Your alarm clock blares, rudely awakening you from a turkey-induced slumber. Momentarily confused, you check your phone and realize that this pre-dawn disruption is no accident; it’s Black Friday! If you’re like many Americans, the day after Thanksgiving means crazy deals and crazier crowds. But before you embark on your retail adventure, check out these helpful Black Friday shopping tips to get the most out of your journey.

Young woman with gift bags using her phone to look up helpful Black Friday shopping tips

1. Have a Budget

From an advertising perspective, deals are there to entice customers to spend! Typically, this is a win-win, but it’s important to have an idea of what you are willing to part with before going to the store. Figuring out what you want to spend before heading out can help you avoid picking up more than you bargained for. Take a pen and pad or use your phone to keep track of your purchases as you go.

2. Have a List With a Backup Plan

Whether you print out advertisements or use a list on your phone, having a prioritized shopping list can help you get in and out in a timely manner. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time roaming the stores and looking at every discount, use your list to help you stay focused.

Sometimes (well, a lot of times), popular items go quickly. In the event that something you want is sold out, having a second and third choice can help you shop without missing a beat.

3. Go Solo

While shopping with friends and family can be fun, Black Friday can be a different ballgame. If you’re trying to get in and out without too much of a fuss, then consider going by yourself. This allows you to focus on finding what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for gifts, this is especially helpful as you won’t have to be sneaky with your purchases!

4. Get There Early or Show Up Late

During Black Friday, some stores open earlier, some stay open later, and some do both. If you call ahead to check on a store’s adjusted hours, you can also ask what times are historically busier. With a little planning and no small measure of luck, you might be able to zig when everyone else zags and do your shopping when the store isn’t quite as crowded.

5. Get a Head Start

In addition to extended hours, many stores offer deals starting as early as Wednesday. Look around and if you’re lucky, you might be able to beat the crowd before Thanksgiving and have Friday to recover from that extra piece of pie.

6. Do Your Research

When looking at page after page of advertisements and special deals, it can be easy to get confused. Before going into a store, double-check whether the deal is available in-store or if it is only available online.

“Doorbusters” are usually great deals with limited availability designed to get people in the door. If you have your eye on something special, make sure the deal isn’t limited to a certain number of customers. It might also be a good idea to check the store’s inventory to make sure they don’t sell out before you have a chance to pick it up.

Finally, research product purchase limits if you plan on getting more than one of a particular product. This can save you time at the register if a retailer places a cap on the quantity you’re allowed to buy.

7. Know the Return Policy

The last thing you want to do is to spend all of that time and wind up with the wrong gift (or a broken one). Check with the store and figure out what their return policy is before you make your purchase. Make sure to keep your receipts or have them emailed to you if possible. There are even a variety of apps that can make keeping track of your receipts a breeze!

8. Know When to Haggle

Many major retailers have fixed prices, so if you’re looking to haggle, find out whether it’s even possible beforehand.┬áThe same goes for price-matching.

9. Use Technology

Technology is your friend! There are a number of shopping apps that can help you find deals and coupons during Black Friday. Many major retail stores also have useful information contained in their own in-store apps. Check websites for ads and deals as well as store hours. Finally, check out stores’ social media accounts before heading out. Many brands use social media to give helpful information and even exclusive deals.

10. Prepare for Parking Lot Madness

Black Friday can turn a normal parking lot into a nightmare. In addition to cars, pedestrians will be out in force, carrying unwieldy packages or armfuls of bags, so allow extra space. If possible, park away from the crowd. Be patient when looking for a spot and try not to play chicken for contested spots. Park in areas with plenty of light if you’re out in the dark. Write down the parking lot row and column or take a picture of your spot with your phone to minimize the amount of time you have to spend searching for your car in the sea of vehicles.

If you’re going to multiple stores, place your purchases in your trunk and keep valuables out of sight. When you’re finally making your escape and heading home, make sure to inspect your surroundings. You wouldn’t be the first person to drive halfway out of the parking lot with your new microwave sitting on your roof.

11. Stay Safe in the Store

When you make your way into the store, take as little with you as possible and keep your valuables close and secure. Having a bulky purse or bag can make it difficult to get around crowded aisles. Always keep an eye on your cart to prevent people from confusing it with a shelf-restocking cart.

Consider only taking a single credit card with you during your shopping excursion. If you lose your wallet or find yourself the target of theft, this will reduce the number of cards you have to cancel. Holidays are prime time for credit card thieves on and offline, so pay extra close attention to your credit card and bank accounts during this time.

If you do bring small children with you, keep them close at all times. For emergencies, make sure they know to ask security guards for help and have a prearranged place to meet if you’re separated. Consider giving them a piece of paper with your phone number on it just in case.

12. Shop Online

Finally, if you’re the type of person that would rather avoid the crowds and craziness, they have a day just for you, too! Rather than braving the retail landscape during the busiest time of the year, set your alarms for Monday, December 2nd: Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is basically Black Friday on the internet!