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How to get the most out of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and beyond

Here's a detailed timeline of the next month of sales, complete with suggestions on what to buy when. Grab your cash-back credit cards and buckle up for one heck of a month.

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    Workers gather Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in a section packed high with merchandise at Amazon.com's fulfillment center in DuPont, Wash.
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It's the week we've all been waiting for! Thanks to all the pre-Thanksgiving Day sales, the Black 'Friday' sales that actually start on Thursday afternoon, the 'Small Business Saturday' sales from your favorite local retailers, and the upcoming Cyber Monday steals, we're gonna see some crazy-low prices on your favorite things throughout the next seven days. But if you think the holiday deals stop after Cyber Monday, you're dead wrong. 

This season can get a little overwhelming for the average person. We know this because we get a LOT of questions from our readers about when to buy what items, what sales to hit, what sales to skip, and what's up with those after Christmas sales, anyway? To help, we put together a detailed timeline of the next month of sales, complete with suggestions on what to buy when. Grab your cash back credit cards, and buckle up for one heck of a month.

Where to shop RIGHT NOW.

Black Friday has become less of a one-day shopping bonanza and more of a weeklong deluge of deals. As such, many retailers have already started their Black Friday sales early, or are offering early-access deals to drive excitement for the big day. Here are a few sales you can shop right now:

Amazon -- The online retail giant is offering new lightning deals every few minutes now until December 22While we're not the biggest fans of Amazon's Black Friday offerings, if you see something you like, you can download the app and watch the deal to be reminded when it goes live.

Best Buy -- Their 'early access' sale is live right now, featuring free shipping, and amazing deals on everything from smartphone bundles to laptops to HDTVs at their Black Friday prices.

Kohl's -- ALERT ALERT THE KOHL'S BLACK FRIDAY SALE IS CURRENTLY LIVE! Frequent readers will know we think the Kohl's Black Friday sale is secretly the best in the biz, and with an additional site-wide 15 percent off stacked onto the annual $15 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 you spend at Kohl's Black Friday sales, this year is no different. Need some help deciding what to get? Check out our list of 19 Kohl's Black Friday deals to watch!

Macy's -- Use promo code FEAST to take an extra 20 percent off the entire store right now, and get access to Black Friday doorbusters starting at 12 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Overstock -- While the Overstock 'early access' sale is live right now, their official Black Friday deals will go live at 9 p.m. tonight, (11/22). If you don't want to wait, shop now and find prices up to 70 percent off on everything from Beats headphones to HDTVs.

Where to shop on Thanksgiving.

Sadly for Black Friday purists, most of the major Black Friday retailers are offering doorbuster deals starting on Thanksgiving day. Most department stores and clothing companies, like Macy's, Express and Kohls offer the majority their doorbuster deals online as well as in-store, so if you're not up for leaving the house on Thanksgiving, check out our list of when all the hottest Black Friday sales go live online and shop from the comfort of your couch.

If you're gonna brave the cold and go in-store about it, we recommend sticking to the big three: Walmart, Best Buy and Target. These are the only stores with in-store doorbuster deals that are actually worth being trampled for, think Best Buy's $199.99 49-inch 4K Smart TV (was $449.99), or Target's Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge for $0 down + a $250 gift card and FREE Samsung Gear VR Headset/Occulus Content Pack. If you're in the market for a new TV or smartphone, both of these deals are too good to miss.

Check out our top 30 favorite Black Friday deals before you start shopping on Thursday, so you'll know what's online, and what you'll have to head to the store to score.

Where to shop on Black Friday.

These days, Black Friday itself actually yields the second wave of doorbuster deals. This is when you should be hitting the stores that took a stand, and refused to open on Thanksgiving Day. For whatever reason, office supply and home improvement retailers like Staples, Office Depot, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware and Harbor Freight all start their sales on Black Friday itself, so these are good sales to hit up both in-store and online as you digest your Thanksgiving leftovers.

This is also a great day to find travel deals. Check Orbitz, Expedia and just about any other online booking sale for great prices on rental cars, flights, hotels and more!

Finally, the Friday after Thanksgiving is also known as Record Store Day, which is the perfect time to hit up your local independent record shop and score some limited edition vinyl. Check out the Record Store Day website for an official list of titles.

Where to shop on Small Business Saturday.

After all the big-box madness of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday is designed to get you to the think locally. Check out the small, mom n' pop, brick and mortar shops that line the main street of your town. Even though this 'holiday' was created by American Express as a way for cardmembers to earn more rewards, the benefits of it have been anything but corporate. Last year alone, 95 million people spent the day shopping at small businesses. If you have an American Express card, make sure to register it so you're eligible for the statement credit, and make sure to scope out all participating locations in your area here!

Where to shop on Cyber Monday. 

How do Cyber Monday stack up to Black Friday? It's hard to say. While you find the same type of product mix in every ad, the brands and models are usually different than those in the Black Friday ad, making 1:1 comparisons difficult. To our trained eyes, the prices look to be on par with what we've seen emerge from Black Friday. Last year, we saw some retailers switch their Monday sale to a full-weekend event, and we expect to similar sales this year, although we haven't seen many official Cyber Monday ads come out yet. In general, you're probably going to see some good deals on laptops, computers, and tablets from online-only retailers like Newegg and B&H Photo, and clothing is also a hot Cyber Monday item to watch.

