It’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year, causing millions of Americans to head for their local malls and others to log on from their laptops in an effort to nab deals on everything from appliances and electronics to clothing and fitness gear.

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Black Friday shopping in 2016 saw more than 154 million shoppers visit brick and mortar stores or make purchases online, representing an increase of three million over 2015, according to the National Retail Federation. They spent an average of $290 each on their Black Friday shopping, compared to $300 in 2015.

If you’re looking to do the same this year, beware: Just because you’re armed with circulars touting discounts, and codes to unlock savings at your favorite online retailers, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to score a great markdown. To shop smart on Black Friday requires the right preparation and planning.

Strategy 1: Know what’s a deal — and what isn’t.

It used to be that to get a look at Black Friday offerings, you had to pick up day-of circulars. No more. Thanks to scores of coupon sites that post circulars often well in advance of Thanksgiving, you can research what will be on sale (and what won’t) — and where — at your leisure, even taking the time to comparison shop and dig into what features that on-sale TV offers before setting foot in the store.

Useful sites include and These can allow you to ascertain whether or not $100 off that TV is a good deal, and will help you save time once the doors open or sites activate their discounts.

It’s also smart to know which categories of items represent Black Friday bargains, and which don’t, so that your enthusiasm won’t run away with you once you’re in full-on Black Friday shopping mode.

On Black Friday 2016, more than 154 million shoppers visited brick and mortar stores or made purchases online, according to the National Retail Federation. They spent an average $290 each.

Strategy 2: Don’t wait until the morning of.

It’s said that the early bird gets the worm. On Black Friday, the earliest shoppers get first pick of scores of electronics, appliances and video games on sale.

But it’s no longer about sitting in the parking lot at 6 am and waiting for the doors to open at 10. Today, many brick and mortar stores offer additional savings — often in the form of cash back or a percentage off — to the first 100 or so people at the door pre-opening.

What’s more, in a bid to stay competitive, some stores will open — and offer savings — on Thanksgiving Day, while their online counterparts are expected to launch their Black Friday deals the day before Thanksgiving.

Strategy 3: Put the focus on teamwork.

In addition to knowing what time you have to be where, coordinating a team for Black Friday shopping can be a smart way to go. Rather than making it a solitary activity this year, rely on friends to help knock off your list. For example, if you all need to hit four stores, share your lists and delegate one store to each person, then meet for coffee or lunch after to divvy up your loot.

By spending your time focusing on one store each, your chances of scoring inventory while it’s still on the shelves is greater than if you each went to four stores on your own.

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Strategy 4: Budget and use your credit card wisely.

Check your credit card balance against your budget well before you plan to shop. This will allow you to gauge how much credit you have available, and will give you a sense of what you can spend while still keeping your credit utilization — the amount of credit you use compared to the amount available — nice and low, which can help your credit score.

Also, if you have more than one credit card, review the rewards offered by each. You may discover that using one will allow you to earn cash back on the gas you buy for that trip to the mall. Another may offer double points for department store purchases. You’ll also want to be educated on other benefits, such as price protection and damage or theft coverage.

Black Friday shopping can be fun or frustrating — depending on how you play it. Without the right strategies, you may run the risk of overspending, purchasing items that aren’t really deals or missing out on that one special gift you had hoped to find deeply discounted.

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