Bust or Bargain? 5 Secrets to Black Friday Shopping Success

Black Friday, Shopping
Be careful of retailers' "original" prices -- sometimes they are raised to make a sale price look like a better deal.

Black Friday ads tout great deals, but you won’t be guaranteed a bargain just for walking in the door. You’ll have to watch out for things such as inflated price comparisons that give the impression of a better sale and inexpensive products that are actually low quality.

If you know what to look for, however, you can make sure you get the best products for the best price and emerge from the shopping bonanza with your budget intact.

To stay out of the red on Black Friday, here are five things you should know.

1. Big boxes are priced to move

Brick-and-mortar retailers want to sell anything that’s physically big on Black Friday, according to Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.”

“They only have so many square feet to show what they’re selling,” Ellwood says. “Big stuff takes up a lot of room, and they don’t like that.”

Shoppers can expect a great bargain on items that come in large boxes. That includes products like cookware, Ellwood says. Target’s 2017 Black Friday ad, for instance, has the T-fal 20-piece cookware set listed for $49.99. That’s $50 off its regular $99.99 price.

» MORE: What to buy (and skip) on Black Friday 2017

2. Some boxes are just cheap

Before you start piling your cart full of the biggest boxes it can manage, there’s one caveat: electronics. Some items, such as TVs, may be inexpensive on Black Friday because they’re made specifically for the shopping event and often are of lower quality.

It’s important to recognize the difference between a bargain and a cheap product, according to Ellwood. So how can you tell? He says to visit the store where you plan to shop on Black Friday a few days before and snap pictures of the products there. Anything that’s in the store on Black Friday but wasn’t there a few days prior should raise a red flag.

3. Time is money

As you research and compare prices, remember that your time is valuable, too, says Karthik Easwar, a professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

Easwar says some shoppers get so overwhelmed with the shopping frenzy that they avoid Black Friday altogether and forgo potential savings. If Black Friday is too much for you, remember that getting a low price is still an accomplishment, even if you’re not getting the absolute lowest price.

“If you’re spending an extra hour to get another 5% off a $100 item, that’s probably not worth your time,” Easwar says.

4. Math is important

To tell if a deal is worthwhile, ignore those “compare at” prices you may see advertised next to an item’s sale price. Ellwood says these figures tell you only what the retailer thinks the product is worth, not how much it sells for normally.

For example, we found a floor jack listed on the front page of the 2017 Black Friday ad for Harbor Freight Tools with a sale price of $67.99, a previous price of $85.99 and a comparison price of $135.27. This comparison price increases the apparent value of the deal.

You may also see an “original” or “regular” price. Be cautious with these, too. “Original” prices often reflect a higher price than the item was actually sold for before Black Friday. Instead, look up a product online and check its pre-Black Friday selling price at multiple retailers. Price tracking tools such as CamelCamelCamel can also be helpful because they provide a price history of products.

We did price research for a handful of 2017 Black Friday deals based on products that were popular last Black Friday, according to Adobe’s report of top selling items. Then, we compared the price they’ll be selling for on Black Friday to the price they sell for regularly at the same retailer. Here’s a sample of some of the savings up for grabs this year:

Samsung 50-inch Smart 4K Ultra HD TV

  • 2017 Black Friday price: $399.99 from Best Buy
  • Regular price: $699.99
  • You save: $300

Sony PlayStation 4 1TB Console

  • 2017 Black Friday price: $199.99 from Target
  • Regular price: $299.99
  • You save: $100

Nerf Modulus

  • 2017 Black Friday price: $24.99 from J.C. Penney
  • Regular price: $50
  • You save: $25.01

Razor Power Core E90 electric scooter

  • 2017 Black Friday price: $99.99 from Kohl’s
  • Regular price: $129.99
  • You save: $30

5. Savings can multiply

If you bought all of these items on Black Friday, you’d save an impressive $455.01. The downside? Getting a deal on the things you were already going to buy could tempt you to spend the difference.

But if you’ve set financial goals, you should already know where to put the money you save through bargain hunting, says Douglas A. Boneparth, a certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth, LLC in New York.

Once you save money, don’t ask yourself what to do with it. “It should be more like, ‘I know exactly what I’m going to do with this. My No. 1 goal is to save for a house or pay off student loan debt, and I have $100 more this month than I thought I would through my budgeting,’” Boneparth says.

Here’s what you might do with the money you saved on the products above:

  • Sock away money in an emergency fund. A 2016 analysis by the Urban Institute found that families with a savings cushion of as little as $250 to $749 were less likely to be evicted and less likely to miss housing or utility bills after a job loss, health issue or large income drop.
  • Contribute extra to your retirement fund. Thanks to the magic of compound interest, that $455.01 could multiply over the years.

With a little time, forethought and patience, Black Friday can be a bargain after all.

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