It's just over a month until Black Friday, but of course things are starting to ramp up already. Best Buy, for example, already ran a guaranteed-Black-Friday-pricing sale on TVs (now expired) and just unveiled for members of its free My Best Buy program. And that's just the start. In the next week or so, expect to see "leaked" ads from a growing number of stores, along with early sales ("Black November," anyone?) and other promotions.
In case you're new to these United States, a quick explanation: Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season. (Today it's better known as the day retail stores try desperately to remind people there are still retail stores.) Cyber Monday happens three days later, with the focus squarely on online shopping.
As always, we'll be watching for all these sales and passing along the best ones. In the meantime, let's talk about the ways you can shop smarter on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.
1. Don't get caught up in the hype
I've been writing the Cheapskate blog for 12 years, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that every day is Black Friday. Some recent examples: The , the , the and a refurbished . (Some of these have sold out or expired. I'm using them primarily to illustrate my point.)
Will those products be even less on Black Friday? Perhaps, but some of them (like the Kindle and Apple Watch) are already selling at historic lows. Between Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day, the Fourth of July, Prime Day, Labor Day and Christmas, there are countless opportunities year-round for stores to hold sales. And that's exactly what they do. None of them put all their eggs into Black Friday's basket.
Bottom line: Try to avoid getting caught up in the Friday frenzy. If there's something you want to buy and you spot a great deal before BF, grab it. If you missed a great deal on BF, don't sweat it: Chances are good you'll see it again before long. Trust me on this; I speak from experience.
2. Set up price alerts, and do it now
Suppose you're planning to buy one of the aforementioned items -- say, the Nintendo Switch. But you're not going to pull the trigger unless the price drops to $250 or less. (Psst: It's getting there. Check out.) Just one problem: Short of checking a bunch of stores on a daily basis, how can you find out when that happens?
Simple: Set up price alerts. Free tools including CamelCamelCamel (which works solely with Amazon), Honey, PriceBlink and WikiBuy can notify you when there's a price drop. It might be called a "droplist" or "watchlist," but ultimately it's a way to bookmark store items and find out when they go on sale. This is not only a time-saver, but also a way to insure that a short-lived discount doesn't get away from you.
You may want to use one or more of these tools simultaneously, as some of them let you set thresholds for alerts, while others will notify you if there's any price drop at all.
3. Sit out the doorbuster sales
For many, Black Friday still conjures images of long lines outside the store and crazy crowds inside it -- because that's how it all started. But although lots of retailers still try to lure customers in with "doorbuster" deals, they're not always worth the effort.
For starters, most of the best deals have limited quantities available, meaning you'll have to arrive really early and stand in line for a really long time. Should you really bother doing that to save, say, an extra $20 on a Nintendo Switch? Or get a bargain-basement price on a TV that's not great to begin with?
Probably not. And, remember, once you're in the door, there's a good chance you'll end up spending money on other items you don't need or want. My advice: stay home.
4. Don't forget your cash-back apps
Psst! There's a way to save even more on Black Friday (and Cyber Monday, and every other shopping day of the year): Use a cash-back service.
BeFrugal, Dosh, Rakuten (formerly Ebates), Honey and TopCashback are just a few of the services that will score you extra discounts (in the form of rebates) at many, if not most, stores -- mostly online stores, but some retails ones, too. Dosh in particular is good choice for the latter, but the Rakuten mobile app also supports in-store shopping.
5. Forget the stuff -- shop for experiences instead
This 51-year-old cheapskate has learned that owning stuff is nowhere near as good as doing stuff. So consider choosing Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals on experiences, the kinds that build memories. Some suggestions:
- National parks
- Escape rooms
- Live music at small venues
- Ballparks in other states
- Indoor go-kart racing
In other words, put the phone down, take the headphones off, and get the hell out there. Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
6. Use virtual credit card numbers
Online shopping is pretty safe overall, but every time you buy something, you're exposing your credit card number. The more stores you patronize, the greater the odds of that number getting stolen.
Solution: Use a virtual credit card, meaning one that's generated for one-time use and doesn't expose your real number. Many banks offer this option. If yours doesn't, check out.
Note: Originally published last year. Updated to reflect new advice or promotions.