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Ah, Black Friday ... Some of us wait all year for this special sales day (even though the deals have begun earlier and earlier over the past few years). Whether we're searching for appliances, toys, or high-tech gadgets, we still must use caution to avoid so-so deals that pretend to be bargains. However, Consumer Reports rides to the rescue with their "Top Black Friday Tips."

1. Start early. This means examining brick-and-mortar and online ads in the days and the month leading up to Black Friday (as well as the following Cyber Monday).

2. Do your homework. Preparation means studying the ads, especially the weekend before Thanksgiving. Consumer Reports online even helps readers find the best deals at retailers such Best Buy, BJ's, Costco, Dell, Target, and Walmart.

3. Use websites and apps. You don't have to go retailer by retailer to compare prices. The Consumer Reports website lists current prices from multiple retailers for products in their ratings. Also a brainy idea is to check Google Shopping, plus services such as PriceGrabber, Pricewatch, and Shopzilla. When shopping in an actual store, smartphone apps such as BuyVia, Shopkick, ShopSavvy, and Shopular allow us to scan bar codes or QR codes to compare prices, get discounts, and collect coupons. Many Black Friday sites, in addition to the ones already listed, have their own shopping apps, as do major retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart.

4. Loyalty programs give back. Stores often have loyalty programs that not only offer sales and promotions to their members but, also, let them earn rewards on what they buy. Sign up for Black Friday shopping alerts; this is the best way to discover early promotions, coupons, and discounts.

5. Social media works. Facebook, Instagram,and Twitter feeds of our favorite retailers enable us to discover exclusive deals and promotions. In fact, I'm pretty sure many readers have found these different posts, etc. are beneficial to reward those of us who either/or like/follow the sites. The latter sends out special alerts for Black Friday discounts and incentives.

6. Create a budget—and stick to it. Not so simple, huh? Unfortunately, the rationale behind all those magnificent bargains are to lure us into the stores to greatly expand our shopping list. For example, the well-advertised $279.00 84-inch TV sounds like a Be-there-at-5 a.m.- or-be-square to grab one. BUT what we're not told is only one or two may be available and 173 of our nearest and dearest are also pushing hard to enter the store and capture the (only) television for which we're searching. Frankly, it's a must to make out a spending chart beforehand so you don't get into the store and go on a spending spree. (By the way, while super low-price doorbuster specials like T.V. sets draw people in, the product actually may not be worth what the store is asking. Unfortunately, folks in the past have made it to the front of that long line to snatch up the advertised set, only to have it break down in six months. Smart consumers know it may be better to spend a bit more on a higher quality set and still be able to haggle on its existing price.).

7. Check all store return policies before leaving the house. Whether it's price-matching, restocking fees, or returns, it's a savvy plan to read the fine print before ever stepping foot in the store. In fact, Consumer Reports tells us that major retailers' price-matching is more prevalent this season, both online and in-store, which is great news for all shoppers!

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Ellen Phillips

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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