Occupy Black Friday: A grab-bag of tips.

Today I had a pleasant realization about the Black Friday online deals that start at 12:01 a.m.: In Alaska, that’s only 8:01 p.m. My niece and I will be able to hit the one or two specific sites we wanted without staying up late.

Midnight isn’t that late, necessarily. My hostess and I were up until almost 3 a.m. yesterday. But my niece and I also plan to do some shopping outside the house, so that 8:01 start time means we can get sufficient sleep before joining the doorbusters queue. I believe that’s 5 a.m., and we’ll probably have to brush fresh snow off the car and warm it up for a while.

Understand: I’m not a mindless consumer, rushing through stores stuffing my cart and maybe helping trample someone to death along the way. No, I’ll be looking for the best advertised deals and then getting the heck out — unless I see irresistible prices on something else I’ll eventually need/want, such as  underwear or socks.

If the price is one that I can be pretty sure won’t be repeated elsewhere, why not invest in underpants futures? It’s not as though grandma drawers have an expiration date. Besides, it’s not really Christmas unless you get socks or underwear. (It still counts even if you’re giving them to yourself.)

Looking for the best deals and staying within your budget are my best personal tips to share. But I’ve been coming across other tidbits so I decided to corral them all in a single post. Here goes.

Shop intentionally: The nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling suggests five best-practices tips.

  • Beware of special credit-card offers, such as extra perks for spending a certain amount or spending in certain ways, since “no deal is a good deal if you can’t afford it.”
  • Know what you already owe: Review existing debt so you don’t get carried away and buy more than you can realistically pay in full when the bill arrives.
  • Create a spending plan and, if necessary, shop with someone who will hold you to it.
  • Use price-comparison sites to find the best deals, which might keep you from leaving the house to shop at all; if you do go out, be aware of time restrictions or other limits.
  • Clean out your wallet. Since “spreading purchases across multiple cards makes you feel as though you’re charging less, designate one card for the holidays and leave the rest at home.

Guard your bucks: A free site called BillGuard will look out for “hidden charges, billing errors, misleading subscriptions, scams and fraud on your credit cards.” The holiday shopping season is rife with such issues.

Stretch your bucks: FreeWarranty.com offers free extended warranties on more than 1 million products. Yes, it does sound unbelievable. The site makes its money as an affiliate, i.e., you choose the item you want and click through to the merchant; FreeWarranty.com gets a finder’s fee. Note: You are still purchasing directly from the retailer.

Why pay more?: The Savings.com deal site is posting deals and coupons for before, during and after Black Friday. (You can access deals year-round through the Savings.com widget on my site. Just sayin’.)

Who’s user-friendly?: STELLAService, a site that rates online retailers, scanned the 25 top merchants to produce a report on which companies go the extra mile on Black Friday. For example, only two offer free gift-wrapping (Gap.com, Apple.com) although two others offer DIY gift-wrap “kits” (Victoria’sSecret.com, Nordstrom.com). Click here for the full report.

Don’t pay to ship: The above report includes info on retailers that ship for free. But just as a heads-up, more than 1,270 merchants have signed up for Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16. They guarantee delivery by Christmas.

Gratis goodies: Mr. Free Stuff offers the top 25 Black Friday freebies. Ten are outright free and 15 are “kinda free,” so pick and choose. Also, the Freebies section of About.com did this Black Friday freebies 2011 list, which contains some things the Mr. Free Stuff list doesn’t have. Anchorage doesn’t have a lot of the stores listed, but I am certainly going to do the heck out of Walgreens – 15 items will be free after Register Rewards, and I have coupons for some of the products. Some will go into stockings and others will be donated.

Boxing day: Jo at Simply Being Mum posted a photo of a “keepsake box” she made using bits of holiday wrap and an old shoebox. We all know that kids (and some grownups) love to rip off wrapping paper vs. removing it carefully so it can be reused. Gather up those scraps and start looking for shoeboxes or any other lidded containers that could be used for this craft. It’s one way to keep the kids from going bananas in the days leading up to Dec. 25.

Incidentally, Jo filled hers with small gifts for a program called Operation Christmas Child. Why not do the same with a program in your area? Or make a box and fill it with free-after-rebate toiletries to be donated to a nursing home (ask that it go to someone without family close by) or a women’s or young-adult shelter? Or maybe you have an unemployed friend who could use a bunch of basics, but packaged in a way that says “I care about your comfort.”

Change a life: Heifer International has what to give the person who has everything: a water buffalo. Of course, your recipient won’t really get the buffalo. What he’ll get is the knowledge that this animal will completely change the lives of a family in need.

It doesn’t cost much for a Heifer gift; as little as $10 will buy a share in an animal or multiple animals. For example, a $20 flock of chicks quadrupled a Tanzanian family’s income, which allowed for both food and school fees. The fact that “quadrupled” means the income went from 50 cents to $2 a day ought to give us pause here in the U.S., where $2 may not even pay for a cup of coffee.

So go to the website with your kids and let them see some of the pictures of children in other countries cuddling the gift animals or riding that water buffalo. They might decide to chip in on a share ($10) of a sheep or goat for some kids they’ll never meet – but whose lives will be immeasurably improved.

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  1. I like the Heifer Intl site, thanks for the lead. Also saw your article on Holiday giving under $100 on the MSN lead stories this morning-Congrats! Hopefully you wont get too world famous for your original followers 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      @Suzanne: Thanks! Although it’s engendered some pretty snarky comments from people who don’t agree that yard sales et al. can yield amazing gifts.
      Oh well. They have the right to the wrong opinion. 😉
      Heifer is a great site because you can buy a share in some animals for as little as $10. Makes a nice gift and also a nice goal for kids with “share” or “donate” jars. Or maybe a scout troop or Sunday school class would like to set a goal, e.g., buying a goat for a family, and then raise funds. It makes such a huge difference in the recipients’ lives and it’s a sobering reminder for us just how lucky we are.

  2. Hey Donna – Thanks for the shout out and also mentioning Operation Christmas Child! The mosaic design box was great fun to make and so very frugal. The idea came from a pottery class I took my daughter to as a treat. They charged £1 for just one A4 sheet of craft paper which you tore into pieces and then glued over pottery. It was a lightbulb moment – I thought ‘I can do that’! The plan is to make various ones for gifts this Christmas. I’m also going to do it with recycled newspaper and magazines for birthdays. So if someones interested in motorbiking, grab an old copy of motorcycle news. It’d also make a great keepsake box if you got a newspaper/magazine the day a child was born (or a special day for someone such as their wedding day) and cut out articles. The pva glue over the top should seal the print – well that’s the theory I haven’t tried it yet – but I will be!
    We don’t have Black Friday over here in the UK, so we’re all gearing up for a Christmas, which I anticipate involve a lot of other home-made stuff this year! Thanks again – Jo

  3. Happy Thanksgiving, Donna!

  4. Heifer is a great org! Friends got us a sheep from it for a wedding gift, and I’ve bought my Dad some “chicks”. And don’t listen to snarky comments – every toy my niece has to play with at my house is a donation from another a child or bought at a yard sale!

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