By Jen Shragge

I love shopping. I really do. It’s my happy place. Sadly (or maybe fortunately if you ask my husband) I am pretty cheap and incredibly frugal for somebody with pretty expensive tastes. How do I manage to reconcile these two forces, which are always at odds with one another? I have become an expert deal finder. Yes, that’s right. If there is a way to save money, I know what it is, how to find it and get right on it.

Now that the holiday season is upon us, one of my favourite shopping weekends is near. Those in the United States are already familiar with Black Friday and now the newer but ever popular Cyber Monday and even Canadian companies have wised up and joined in the sale madness. What is Black Friday anyways? So the story goes that historically, major retailers don’t start to make a profit until the day after Thanksgiving when people start to get into the craziness of holiday shopping. On that day retailers go from being in “the red” (debt) to being in “the black” (profit).

So how does one make the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday (without having to stay up until midnight and fight throngs of sale obsessed shoppers)?

  • Make your list and check it twice!

You need to know exactly what you are looking for and which stores are going to have it. This will save you an enormous amount of time window shopping (nobody’s got time for that at this time of year) and getting distracted by “great deals”.

  • Find a good online source for the flyers.

There will be Black Friday and Cyber Monday flyers for all major retailers that usually start to show up around the middle of November and will trickle out until the big day(s). There are dozens of websites now that are dedicated to simply listing all the great deals that are coming and you can find all your best deals ahead of time.

  • Decide if you want to shop in person or online.

Most retailers will have the same deals in store and online. There are going to be door crashers at most electronic stores and places like Toys R Us and Walmart, but for the most part, there isn’t as big an incentive to shop in person anymore. That being said, if you are looking to invest in a new flat screen TV or a gaming system, you may want to make the trek out and save some extra cash, but be prepared to go early and wait in line. Stores really used to open at midnight but it seems that these days they are getting an earlier and earlier start on U.S Thanksgiving. Check your store opening times before you head out if you are braving the crowds.

Never heard of Ebates? Thought it was a scam? Oh no! It’s legit and it’s amazing! Ebates is an online referral site that will give you a portion of all your online purchases back in cash. They send out a cheque four times a year and I have already gotten at least 5 cheques in the mail so I can assure you it’s safe. There is a Canadian version, and a U.S version, And yes, I have accounts with both of them. All you do is sign up and then head over to Ebates’ site and find the retailer you want to shop with and select them. You’ll get a message that you are about to save an extra %, depending on which retailer it is, and then you’ll automatically get your quarterly cheques so long as you have met the minimum threshold. You’ll find huge retailers like Amazon, Nordstrom, The Gap, Chapters-Indigo, The Bay, Hatley and so much more. There are always Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions on Ebates as well so you are not only saving money by shopping the deals, but you’ll also be getting a portion back. You literally can’t go wrong.

Some final tips to make the most out of your holiday shopping:

  • Check store return policies. Most stores will honour exchanges and returns until the New Year but not all. This is a deal-breaker for me since I personally know I’m not running to the mall two days after Christmas to return gifts.
  • Ask for a gift receipt. I have noticed lately that some stores are starting to refuse exchanges without a gift receipt. Make sure you get them if you think they may be needed and make sure if you are shopping for gifts online, you indicate that you’d like a gift receipt at checkout.
  • Ask about the store’s price adjustment policy. Some stores will honour a lower price within 7-14 days so long as you bring the item and receipt in for the transaction. Black Friday and Boxing Day can be exempt from this, but not always so it can be worth asking just in case you purchase an item ahead to ensure it isn’t sold out, but then find it greatly reduced or marked down.

Lastly, enjoy your Black Friday shopping. This time of year can be really stressful and you probably have enough to worry about. Most people really do still believe that it is the thought that counts (okay, maybe not the kids… but still…) and you can generally get something awesome for a steal around Black Friday so start researching now!