It's almost game time.
Sure, there will be football on Thanksgiving Day, but the real action takes place when stores open their doors for Black Friday sales. And for those who prefer to jostle for bargains with their mouse or mobile device, kick-off comes after the weekend on Cyber Monday.
Football players don't take the field without preparation -- and neither should you. After all, the time and money you are about to spend should make it worth doing the right way. Here's how to stay on top of your finances as you plan for the big shopping day.
Five ways to prepare for holiday shopping
- Pay down debt before heading out the door on Black Friday 2018
Your credit cards are going to get quite a workout once the whistle blows to kick off Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2018, so take steps to get them in game shape.
Minimally, you should reduce debt enough to avoid bumping up against credit limits in the midst of your Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping, but ideally you should also make enough headway so you come out of this holiday season owing less than you did a year earlier.
Why is this important? The numbers tell the story. Year after year, November and December are the peak months for increases in consumer credit card debt. The only way to keep your share of that debt from growing year after year is to pay it down before repeating the cycle of holiday spending all over again.
- Make a budget
Don't let the advertisements fool you into thinking that the purpose of Black Friday/Cyber Monday is to save you money. The real purpose is to get you to spend as much as possible.
That's great for retailers and credit card companies, but not so good for you. The way to win this game is to set a strict budget for how much you can afford to spend. This reduces the power of the marketing forces you're up against -- they may still be able to influence what you spend your money on and where you spend it, but you control how much you spend.
- Review your line-up of credit cards to use on Black Friday/Cyber Monday
A football coach looks over his roster and decides which players to put in the line-up and what roles they are going to play. You should do the same type of review before you shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Review your credit cards to see what interest rate you are currently being charged, and also factor in the value of any rewards they offer. Based on this, check to see which will be the most cost-effective card or cards to use on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Then take a look at how much room you have before you hit the credit limit on the cards you want to use.
- Log on and sign up before Cyber Monday 2018
Some retail websites have membership programs that give you benefits such as free shipping, discounts or rewards based on how much you spend. Look into the terms of these programs and get signed up for any that look worthwhile before you shop online on Cyber Monday. People often feel too hurried to sign up for such programs when they are in the midst of shopping, so signing up in advance can help ensure you reap any benefits available.
- Know the score about Black Friday bargains
Here's the thing: Lots of items are labeled as being on sale on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are good bargains. Retailers have plenty of tricks they can use to play with what they call the list price of an item, but the "sale" price may actually be no different from what they charge throughout the year.
Doing a little price research before the sales start will help you recognize when a special offer is really a bargain or just the same price you could get at any time.
Good luck, and if you do brave the stores in person on Black Friday, just remember that, unlike football, shopping is not supposed to be a contact sport.