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11 Ways to Keep Your Spending in Check This Black Friday

Author: Catherine Brock | November 25, 2021

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A challenge every holiday season

Keeping Black Friday spending in check is a challenge every year -- but staying on budget this year may be harder than ever. Rising prices due to inflation may shave a few percentage points from those Black Friday discounts. And, global supply chain disruptions could make the seasonal toy and gift shortages worse than normal in 2021.

Even with macroeconomic forces working against you, it is possible to keep your Black Friday spending in check. Try these 11 shopping strategies to guide you.

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1. Define your budget

Decide now how much you're willing to spend on holiday shopping this year. And remember that some of your holiday spending may not be directly on gifts. You might spend more on gas if you're driving somewhere special to shop, for example. Or you might spend extra on peppermint mochas from the Starbucks in the mall.

Setting your high-level budget is the easy part. The harder effort will be tracking your spend against that number. Get organized around this early, with a system you know will work for you. I like spreadsheets, but you might prefer using a dedicated account or jotting down expenses in a small notebook you carry with you.

ALSO READ: Why Supply Chain Issues May Not Be Such a Grinch for Retail

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2. Make a list

Before you do any holiday shopping, make a list. Write down the names of your giftees and how much you want to spend on each. Make sure your spending limits don't exceed your total budget. Then, brainstorm gift ideas.

Ideally, you'd come up with two or more gift ideas for each giftee. As you generate gift ideas, do a quick online price check for each. That'll keep your cost expectations in check. If a potential gift is too expensive, leave it off your list and think of something else.

When it's time to shop, your list of names, gift ideas, and spending allotments will keep you focused. Rather than wandering aimlessly from aisle to aisle, waiting for something to catch your eye, you'll be on an organized fulfillment mission. You'll shop faster and spend less as a result.

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3. Shop alone

Shopping alone, online or in store, may be less fun than shopping with a friend. But you are likely to spend less on your own. Friends, who aren't as close to your budget, may inadvertently encourage you to overspend -- either on bigger purchases or extra expenses, like lunch or drinks.

If you think you need a friend's help, it's often because your shopping list isn't complete. You might not know what to gift a co-worker or neighbor, for example. Talk through those unknowns with friends before you shop. Once you have a complete gift list, you should feel confident enough to shop solo.

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4. Shop with discounted gift cards

You can buy discounted gift cards at Raise, Cardpool, and CardCash. These and similar websites sell gift cards for 1% to 10% less than their spending value. As an example, you might buy a $100 Target gift card for $99.

Shopping with discounted gift cards takes some planning, but there are clear benefits. First, you save automatically. And second, you can use the cards to control your spending. Once you spend the funds on your Target gift card, for example, you're done shopping at Target. This is better than the cash-only shopping strategy, which limits you to in-store purchases and exposes you to theft.

ALSO READ: 3 Retailers Poised to Sleigh the Holiday Season

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5. Stay out of the store

The frenzy of shopping in a store on Black Friday is contagious. The empty shelves, sold-out doorbusters, and people fighting in the toy aisle naturally push you to shop faster. And when you shop faster, you risk overspending.

Avoid that competitive dynamic by staying home and shopping online. At home, you can move methodically through your gift-buying list without hurry. You might run across some items that are out of stock, but you won't have to fight anyone off in the process. You'll likely have access to the same or similar deals, too.

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6. Use your loyalty programs

Identify your richest loyalty programs and see how many gifts you can purchase at those stores. Cash back is the most versatile loyalty reward, but future store credits (like Kohl's Cash) can be useful, too -- with some caveats.

First, the store credit must be usable for things you'd buy anyway. It's all right to be creative here. You might use your Kohl's Cash on future birthday or wedding gifts, for example. Or, if the redemption period allows, use it to buy last-minute holiday gifts. Second, store credits ideally should have no minimum purchase requirement. Loyalty credits that ask you to spend more than you would normally are counterproductive.

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7. Earn cash back

If you have a no-fee, cash back credit card, use it to buy your discounted gift cards. That way, you can earn three ways, via cash back when you buy the gift card, the discount on the gift card itself, and Black Friday markdowns.

You can add another discount by using one or more cash back apps. Apps like Ibotta or Fetch give you rebates when you share your purchase receipts. There's obviously a privacy trade-off here, which you should weigh carefully. If it bothers you to share your purchase history in exchange for a few bucks, then this strategy isn't for you.

ALSO READ: 4 Things To Expect From Retailers in 2022

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8. Price shop

Retailers do a fabulous job of hyping deals as "once-in-a-lifetime" savings -- whether that's accurate or not. Plan on verifying the quality of Black Friday deals with habitual price shopping.

Running price comparisons is an easy extra step when you're shopping online. Simply open a new tab in your browser and search the name of the product. For common products, you might specifically check prices on Amazon, Walmart, and PriceGrabber.

You can also price shop with apps like BuyVia, Shopkick, ShopSavvy, and Shopular. These apps will scan barcodes to find the product's best pricing. Or, if you're shopping online, use the search feature to find specific products by name.

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9. Automate coupon finding

Searching for coupon codes online is notoriously frustrating. You find a code, try it, find out the code isn't valid -- and then repeat that process five times until you give up.

Thankfully, there is a better way. Browser extensions from Honey, Rakuten, and Coupert automate coupon finding and validation. With a click or two, these extensions test multiple coupon codes in your shopping cart. In a few seconds, you have the code that makes the largest difference to your order total.

Honey, Rakuten, and Coupert also offer loyalty rewards that are redeemable for cash or gift cards. You earn rewards by using the extension for your purchases. Once you reach a minimum balance, you can request a payout. Since there is a minimum redemption threshold, plan on using only one of these extensions as your go-to coupon finder. That way, you'll consolidate your earnings and reach the minimum faster.

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10. Sign up for emails

Subscribing to emails from your favorite stores is a good way to stay current on Black Friday discounts and the timing of sales. Signing up may also earn you a single-use coupon code for 10% or 15% off your next purchase.

This strategy may require you to parse through a lot of emails. To avoid information overload, don't subscribe to more than five new lists. You might even set up a new email address specifically for these marketing emails. That way, your regular inbox stays clean and you can easily find the most important sale notices in your marketing inbox.

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11. Know the price-match policies

The thing is, the terms of price-matching programs vary greatly from chain to chain. Walmart stores, for example, only price match to Walmart.com. And the adjustment must happen at the time of purchase. Target, on the other hand, price matches to Target.com plus a list of about 30 online competitors. You can also get a retroactive price adjustment at Target, up to 14 days after your purchase.

Review the price-match policies for your favorite stores before you shop. That way, you'll know how protected you are against deeper discounts later in the holiday shopping season.

ALSO READ: 6 Tips to Maximize Black Friday Savings

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Stay calm to stay on budget

Black Friday 2021 may create a holiday shopping frenzy like no other. Don't get sucked into the madness. A calm, methodical approach to your gift shopping is the best way to keep your spending in check. That starts with a solid budget and thorough gift list.

From there, layer as many discounts as you can -- including cash back rewards from multiple sources, cash off the purchase of used gift cards, coupon codes, and advertised Black Friday markdowns.

And if you've shopped at a store with retroactive price match, stay dialed in to the sales after Black Friday. If you qualify for a price adjustment, ask for it. That's free money, there for the taking.

Finally, don't forget to redeem and use your loyalty rewards. If you end up under budget, that's a great excuse to spend those loyalty rewards on yourself.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Catherine Brock has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon, short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon, and short October 2021 $120 calls on Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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