Black Friday Shopping Tips
TVs aren't just TVs anymore. If your family loves online content like watching Netflix or shows on Hulu, you may want to consider investing in a smart TV. These advanced sets offer a slew of extra features, including Internet browsing, Skyping with a built-in webcam, games, streaming video and more.
Wondering if it's worth the money to spring for a 1080p TV? If you're planning to get a set that's 32 inches or smaller, you probably won't notice the difference; 720p should do the trick in that case. For anything larger, or if anyone in your family is a gamer, 1080p is likely worth the investment.
LCD TVs that offer LED backlighting will display dark scenes better. LCDs in general offer brighter picture and are more energy efficient, while plasma sets are great for lots of motion and action.
A high refresh rate will mean better picture. The typical refresh rate is 60 Hertz (Hz), but some sets now go up to 120 Hz, 240 Hz, or even 480 Hz. While 120 is a worthy upgrade over 60, you likely won't be able to perceive a difference beyond that.
Be sure to check the number and types of inputs you'll need before you head to the store. To do so, note the connections your cable box, DVD player, video-game consoles, computer, or anything else you may want to hook up to the TV.
Don't give in to the hard sell on HDMI. You'll certainly want one if you have a Blu-ray player or other HD-input device with the right connector, but don't just assume you'll need an HDMI cable with your HDTV.
Our favorite sale Smart TVs: Vizio E3D470VX ($770), Sony Bravia EX640 ($1,200), Panasonic Viera TC-L47E50 ($1,100).
Cookware & Skillets
Consider what type of range you have. If yours is gas, opt for solid aluminum cookware clad in stainless steel or coated with porcelain enamel or a non-stick finish. Cookware with a flat aluminum disk on the bottom is better for electric. And more and more pots and pans are designed for use on induction ranges.
If you often put your cookware in the oven (say, to make a pot roast or frittata), be sure to check to what temperatures the pieces can be used in the oven, especially if the handles aren't metal.
Consider design before you pick out a pan. Love an omelet in the morning? Look for a model with sloped sides. If you spend a lot of time pan-frying, a wide, shallow skillet is best, but deep pans are ideal for one-dish dinners.
If you're buying a set, look for one that comes with larger pots and pans like 10- and 12-inch skillets, a 4- or 6-quart Dutch oven, and an 8-quart stockpot.
Don't want to spend your evenings scrubbing? Stainless steel cookware looks beautiful when it sparkles, but cookware with a nonstick finish inside and out will make cleanup a snap.
Our favorite sale skillets: Circulon Symmetry 12-Inch Open Skillet ($60 for 12-inch and bonus 10-inch), T-Fal Ultimate Stainless Steel Copper Bottom 12-Inch Skillet ($45), Anolon Nouvelle Copper Stainless Steel 12-inch Open Skillet ($80).
Our favorite sale cookware: Earth Pan II Sandflow Nonstick (from $19.99 for an 8-inch pan to $149.99 for a 10-piece set), Paula Deen Signature Porcelain Enamel Nonstick (from $14.99 for an 8-inch pan to $119.99 for a 12-piece set), All-Clad Stainless Steel (from $89.95 for a 9-inch pan to $1,229.95 for a 15-piece set).
No need to choose between portability, price, and performance anymore. The latest class of ultrabooks offers plenty of power and each system weighs in at less than three pounds.
Don't shell out for extra gigabytes of memory. Unless you are running multiple memory-intense applications simultaneously, you should be fine with the 4GB that is standard with most new laptops.
Skip the optical drive unless you're really attached to your CD collection. So much is downloadable nowadays that you'll quickly find you won't even miss it!
Make like Goldilocks and find the screen size that is right for you. For a lightweight laptop, opt for a 10- to 12-inch model. Up to 14 inches is still plenty portable, but 14- to 16-inch systems are better for productivity on the go. Only opt for a 17- to 18-inch laptop if it won't leave your desk; the larger screen real estate will be great for movies, photo editing, or games.
Our favorite sale ultrabooks: Dell XPS 13 ($1,000), Apple MacBook Air ($1,000), Toshiba Portege Z835 Ultrabook ($749).
Don't buy a super-large model unless you regularly cook for a crowd. However, it is worth stepping up from a mini chopper as a food processor also allows you to slice and shred.
Look for a model that comes with a box to hold the accessories. It's easy for them to get lost in a cupboard, and keeping them in a box keeps the blades from getting dulled and you from getting cut.
Avoid buying a food processor without a pulse feature. It can be a valuable tool to prevent over-processing.
Look for a unit with a feed tube in the front -- it will be much more intuitive to use.
Our favorite sale food processors: Hamilton Beach 3-Cup Ensemble ($40), Cuisinart Prep 9 ($40), Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Duo ($80).
You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to get a good machine; most models will get the job done. Price differences come into play more when it comes to ease of use, high-end automatic features, and getting the right tension for a specific fabric.
Look to see what accessories come standard with the machine. It may make a huge price difference if you need to buy a lot of extras after the fact.
