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13 Black Friday Tips Every Shopper Should Know, According To An Expert

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Although the holiday season gets underway as early as Halloween, I don't consider it time for holiday shopping until the Black Friday sales ads are released. That was always one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Now that Black Friday is even bigger than before, I think a list of Black Friday tips every shopper should know is essential.

Because let's be honest — it's not really Black Friday anymore. It's more like Black Thanksgiving and Black Weekend. The holiday sale has become huge, with some stores opening as early as 4:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. Gone are the days when you could grab a doorbuster deal at 5:00 a.m. on Friday morning; if you're not in line by the time your turkey's out of the oven on Thursday, you've basically missed out.

Or have you? Look, Black Friday shopping can be totally overwhelming, but it's worth it for some of those hot deals. (Hello, hottest toy of the year that will be in limited quantity and on sale for Black Friday shoppers.) All you need is a game plan. Romper spoke with Ivy Chou, top shopping expert from Dealsplus, to find out the best Black Friday tips every shopper should know, whether you're a professional at grabbing that last crock pot or an amateur navigating their first sale. (For the record, none of her tips include how to give a good left hook to save your shopping cart from a scavenger, so just keep your eyes open.)

1. Get There Early

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Hey, no sleeping in on Black Friday. No matter when you plan on hitting the stores, know that you'll have to get there early if you're looking for something specific. Chou says that, in general, you should make sure you're there no later than one hour before the store opens. "If you want that hot doorbuster deals, you’ll have to arrive at least three hours ahead of time," she says. Remember, you won't be the only person who saw that great doorbuster sale. "If you’re looking for regular sale items that you think may sell out, arrive about two hours ahead of time," Chou suggests.

2. Check Online Deals & Early In-Store Deals

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If you're looking to avoid long lines and being trampled, know that the online deals can be just as good, if not better, than the in-store deals. According to Chou, the in-store deals are never guaranteed, so it's highly likely that you could drive all the way to the store and find that the item you wanted is already out of stock.

3. Be On The Lookout Days Before Black Friday

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Waiting until the last minute? You may have missed some sales. "Black Friday sales are becoming increasingly popular days before Black Friday, so you can start shopping early with shorter lines," Chou says. Pay attention to some of those pre-Thanksgiving sales and you may find what you need without heading into a single store on Black Friday.

4. Big Ticket Items Often Have Additional Savings

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According to Chou, you can look at saving 35 to 40 percent off the regular prices during Black Friday sales. But the big ticket items may have additional savings. "Home appliances, TVs, smart phones, designer goods, and laptops often include free gifts, rebates, or free gift cards with a purchase," she says.

5. Plan Ahead & Get Organized

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Look, Black Friday isn't just some "wander into Target when you're bored and want to look at home goods" kind of shopping trip. You have to make a plan and get organized. Chou says planning ahead is the best way to avoid the stress of Black Friday and save yourself the most money possible. "BlackFriday.fm makes it super easy because they have interactive Black Friday ads posted as soon as they become available," Chou says. You can use the website to find prices, store hours, locations, and more, along with being able to search and filter items on your list by name, category, price, store, and whether it's a doorbuster deal or not. "Being organized helps you keep your sanity, stay within budget, and ensure you get the best deal possible," Chou says.

6. Avoid Travel & Winter Gear

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Looking to stock up on winter coats or suitcases on Black Friday? You might want to save those items for a future shopping trip. "The only things I'd refrain from buying are travel and winter gear as those become more discounted after the holidays," Chou says. Everything else? It's on, baby.

7. Buy What You Need

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Pretty much everything is on sale and pretty much everything is a great deal, but look at what you need and buy the things that make sense to you. Chou says that the items worth investing in on Black Friday are the purchases you need  as long as they're at the right place. "Electronics, home appliances, baby gear, clothing — there are so many things on sale that it can get overwhelming," she adds. By knowing what you want and what you're looking for, you can make your shopping trip totally worth it.

8. Don't Panic About Toys On Sale

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Toys are always a big category for Black Friday shopping, but don't panic if you missed out on a doorbuster or the toy you wanted was completely sold out in minutes. "Some kids' toys get cheaper as you get closer to Christmas," Chou says, so keep stalking those online and in-store deals, even after Black Friday.

9. Stack On Those Discounts

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Like any kind of couponing, you can get double the sale when you stack on discounts — Chou says this is the secret to saving as much as possible on Black Friday. "I love online shopping because it's easier to compare prices on the fly, read reviews, check inventory, and avoid long lines," she says. "But most of all, your chances of finding coupons are much higher. I often find extra coupons for items like clothing, shoes, toys, jewelry, designer bags, sporting goods, and home items with extra savings of up to 50 percent off."

10. Check Store Policies For Price-Matching

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Chou says one great way to make sure you're saving as much as you can is to take advantage of price-matching. "If you find similar deals at different stores or prefer to shop at one store over another, remember that some of the biggest retailers (like Best Buy, Amazon, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond) will offer price-matching under certain conditions," Chou says. "Just be sure to check the store’s current price-matching policies before you complete your purchase. You’ll have to buy the exact same brand, model, size, color, etc. and from qualifying competitors for your purchase to qualify."

11. Use A Credit Card With Cash Back

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Pulling out the plastic? Make sure it's a credit card you can reap some benefits from. "Not all cards are created equal," Chou says. "The average person spends about $800 over the holiday season and credit cards like Chase Freedom and Discover are offering five percent cash back at department stores, Amazon, and other retailers." That means you're putting about $40 back in your pocket. If you don’t have a good credit card with nice rewards, Chou suggests checking out WhizWallet's top cash back credit cards to find a card that works for you.

12. Know A Store's Return Policy

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Hey, mega important here. Whether you need a gift receipt or not, it's important to check on every store's return policy. "No matter how great a deal is, there’s nothing worse than buying something you no longer need, and being unable to return it for a refund," Chou says. "Always double check return policies before you buy anything — especially those big ticket purchases."

13. Keep Focused

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Bottom line? With a plan and a little organizing, you can prepare for Black Friday, but you have to stay focused. Chou suggests creating a shopping list that can sync to the Black Friday app so you know exactly what you're looking for, where it is, and if you have to be in line three hours early to pick it up or not. Have fun with the holiday, but if you're hoping to snag the best deals, you'll have to get serious and focused. Good luck out there.