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Whether you plan to do all your holiday shopping online or you’re going brave the crowds at the malls, the Federal Trade Commission offers shopping tips to protect you from fraud, over-paying at the cash register and more.

Find tips to help you research a purchase, shop safely, and understand contracts and warranties.

Seven Smart Shopping Tips for Black Friday

Black Friday is one of the most popular shopping days of the year. If you plan to hunt for great holiday deals this year, use these tips from the Massachusetts Department of Consumer Affairs newsletter (PDF) to make sure you’re getting the best price:

  1. Comparison shop: What does getting the best deal mean? When you’re looking at sales, do not focus solely on price. Decide which deal will give you the best value, including shipping costs, layaway plans, and free gifts.
  2. Bring ads with you: Once you know what you want and where to get it, print or cut out any ads you’ve seen for the products. Before purchasing, make sure that the prices on the shelf and at the register match the advertised price. Many retailers will be price-matching their competitors, so you may be able to get an item at a different retailer for the same price.
  3. Know store policies: Refunds, cancellations, returns, layaways – be sure to check the retailer’s website for these policies before heading to the store. These also need to be clearly displayed in the store before checkout. Ask for a copy of the policies so you have them on file in case anything goes wrong.
  4. Shop smart with a Smartphone: Apps such as Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper give consumers more on-the-fly shopping information then ever. These apps can scan an item’s barcode, show reviews, keep track of deals, navigate between stores, and provide instant comparison shopping.
  5. Know the deal: Retailers typically advertise Black Friday prices as the lowest of the year, but this is not always true. Some items may be offered at lower prices other times during the year. Be aware of this when looking at sale prices and check around to compare one retailer’s deals with another.
  6. Watch for inflated prices and exaggerated markdowns: Some sellers will inflate the “regular” price of an item in order to increase the markdown and give the appearance of a deal when no money is actually saved. Watch out for overlapping price tags and know what the real normal cost is before making a purchase.
  7. Use Layaway: For an item that may sell out, putting it on layaway is a great way to pay at your convenience while not missing the deal because of limited supply.

Some states offer a sales tax holiday when you can save on clothing, school supplies, and more. Check your state.

Eight Things You Should Know Before You Buy A Daily Deal

Frugalistas looking to snag a bargain on a massage or a fancy dinner at new restaurant can spend a lot of time browsing daily deal sites. While these sites provide the opportunity to try new businesses at a discounted price, shoppers need to be sure they read the fine print on their deals and understand the sites’ terms of service agreements to avoid complications when they redeem their deal vouchers.

These tips will help you better understand the daily deal sites so you can shop safely and enjoy the deals you purchase.

Check the expiration and black-out dates

Most daily deals have expiration dates. Plan accordingly so you use your voucher before the deal expires. Make sure you check for blackout dates too. Some of the popular vacation deals can only be redeemed during certain times of the year.

Do your research

Spend five or ten minutes reading reviews of the product or service you’re thinking about purchasing. If the company has a lot of bad reviews, you may want to skip the purchase, no matter how great the deal seems to be.

Understand how you can use the deal

Some deals you can use more than once until the entire amount of the deal is gone, but other coupons you have to use all at once. In general, you can’t combine a daily deal with another coupon or promotion. Read the conditions of your specific deal before you buy. If you’ve read the fine print, but still don’t understand everything, ask questions before you buy. Many of the daily deal sites have a frequently asked questions section or an area of the site where they handle questions about specific deals.

Verify which locations accept your voucher

Some deals for chains are only valid at certain stores. Check to make sure the location closest to you is one of the participating stores or else you might have to go out of your way to use the deal.

Know when your credit card will be charged

Some sites won’t charge you until after a certain number of deals have been purchased; other sites will charge you immediately or at the close of a business day. After you purchase a deal, keep an eye on your credit card statement to make sure you are charged correctly.

Check the site’s refund policy

Some sites will refund your money if you are disappointed in a deal. Others will refund your money if a merchant goes out of business before your deal’s expiration date. Some won’t refund your money at all. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with a site’s refund rules before you make a purchase.

Know whom to contact with problems

In most cases, the daily deal sites can’t help you solve problems with the company you bought the deal from. You will need to work with the company directly. If you have an issue, stay calm and state exactly what happened and how you would like the situation to be resolved. You can use the tips from the sample complaint letter to help fix the problem.