Consider what features you'll be using. Is top speed a priority, or maybe automatic needle threading? Many sewing machines come with a lot of features and functions, so figure out which ones are relevant to you.
If you're familiar with one brand of sewing machine, you'll most likely be familiar with a different model of the same brand -- most companies stick to similar threading, bobbing winding, and controls across all their models.
Our favorite sale sewing machines: Brother SQ-9000 ($199), Singer 4411 Heavy Duty Sewing Machine ($230), Husqvarna Viking Emerald 116 ($400).
If you generally have trouble finding in-ear headphones that fit your ear, look for a pair with different sized inserts. Many come with 3-6 different tips or ones that can mold to your ear canal.
Buying headphones for an audiophile? Corded (as opposed to cordless) headphones tend to have the best sound, and over-ear tend to be superior as their larger design allows for more components to be included.
If you're most likely to wear headphones while you're working out, look for a clip-on sport style. These tend to be lightweight and are most likely to stay put during active use.
Have a smartphone? Look for a set of headphones that's compatible with your specific model for convenient corded controls like volume and pause.
Be sure to check out the return policy before you buy. An uncomfortable pair might not bother you in the store, so this will allow you to trade them in if the fit becomes problematic after extended use.
Our favorite sale headphones: iFrogz CS40s ($40), Phillips SHQ3000 ($40), Audio-Technica ATH-CK303MSV ($30).
If you're starting from scratch, consider a knife set. You'll save money over individual knives and they generally come with a block for storage. Be sure the set includes essentially pieces of cutlery for your cooking regimen, like a chef's knife, a long serrated bread knife, and a 4-5 inch utility knife.
For a piece of cutlery that will last, consider investing in a knife with a forged blade. They're stronger for tough cutting jobs and will feel sturdier in your hand. Knives with a full tang (a blade that is made of a single piece of metal that runs all the way through the knife handle) tend to offer the best control too.
Look at the design before you pick out your set. If you tend to mince by rocking the knife instead of lifting it, a curved blade will make the job easier and help with finer tasks. And a bolster (a thickening of the blade at the handle end) balances out the weight and gives you a place to hold if you prefer a pinch grip.
Don't leave the store without getting a feel for the knife. Find a length you're comfortable with and make sure the grip feels good in your hand. Also check to see how the weight feels; you want a knife that's sturdy enough to cut through bones and root vegetables but, at the same time, not so heavy that it will tire out your hand.
Our favorite sale kitchen knives: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 8-Inch Chef's Knife ($20), Cat Cora's 8-Inch Chef's Knife ($40), J.A. Henckels Classic 8-Inch Chef's Knife ($30).
Know the depth of your mattress before shopping and look at the dimensions of the sheets. Most sheets are cut a little larger to fit over pillowtop and deeper mattresses and you'll want to allow a little extra room for shrinking in the wash.
If you're particular about your sheets not pilling, stay away from flannel and jersey sets. Sateen and percale are more likely to stay pristine.
Looking for cotton sheets? Be sure to check the fiber blend before buying. Many sheet sets are actually combinations, such as polyester and cotton.
If you like a little sheen to your sheets look for sateen. The weave offers a little more luster than standard percale.
Don't automatically assume the higher the thread count, the better. You'll find great sheets with counts between 400-600 and save money over higher count brands.
Our favorite sale sheets: The Company Store 450TC Wrinkle-Free ($142-$232), Garnett Hill Hemstitched Supima Flannel ($97-$148, twin to king), Walmart Mainstays Jersey ($24, twin to queen)
The point of a slow cooker is the convenience of set-it-and-forget-it cooking. Look for a model that automatically switches to a keep-warm setting, so you don't have to worry about being present precisely when cooking is done to prevent overcooking.
Choose the largest model you have room to store. You can always cook smaller meals, but a more spacious slow cooker gives you the flexibility to make larger batches.
Planning to take your slow cooker to a potluck? Look for a model with a lid that latches on securely.
While an insert that can be used on the stovetop for browning enhances a slow cooker's flexibility, it will also add to its price. Remember you can always brown in a pot that you already own.
Our favorite sale slow cookers: Hamilton Beach 6-Qt. 33967 ($60), Cuisinart 3.5-Qt. PSC-350 ($110), West Bend 6-Qt. 84966 ($80).
Don't get too caught up in megapixel counts. Instead, look for a camera with good low-light sensitivity and optical image stabilization.
Almost all cameras and camcorders alike take good photos/video, so you may not need two devices anymore. Buy a camera unless you're more auteur than shutterbug.
Want great photos, but don't want to lug around an SLR? Hybrid cameras are almost as good, work with interchangeable lenses, and can slip into a purse or coat pocket.
Ignore digital zoom. If you take a lot of close-ups, look for a camera with a higher optical zoom. It will be best for sports and action shots as well as nature photography.
Our favorite sale cameras: Canon Rebel T3i ($549), Panasonic Lumix FH5V ($149), Olympus TG-310 ($179)