items to notify you of price drops. Browser extensions like Honey also offer to “watch” a product and alert you when it drops below a certain price.

Automating alerts is the best of both worlds: You get to set it and forget about it, unless a price drops below what you paid — then you get to pocket the difference.

Remember budgeting basics

Making a list, estimating costs and sticking to your budget isn’t necessarily a “modern or sexy” approach, Thomas notes, “but it is a tried and true way of being a good consumer.”

“Consumers should always go back to the basics,” she says. That means asking yourself questions like: “What is my budget for holiday shopping? And who am I buying for?” Then make a list, Thomas says, “so you’re not easily swayed.”

A good deal might be good enough

Black Friday is about scoring the best deal, but in an extended shopping season also beset by inflation, settling for good enough might work.

Bergen suggests consumers be patient. “I think you're just going to see just a little more frustration,” he says, “and to the degree people can be forgiving of themselves or, you know, kinder to themselves, realize that they got a reasonably good deal — that's still a good job in inflation.”

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