As soon as Halloween ends, it feels as if the words "Black Friday" dominate the airwaves. Retailers assault consumers with early sales and holiday deals that make it seem that you have to act now or risk paying more for whatever you might need/want to buy.

It's an overwhelming flood of information that builds to a crescendo Thanksgiving week. Every retailer wants your attention and has some sort of holiday deal to offer. Sorting through the noise can be a challenge, and it's possible to buy too early, wait too long, or make some other sort of mistake.

Black Friday has come to mean two things, maybe even three. It's a broad term referring to the month of November, and it's the actual Friday after Thanksgiving. It's also sort of the actual Thanksgiving Day itself, because many retailers jump the gun.

A shopping bag bearing the words Black Friday.

Black Friday is both an actual day and a shopping season. Image source: Getty Images.

What you need to know about Black Friday and holiday deals

If you plan to shop between now and the Friday after Thanksgiving, there are some things you need to know. Consider these more rough guidelines than hard-and-fast rules.

  • The best deals can come at any time: Yes, the actual Thanksgiving and Black Friday "doorbusters" will be great deals, but some retailers are already offering some items at very low prices.
  • It might be worth going out on Thanksgiving evening: Check the ads various retailers are running. If you see a deal on Thanksgiving or Black Friday that's better than the current price, it could be worth making a trip and fighting the crowds.
  • You can buy online: There will be online-exclusive deals, and there will be some items you can reserve online and pick up in stores.
  • Waiting is a gamble: Prices might get lower if retailers struggle to sell, but betting on that happening is a gamble.
  • The best stuff might sell out: If you know what you want and see a good price, make your move.

Succeeding during the Black Friday season involves doing your homework and having a plan. You have to know what you plan to buy and what it would cost when it's not on sale.

Don't trust retailers telling you what the markdown is. Many bigger-ticket items never sell at list price, so the actual savings during "sales" are not very good. It's important to completely understand the level of deal you're getting and to not get sucked in by the excitement of saving big when you actually might not be.

Don't be impulsive

Retailers know all the tricks. They pack stores with impulse purchases and gimmicks designed to get you to buy things you don't need. That $5 coffeemaker might be an excellent price, but if you don't need a coffeemaker, you just wasted $5.

That type of mistake might not do major damage to your finances, but other potential purchases can. Be very wary of long-term financing offers on items including furniture and electronics. These can be good deals if you can actually afford to pay them off before any interest charges pile up. If you can't, you're ultimately spending more than the price of the item.

The same logic applies to buying anything using a credit card. If you can pay the bill off at the end of the month, then go ahead and use if (and pile up the rewards points). If you can't afford to do that, then you will be paying interest on what you buy, and that can easily negate any deal.

Black Friday -- both the day and the season -- offers temptations and encourages people to spend irresponsibly. You don't have to fall for that, though; you can stick to a budget if you plan your purchases and maintain fiscal discipline.