The ads promising major Black Friday discounts begin swirling by Halloween. As the days tick down to Thanksgiving, they become me even more insistent, luring in early shoppers with preview sales and sneak peek deals.

Gone are the days when the best prices were slashed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, a reward for the bleary-eyed shoppers that managed to get up and in line at the store well before dawn. Even the last few years have seen a massive shift away from one or two days of sales, toward an entire week of Black Friday deals.

“It used to be the sales were on Black Friday and the sales were on Cyber Monday,” says Casey Runyan, managing editor of Brad’s Deals, a site that scours the web for the best deals and discounts and provides smart shopping advice. “Then we started having retailers drop their sales on Wednesday, then they moved to Tuesday, then they moved to Monday. And then they started doing Black Friday previews on November 1.”

More than 165 million Americans are expected to dive into holiday shopping between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Sales are projected to top $730.7 billion, about a four percent increase over 2018.

Shoppers say they will spend an average of $1,047.83 this holiday season, with most of that going toward gifts for friends, family and even co-workers. The biggest spenders? Older millennials and young Gen X-ers between the ages of 35 and 44 who are planning to spend $1,158.63.

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Average amount shoppers will spend in 2019

While nearly 40% say they’ve already started their holiday shopping, Black Friday is still projected to get the largest share of discount-hungry consumers. And more than half — 56%—say they will do their shopping online, according to NRF.

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Shoppers who started holiday shopping
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Shopping online

Consumers say times have changed

While in-store shopping used to be a family tradition on Black Friday, Julie Robb, a product administrator from Oklahoma, who I interviewed, does almost all of her shopping online now to take advantage of free shipping, and to avoid the hassle of fighting the crowds both in the store and at the post office.

“I buy mostly for my family in California and I can have stuff sent there directly,” she says.

This year she’s looking for deals on a toaster for her mother, and a good set of headphones for her father.

I also spoke with Monique Richmond, who has been a diehard in-store Black Friday shopper for years, even after most retailers began putting their sales online. But she, too, is planning to shop from the comfort of her own home.

“People are getting kind of crazy so I am skipping this year,” she says

With nine kids to shop for, this Louisiana mom of nine has her eyes on one specific category.

“I usually go to Walmart to get the deals on toys,” she says. “This year I am looking for Legos, Elsa stuff and dolls.”

Retailers have gotten the message loud and clear that most people have Black Friday in-store shopping fatigue, Runyan says.

“I think honestly, the frenzied attitude of Black Friday kind of got to be too much. Nobody really wants to go somewhere and think, ‘Hmmm, maybe I’m going to get trampled today,’” she says.

So while some retailers may still try to lure shoppers into their brick and mortar stores with in-person doorbusters, she says, “by and large, the entire sale is online. And that does sure make it easier.”

So how can you get the best deals for the gifts on your list? Read on for some expert tips:

Prepare your shopping checklists!

1. Compare Black Friday ads before Black Friday

Most major retailers already have their Black Friday ads out and those are the best place to start comparison shopping, especially for big-ticket electronic items such as TVs, computers, video game consoles, and tablets, as well as popular toys.

Use those ads to get an idea of what each retailer is offering—along with any perks like rebates, free shipping or store gift cards with purchase—and to figure out where you will spend your money.

2. Understand the nuances of Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

Black Friday and Cyber Monday used to be two very distinct shopping holidays, with the former specializing in in-store deals and the latter exclusively online, but the lines are becoming blurred.

“Traditionally, Black Friday is more on the electronics front. And toys are very big,” Runyan says.“And then Cyber Monday is meant to be more of the soft goods. More like clothing and home decor and that sort of thing.”

3. Know when to strike

If you see a great price on one of your must-have items, even in the days before Thanksgiving, go for it. Will all those millions of people vying for the same great deals, you run the risk of the item selling out.

Many major retailers have price-match guarantees and will refund you the difference between the sale price and your purchase price. Just make sure to contact the retailer while you are seeing the lower price, not later on after the sale has ended.

Another option if you buy something before the price bottoms out is to return the item you bought first and keep the one you got at the lower price.

4. Set a limit for gifting yourself

Let’s be honest. We all scour Black Friday and Cyber Monday ads for things we want for ourselves.

Don’t deprive yourself of a deep discount on something you really want, as long as you can afford it, but set a limit to avoid overspending and blowing your entire holiday budget.

And finally, our Black Friday gift to you, a few last shopping tips from the team at Stash:

  1. Check refund and return policies before you buy. Check for re-stocking fees, return deadlines, and final sales that don’t allow for returns.
  2. Make your credit cards work for you. Grab a rewards credit card and pay it off as soon as the bill hits to turn your holiday shopping spree into cash back or travel points.
  3. Don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses. What matters most is not what you buy, but the thought you put into it. Baking cookies or taking someone out to lunch could be the best gift you could give, and it could save you a bundle.
  4. Set a budget for all of your holiday spending. Knowing how much you have to spend on Black Friday, CyberMonday, and other shopping days can help you avoid unwanted debt.
  5. Invest in yourself. With the money you save thanks to Black Friday discounts, consider opening up a retirement account or investment portfolio.

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