Frugal Family: Holiday Shopping Strategies for Black Friday and Beyond

Retailers are preparing for what they hope will be the biggest shopping day of the year. Unless you are in it to people-watch, don’t leave home without a plan.


Doorbuster Deals that sound too good to be true. Bleary-eyed consumers loading up on caffeine. Lines so long that police supervision is necessary. It must be Black Friday!

The Friday after Thanksgiving has long been considered the beginning of the holiday shopping season. The name Black Friday, as the day is now known, was originally coined by members of Philadelphia law enforcement. These officers were dreading the inevitable consequences of colossal numbers of people shopping at the same time.

Retailers, not wanting the pejorative connotation to stick, offered a different interpretation of the name: the day that stores officially turn a profit, going from red ink to black ink.

Black Friday competition is fierce. Retailers want your business, and fellow shoppers want to beat you out and scoop any deeply-discounted items that are in short supply. Coming up with a strategy is paramount to success in this high-pressure environment.

Here is my advice for those who hope to hear Christmas carols before they’ve fully digested their turkey dinners:

Make a List and Check it Twice. No, you’re not Santa. But you need to think like Santa. Creating a spreadsheet with the names of all your gift recipients is a necessary first step. Next, assign approximate amounts to spend on each person and let Excel add up the total. If it’s more than your budget, make adjustments right away. If you have ideas for specific people, enter them on the spreadsheet.

Read Online Reviews. Typing an item’s name and the word review in the Google search bar will yield information about whether it’s a quality product. Amazon typically has large numbers of detailed reviews.

Do Price Comparisons Ahead of Time. The Internet boasts several sites whose sole purpose is to save consumers time by directing them to the retailer(s) with the lowest price on a particular item. Smart Money named Price Grabber the most user-friendly and accurate of the lot; the runner-up was Yahoo! Shopping.

Locate Desired Items. The Thanksgiving Day newspaper will be filled with flyers from retailers hoping to lure you to their stores. Buy a paper, visit individual stores’ websites, or consult Black Friday Ads for lists of specials. Make a note of the time that each store will open. Many will unlock the doors shortly after midnight, which is the earliest that Massachusetts state law will allow. Pay close attention to any notations about quantity. That $300 widescreen TV may look like a great deal, but if there are only 25 available per store, the chance of scoring one is low.

Map Out a Plan. Take geography into account and devise a logical shopping route. If you are lucky enough to have a bargain-hunting companion, consider splitting up and each taking half the list. The Official Black Friday 2011 Website advises Black Friday shoppers to go after the most deeply discounted items first. If you have to miss out, miss out on the less expensive items.

When you arrive home, add all of your purchases to the spreadsheet. When you recover from Black Friday shopping sufficiently to venture out again, you’ll know just what you’re looking to find.

Mall and chain stores are not the only ones offering Black Friday incentives. Local small businesses are as well.

Moodz Day Spa, with locations in Acton and Wayland, will be discounting gift cards purchased in their salons on Friday. Save 10% on the first card, 15% on the second and 25% on the third. Pay only $125 for three $50 gift cards or $250 for three $100 gift cards. Tip: If you are a client, buy some to use yourself!

Cloud Nine Toys of Sudbury is holding a Black Friday sale on Melissa and Doug toys. Everything from $8 puzzles to $250 play kitchens will be on sale for 20% off.

Some retailers are featuring specials deals that go beyond Black Friday.

Ralph Jordan’s of Acton will award a $20 gift card to their shop to anyone who spends $100 in the store from now until December 9, 2011. A customer can buy $100 worth of merchandise, before tax and excluding Pandora jewelry, or a $100 gift card. The bonus cards will be valid starting the day after the initial purchase.

Elements of Acton is selling gift cards for all 55-minute or 80-minute massages for $20 off through December 24, 2011.

My last shopping tip has to do with Small Business Saturday. This event will take place on November 26, 2011. Designed to bring customers into independently owned shops, many local merchants are putting together special deals for that day.

American Express cardholders who register for Small Business Saturday and spend at least $25 in single transactions patronizing local merchants will receive $25 credits on their next billing statement. Sign up here.


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