But you don't need to strap on a helmet and shoulder pads to get the best deals on holiday merchandise. Here's a pared down--and doorbuster free--list of simple ways to save during the weekend shopping blitz.
1. Swipe and Save
Tap savings-friendly credit cards this Black Friday.
The big credit card issuers, such as Citibank and American Express, are offering holiday perks "above and beyond all other discounts, so you're essentially getting multiple discounts," says Brad Wilson, CEO of BradsDeals.com, a coupon web site that monitors retailers' promotional strategies year-round. "It's another entire layer of savings," he says -- providing you can pay it off.
American Express (AXP), for one, is participating in Small Business Saturday, offering card holders a $25 credit when they shop at participating stores the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Check out CardHub.com for a list of its picks for the credit cards that will help you save the most during your holiday shopping.
2. Maximize Free Shipping, Return Policies
It sounds deceptively simple, but set your sights on retailers with free shipping and return policies: Ultimately, that can save you a bundle. "A lot of retailers will be offering free shipping as a promotion," says Graham Jones, general manager of PriceGrabber.com, the price comparison and online shopping site. Freeshipping.org offers a roundup of the shipping policies and free shipping promotional codes at the nation's big retail chains.
If you plan to ship a boatload of gifts this season, you might want to skip Black Friday altogether and wait until Free Shipping Day on Dec. 16, the one-day event when more than 1,200 retailers offer free shipping on online orders and the promise of delivery by Dec. 24.
3. Tap Group Buying Sites for Big Chain Deals
Daily deal sites have largely offered discounts to small, local merchants. But this Black Friday, look to snatch up more 50%-off deals from the big national chains on sites like Groupon, LivingSocial and Restaurant.com, Jones says.
You can also tap sites like CouponTrade.com, an online marketplace where consumers can buy daily deals -- and sell unwanted ones.
4. Remember Coupons
The advent of digital coupons has eliminated the drudgery of clipping them out of countless store circulars -- so there's no good reason to miss out on those savings, says Andrea Woroch, consumer and money saving expert.
5. Price Compare
These days, you can easily make sure the price is right. Tap price comparison sites like PriceGrabber.com and BizRate.com, where shoppers can type in a product name and find a store with the lowest price on the item.
6. Shop Online Tax-Free -- for Perhaps the Final Season
Congress is mulling the passage of the Marketplace Fairness Act, a law that will force online retailers to collect state sales taxes from consumers. "This may well be the last Black Friday where you'll save 1% to 10% -- depending on jurisdiction -- just by choosing an online store that doesn't charge sales tax for shipments to your state," says Dan de Grandpre, CEO and editor in chief of Dealnews.com. "Take advantage of it."
7. Stick With the Cheap Stuff
Black Friday is about "cheap merchandise at cheap prices," says de Grandpre, so expect the best deals on lower-end products. "Luxury brands don't usually participate in Black Friday," he says.
You won't find big bargains on high-end electronics like centerpiece TVs and loaded laptops, either. For those, you'll have to wait until Cyber Monday.