Talking turkey about Black Friday savings

Were you imagining a thermos of hot coffee, maybe even a sleeping bag or tent to protect you from the elements as you camp out for hot Black Friday deals?

Maybe you enjoy the mad rush of adrenaline you get when you spot and lunge for the last remaining iPad that's on sale at an improbable price.

Or maybe, just maybe, you actually prefer to avoid all that frenzy and sit at home in peace and quiet while your fingers do some serious shopping on Cyber Monday.

Whatever shopping madness — forgive me, “style” — you adopt, can you actually hope to save money on Black Friday or is that just an urban myth?

I mean, who are we kidding to think that there is some sort of shortage for any of these carefully culled products — and that there's even a deep discount on anything that scarce to begin with?

(Oops, excuse me. I might be spoiling the fun!) Well, okay, then. Let's play along. How about, first, we set the shopping stage and consider the logistics?

What time do stores open on Black Friday?

Oh, wait! Some stores still open their doors the night before Black Friday — hoping you will rouse yourself from your turkey tryptophan-induced coma on Thanksgiving Day and drag yourself (or waddle?) away from your guests to wait in a line with perfect strangers.

Because, according to Walmart's Black Friday ad, you are allowed to wait in line. You're welcome.

In fact, you may already be too late because, by now, people have started lining up, waiting to pounce when the door finally opens at the appointed time on Thanksgiving Day — or even Wednesday in some cases for the Pre Black Friday sale!

Confused yet? Here's at least some intel on dates and times — but really, you should just check your store's ad for the specifics.

On Thanksgiving Day, doors open at…

3:00 p.m. 5:00 p.m. 6:00 p.m. 7:00 p.m.
JCPenney Best Buy Kohl's Kmart
Toys R Us Macy's

Oh, but wait. There's more. Some stores actually wait until the early hours of Black Friday to open their doors for their Black Friday sale.

On Black Friday, doors open at…

6:00 a.m. 7:00 a.m. 9:00 a.m.
Home Depot Sam's Club Costco

When do Black Friday ads come out?

So if you're going to deal with the logistical nightmare of holiday shopping this year, you might want to have an idea of what could make it worth the effort. Most Black Friday print ads come out the week before Thanksgiving, although some have been circulating since October.

And then, of course, there's the barrage of email and social media ads that have made their way in front of my eyeballs. Let's just say that, in preparation for this article, I was able to access all of the major retailers' Black Friday ads.

And yeah, every deal looks amazing, according to the ads — but are they really?

Which deals actually look decent?

Not sure what's a good deal? Nothing evens the comparison-shopping playing field like the Internet. Since most ads are now available online, you can easily find them to compare prices and see what seems to be a particularly compelling deal.

What you can't compare so easily? How many of each loss-leader item is available at each store. Exactly how far will the fine print “as long as supplies last” take you?

Take my research into Black Friday ads of iPad Air 2 prices:

  • Walmart – iPad Air 2 = $399
  • Target – iPad Air 2 + $150 gift card = $499.99
  • Amazon – iPad Air 2 = $441.49
  • Best Buy – iPad Air, save up to $125 off regular sale prices of $499.99-$699.99

Are we comparing identical products? In this example, it's hard to say. I couldn't find out whether the iPad Air 2s for sale were 16, 64, or 128 GB. If we are comparing equal products, then Best Buy is the cheapest … unless you factor in the extra gift card from Target.

That's just one example to show how difficult it is to compare different retailers' product offerings. Another example? Walmart's blazing TV sales ad says “brands vary by store.” Well, isn't that dandy.

A Black Friday shopper and his money are soon parted?

Woman looks at empty wallet

They didn't design a holiday shopping experience so confusing you could never hope to come out ahead, did they? Many Black Friday deals are loss-leaders just there to get you into the store so you'll spend more money on impulse purchases.

Take my iPad Air 2 example above. If you decide Target's deal is best, can your budget really handle $499 instead of $399, even with the $150 gift card? If you're forced to take on credit card debt for a better deal, suddenly the better deal disappears.

Does it pay to shop around?

If you have a specific item in mind — and don't forget to nail down all its features — definitely shop around. As I've already mentioned, access to online sales ads can help you narrow in on the best price. Of course, planning to buy your item at a certain store doesn't mean the store will still have your product by the time you get there.

Alas, there are no guarantees with Black Friday shopping … but, hey, it's an experience. Maybe find someone to stand in line for you. (Drat! That could actually cost some bucks too…)

Which is the better deal, Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

The short answer? (And I really hate to say this, but…) It depends. Here's some random thoughts to help you kind of sort it out.

Do you like the adrenaline shopping rush? You're not alone. According to a 2013 study, 61 percent of shoppers preferred to shop in stores, instead of online.

Do you care about time? The same study also showed that about 75 percent of online shoppers spent their planned amount of time shopping. Compare those statistics to 60 percent of in-store shoppers spending their allotted shopping time. And that means 40 percent of in-store shoppers spent more time shopping than they planned. (Oddly, no shoppers spent less shopping time than expected.)

If you decide to shop on Black Friday, just assume that your shopping escapade will take longer than expected.

Do you want a specific product? In general, Black Friday deals offer the best product-specific discounts while Cyber Monday is more likely to offer store-wide discounts.

Do you care about inventory? Remember that the whole world (theoretically) competes for Cyber Monday deals, while Black Friday in-store deals cover a smaller population. So, depending on retailers' inventory and Black Friday's sales numbers, Cyber Monday may be a day to offload excessive merchandise.

Is this your only chance? You may also find the best deals by waiting until closer to Christmas.

Should you spend or save on Black Friday?

Get Rich Slowly readers love to save money and spend money wisely. So, is Black Friday a spending holiday or should you practice a spending freeze?

We'd love to say definitively “yay” or “nay,” but we're not in your shoes. Still, we can remind you how to keep your budget in check.

  • Be vigilant against losing money on loss-leaders. Know what your product normally costs so you can evaluate whether a deal is good or not.
  • Be purposeful in your spending and know your budget in advance. This can help you avoid overspending.

This season, unfortunately, is often stressful. Calculate the costs and benefits of burning up a day of relaxation in massive, crazy crowds. Insert, if possible, time into your schedule to decompress and spend some low-stress time with your family and friends.

And if you really want to get a head start on your Christmas list, try one of these DIY Christmas gifts for less money than you'll spend on Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping. If you're really serious about acquiring the particular items listed in these ads but you still can't stomach the sale price, maybe wait and buy them at a garage sale next year.

Thumbs up or thumbs down for Black Friday shopping? If you're going, is there a particular item you're after or is it just the experience? What are your strategies?

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