There are just a few days to go before "midnight madness" begins.
We're talking about Black Friday, which in the past few years has been pushed up earlier and earlier, making for a day we should call "gobble and go" Thanksgiving Thursday.
If you want to score the best deals on holiday gifts, you'll need to draw up a battle plan by deciding what to buy and researching where to go to get the most bang for your buck. Better start now.
"People get caught up in the hype and emotion of Black Friday and get swept away and overbuy during the frenzy and the excitement," said Jodi Furman, who writes the shopping and savings blog LiveFabuLESS.com.
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"Make a plan and a list and stick to it," she says. "Do not make any impulse purchases if it's not on your list. No matter how good the price, it's not a bargain if you don't need it."
The average person expects to spend $749 on holiday-related items this season, up $9 from 2011, according to the National Retail Federation.
Furman says you can sniff out the best bargains before and after Black Friday with a little planning.
Here are 10 tips on how to score the best deals:
1Start now. Get a jump-start by shopping online this week. (Oh, yes, please pause to give thanks and eat turkey, too.) There may be sale prices or free shipping offers, and there's still plenty of time. Deals for Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, can be found at www.cybermonday.com.
2Set a spending limit. Focus on what you need and what you can afford. Furman suggests you figure out how much you can afford to spend, set the budget and stick to it.
"The best gift you can give to your family is one of financial stability. If you can't afford to pay cash for a present right now, perhaps you don't really need to be buying it."
Having a list of the people you need to buy for and a budget for each person is a great way to make sure you don't overspend. Jot down ideas ahead of time.
Don't window-shop. This leads to spending more than you planned. And don't make impulse purchases. Make sure something really is a deal before buying it.
3Do your homework. Check sales fliers online (many are already posted) and get the Thanksgiving Day Star-Telegram to see which deals are being offered at what times.
"Research what you what to buy now. Visit www.gottadeal.com, www.BFAds.net or www.BlackFriday.com for a good overview of upcoming sales. These sites have search functions that help you find the best offers on what you want to purchase."
Also, shop before the big sales and avoid the Black Friday crowds. Many stores will refund the price difference if the item goes on sale within a few days of purchase, but this policy may not apply to all Black Friday specials.
"These sites do the legwork for you so you can relax and enjoy your Thanksgiving turkey and not stress about the sales," Furman says.
Compare prices by using sites such as www.pricegrabber.com, www.bizrate.com and www.nextag.com. Look for coupons to save on in-store and online purchases at sites such as www.couponcabin.com or www.dealcatcher.com.
5Score free gift cards. Some stores also offer free gift cards with purchase on popular electronics like iPods and video game consoles, she says. "Research those deals. They will be well-advertised."
6Find shopping buddies. If you want to get items at more than one store, Furman suggests using the "divide and conquer" method. "If there are two or three of you, divide your lists between each person and one goes to each store to get the bargains for everyone."
7Use technology. Sign up for e-mails and text messages from your favorite retailers so you'll automatically be notified of special offers.
"Consult shopping blogs and download smartphone apps so you can get more for less. Not just less money -- less stress, less time, less effort and less running around."
Furman recommends downloading apps like RedLaser for the iPhone and ShopSavvy for Android smartphones.
"Use the camera to scan barcodes and check prices online and brick-and-mortar stores to be sure you're getting the best price. Shopkick also offers cash back and points for shopping at certain retailers."
"The sites offer a percentage of your online purchases back in cash."
9Use price-matching. For the first time, Target is price-matching online competitors Wal-Mart, Amazon.com, Best Buy and Toys R Us, Furman says. Save sales receipts in case you find a better price at a later date.
"Some stores will do a price match and a price adjust, so you'll be able to get what you paid at the current advertised price. You won't have to return the items and rebuy them. Just bring in your receipt with the ad [if you have it] to get your money back."
Saving receipts serves another purpose, too.
"If you do accidentally overbuy, you can return items to keep within your budget."
If you don't feel like going out in the wee hours, you'll still find great bargains, Fuman says.
"You don't need to run around to a bunch of different stores in the middle of the night," Furman said. "There are great sales offered after Black Friday. There is usually another sales surge Dec. 8-10 and then again around Dec. 22-24. Just watch the newspaper ads."
10Be safe. In addition to being cautious with your budget, you want to be safe while shopping -- especially if you're hitting stores that open late at night or early in the morning, before the sun comes up.
Here are some of the best safety tips from Consumer Reports, law enforcement agencies and other sources.
Don't carry a large purse. Some experts recommend a small purse with a long strap that goes across the opposite shoulder. This enables you to keep your hands free and also keep the purse close to your body. Keep your purse closed.
If you dine at the food court, don't sling your purse on the back of your chair. Don't put it on the floor. Men, keep your wallet in a front pocket.
Shop with a friend. There's usually safety in numbers.
Park near the store's entrance and be aware of your surroundings. If you must shop at night, ask mall security to escort you to your car.
Instead of making one big shopping trip with repeated trips to the car to store purchases in the trunk, break up your shopping into smaller trips. This is less stressful than an all-day pilgrimage.
Safety experts advise against carrying a lot of cash and recommend using credit cards or check cards. This conflicts with the money-saving tips above, but use common sense. Don't flash a huge wad of cash. Be discreet.
Carry only the necessities, such as your ID and the credit cards you will need. Don't ever carry anything with your Social Security number on it.
When leaving the store, be alert. Look around. Don't stop to talk to anyone. If someone appears to be following you, go back to the store and ask that security be contacted.