Take Advantage of Black Friday

’Tis the season of buying and spending. Or so it seems. If you’re like me, the thought of lining up in the cold, dark night to pounce on a discounted TV or half-price sweater makes you recoil. But despite the frenzied start, you likely do have a list and are checking it way more than twice to get the perfect gifts at the best prices.

So when Black Friday (once only a day, now an entire week) rolls around, don’t collapse in a pile of panic and/or ennui. Make a plan, do your homework, and outsmart the retail engine. Here’s a day-by-day guide for your post-Thanksgiving purchases.

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday

’Tis the season of buying and spending. Or so it seems. If you’re like me, the thought of lining up in the cold, dark night to pounce on a discounted TV or half-price sweater makes you recoil. But despite the frenzied start, you likely do have a list and are checking it way more than twice to get the perfect gifts at the best prices.

So when Black Friday (once only a day, now an entire week) rolls around, don’t collapse in a pile of panic and/or ennui. Make a plan, do your homework, and outsmart the retail engine. Here’s a day-by-day guide for your post-Thanksgiving purchases.

Black Friday

Black Friday

The biggest shopping day of the year didn’t always bear this moniker. It was unofficially used with negative implications back in the ’60s until corporations jumped on board and repositioned the name in a positive light. Each year, consumers line up earlier, now even interrupting Thanksgiving itself (though we can all give thanks that some major retailers are shaming those that open on Turkey Day).

But the investment is far more than financial: Be realistic about what your time is worth. $20 per hour? $100 per hour? Only you can determine that magic number, but don’t lose sight of the value of your time. And have a plan.

Tech support: If you brave the stores, arm yourself with smartphone superpowers: TGI Black Friday is an app that lets you make a shopping list, get coupons, compare prices, and even make purchases from your phone. BuyVia allows you to create shopping alerts and scan products in store to ensure you’re getting the best price.

Survival tactic: Make your wish list well in advance. It’s easy to get lured into deal mania, so grip your list and keep your buying blinders on. Also beware of quality: Many times the cheap prices correspond with cheaply made items. And make sure stores have favorable return policies in case you find a better deal on Cyber Monday.

What to buy: Clothing deals can range from 30 percent all the way up to over 70 percent off.  But whatever you buy, don’t succumb to anything just because it’s on sale — which may sound obvious, but clever pricing strategies can be hard to resist.

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

It’s easy for mom-and-pop stores to feel overrun by the big box chains during the holidays — it’s hard to compete with their large inventories and deep discounts. That’s why many of these small-business owners rejoiced when, in 2010, American Express launched a massive campaign to support them.

Small Business Saturday is the kinder, gentler younger sibling to the behemoth that is Black Friday. Enjoy the personalized service and relatively mellow shopping experience of the day of “shopping small.”

Tech support: Use the Small Business Saturday interactive map to identify participating stores and special deals in your area. Or if you have a small business of your own or know one that should participate, encourage them to get on board.

Survival tactic: Free money! Register your AmEx in advance and get a statement credit to spend at a local small business, then spread the word.

What to buy: Look for unusual items you likely won’t find in more mass-produced outlets. It’s a great day to shop for that person on your list who has everything.

Sofa Sunday

Sofa Sunday

And then there was rest. After hoofing it around town for two days, embrace Sofa Sunday: The day you are encouraged to take to your tablet — presumably from your couch — to do your holiday shopping.

At this point, you’ll be worn out from the marathon shopping sessions, and your sofa will look mighty appealing. Or perhaps you’ve had it with the insanity altogether and vowed to make every day Sofa Sunday. Regardless of how you found yourself there, lounge shopping is on the rise: Catalog Spree reported a 71 percent increase in shopping on Sofa Sunday from 2012 to 2013.

Tech support: Make your Sunday coupon clipping and deal hunting more efficient with Retale, an app that consolidates all the circulars into one app. Insert the products you’re looking for, the stores you frequent, and where you live, and it will condense and present the sales in a neat and tidy fashion, completely paper free.

Survival tactic: While some people make smartphone-only purchases, reports show that 41 percent of the purchases made on smartphones originated on a computer or tablet, and many people still prefer to browse on their phones and leave the actual transactions to other devices. Make Sofa Sunday your browsing day — no purchases, just a day to collect price comparison data and eyeball potential future acquisitions. You might even get crafty (and a little 2011), and create Pinterest boards for everyone on your holiday gift list.

What to buy: Spend $4.99 on the Consumer Reports Mobile App and beef up on your product knowledge before laying down the credit card on Cyber Monday.

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday

Most people are back to work by Cyber Monday, so the assumption here is that you’re shopping after work — more than $150 million in sales happen between 8 and 9 pm EST alone. Like Sofa Sunday, the big perks of Cyber Monday include avoiding mobs and staying warm. This more humane, less chaotic strategy is catching on and quickly making Cyber Monday the preferred holiday shopping day: In 2013, Cyber Monday online sales were up 21 percent from 2012, with record total sales topping $2.3 billion.

Tech support: Going on a cyber spending spree can leave you with countless emails of order confirmations and shipping notices. Get organized with Slice, which lets you keep track of what items you bought, where you bought them, and when they’ll arrive.

Survival tactic: Take advantage of free shipping, but be sure to choose sites with convenient and affordable (preferably free) returns. And, if possible, check out prices in your local stores before buying online.

What to buy: While everything’s fair game, avoid hard-to-fit items (like certain clothes). Instead, hone in on electronics, tools and hardware, and toys and games.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

After a five-day feeding frenzy (that takes its toll on both your waistline and your wallet), it’s nice to rebalance. Enter Giving Tuesday. Started in 2012 by the 92nd St Y and the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday is a day to donate to charitable organizations — and lock in an end-of-year tax deduction.

Whatever your motivation, it’s an occasion to put giving back into the larger national consciousness, if only for a day. And it’s sparking some real fiscal generosity: In 2013, only its second year, Giving Tuesday generated 19.2 million in donations — a far cry from the $2.3 billion spent on Cyber Monday, but 90 percent more than the previous year, nonetheless.

Tech support: As we already established, time is money. So even if you can’t afford to give back financially, consider donating your time as a volunteer. Giving Tuesday teamed up with Points of Light to create the AllForGood volunteer Facebook app that makes it easy to pledge your time to organizations that matter to you.

Survival tactic: If you decide to donate, analyze your budget in advance to determine what feels like an affordable gift, yet won’t cripple your end-of-year personal balance sheet. (When in doubt, revisit “The Gift of the Magi” to put it all in perspective.)

What to buy give: Make an informed decision on how you want to allocate your gifted dollars. Mashable highlighted 15 Giving Tuesday campaigns making a difference to guide you. And consider giving the gift of giving itself to those on your shopping list by letting them unwrap one of Global Giving’s Gift Cards For Good (tongue twister unintentional) — you choose the amount, then let your recipient allocate the money to the charity of their choice.

Anna Akbari, Ph.D., is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the “thinking person’s stylist.” She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image- and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services.  Find out more and follow her on Twitter.

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