(RealSimple.com) -- For serious shoppers, the Friday after Thanksgiving is game day: Kickoff is early (sometimes at midnight), and those on the front line can score the best deals. For retailers, it signals the start of the holiday shopping season.
Some Black Friday facts:
• Shoppers have spent big on this weekend for decades. Indeed, in 1939 President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up a week to extend the shopping season and help business.
• This day was first called Black Friday in the 1960s. The term derives from the old accounting practice of using red ink for debts and black ink for profits.
• In 2007 more than 147 million people hit the sales that weekend (and 14 percent of them were at it before 4 a.m.), with each spending an average of $347.
• To preview the day's bargains, view leaked deals at bfads.net and gottadeal.com. For "Cyber Monday" sales (many Web retailers cut prices on the Monday after Thanksgiving), try cybermonday.com and bestcybermondaysales.com.
How to shop Black Friday online
• Start early. As in, on Thanksgiving Day. Many Black Friday online sales begin on the holiday, giving you the advantage of scoring deals while everyone else is feasting, according to Regina Lewis, consumer adviser for AOL. (Looking for some new sites to try? Check out The Best Shopping Websites.)
• Really early. Major online retailers (Target, Best Buy, Macy's) tend to make changes to their websites overnight, from about 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. "This is the online equivalent of restocking the shelves and doing markdowns," says Lewis. Be sure to log on right when you wake up to take advantage. And for some money-saving gift ideas (and other mind-saving seasonal strategies), see The Hectic Holiday Handbook.
• Get advance copies of store circulars. Gottadeal.com and bfads.net aggregate a ton of sales content, featuring everything from clothing to technology, and post ads and circulars weeks before the shopping holiday.
• Print out receipts. "Don't consider it game over just because you made the buy," says Lewis. Keep an eye on the price for 10 days to two weeks after making the purchase. For example, Banana Republic, Best Buy, Gap, Nordstrom, and Victoria's Secret will make an adjustment within 14 days of purchase. (Get more insider information on how to make a return -- even a tricky one -- in 7 Ways to Return Anything.)
• Check social networks. "Tweeting will emerge this year as one of the best ways to learn of can't-miss deals in real time," says Charlie Graham, founder and CEO of shopittome.com, a site that locates sale clothing among multiple outlets. On social-networking sites, post a question like "Looking for a good iPod dock under $150 -- any leads?" and hope for quick responses, even links, from your shopping-savvy "tweeps." (Yes, that's Twitter slang for peeps.)
Of course, there's another alternative to holiday shopping: Make your presents. For some straight-from-the-heart ideas, see 14 Ideas for Simple Homemade Gifts.
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