What to buy (and then, ya know, DONATE) on Giving Tuesday.

After the consumer-driven frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday is a breath of fresh air for anyone who's turned off by consumer culture. According to the Giving Tuesday website, the holiday "kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving."

As it's still Cyber week, consider buying things that local charities need to keep running smoothly. Brad's Deals blogger Rebecca wrote a great article last week on how to support your favorite non profits using the magic of Black Friday/Cyber Week sales. Check it out here!

What to buy in early December.

In a word: jewelry. You know how it seems like literally everyone and their mom gets engaged during the holiday season? There's a reason for that. According to a study released by Facebook last year, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Eve are the three most popular days of the year to get engaged, followed closely by February's ever-romantic Valentine's Day. Jewelry retailers know this, and they ramp up the deals during the early days of December. All this competition leads to some pretty great discounts on jewelry, so whether you're ready to tie the knot, or just want to get mom a little something special for Christmas, chances are you can score it for less if you wait until early December.

We also expect to see the lowest prices on hot holiday toys about two weeks before Christmas. While you might be tempted to stock up on all your kids' favorites during Black Friday, the truth is Black Friday sales don't really cater to parents. Even Toys "R" Us has a pretty lackluster Black Friday sale this year. Trust us, you're gonna want to wait.

A number of department stores, like Macy's, hold their annual "friends and family" sales after Cyber Monday. While you might have to be signed up for their newsletters (aka being a "friend" of the brand) to get the coupon, anyone can use it. In years past we've seen category discounts of up to 25 percent, so while the prices might not match Black Friday's, if you forgot to buy a few last minute presents, think of this as your second chance.

What to buy on Christmas Eve.

Even terrible procrastinators can still score gifts that don't seem totally last-minute on Christmas Eve. We recommend going for gift cards, event tickets, and online subscription boxes (check out our roundup of our 15 faves if you need inspiration) this late in the game. Event tickets and subscription boxes in particular don't look like gifts you just thought of yesterday, and even thought gift cards might get a bad rep as a cop-out gift, I for one am always happy to get extra money to my favorite stores.

If you want to buy a physical gift, try buying online and opting for in-store pickup. Though it might feel like you're the only one left in the world who isn't done with their holiday shopping, stores are always crowded, chaotic and nearly barren on Christmas Eve. Order what you want online, opt for in-store pickup, then run in and out unscathed by the panic that will be plaguing all the other last-minute shoppers.

If you're brave, hit up the mall. Some stores start their post-Christmas sales on Christmas Eve, and if you need to add a festive touch to Christmas dinner, holiday decor will likely be marked down.

Last but not least, if Amazon Prime Now is available in your city, you can get a variety of last-minute presents delivered to your doorstep in under an hour. Last year, two hours before I had to leave for the airport to attend my cousin's engagement party, I realized in horror I had neglected to buy her a present. I fired up Amazon Now, and with an hour to spare, I boarded my flight bearing a cute Kate Spade bracelet I knew she'd been eying.

Should you shop ON Christmas?!

I mean, no one's stopping you! Generally speaking, most brick and mortar retailers are closed on Christmas Day, but online shopping abounds. For the past few years, for example, ULTA has launched a sale on their jumbo size shampoos and conditioners on Christmas Day. Brad's Deals blogger Rebecca Lehmann always stocks up on enough to last her until June, when they have another sale.

It's all about the Boxing Day deals.

Black Friday who? Boxing Day, aka the day after Christmas, can actually yield better sales than the infamous post-turkey shopping trot. Not only will stores be ready and waiting to take back all the weird presents your aunt Mabel gave you, they'll also have some great deals on a variety of different items. Here are some things we've seen on sale in years past, which we expect to come back in 2016:

  • Bath & Body seasonal gift sets are usually discounted 50 percent or more on Boxing Day.
  • Just in time for New Years resolutions, fitness equipment goes on sale on Boxing Day. However, you might be better off waiting a few months and buying up all the barely-used gear for sale from all those failed resolutions.
  • Audio equipment is typically marked down during Boxing Day sales. Think headphones, home theater sets, record players.
  • Video games and cameras, especially refurbished cameras.
  • Home decor and tableware -- we like this suggestion from Consumer Affairs to use  after-Christmas sales on housewares to buy gifts for all the weddings you’ll be attending next summer. The “save the date” magnets are probably already on your refrigerator.
  • Apparel goes down in price during post-Christmas sales, particularly party-wear and kids clothes. If you live in a winter wonderland, expect to see summer styles from last season at a major discount.
  • Christmas decor! Never pay full price for Christmas decor. Stock up the moment Christmas is done, and store it in the attic until next year. You'll thank yourself when you see the ornaments you got for $5 going for $35 a pop next November.

The first workday after the new year is the secret online shopping day you never knew you needed. 

Breaking news: after years of careful study on the subject of the sale, our team here at Brad's Deals has noticed a trend that's gotten literally zero coverage, ever. What's that trend? The insane online sales that happen the first workday of the new year. We're not sure why it happens, but it's basically the end of the holiday season's answer to Cyber Monday. We should coin a name for this. Holiday Hangover? Cyber New Year? Whatever it's called, it's a great way to distract from the fact that you're back at work with a throbbing headache. Look for winter clothes, which are already going to be turning over in favor of spring merch and buy up last year's electronics models ahead of the Consumer Electronics show in January.

This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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