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Black Friday shopping guide — What not to buy

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor

It's November, which means two things: watching The New York Jets irredeemably pervert the very concept of football while gorging yourself on stuffing — and Black Friday sales.

Yes, the annual celebration of spending and saving is nearly upon us, but before you catch a head wound while scrambling for a bargain-price vacuum cleaner, you should know there are some products that aren't worth fighting the Black Friday crowds for.

In fact, many of the products you're looking to snag as a gift, or more likely, for yourself, on Black Friday can be purchased at different times throughout the year for better prices. We're talking about laptops and desktops, TVs, clothing, and more.

Shopper Lisa Camberos, right, gets a television doorbuster deal at the Target store in Burbank, Calif., on Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. While stores typically open in the wee hours of the morning on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday, openings have crept earlier and earlier over the past few years. Now, stores from Wal-Mart to Toys R Us are opening their doors on Thanksgiving evening, hoping Americans will be willing to shop soon after they finish their pumpkin pie. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Black Friday is a great time for deals on a slew of products, but there are a number of items you should skip. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Sure, you'll find great deals on video game consoles, DVDs, games, travel offers, and more, but that's not what we're talking about.

Instead, these are the deals to avoid, or at least think hard about, on Black Friday.


We all love the scenes of people crashing through store doors, scrambling to get their hands on the cheapest big-screen TV they can find. But buying a TV during Black Friday can be a crapshoot. That's because some of the TVs on sale are specifically built for Black Friday sales events, and don't necessarily have the same features or components found on non-Black Friday sales items.

High definition televisions are seen for sale at a Costco store in Washington, DC, September 27, 2018. - A universe of Chinese-made goods found in every American home is now subject to the sprawling tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump, with the brunt of costs to be borne by US consumers, key drivers of the American economy. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
You'll need to pay special attention any TVs you're thinking about buying on Black Friday. They may not be everything you're hoping for. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

That's not to say that there aren’t some impressive deals on televisions during Black Friday, but you'll want to take a good look at the specifications for anything you consider buying. Don't be won over by buzzwords like 4K, and super-high refresh rates. 4K is great, but only really matters if you're buying a TV that's 55 inches or larger. And many TV makers exaggerate their sets' frame rates with gimmicky names and stats.

Instead, look at whether the TV offers HDR capabilities, what kind of backlighting it has, and how many HDMI ports are on board. HDR and backlighting impact overall color and image quality, while HDMI ports determine how many accessories you can plug in.


Black Friday may seem like the perfect time to buy those action figures, stuffed animals, and toy cars your kids have been clamoring for. But according to NerdWallet’s personal finance expert Kelsey Sheehy, you're better off holding out a little longer.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR WALMART -Customers save big at Walmart's Black Friday shopping event on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 in Rogers, Ark. Hundreds of customers at Walmart stores across the country took advantage of deals on top items, like televisions, video game consoles, and toys. Easy shopping continues in Walmart stores and on through the holidays. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)
You'll find the best deals on toys closer to the end of the holiday season than on Black Friday. (Photo by Gunnar Rathbun/Invision for Walmart/AP Images)

"It's better to wait until around Christmas when retailers are trying to get [toys] off their shelves," Sheehy said. "You can get 50% to 70% off on dolls, action figures and play sets."

Must-have toys are another story, though. Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Kids, Hatchimals; if your kid is asking for something that's popular enough to create crowds in Target (TGT) and birth a small black market, it's safe to say you should get it as soon as possible.


This isn't so much meant as a deterrent to purchasing smartphones on Black Friday, as it is a means to keep you from buying a smartphone for someone else on a whim. When it comes to buying a phone, the best way to get a great deal is to trade in your old model for a new one. That makes it difficult to buy a smartphone as a gift, since you’d have to secretly snag your loved one’s old phone.

An Apple employee processes a transaction as customers purchase Apple's iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus smartphones Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at the Apple store at The Grove in Los Angeles. Apple is counting on sales of the new iPhones to maintain its position as one of the most profitable, and valuable, companies in the world. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Black Friday sales on smartphones usually come in the form of store credit that can't be applied to your purchase. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Deals around smartphones during the holidays also tend to focus on cash-back coupons from retailers that can't be used to pay down the cost of phones, rather than actual savings on the devices. That makes trading in an older model even more important if you're hoping to save.

