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A Black Friday shopper loads up her cart in a Target store in Chicago.JOHN GRESS/Reuters

You won't find Cindy Kelly at the mall on Black Friday, battling throngs of shoppers hell-bent on finding a bargain.

Ms. Kelly, the Toronto-based shopping expert at, has been busy comparing prices online and says many juicy deals are already out there. "A number of retailers have been running large sales through the month of November so I will save money, even if I am not out this Friday."

She points to, for instance, which launched its Black Friday specials early this week and is already selling NHL hockey jerseys at a 40-per– cent discount. (Someone on Ms. Kelly's holiday shopping list is getting one of those.)

Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving that marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, has long been one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the United States. In recent years, however, retailers in Canada are trying to convince consumers to forgo that cross-border trip by bringing the discounts, hoopla and big-shopping-event feel, to consumers north of the border.

According to a Bank of Montreal holiday spending poll, 41 per cent of Canadians plan to shop on Black Friday this year. An earlier release of the same poll by the bank found Canadian shoppers said they are prepared to spend an average of $674 on gift purchases over this entire holiday season, up almost $100 from $583 in last year's survey.

But with households across Canada taking on increasing amounts of consumer and mortgage debt, as well as saving less, experts are reminding people how important it is to put together a holiday budget – and have the discipline to stick to it.

"With door crasher discounts and unbeatable bargains, it's easy to get caught up in the shopping frenzy," says Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. "The last thing a consumer wants is to wake up on Nov. 27 with a long list of gifts to buy and no room left in their holiday budget."

Ms. Kelly agrees that making a list of people you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each person should be everyone's starting point. "The biggest thing that will keep you in check is: How am I going to pay for this? That will force you to plan your purchases."

Once you have determined your budget, the next step is to do your research. "I don't think you need to be in the stores to make smart choices – I think smart choices start long before then," Ms. Kelly says. "Doing this in the solace of your home will help you save time and money now, instead of having to be out a month from now, hoping to get that item at a good price."

Tools like flyers, whether they come to your door or you find them online, can help you find bargains, she says. Social media is another tool more retailers are using to promote special discounts. For example, is promoting its Black Friday deals solely on Facebook. Many other retailers' websites have a banner or ad to click-through to specific Black Friday deals as well as advanced notice of sales, extended hours and promo codes.

When researching online deals, Ms. Kelly suggests signing up for alerts or newsletters with favoured retailers. "This is a tool for savings. But the trick is to sign up for the ones that are pertinent to you, as opposed to everything you can get your mitts on."

People who decide to spend Black Friday shopping online can browse through and load up their virtual cart the day before, so they are ready to go when sales launch. She says online shopping can end up saving you money because people tend to stick to buying specific items and don't load up their virtual carts with things they don't need. "When you are out in the store, you are browsing and adding things."

Keeping an eye on free shipping offers can help keep spending in check when shopping online. "It might make sense to combine a few orders into one account to qualify for free shipping," says Andrew Lau, product manager at He adds that many retailers will allow customers to pick up their online purchases in store.

For those Canadians who decide to brave the stores, Ms. Kelly's advice is to bring your research and flyers with you, so you can compare prices between what is available and what was advertised. Keep in mind that many retailers will price-match, so don't be afraid to ask. And bring your smartphone with you to check on updated deals.

While many Canadians will flock to the U.S. for Black Friday deals, once you factor in the cost of gas, meals, potentially a hotel and the amount of time it takes, making that trip across the border is not always worth it, says Ms. Kelly.

"There are some people who enjoy the sport of shopping and for them going across the border with their sister, friend, so on, and making a day or a weekend of it, that is part of the fun," she says. "In some sectors, if people have done their homework and they are going to buy a large quantity of something specific, if they have shopped around for the best price and know exactly where to go, it could be worth it."

One thing to be wary of is that often, steep sales lead people to buy more of something – and spend more than they had intended, Ms. Kelly says. So instead of buying one pair of pants for $20, they get so excited about the deal and end up spending $80 for four pairs.

"Discipline is an important part of Christmas shopping. If you don't have a plan, if you don't check out the flyers and look for the deals, if you don't show some restraint, you will not make the smart choices that you need to," Ms. Kelly says.

With a file from Danielle Webb