Everyone loves a bargain, especially in the run-up to Christmas, a notoriously expensive time of year. But don’t let temptation get the better of you - or your money. Follow our top tips to get the best deals without burning a hole in your wallet this Black Friday (23rd November) and Cyber Monday (26th November).

Last year, Brits spent over £4.5 billion in the Black Friday rush, and this study shows that it’s even easier to give in to flash sales and ‘unmissable’ deals if you browse without a goal. Be particularly wary of retailers’ clever email marketing and adverts, designed to reel you in, such as hourly deals and free gifts with every purchase (guilty).

So, whether it’s Christmas presents for family or just a treat for yourself, it’s sensible to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for before the sales start.

Make a list, check it twice

Putting pen to paper (or using a note-taking app) gives you time to think about what you really need. It makes it easier to separate the essentials from the nice-to-haves and may help you steer clear of those items that could push you over budget.

Set a limit

It might sound obvious, but if you struggle to know your needs from your wants, then setting yourself a limit on how many things you buy and how much you spend is another way of keeping within budget. More than a quarter of us have reported buying something in the sale that we later regret (mostly in the form of clothes and accessories), so think before you reach for your card.

Compare deals

Many retailers ‘leak’ offers ahead of time to build hype and keep you interested. This is your chance to research the best deals before you hit the shops, to make sure you’re getting the best price. Websites like FlubitPriceSpy, and Offer of the Day make comparisons easier.

Shop online

Aside from avoiding busy crowds, shopping online makes impulse buying less likely. But do watch out for delivery charges as some sites require a minimum spend. It might be worth subscribing to the mailing lists of your favourite brands, so you know when the sales start. Or if you’re hoping to bag a bargain on something specific, you could set up a Google Alert for that item. That way, you’ll be the first to know if there’s a price drop.

Shop with a credit card

We recommend shopping with a credit card this Black Friday. With one of these, you can buy the goods upfront and pay back at a later date (after your next payday, for instance). Just make sure you’re able to repay your balance in full the next month, or you could be charged interest and fees. It’s not an excuse to spend beyond your means, either - you’re only borrowing the money, and you’ll have to pay it back eventually. Check out the rest of our rules for spending sensibly with a credit card here.

Handily, credit card purchases costing £100 to £30,000 are protected under the Consumer Credit Act. This means your card provider is equally liable for getting you your money back if your purchase is faulty, of poor quality or lost/ damaged on its way to you.

Purchase cards

If you’re hoping to get your hands on something pricey this Black Friday, like a holiday or new phone, you might like to shop with a purchase card. These cards come with low (or no) interest, allowing you to spread the cost of big-ticket purchases over a period of time.

Reward cards

If you like the sound of benefitting from your shopping, you might want to consider a reward card. Every time you spend, you’ll earn points which you can later redeem for free stuff like air miles or hotel stays. Handy if you’ve got a lot of Christmas shopping to do and want to reward yourself for all the hard work!

Walking away could pay off

Why not play hard to get with retailers this Black Friday? Some online brands offer further discounts to draw you back if you walk away at checkout. If you want to find out, just close your browser while there are unpaid items in your cart. The retailer may offer you money off or free shipping within a few days. But extra discounts aren’t guaranteed, so it’s only worth trying this if you’re not too worried about the item going out of stock.

Are you actually getting the best deal possible?

Big discounts don’t necessarily mean big savings. So, don’t be fooled by the one-day-only low prices - many retailers have been known to sneakily raise their prices in the month before Black Friday, just so they can lower them on the day and claim you’re getting an incredible discount. In fact, a Which? investigation found that 88 out of 178 deals were cheaper before or after Black Friday 2015 than they were on the day. The same goes for any other sale, including Boxing Day discounts.

This isn’t always the case, but it certainly pays to read up on the product you’re interested in before dropping your hard-earned cash on it.

Research the item

You’ll often find the best discounts on unbranded, older or low-end items. Some of them are perfectly fine, but others may lack important features, be of poor quality or have known performance issues. Check out a few reviews before you fork out for an unfamiliar model.

Read the small print

The terms and conditions are just as important as the actual price. In particular, look out for the returns policy. Remember that, whilst many offer it, retailers aren’t legally obliged to have a returns policy, so check before you buy (especially if you’re purchasing a gift and want to give the recipient the option to swap it).

Similarly, what looks like a great deal can quickly be sullied by undesirable delivery terms. It’s a good idea to check whether delivery costs are included in the ticket price, or whether you’ll have to pay extra (particularly if you’re buying from a non-UK shop). And do you know when it’ll be delivered? If you have to wait a month, it might not be worth it after all.

Ready, set… shop!

Now you know the common spending traps as well as our top tips for sensible shopping, you’re in a great place to make the most of the Black Friday deals. Just remember to only spend what you can afford - it’s not worth getting your money in a mess before Christmas for the sake of a bargain!

This article was written for CMME by our partners at Clearscore