Congratulations! You just won Black Friday with these 11 awesome tips

Between the unruly crowds, the long lines, and your lingering Thanksgiving food coma, shopping on Black Friday can be a major hassle. But the lure of a good deal is strong, which is why Black Friday remains one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

There’s no way to make Black Friday a completely pleasant experience, but our survival guide can help make the deal-hunting more palatable with apps to download and tips for weeding out the good deals from the bad.

Let’s start with some great free Black Friday apps. I recommend that you download the ones that interest you before Thanksgiving to get familiar with them before you’re pinned by a mad crush of shoppers.

Black Friday deal-finder apps

TGI Black Friday: Although you can find lots of Black Friday apps for digging up good deals, TGI Black Friday wins out with its clean design, clear indicators of sale value, and the ability to sort deals by popularity. And unlike some other apps, this one doesn’t make you create an account just to add favorite deals to your wish list.

Shopular displays coupons and Black Friday ads in a slick Pinterest-style view.

[iPhone and Android]

BlackFriday.com: If you can ignore the fact that this app tries to coerce you into creating an account (select I’d rather browse the app at the bottom of the screen), BlackFriday.com’s search function is a killer feature. It allows you to narrow down searches by store, category, price range, and whether the offer is a “doorbuster.” You can also search for deals that are available right now.

[iPhone and Android]

Shopular: This app is sort of a Pinterest for coupons and deals. You pick your favorite stores, and it gives you a list of Black Friday ads that you can peruse. The app also includes a running feed of coupons that you can redeem at various stores, and not just on Black Friday—a helpful feature if you want to avoid the crowds.

[iPhone and Android]

Black Friday apps to take with you

ShopSavvy: Retailers have a habit of inflating their “regular” prices on Black Friday to make their discounts look more enticing. ShopSavvy can help you get the real story.

Just scan the bar code of the product you’re looking at, and the app tells you whether a better deal is available at another nearby store or online.

ShopSavvy is a bar-code scanner that tells you if a better deal can be had online or in another store nearby.

You can also read reviews from other users and find related products.

[iPhone and Android]

Santa’s Bag: The last thing you want to do when you’re out gift shopping is forget someone or blow your budget. Santa’s Bag is a free app for organizing your gifts. You can set a budget, sort people into groups, and view your lists by store. The settings menu allows for sales-tax adjustments, and lets you set a passcode to keep your shopping list a secret.

Note that this app is iPhone-only. For Android users, Shopping Gift List Manager is a capable alternative, though it isn’t as pretty.

Shopkick: As long as you’re out and about, Shopkick provides reward points for walking into stores and for scanning certain items. You can redeem these “kicks” for gift cards at major retailers. In the past, Shopkick has offered extra points on Black Friday, but the service hasn’t indicated whether that’s happening this year.

[iPhone and Android]

Black Friday deal-finding tips

When you spend a week every year writing lists of good Black Friday deals as I do, you start figuring out what to look for and how to recognize the tricks that retailers like to pull. So in the interest of teaching a man to fish, here’s how to hunt for the best deals on your own.

Cross-check to assess deal quality: As mentioned above, you’ll often find retailers advertising inflated “regular” prices to make their deals look better. And of course, they won’t tell you if a comparable product is available somewhere else.

For instance, Best Buy is advertising a 55-inch LG TV for $500, instead of the “regular” $1000 price. A quick Google search will tell you that plenty of 55-inch TVs are sold for less than a thousand bucks, including many of higher quality. Know exactly what kind of deal you’re getting before you risk getting trampled on Black Friday.

Take note of model numbers: While you’re perusing Black Friday ads to scan for tech products, you may discover that they don’t tell you everything you need to know. But most listings will provide a model number that you can plug into a Google search.

If you’re lucky, you’ll find a listing on the manufacturer’s website. And if you don’t find anything, you’ve probably stumbled on a Black Friday “exclusive”—a product created just for the holiday shopping rush whose quality could be questionable.

Beware of “doorbusters”: It’s somewhat of an open secret that some Black Friday deals are so good that retailers actually lose money on them, but the stores profit in the end by getting people in the door.

They hope that once you are in, you’ll be happy to spend some money there rather than go back out and repark the car somewhere else.

You can find good doorbuster deals on Black Friday, but don’t get your hopes up for the ones that seem too good to be true, such as this $229 50-inch TV from Target. We suspect that the store won’t have many available.

Trust your instincts: There’s no hard-and-fast way to determine whether something is a good bargain, but after you’ve done all the due diligence, just follow your gut. A $500 Black Friday laptop that’s being sold for $750 everywhere else is a good deal. But if it’s on sale everywhere else for $550, it’s not necessarily worth the hassle—and it could end up getting cheaper some other time of the year.

Just stay home: Thanks to the magical powers of the Internet, you can save money on Black Friday without leaving your house. Amazon usually offers big discounts on items throughout the day, and is already dropping prices throughout its online store. Dell’s website is another great source for cheap PCs and other electronics on Black Friday, and this year Microsoft is getting in on the action with discounts through its Web store. And don’t forget about apps, as developers love to cut prices in the iOS App Store and Google Play Store on Black Friday (just keep an eye on your favorites).

If you do decide to brave the crowds, keep in mind that many stores are now opening their doors on Thursday afternoon and evening instead of waiting for Friday. Check out a list of store opening times for many of the big retailers.

Good luck. Try not lose your mind (or wallet).

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