Black Friday Budgeting Guide: 6 Ways to Shop Smart This BFCM

There’s a big part of the personal finance world that gets really up in arms (downright Grinchy!) about one of the biggest shopping events of the year: Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Yours truly is not one of them, and while you won’t catch me standing in line outside waiting to run into a store, because I am a delicate flower and I like my sleep too much, you can bet I am planning to do some sweet, sweet online shopping during this four day event.

But crucially, I’ve put systems and plans in place to make sure that I can have the fun (and the savings) that come with Black Friday and Cyber Monday without going entirely off track with my budget.

1. Make Black Friday part of your overall holiday budget

Black Friday marks the start of a very spendy season for most of us. That’s why it’s uniquely important to keep your holiday spending in mind when you’re planning on how much you can afford to drop this Friday.

I know approximately what I’m going to spend on gifts, parties, baking, eggnog, etc. in December, and I have a plan for handling it—so I know what I can comfortably spend this weekend as deals hit my inbox.

But if I was planning my Black Friday budget in a vacuum, without remembering that my December grocery bill is frequently 2x my normal spending, I’d be all “Hello, new Away luggage,” instead of the much more accurate “Hello, maybe two new pairs of Knix underwear.”

2. Make a list

Lists are the secret weapon of surviving basically any shopping expedition, from Black Friday to a Costco trip. Whether you’re shopping online or in-person, making a list of things you want now is a great way to stay on track later. If it’s not on the list, you don’t need it even though it’s a zillion-percent off.

And if you do happen to find a sweet zillion-percent-off sale, the list is helpful even if you do spring for that super-discount.

Since you have a list, you can judge the super-discount against it. Maybe you actually do want the new lip gloss more than a backpack, in which case, you’ve officially still made a great spending decision. The backpack can become a future wish-list item, not a right-now purchase.

Typically, my lists tend to help me delay purchases a little bit, and then I can think more critically about how important they are to me. (Same goes for saving up for bigger buys, an excellent forcing function!)

3. Figure out a system to stay on track

Having a budget is an important first step, but when you’re three glasses of wine in, binge-watching the Crown, and scrolling past Black Friday ads on Instagram on Friday night, you might not stop to check your budget before hitting “Buy now,” you know what I mean?

That’s why it’s equally important to come up with some kind of system to make it more likely you’ll stay on track.

Personally, I’m pre-loading my KOHO card with the amount of money I’m budgeting for Black Friday shopping. Since it’s a pre-loaded card, there’s no accidental overspending—I can only spend what’s on the card. As a bonus, I know that if there’s money on the card, I can afford to spend it without derailing my budget. (This isn’t sponsored, it’s actually just what I’m doing to keep myself on track.)

It’s too late to sign up and get your KOHO card in the mail before Black Friday now, but the same principle applies to any spendy event—check out my full KOHO review for all the details, or see how I used it on my last big vacation to stay on track.

4. Earn as many points and as much cashback as you can

This advice always, always comes after everything you’ve already done on this list. Optimizing for points and cashback happens after you have a budget, on stuff you’ve already planned to buy, and within a system that will keep you on track!

That said… Get the free money.

I’m talking tracking down your rewards card number to make sure you get the points, even if it makes checking out way longer. Make sure you have a Rakuten account, and the Chrome extension installed, so you don’t miss out on bonus cashback. Use a credit card that gives you the best deal on cashback rates or points.

Not sure what Rakuten is? Check out my full review for the best cashback app you can find for online shopping.

If you’re going to be shopping anyways, especially online, make sure you’re taking full advantage of all the bonuses you can earn.

5. Know what is (and isn’t) a good sale

This is probably easier when you’re familiar with the brands, which if you’ve been saving up and waiting for a sale to get your hands on their products, you might be! But even if your list is made up of gifts you’re buying from brands you’ve never shopped with, do a little digging.

Do they have great sales often? Can you find out from Google what their BFCM deals were like last year? For some brands, you’re best served by waiting for a 50% off deal, but for other brands 20% off is a rare event and you should jump on it before they sell out.

The only way to know is to do a bit of research and familiarize yourself with the brand and their sales strategy—and maybe that’s something you start this year to really reap the rewards next year.

6. Remember, there’s always next year

I follow a lot of very smart retail people on Twitter thanks to my day job, and one of them had a great thread about luxury brands offering steep discounts during BFCM. Basically, she saw a very high-end piece of camping gear that was literally thousands of dollars off during their BFCM sale—and although this was a purchase they really wanted, the total price was still very high.

So they decided to, and this is the cool part, just wait for next year’s BFCM sale. Sure, it meant waiting a bit longer, but for thousands of dollars in discounts? Waiting makes a lot of sense.

If the cards are not working out for a big year of BFCM shopping for you for any reason, you can still make great use of the deluge of promotional emails and Instagram ads. Take note of the brands you like and what they’re offering this year—it’s likely you’ll see similar discounts this time next year, when you’ll have had a whole 11 months to save up. (I’m guessing you won’t start next month, which honestly, is very reasonable!)

And with those six tips, you’re ready to rock and roll this Friday. Happy shopping!