4 things to know about Black Friday

What to expect, where to find the best deals and how to steer clear of all the hype.

November has arrived, and that can mean only one thing: non-stop Black Friday hype between now and Black Friday (otherwise known as November 25).

For those new to these United States, Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, so named for its unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season, but today better known as the day department stores try desperately to remind people there are still department stores.

As CNET’s resident Cheapskate, it falls to me to give you a Black Friday primer, to share the secrets of this big day while simultaneously helping you avoid the hype. With that in mind, here are four things you should know about BF:

1. Every day is Black Friday

I’ve been writing the Cheapskate blog for nine (!) years this month, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that every day is Black Friday. That’s why, on any given day, you can buy a Bluetooth speaker for $10, a Pebble smartwatch for $50, an HP Spectre x2 laptop for under $400 or — one of my recent favorites — a 3DR Solo quadcopter bundle for $379.99. (Less than a year ago, that same bundle would have cost you around $1,500. Seriously.)

Granted, Black Friday brings out a much larger volume of deals, but the deals themselves don’t always beat what I share every day. And if they, do it’s often by just a few dollars.

Bottom line: Don’t get caught up in the Friday frenzy. If there’s something you want to buy and you spot a great deal before BF, grab it. If you miss a great deal on BF, don’t sweat it: Chances are good you’ll see it again before long. Trust me on this; I speak from experience.

2. It pays to do your homework

Suppose you’re in the market for a new TV. You’ve heard that Black Friday routinely brings good deals on them, which is true. So when the big day rolls around, how can you decide whether it’ll be worth standing in line outside a big-box store at 4 a.m.?

Do your homework. And a great place to start is with price-history site Camelcamelcamel, which shows you the highs and lows for just about every product Amazon sells. You should also check the Slickdeals Price Tracker, which provides a basic price history for several dozen stores — just paste in the URL of the product.

The more you know about any product’s price history, the better prepared you’ll be on Black Friday. Just keep in mind that those histories don’t always include refurbished items, which frequently prove to be even better deals. Speaking of which…

3. Don’t overlook refurbs

Black Friday is almost always about new products. Not new to market, but new condition. And that tends to distract buyers from potentially better deals in the form of refurbished items.

Apple products are a great example. Black Friday is often the one day of the year when Apple itself discounts Macs, iPads and the like, though you’ll often see particularly good deals from the likes of Best Buy and Walmart.

But even those deals don’t often match up to what you can get on refurbished Apple stuff. I’m not saying you should always choose refurbished over new, merely that you shouldn’t overlook the former when looking at discounts on the latter.

4. Seek out ‘leaked’ store ads

One reason I’m so sour on Black Friday is it’s no fun anymore. In recent years, pretty much every store (online and retail alike) has taken to “leaking” its Black Friday ad beforehand — sometimes weeks before. For the bargain hunter, this is actually a good thing, as it helps you plan ahead and satisfies item No. 2, above. It just means that come Nov. 25. there won’t be any surprises.

When you’re ready to scope out the ads, head to sites like Bfads.net and Blackfriday.com. Just make sure not to get sucked in by the likes of Newegg’s “Black November,” which is little more than the company’s usual batch of daily/weekly deals. Likewise, Sam’s Club is touting a splashy “One Day Only” sale — for November 12. It’s all hype, people! (See No. 1.)

Stay tuned for more Black Friday tips and tricks as the day draws closer!

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