You'll also want to avoid buying a phone for someone you're not either related to or in a long-term relationship with. The last thing you want to do is be on the hook for the balance of a phone you bought for your ex.

Winter clothes

It might sound like a nice idea to buy someone, or yourself, a nice, cozy sweater or coat on Black Friday, but the best time to buy winter clothes is when they're out of season, like during the spring or summer.

"Winter clothing is usually not something you want to buy on Black Friday," Sheehy said. "Clothing, your best bet is to buy them at the end of the season when retailers are trying to clear out their inventory."

Despite that, Sheehy explained, shoppers are expected to spend the most on winter and fall clothing around Black Friday. So, just don't be like those people.


You'll see tons of deals on laptops and desktops this Black Friday, but here's the thing: Most of them aren't worth it. Those door-buster sales you see on PCs are usually for cut-rate systems that offer poor performance and are usually outdated.

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 26:  Shoppers look over computer items at a Best Buy on November 26, 2015 in San Diego, California.  Although Black Friday sales are expected to be strong, many shoppers are opting to buy online or retailers are offering year round sales and other incentives that are expected to ease crowds. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
You'll likely find some deals on desktops and laptops around Black Friday, but the best time to buy a new computer is during the back to school shopping season. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

If you're going to buy a PC, you're better off holding out for a bit longer, saving more cash, and spending on a system with the latest generation processor. Otherwise, you're throwing your money away.

There are bound to be solid deals on Black Friday for quality laptops and desktops, but they won't be anywhere near door-buster prices. The best time to find deals on PCs is during the back-to-school season.

Exercise equipment

Black Friday is not the best time to get your exercise equipment. Instead, wait until January or February when retailers are holding sales on stationary bikes and treadmills for all of those folks making their annual New Year's resolutions to get fit.

And while some people will undoubtedly get good use out of their exercise equipment, we all know others, like me, will turn them into glorified drying racks for our laundry we can't put in the dryer.

According to Sheehy, you'll see some discounts on Black Friday, but there won't be much, since people aren't really aren't thinking about getting fit around the holidays.


Jewelry always makes for a great gift, which is why so many people purchase necklaces, rings, and earrings for the holidays. Heck, even I've done this.

But Black Friday isn't the time to spend on shiny baubles and jewels. With consumers clamoring for gems and tennis bracelets, prices are bound to be higher than they otherwise would be during the off season.

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR JCPENNEY - Penney's customers shop in the fine jewelry department after JCPenney shared its brand-new store, a completely reimagined format that puts the customer at the center of its business on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019 in Hurst, Texas. ( Brandon Wade/AP Images for JCPenney)
It might be tempting to buy jewelry on Black Friday, but you'll find better sales after the holidays and Valentine's Day. ( Brandon Wade/AP Images for JCPenney)

"You can still get discounts on jewelry," Sheehy said. "That doesn't mean that it's the best price you're going to get."

Some retailers will attempt to trick shoppers by marking up the price of items, only to then discount those prices, making it seem like you're getting a great deal when, in fact, you're not.

Your best bet is to buy jewelry when you're not on the clock at a Black Friday sale. Wait until after Valentine's Day when jewelers are pressed for customers and more likely to offer better deals.

Sheehy suggests tracking the price of a piece of jewelry over the course of a few months so you get an idea of its best price, rather than rushing in and buying something while under the gun.

Mail-in rebates

Mail-in rebates are usually attached to major appliances, and make the final price look far more palatable than the standard sticker price.

The only problem is, you have to actually mail in a voucher to get that rebate. And that extra friction point is more than enough to make consumers simply forget to send in for that deal.

If you're looking for a discount, skip the mail-in offers, and look for ones that you can get at the register.

Above all, be careful out there.

Or just avoid the crowds and get your shopping done at the office on Cyber Monday.

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