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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Culture

Your holiday shopping battle guide

Don't skip out on your holiday dinner. Follow these tips to grab the gifts you want without losing sleep or fighting crowds.

Sarah Tew/CNET

$100 off this popular tablet! $500 off this amazing TV! Retailers love to boast about their biggest deals during the holiday shopping season, but how do you know these bargains are worth your attention?

These simple tips will help you demystify the holiday shopping hype and land the best deal for you.

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Pick your targets

A "doorbuster" deal on a laptop may sound plenty tempting. Before you jump on that deal, make sure it's actually the computer you want.

Very often, retailers will slash prices on less popular or older gadgets to clear inventory to create what sounds like an irresistible deal. And sometimes, it really is an incredible deal.

But even an amazing deal won't matter when you get the product home and find out it doesn't do what you need.

So before you go shopping this holiday season, carefully decide what you want, and do not waver. All of your efforts should be put on finding the best price for what you want, and not settling for an "unbeatable deal" on something you don't need.

Start your search early, and often

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You don't need to wait until Black Friday weekend to start researching prices. Pick out what you want now.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You don't need to wait for big-box retailers to start posting their holiday circulars online to start buying your gifts. Nor do you need to endlessly scan website after website for your research. Instead, visit sites that collect deals together for you to browse.

BFAds.net and BlackFriday.com are two among many websites that focus specifically on the holiday shopping season. (Don't forget to check out CNET's Black Friday coverage.) These sites will not only list announced holiday deals as stores post them, but also will post news on leaked ads that have yet to be published.

Note, too, that the holiday deals now start earlier than ever. The past few years have seen sales on the weekends between Halloween and Thanksgiving that rival the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Price match before and after purchase

So let's say you've already found the deal you want, and you decide to make the purchase. Don't just pull out your credit card; instead, look up the same item on multiple competing outlets. If you find a store with a better deal, you have two options: Buy the better deal from the other store, or see if the original store will price-match. You'll save money and time.

Also, make a point to know your store's refund policy. Often, if you find a better price at another store within the return period of the product you've purchased, the original store will match the price after the fact by giving you back the difference in cost. For instance, Target will continue to make matches up to 14 days after purchase. Best Buy offers price matches during its return period, which is generally around 15 days. But make sure to check the fine print: Exclusions and caveats often apply.

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It's OK to compare prices while you are in a store. If you find a better deal, you can often ask for the retailer to match the competing store's price.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Stay at home

Remember that nearly all shopping deals are usually available on retailers' websites, too. You might even find online-only deals not available in the store. Of course, there's always Amazon, as well.

So avoid the crazy crowds: If you're confident in your items, just ship them to you. If you must go out, visit the stores at odd hours if possible, and stay safe if you do choose to venture out on a crazy Black Friday adventure.

This story appears in the winter 2016 edition of CNET Magazine. For other magazine stories, click here.

Mike Sorrentino (@MikeJSorrentino) used to never sleep Thanksgiving night into Black Friday morning just to buy "doorbuster" holiday video game bundles. He quickly learned that the stunt wasn't worth it, and hopes these tips will help you rest easy while getting the best holiday shopping deals.