How to successfully navigate Black Friday

 Online shopping graphic with shopping card, credit card, and gift boxes.
Online shopping graphic with shopping card, credit card, and gift boxes.

Ready or not, Black Friday is coming. In fact, for many retailers, the sales have already begun.

If you're like a lot of people, the onslaught of deals that permeates the month of November and spills over into December can feel like one massive temptation. But, if shopped strategically, the season of sales can end up being a great way to do some shopping at a steep discount.

Though getting a deal may seem like a given when it looks like everything is on sale, it isn't necessarily as easy as it appears. "Many of those deals masquerading as fantastic bargains are not always as good as they look," wrote Consumer Reports, "and it's easy to be fooled if you're not careful." Here's what you need to know to cut through the noise this Black Friday and beyond — and make sure you actually end up saving rather than overspending.

Don't be fooled by the 'scarcity narrative'

Retailers often "cultivate a scarcity mindset around their offerings," creating the message that the deals they're offering are limited and won't last, Time pointed out. In turn, this can lead to people "acting impulsively" and feeling like "they have to buy items even if they don’t need them."

If this sounds like something you've experienced, it's important to take a step back and moderate what messaging you receive and how often. You might send sales emails to a separate folder or even a whole other email address that you can then check only occasionally to avoid the bombardment, Time suggests. It can also be helpful to go into shopping with a list that you stick to.

Shop online rather than in-store

When you shop online, you have more leverage to comparison shop and enjoy a greater range of options than you would in person. Further, you can take advantage of the myriad online tools that can help you evaluate just how good of a deal you're actually getting.

For instance, adding a browser extension like CamelCamelCamel, Keepa, or Honey will "show you price histories and price alerts or available coupons when you shop online," suggested Consumer Reports. You might also add an item to your cart and then head to other retailers' websites "to see whether the price is really special."

Know what to snag — and skip

While some bargains are worth taking advantage of on Black Friday, others aren't. According to Nerdwallet, some items worth shopping (at least for the 2023 season shaping up) include TVs and big tech, small kitchen appliances, and winter apparel.

Items to skip shopping during this period of sales, per Nerdwallet, are toys and holiday decor, sporting goods, tools and home improvement goods. When it comes to toys, holiday decor, and sporting goods, that's because the sweetest deals tend to come a bit later than Black Friday, such as into early December and leading up to Christmas, Nerdwallet reported. Tools and home improvement equipment, on the other hand, just might not offer that impressive of a discount. "Tools and home improvement equipment tend to lag behind [other categories] in the percentage of discounts during the holiday season," Vivek Pandya, group manager at Adobe Digital Insights, told Nerdwallet.

Look for price guarantees if you shop early

The earlier Black Friday deals start appearing, the sooner you may be tempted to shop. While shopping early can ensure you avoid items going out of stock and concerns about on-time arrival for gifting, the downside is that "better prices will probably be offered on Black Friday and Cyber Monday proper," Wirecutter reported.

However, there is a way to have your cake and eat it, too. "Select early sales in previous years have offered price protection: the opportunity to be refunded the difference if the price drops further on Black Friday," said Wirecutter. So if you're going to get an early start, consider looking for that price assurance.