Black Friday, the day-after-Thanksgiving Olympics of Bargain Hunting and Deal Scoring, is just around the corner. Discount Black Friday shopping, like any professional sport, requires preparation to perform at peak level on game day!

If you want to be victorious this Black Friday, then check out the following tips:

Do Your Research, Part I

To find the best deals and eliminate as much stress as possible, you must spend some time prior to Black Friday doing some due diligence. The first thing to do is familiarize yourself with all the various Black Friday deals that retailers are offering.

For an easy way to view a preview of more than 80 stores' Black Friday ad circulars, check out the BFAds website. BFAds even offers a free mobile app for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch and Android phones. The BFAds app lets users plan their Black Friday shopping trip in advance and provides users with early access to the season’s best sale advertisements and deals from major retailers.

Another good resource to check out is Gotta Deal’s Black Friday. To find out about last minute Black Friday sales or changes, check out the Thanksgiving Day circulars in your local newspaper and be sure to join your favorite retailers’ email lists and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Do Your Research, Part II

After researching what deals retailers are offering on Black Friday, the next step is to research whether these sale prices are actually a good deal. I recommend using PriceGrabber, a price comparison website that lets users search for a product by either brand or category in order to find the store offering the lowest listed price.

Do Your Research, Part III

Before you head to the store, check out the store's return policy on Black Friday sale items as well as the store’s policy on combining coupons and other promotions with Black Friday deals and sale items. Write down this information and keep it with you as you shop.

Set a Budget

It's easy to get sucked into the excitement and overspend with the "Buy! Buy! Buy!" mentality of Black Friday. As such, it’s more important than ever to set a budget. One way to set a cap on your spending is to leave all your credit cards at home and just bring your budgeted amount in cash with you to the store (although, given the security issues that arise around holiday shopping time, you may not feel comfortable carrying large amounts of cash through crowded stores).

If you prefer to use a card, only bring one credit card to the store and do not fall prey to opening a new store credit card that will be offered with a special sign-up deal. Consider purchasing a pre-paid debit card such as the one offered by ACE Cash Express or a VISA gift card or American Express gift card in the amount of your Black Friday shopping budget. Then, when you head out on Black Friday, only bring this pre-paid debit card and limit spending.

Be Security Conscious

Unfortunately, Black Friday and the holiday shopping season are plagued by increased levels of theft. You must take extra precautions to secure your shopping bags, personal belongings, credit card information, and your parked car.

  • Do not use a purse with an open top that pickpockets can just reach into when you are preoccupied. Instead, go with a small, zippered cross body bag worn close to your body. As an added bonus, using a cross-body bag frees up both your hands for lifting items and combing through racks.
  • Don't let your credit card out of your sight.
  • Make sure that none of your receipts contains your full credit card number (and if so, cross it out).
  • If it can be avoided, don't leave purchases in your parked car. If you must, keep them out of sight in the trunk. If a purchase won't fit in the trunk, use a blanket to cover your purchases in the back seat.
  • Park in a well-lit area as close to the store or security guard as possible.
  • Remember to lock your car, and if you have a steering wheel security lock anti-theft device, today’s the day to use it!

Dress for Success

Black Friday shopping can be grueling. To make life easier, wear supportive sneakers and comfy clothing. If you plan on trying on clothes in the stores on Black Friday, be aware that the lines for dressing rooms can be longer than the line for Space Mountain at Disney World on a school holiday. To avoid wasting time standing in the fitting room line, wear leggings and a tank top so you can easily try on clothes right over what you are wearing without having to use a fitting room (and waste precious Black Friday shopping time).

Get a Gift Receipt

Make sure to ask for a gift receipt to make holiday giving (and returning) easier. One thing I always do when I get home from Black Friday shopping is scan all my receipts into my computer so I have a backup copy of my receipts.