How to plan for Black Friday and win big

By Emily Fredrix, AP Retail Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Black Friday is a day die-hard shoppers dream of, but if you don't plan your shopping adventures or let yourself get overwhelmed, you could miss the best bargains.

Experts recommend setting clear priorities for what you want to buy and where, crafting a plan for the day, shopping in teams with friends and shopping the Web by smart phone while standing in line.

"People just show up and think it's another shopping day and I'm going to get what I need and everything's going to be hunky dory? They're going to be sadly mistaken," says Kevin Strawbridge, president of discount aggregator DealTaker.com.

Here are more tips on making the most of the specials offered the day after Thanksgiving:

MAKE A LIST: Black Friday is not the day to cruise the aisles, hoping you'll stumble onto the perfect gift idea. Ask family and friends for their wish lists well ahead so you can think about what they want as you go through Black Friday ads and choose where, how and when to shop, Strawbridge says.

Also, think beyond the holidays. If you find a gift for a relative's birthday in the spring or that new coffeemaker you've wanted, you may be taking better advantage of the deals than if you're doggedly seeking presents just for December.

"It's like investing, almost. If it's a good deal, you want to be able to take advantage of it," says Strawbridge, whose site makes money when people click through its specials to shop online.

RESEARCH: Don't wait until store circulars appear on Thanksgiving Day. Treat Black Friday like an important exam, and don't cram at the last minute.

Start by knowing what the items you want generally sell for.

Then, Strawbridge recommends, visit websites like his, dealnews.com and offers.com that post Black Friday ads in advance for major retailers. Use shopping apps on your smart phone early and often. The free TGI Black Friday app for the iPod and Droid phones shows sales for CVS, Target and more, for instance.

Check the website for each store you plan to visit on Friday for coupons you can use on top of Black Friday deals. A $100 sweater might be 20 percent off but also qualify for a $15 coupon you find online, says Dan de Grandpre, editor in chief of discount guide Dealnews.com. Among chains he's seen that allow this are clothing stores Gap, Aeropostale and American Eagle, plus office retailer Office Depot.

SET A GAME PLAN: Team up with friends. If you all want the same thing, say the new Kinect video game system for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox, have one person buy several, but be sure to check return policies first.

Know when to go. Many stores open early (or late, if you're watching from Thursday's perspective). Many Disney Stores are opening at midnight Thursday night, Kohl's at 3 a.m. and Targets at 4 a.m. But if the thought of waking up that early doesn't appeal, try arriving around lunchtime, by which time stores will have time to replenish stock and shoppers who were out early take a break, Strawbridge says. Stores may also put out mew deals as the day wears on.

SHOP ONLINE: Staying at home to shop online is increasingly popular, especially because some online deals start Thursday, de Grandpre says. Most stores won't say in advance exactly when they plan to start sales online. Some will do it at midnight, and many between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

"Before you put the turkey in the oven on Thanksgiving Day, you really should go online," he says.

Check your stores' websites again before you go to bed and when you get up on Friday.

FINE PRINT: Always check with each retailer what you can return and when. And watch out for the rules on mail-in rebates: what you need and how soon you must mail them. If you don't get a separate copy of your receipt for this purpose, request one.