How to Get the Best Deals on Black Friday

There are deals to be had on one of shopping's biggest days, if you approach it with a plan.
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Many a holiday budget is set on the road to ruin this week at the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season, known to retailers and shopaholics alike as "Black Friday."

The day after Thanksgiving earned its ominous-sounding name because it is supposedly the day retailers go from losing money (being in the red) to making money (being in the black). It's also often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year, although this is

inaccurate.

Even so, Black Friday has become a retailing phenomenon, with stores offering special promotions to drive traffic. While you should put together a

holiday spending plan and stick to it, here are some tips to finding and getting the best deals with the least amount of trouble on Friday:

1. Know what you want

: This may seem obvious, but you shouldn't let the Black Friday advertisements determine what you buy -- which is exactly what the stores are aiming to do. Instead, you should first

make a list to see if any products that you know you need happen to be part of the bargains. A great deal is no deal at all if you purchase something that you don't really need just because it's advertised at a good price. Stick to your list of what you need to make sure you don't needlessly spend money.

2. Get a jump on the competition

: Part of the challenge of Black Friday is finding which stores are giving the best deals. Most people wait for the advertisements in newspaper inserts giving them little time to truly compare the deals that all the stores are offering.

What many people don't realize is that you can find this information as far as a month in advance online. Many of the advertisements are leaked and there are a number of Web sites, such as

BlackFriday.info and

Black Friday @ GottaDeal.com, which list all the Black Friday deals. This allows you to compare all the prices in advance so that you can be more organized to find the best deals.

3. Find stores that match prices

: One of the best Black Friday tricks is to know which stores match competitors' prices. Many retailers will match the advertised price of other stores, but you need to ask them their policies beforehand. It is becoming more common for stores that usually price-match during the year to make an exception on Black Friday deals.

If you find a store that does match prices, you can make your Black Friday shopping a lot less hectic. Your best strategy is to go to a store that matches prices, but which isn't advertising the item you want in their own Black Friday ads. You can avoid the crowd that will be fighting over the item at the store advertising the item you want. Be sure to bring the relevant competitor's advertisement to prove the price.

4. Know the return policy

: Knowing and using a loophole in the store's return policy can be a great way to get the Black Friday deals, but this trick is getting harder to pull off. Many stores have a price guarantee, where if you buy something that has its price lowered within a certain period after your purchase, you can bring in the receipt and get the lower price. If a store offers this guarantee, what you can do is buy the item the week before and then bring in the receipt on Black Friday to get the better price without having to fight the crowds. This also ensures the item you want isn't out of stock.

The problem is that most stores have caught on to this trick and many have eliminated the loophole. For example, they may specify that the lower price on certain items does not apply to the policy. They may use a slightly different model, so it doesn't qualify. Or they may simply void this guarantee over the Black Friday weekend. If you can find a store that still allows it, however, it's a much less stressful way to get a good deal than fighting Black Friday crowds.

5. Is it really a good price?

: The deals on Black Friday aren't always the bargains they seem to be. If you find something you want, check online comparison sites like

BizRate.com,

PriceGrabber.com and

Shopping.com to make sure the price truly is a deal. You may be surprised to find that what you believed was a great deal is more expensive than the everyday price online.

6. Use your credit card

: When buying something, your credit card may offer a number of protections that aren't available with cash, such as extending the manufacturer's warranty and letting you get a refund if you have a dispute with the retailer. Check with your credit card issuer to see what protections it offers. Of course, these protections are only a bonus if you have the money in the bank to pay off the credit card in full when the bill comes due. Otherwise, you'll pay interest.

7. Avoid the crowds

: More and more stores are offering their Black Friday deals online, as well as at the stores (although they will have some exclusive in-store deals). That means instead of standing in line freezing for hours before the store opens, you may be able to stay cozy and warm in your house on your computer, as you get the deal you want.

8. Skip Black Friday altogether

: The best way to save money on Black Friday is to not get caught up in the retail hype in the first place. Be rebellious and turn a blind eye to the Black Friday phenomenon by committing to

Buy Nothing Day. You are sure to save money by not spending any at all.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs SavingAdvice.com.