Hurry up -- grab your coat and car keys! There's no time to waste if you want to score a bona-fide, brag-worthy holiday bargain.

Sound familiar? It should. Before the Halloween candy has even been consumed -- and even before the sales circulars are printed, rumors fly around the Internet about the big post-Thanksgiving holiday deals stores will trumpet to woo throngs of bargain shoppers out on Black Friday (so-named for the point when stores' balances sheets turn from red to profitable black).

Let the sales spoilers begin
This annual performance is nearly as predictable as the plotline of "It's a Wonderful Life."

As if on cue, last Wednesday Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) sent its annual tsk-tsk notice to websites in advance of their posting the store's sales circulars before the official Nov. 19 release date. According to CNNMoney, Wal-Mart's preemptive legal move is a new tactic to stop the operators of the sales gossip websites. In the past, the rogue sites have received stern warnings from retailers like Target (NYSE:TGT), Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), and Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) -- but only after their door-buster deal ads have been prematurely posted.

Note to sales spoilers: Game on
Despite this new tactic, the Black Friday dance will play out as it has in years past. For those who haven't caught the rerun, allow me to screen the highlights:

  • The setup: A handful of websites --,,, to name a few -- hype stores' marketing schedules by posting anticipated deals at holiday hot spots like Wal-Mart, Target, Sears, Best Buy, and Circuit City before the ads appear in newsprint or on the stores' websites.
  • The conflict: Website operators get a curt warning from retailers who cry foul and chastise them for getting advance copies of their sales circulars underhandedly and posting them for the entire deal-hungry world to see.
  • The world catches wind (insert cameos by noteworthy newscasters): Journalists scrambling for a scoop blare "Want to score a major deal on [hot holiday item du jour]? Tune in tonight -- only [channel's call letters] will show you where to snag it!! Our exclusive (if you have never been on the Internet) scoop at six!!" Meanwhile, the websites rack up clicks and continue to update the sales pitches all season long.
  • A peek at the inside story (cue mood lighting, cigar smoke, and frenzied activity on the Wall Street trading floor): In the shadowy boardroom of an unidentified big box retailer, back slapping and "Atta boy!"s ensue. Despite their ads getting trumped by some kid with a little HTML know-how and a modem, stores know there's nothing like free advance advertising and -- bonus! -- a preview of their competition's holiday strategy. In fact, GottaDeal's founder said last year the Wal-Mart ad on his site got 2 million clicks in October and November.
  • Roll credits: Over the angelic strains of "Silent Night," the season's blockbuster deals slowly scroll over a montage of frenzied shoppers elbowing old ladies, toddlers, and stray kittens to get to the goods.

I won't bore you with the details of the predictable sequel, Look Who Regrets Shopping II, although you might want to bookmark this holiday hangover cure for future reference.

Score holiday deals ... stat!
You can see how easy it is to be swept up in the holiday-shopping hype machine. Limited availability of the best buys can drive even the most rational shoppers to pitch a tent in the retailer's parking lot before Black Friday's opening hours (and try to score a moment of fame on the local news).

Don't be that guy or gal. Sanity -- not frenzy -- is the way to go in this war for your wallet. And that doesn't mean missing out on bona-fide Black Friday bargains, either.

One simple trick may be all it takes to bring sanity back to the holidays.

Get a jump on the competition
If you're willing to do your homework, you can beat the swarms of shoppers and sleep in the day after Thanksgiving.

  • First, identify your most-coveted item that will go on sale: Keep checking the store website and the Black Friday deal preview sites mentioned above.
  • Buy it before it's a steal: Before the official sale starts, make your way to the store and pick it up at the current, pre-sale price.
  • Ask for a refund on what you overpaid: On the day of the sale, make your way back to the store and request a price adjustment for the difference.
  • One last thing -- and this is key: Carefully study the stores' holiday return policies before you buy. In recent years, retailers have become much stricter with returns, exchanges, and adjustments around the holidays.

So do your homework, be kind to beleaguered sales clerks, find a really good hiding place for your shopping winnings, and let yourself sleep in while the herd of bargain hunters tries to score the deal you've already snagged.

Hone your holiday shopping strategy even more:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.