It’s the most competitive time of the year. No, I don’t mean the World Series, the PGA Championships, or even the NFL. It’s Black Friday, and if you’re participating, it’s you against every other shopper. But don’t worry – we’ve compiled some secrets and tips that’ll give you the edge in this year’s competition. Here are five secrets to finding the best Black Friday deals:

1) Search for “deal finder” websites and apps

Deal finder websites help shoppers by compiling all of the best Black Friday deals in one location, letting you, the user, search for the best deal on whatever item you’re looking to buy. Deal finder sites allow you to search by item, store, category, location and even date of availability, making them an invaluable tool for savvy shoppers looking to plan their Black Friday schedule well in advance. You should also keep an eye open for applications like TheFind, which helps compare product prices both online and at nearby stores.

2) Ad leaks and email alerts

Knowing what deals are available ahead of everyone else can help you hone your plan of attack for Black Friday. One of the best methods to do this is to set up email alerts for leaked Black Friday ads or regularly visit sites that post ad scans.

You can set up email alerts in a variety of ways. For example, most deal finder websites tend to have email alerts for leaked ads, but you can also set up your own Google email alert to filter out ad leaks based on your own criteria.

3) Load your smartphone with store apps

Macy’s, Staples, Target, Best Buy and Walmart all have their own smartphone applications. So do most big-box retailers and even some smaller boutique shops, and you’ll want to download a few of them before Black Friday.

There are a few reasons you’d want to download such applications on your mobile device. First, they can easily locate, and direct you towards, stores near you. Second, some of these stores offer savings and coupons you can redeem directly through the application, making extra savings a breeze. Finally, some stores may offer flash deals only available to mobile shoppers. There were a lot of deals to be had over mobile devices in 2012, so we expect more this year.

Of course you can always delete these apps from your phone when you’re done with them after the holiday, so don’t worry if you don’t see yourself using them throughout the rest of the year.

4) Monitor social media for great buys

Everyone likes bragging, especially when they’ve bought a great item at a steep discount. That’s especially true on Black Friday where shoppers have historically shared details on great experiences and promotions on social media.

Twitter isn’t the best place for retailers to advertise Black Friday deals (Mashable reports that Twitter contributed zero percent to Black Friday sales last year), but it is a great resource for finding fellow consumers bragging about great buys – so are Facebook and Pinterest. Know what you’re looking for and keep an eye out on your feeds — you may find something you didn’t even consider before.

5) Take The Ad With You

So you’ve scoured your local papers for all the Black Friday deals you could find, you have your apps lined up for lightning-fast access, you’ve even drawn out your plan of attack on a pad of paper. Now you need to take those ads with you.

The reason is simple: while some stores may not advertise the price you’re looking for, they may be more than willing to match the price of a competitor — so long as you have a valid copy of the ad. Keep in mind that not all retailers give you the “lowest-price guarantee,” and most won’t try to match online prices, but having a copy of the deal you want can be the difference between spending under, or over, your budget.

Black Friday has always carried with it some degree of consumer insanity, especially at large retailers. Add a little order to the chaos by knowing where to look ahead of time, being prepared for surprise deals and knowing how to get to them. While no strategy is immune to last-minute changes, it helps to plan what you’re going to do rather than rush aimlessly around. When it’s every other shopper against you, a well-informed plan of action is your best bet.

Shopper photo courtesy of Shutterstock.