11/27/2014 11:22 EST | Updated 01/27/2015 05:59 EST

Black Friday: 5 Ways To Stay Out Of Debt

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Shoppers vie for copies of video games at a Black Friday sale at a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. store in Mentor, Ohio, U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. Retailers are pouring on the discounts to attract consumers grappling with 9 percent unemployment and a slower U.S. economic expansion than previously estimated. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Many Canadians will brave long border lines and big crowds in the hope of cashing in on Black Friday sales south of the border.

The sales may be billed as the biggest of the year, but Scott Hannah, the president and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society of BC, says they can also lead to big debt.

"For a lot of people this is just impulse spending. They get caught up in the frenzy of Black Friday," he told The Early Edition's Rick Cluff.

Here's his advice to those hoping to avoid significant debt.

1. Pay attention to cost

While stores have flashy signs telling you how much you'll save, Hannah says it's important to remember how much the item actually costs — especially if you're buying it across the border.

A lower Canadian dollar means items cost more compared to previous years.

"That 40 per cent off deal in the U.S. may not seem quite as rosy when it's only 24 per cent in actuality," Hannah says.

2. Look for additional charges

Hannah says if you're shopping with a credit card it's important to brush up on extra charges before you start spending.

"Find out what the exchange rate is from your credit card company, they may add a little extra on top of that as well," he says.

If you're doing your shopping online, you may get a better deal by using a service like PayPal instead of charging everything to your card. 

3. Find out about warranties and exchange policies

"Often times, you may need to return or exchange something. You'll have to make another trip across the border," Hannah says.

He says knowing the exchange policy can save you a lot of grief, especially if you're buying electronics.

4. Have a game plan

Hannah says many of the people he sees have multiple credit cards and because they're not doing all their spending on one account it's easy to lose track of how much they are really spending.

"It's important to have a budget for your holiday shopping, know who you're buying for, how much you intend to spend on each person, and then track it as you go," he says.

5. You can afford not to buy it.

"There may be some savings but you're still spending money," Hannah says.

He says one easy way to put things into perspective is to calculate how many hours you'll have to work to pay for the item.

"This is going to cost you a full week of work to buy that item. Is it worth it?"

Hannah says he doesn't plan to do any Black Friday shopping.

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