1. Gather information. Follow your favorite retailers on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to their newsletters — loyal customers often get first dibs on sales and special promotions. Also, comb through newspaper ads on Wednesdays, and check websites that leak in-store or online sale information, such as bfads.net, theblackfriday.com, blackfriday.info, and blackfriday.com.
2. Make a list. Figure out which of your must-have products are most heavily discounted and in the highest demand, then give those higher priorities. Then map out your route, noting what time each store will open that day.
3. Scope it out. Either visit the stores on Wednesday night or call and ask each store manager when the sale starts, how early you can get in line and where the products you’re looking for are likely to be located. (Black Friday sale items often are stocked in unusual places.)
4. Time it right. Plan your shopping trip based on your priority list and any time-specific deals. For example, if a flat-screen TV you want is 70 percent off between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., start your day at that store at least an hour early.
5. Be prepared. Carry ads with you (especially if you’re going to a store that price-matches). Dress in layers to avoid overheating, and bring water and a snack. Keep your receipts and note return deadlines (Black Friday products might not have extended return policies).
6. Snap up deals ahead of time. You can shop before Black Friday and still get the best deal on some things. Both MasterCard and Visa, for example, will reimburse you the cost difference if an advertised Black Friday price is lower than the price you recently paid for the same item; you need to send your receipt, the ad and a claim form within 60 days of the ad’s publication.
7. Skip the mall. Many retailers start Web-only sales at the end of Thanksgiving Day, at midnight. If you’re looking for a specific item, set up a price drop alert on a site such as pricepinx.com.
Michelle Madhok, founder of Shefinds.com; and Kathy Spencer, author of How to Shop for Free: Shopping Secrets for Smart Women Who Love to Get Something for Nothing.