Katherine Cauley, 33, has become something of a local shopping guru in her hometown of Rochester, N.H.
The mother of two heads up a popular couponing seminar several days each year, teaching locals how to squeeze the most savings out of Black Friday sales. For 5 bucks and a donation to a local charity, attendees get 90 minutes of tutelage from Cauley and her best friend, Renee Jerram. The pair has been couponing together for four years.
Cauley got the idea for the seminar after years of mastering the art of extreme couponing. She became so good at scoring household goods like paper towels and toilet paper for free that she earned the nickname "Princess of Paper Products."
"People had no idea, you know, in a small town that you could coupon like that and save so much money," she says. "When we started teaching classes, we had a huge amount of people who were interested in learning how."
But racking up discounts at the grocery store is little league stuff for Cauley these days. Black Friday is her Super Bowl.
“I’ve been shopping on Black Friday since I was a teenager, when I started doing it with a couple of friends,” she says. “It’s the one night you look forward to going out with friends and shopping all night. It’s an adrenaline rush to see how many items off your list you can get.”
Each year poses a bigger challenge than the last, and since Cauley will be spending the holiday with her family in Georgia this year, she’s been planning for weeks already.
We asked her to offer up some of her favorite tips and tricks to get the most out of the Black Friday rush — and make it home in one piece.
1. Check your expectations at the door. “Not everybody goes out on Black Friday shopping for Christmas. If you are, you are probably not going to be able to get your whole Christmas shopping done that night. When we teach our seminars, we tell people the first thing is that you need to be patient. You need to be organized. Start with one store and work it from there. Obviously, you’re not gonna build up a stockpile like mine overnight. “
2. Leave the little ones at home. “I personally won’t take my kids out to go shopping on Black Friday. It’s the busiest shopping day of the year, besides the fact that you see people getting trampled. I have an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old and they’ve never gone out with me. Usually, that’s because I’m shopping at midnight or 1 a.m. and it’s pretty cold. You could be standing out there six to eight hours in the cold.”
3. Make the wait as comfortable as possible. “I waited in line at least five hours for a TV at Target once and we were one of the first 10 people through the door. You have to dress appropriately for the weather. We bring a lawn chair or something that we can stow in the car. They give you plenty of time before doors open so a half hour before, you can get rid of everything you don’t need and put it back in the car.”
4. Don’t bother carpooling. “I usually end up going with a group of people but it’s hard to carpool on Black Friday. Depending on what you’re getting, that car can fill up fast. Usually, I take my SUV because it has more room in the back.”
5. Keep your eye on hot items that will go quickly. “We’re in need of a TV for our house and TVs are always a big-ticket item. But with Walmart’s new in-stock guarantee, that will make it a lot easier. My husband loves to cook, too, so I’ll be looking for small kitchen appliances, like a crockpot and a griddle, probably at Kohl’s. Appliances always have deep discounts on Black Friday.”
6. Don’t sleep on Black Friday ads. “All the store ads are being released now so it gives you time to look and plan. You’ve got to do your homework ahead of time. I check on BFads.net and Blackfriday.com, but there are a lot of other sites and they all have the same ads."
7. Don’t trust everything you read online. “Ads can change, too, so get newspapers on Thanksgiving day for sales fliers. [Since some stores are opening early] that’ll be another interesting thing this year to see whether newspapers come out with Black Friday fliers on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or on Thursday like usual.
8. Go mobile. “I think it’s silly to be printing coupons and carrying paper ads around. I take full advantage of mobile coupons. I still have a coupon binder for everyday shopping, but on Black Friday that’s the last thing you’re going to want to carry around. You may have a laptop in one arm and a TV in the other and you don’t need to worry about that.”
9. But don’t leave store ads at home. “I carry some store ads and I keep them folded up in my pocket. That way, you know what you’re getting and where you’re getting it from and you have the ad with you so there’s no question about it.”
10. Approach Walmart with caution. “Before they started breaking up their store deals to run at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. instead of all at once, I’d say Walmart was the craziest on Black Friday. I was pregnant with my son one year and I had gone out shopping for a Power Wheels and it was the worst experience. People were pushing carriages over and one person pushed a carriage right into my stomach. I think that’s why Walmart has changed the way they do things. They don’t want the mad rush.”
11. There's always Cyber Monday. “We were just talking about this at home and I don’t feel like there are as many good deals this year. They just don’t seem to be over-the-top good. So, if you’re only looking for one or two items and are just saving a few dollars, it’s probably not worth going and being in line for hours out in the cold. There’s always Cyber Monday... Not everyone’s going be out on Black Friday so a lot of toys and things like that will go on sale the week after Cyber Monday. Sometimes prices will drop even lower than Black Friday.”
The takeaway: Even if you haven’t drunk the Black Friday Kool-aid, you can still find great deals on holiday buys in early and mid-December. Retailers generally wait until the first week of December to slash prices on toys, brand-name TVs and winter duds, according to the experts at Dealnews.com. And thanks to Free Shipping Day (Dec. 18), you’ve got an excuse to ditch the mall altogether.
You can email Mandi Woodruff at firstname.lastname@example.org.