Although Canadian retailers are starting to get in on the Black Friday game, there are definite benefits to travelling across the border to shop. And while you can save up to 50 per cent on items like clothing, alcohol, jewelry and appliances in the US on a normal day, add Black Friday sales to the mix, and the savings really start to add up. But of course, as with any unbelievable deal, there are some caveats. So before we dive into the best bargains to be had south of the border (scroll down to the gallery for the complete list), there are a few things you need to keep in mind:
Rule No. 1: Timing is everything
You’ll need to spend the night to really get your shop on (48 hours, to be exact). After that, you can spend up to $800 duty-free and bring back alcohol and cigarettes (with limitations), should you so desire. If you don’t feel like springing for a hotel room and adding to the cost of your trip, a visit between 24 and 48 hours means no duty-free booze or cigarettes and a $200 cap on your shopping spree.
Rule No. 2: Duty calls
Went overboard? Bargain-hunters beware: You’ll be hit with duty on those deals, so keep that in mind at the register. Rates vary depending on what you’ve purchased and don’t include sales tax (e.g. HST), which you’ll have to pay on each item as well. For short visits, duty-free shopping at the border is your best bet, but you’ll still have to pay the tax, and alcohol won’t be duty-free unless you’ve been out of the country for more than 48 hours.
Rule No. 3: Love it? Rate it
These days, the exchange rate isn’t all that great for Canadians; gone are the glory days where the Canadian dollar was pretty much at par with the greenback. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still savings to be had (see gallery). Check the rate before you leave home and, better yet, download an app for quick calculations while you shop. Convert all your prospective purchases back into Canadian dollars before you check out to ensure that what looks like a deal really is a deal. (Don’t worry: The discounts listed in the gallery below take the current exchange rate into account.)
Rule No. 4: Cash is king
While paying with your credit card is convenient – especially when you aren’t sure how much you’ll be spending – you won’t know what exchange rate your credit card company will charge until your bill comes (the rate is determined after you make your purchases). Paying by cash means you won’t go over budget and you’ll know exactly how much you paid to exchange that money.
Got all that? Good. Bring on the bargains!
17 things you should always buy stateside
AlcoholYou’ll save up to 50 per cent on booze at the duty-free shop, but it may be even cheaper at a shopping club like Costco. (Yes, you can use your Canadian Costco card in the US but you need an American Express to check out.) In some states, the grocery store is also a great place to source boozy bargains, particularly wine.The Loop
ClothingWhile shopping at the Gap or the like in the US over Canada isn’t going to save you much, shopping at outlet malls will – between 30 and 70 per cent, depending on the outlet and any sales or promotions on offer. Sure, we have our own, but like most American things, theirs are bigger – more stores, more selection, more deals.The Loop
ShoesSave 30 to 50 per cent on shoes at warehouse stores like DSW or outlet stores. Look for brand names, but again, beware of dated trends (e.g. wedge sneakers or lace-up combat boots). Classic wear-forever styles – mid-heeled ankle boots, simple ballet flats or classic black pumps – are your best bets.The Loop
JewelryFine jewelry can cost up to 40 per cent less in the States than on this side of the border, so buy a classic piece you’ll wear forever while you're there. Look for diamond earrings and gold chains to make the most of the cross-border savings.The Loop
HandbagsIt’s also wise to buy handbags at outlets, where you’ll save 40 to 70 per cent off regular retail prices. Stick with classic styles and shapes and avoid last season's trends, such as the bucket bag or anything floral. (Trust us, you'll regret it later.) The Loop
Beauty ProductsWhile you’re stateside, pick up any makeup or hair care products you need. You won't save a ton, but 10 to 15 per cent (plus avoiding our hefty sales tax) is nothing to scoff at if it's stuff you have to buy anyway. Duty-free gift sets are also worth a look and typically cost less than buying each product individually.The Loop
Perfume and FragrancesSave up to 40 per cent on your signature scent at designer perfume outlets. Watch out for imposters and don’t buy anything not in a sealed box. Fragrances last up to five years unopened but once that seal is broken, they expire within a year or two. Skip duty-free, where perfume may actually cost more than at department stores. The Loop
TelevisionsExpect to save around 10 per cent on the purchase of a TV. That may not sound like a lot, but if you consider that a 50-inch TV costs around $550, you're saving at least 50 bucks. Not too shabby.The Loop
Memory CardsWhile you’re down south, stock up on memory for your digital camera. You can save up to 50 per cent, depending on in-store sales and promotions. Look for memory cards that contain the largest number of gigabytes at the biggest discount for the most savings.The Loop
Kitchen AppliancesNeed a new blender or coffee maker? Definitely buy it in the US, where you’ll save between 35 and 50 per cent. Don’t spring for the store warranty unless they can guarantee that it will be valid in Canada. And don’t expect the warranty that comes with the product to cover you at home. The Loop
FurnitureWhile you probably won't be lugging a new bed frame over the border, small items like nightstands or accent furniture can be up to 15 per cent cheaper. Look for solid-wood construction, if possible; it lasts longer. If the piece is made of fibreboard or composite wood, make sure the price reflects that.The Loop
BeddingA simple comforter can cost up to 25 per cent less in the US, whereas a sheet set will save you about 10 per cent. Generally, the higher the thread count, the higher the quality. Opt for Egyptian cotton with at least a 200 count. If you can’t find Egyptian, Supima cotton or bamboo-cotton mixes are also super soft and luxe.The Loop
ToysTrack down that play set on your little one's wish list and save up to 35 per cent. However, you're more likely to find deals if you don't have your mind set on something in particular; let the sales be your guide. Look for big discounts on the season's most popular toys, too, like Frozen paraphernalia or Lego Minecraft.The Loop
VitaminsAre your supplements costing you a fortune? Pop into a pharmacy or even a Walmart while you're down south and pick up your daily regimen. You'll keep the doctor away and save between 40 and 60 per cent.The Loop
Baby GearYou can save 15 per cent on major baby purchases like strollers. However, it is illegal to import a car seat that does not comply to Canadian standards, so save yourself the hassle and buy your car seat at home. As for the basics, go nuts: Diapers and wipes cost 15 to 20 per cent less in the States.The Loop
GasRepeat after me: Always fill up in the US. After all, you’ll need it for the drive home. But more importantly, you'll save about 30 per cent. North of the 49th, we pay $1.26 per litre (that’s $4.70 per gallon) on average; in the US, you're looking at about $2.86 USD per gallon or $0.84 per litre.The Loop
CarsThere are big savings to be had on cars south of the border, but there are also plenty o’ hoops to jump through in order to do so. Not all cars are admissible, so do your due diligence. Stick to North American models to avoid duty and beware of anti-Canadian dealers. (It’s a thing.)The Loop