The Black Friday survival checklist
Six ways to prepare for the trip and make it out intact -- with deals in hand.
Black Friday shopping isn't an excursion to take lightly -- those big sales can be a risky proposition for your wallet, your health and even your safety.
An estimated 138 million Americans will hit the stores over Black Friday weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. That's 4 million more than did so last year, and enough that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration reached out to 14 big retailers to underscore the importance of crowd control. No one wants a repeat of the 2008 disaster, in which shoppers trampled to death a Wal-Mart employee on Black Friday.
Big crowds and high traffic online increase risks of all kinds, including theft -- of the gifts from your car or simply your credit card information. Meanwhile, sale-hopping and long lines can make the trip physically exhausting, experts say, and the crowd mentality can encourage you to spend, spend, spend. "When everyone else around you is throwing things into their carts, it makes you feel like you have to, too," says Michael McCall, a professor of marketing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.
SmartMoney talked to experts in security, finance, health and other areas to help you prepare for the trip and make it out intact -- with deals in hand. Post continues after video.
Three tips to save your budget:
Carry the right card. Credit cards provide better protection against the growing in-store threat of skimmers that steal your data, as well as online fraud, says Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group.
And credit cards also allow you to skip the extended warranty: Many credit cards double the manufacturer's warranty, adding up to an additional year of protection, points out Edgar Dworsky, founder of consumer advocacy site ConsumerWorld.org. Some cards also extend the return period of purchases or offer a refund if the item's price drops.
Prep your phone. Almost 60% of consumers will use their cell phones for holiday shopping, says the Mobile Marketing Association, a 25% increase from last year. The right apps on your phone can help you compare prices, score an extra discount and navigate store layouts and traffic-free routes to the mall, says Brad Spirrison, managing editor for review site Appolicious. His free picks for the iPhone include Black Friday by BradsDeals, which offers scans of retailers' ads, and The Find, which scans barcodes for online price comparisons.
Retailer-specific apps can help too: Amazon.com and Target, for example, both have free apps that let consumers compare prices, check availability and purchase items directly from their handsets.
Pack print ads.Wal-Mart announced earlier this week that its stores would match competitors' Black Friday prices. So will J&R, Amazon, Home Depot and Office Depot, Dworsky says. Other companies leave it to the discretion of individual stores. (Not Best Buy: Its ads explicitly state it won't match prices Thursday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.)
Of course, even if a retailer says it will match Black Friday prices, there are plenty of loopholes, Dworsky warns. The big one: Gadget model numbers tend to be specific to one retailer, which means even if you find an otherwise-identical Blu-ray player or HDTV, the store might not be compelled to match.
Three to save your sanity:
Hold back. Avoiding Black Friday disasters requires being a little patient. Yes, stampedes are rare, and "not the sort of thing you can really prepare for," says Chris McGoey, a Los Angeles security consultant. But most incidents happen in line when tempers are shortest, and if there's a push to get in, it's usually in the first few minutes. To be safe, it's best not to be at the front of the line when the door opens, he says. "Let that first throng push its way in."
Dress for a long day. Athletic shoes and comfortable clothing will make the hours spent on your feet more bearable, says John Rowley, wellness director of the International Sports Science Association. Pack a bottle of water and a snack -- but nothing sugary. Instead, look for something filling, like celery or an apple, or with protein for real energy, such as a hardboiled egg.
And to avoid sore muscles and joint strain, opt for a backpack, which distributes weight better than a purse, Rowley says. Make a trip to the car if the load gets too heavy, he says.
Quit while you're ahead. Just as visiting the grocery store while you're hungry or tired may prompt you to throw more impulse purchases into the cart, long hours in the mall could prompt you to buy more simply because you're thinking less critically, says McCall. Two signs you're buying on impulse: A fast heartbeat and a sense of jitteriness, says Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Take a break if you find yourself blindly tossing stuff in your cart or feeling unexpectedly anxious or overwhelmed, she says. Making -- and checking -- a list of gifts you need to buy can also help curb the knee-jerk response to marketing pitches.
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