Black Friday bargains can take so many different forms these days — free shipping, promotional codes, digital coupons — how's a shopper supposed to see beyond the price tag and spot the best overall deal?

In a word: preparation.

People who make a business of advising consumers say the key to scoring the best buys this week is to have a plan. They say to research products and prices ahead of time, scout out online tools that can parlay discounts and stay focused on the end goal.

Failure to prepare in any of several areas, especially budgeting and selecting who will get gifts this year, they say, increases chances of overspending.

Bakersfield consumer spending specialist Andrea Woroch, who earned her chops in New York City marketing and media relations, says the shopper going into Black Friday without a detailed list, who's in it "just to shop," is better off staying home.

"It's a waste of money," she said.

Figure out what you want to buy, for whom, then pay with cash set aside for that purchase, she said, adding, "Try to use tunnel vision on just those items."

Self-control serves well in many aspects of the Black Friday shopping period, based on these tips from Woroch and other shopping experts:

Dos and don'ts

Some of the year's best deals are electronics. High-definition, "smart" televisions are available at discounts of several hundreds of dollars. Other "smart" appliances, including advanced thermostats, doorbells and artificial intelligence speakers, will also be marked way down, as smartphones will be.

Items Woroch says to stay away from for at this point are clothing (prices will come down later in the season), toys (same reason) and bedding, which is better bought during January "white sales."

Some online retailers have been known to pad the manufacturer's suggested retail prices as listed on their websites. Check websites like Ranktracer.com for historical prices for a solid comparison.

It doesn't hurt to ask

Walk-in stores want your business. Woroch said some managers might be willing to cut you a special deal if you can demonstrate to an employee at the customer service desk there's a better deal online or in another store's advertisement.

"They want you think think of them as going to be offering the best price all the time," she said.

Money on the table

Savvy online shoppers find ways to sweeten already-hot deals. Online shopping specialist Michelle Madhok, founder of Shefinds.com, recommends grabbing a promotional code to go with purchases. Websites like Retailmenot.com offer extra money off purchases.

She also urges consumers to check out websites that offer up to 20 percent off, on top of retailer discounts. Shoppers should check out websites like Topcashback.com and Ebate.com to find out what kind of extra savings they can get on planned buys, she said.

Keep a calculator handy

Sometimes, out in the field, shoppers come across what looks like a golden deal. Before pouncing, run the numbers, advise Heather Wheeler and Joanie Demer, co-founders of Thekrazycouponlady.com.

They suggest first checking out price-tracking websites like Thetracktor.com, which follows prices posted by e-commerce leader Amazon.com. If everything still looks good, maybe maximize the savings by picking up more than one item.

"If you're saving 70 percent or more," they said, "consider buying a few and stashing them for wedding and baby shower gifts or birthday presents throughout the year."

Save on shipping

Online shoppers know shipping costs can diminish a good bargain. Madhok recommends signing up for a free shipping subscription service, like Shoprunner.com. It costs $79 per year, or $8.95 per month. But you can sign up now for a free 30-day trial. She added, "Many American Express users get Shoprunner for free."

Go big

The bigger the item, the bigger the percentage discount adds up to. Madhok said it's a good idea to aim for big-ticket buys.

"Seventy percent off a TV is worth more than 70 percent off gloves," she said.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.

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