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Save Money (and Sanity...

Save Money (and Sanity) This Black Friday

On the Friday after Thanksgiving this year, I will wake up before the sun rises to my mom calling me from the hallway, attempting to lure me out of bed with peanut butter toast and tea. I’ll throw on many layers of clothes (it will be uncomfortably cold outside), and we’ll jump in the car and join the masses of blurry-eyed bargain shoppers lined up outside of retail stores across the country. That’s right; we participate in the chaotic consumer frenzy known as Black Friday.

For those who don’t know, Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year and falls on the day after Thanksgiving. This is the date that stores roll out the big guns (read: huge discounts and sales) to get people to open their wallets. The deals on DVDs, electronics, and other popular items are often so good that it’s become a regular occurrence for people to line up outside of stores the night before. With the current dismal state of the economy, it’s possible that even more people will be on the hunt for cheap holiday gifts. Since I’m a seasoned BF veteran (though I’m a bit ashamed to admit that), I feel qualified to give you advice on how to come out of this year’s Black Friday with great bargains and, perhaps most importantly, your dignity and sanity in place.

Lists: Don’t Leave Home Without Them
Before the Internet, people had to wait until the Thanksgiving newspapers hit their doorsteps to check out the Friday sales. Now the sales are leaked online around the beginning of November. Web sites like BF Ads and Slickdeals post comprehensive, frequently updated guides to what the stores will offer. As you start forming your holiday gift lists, check out what will be offered on Black Friday. Make a detailed list of what you want from every store before you leave the house. It also helps to make an itinerary of which stores need to be hit first, since what times certain deals are offered varies. Black Friday is not a time to window shop or generate gift ideas. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and frazzled by the crowds without a plan of attack. Get organized, go in with a plan, and get out as soon as you can!

Assemble a Task Force
Many retail stores, such as Best Buy and Target, have taken to offering their most amazing deals in limited quantities, and usually within the first hour or so of the store opening. These deals are called “doorbusters,” probably because people bust through the doors—and each other—to snatch them up. Some will even start waiting in line right after Thanksgiving dinner if the bargains are good enough. (I draw the line at this, but to each his or her own.) If there are good deals going on at multiple stores at the same time, chances are you won’t be able to get to all of them. That’s why it’s a good idea to contact other friends and family members who are crazy enough to venture out that day so you can outline your strategy. For example, while you hit Best Buy to get their computer deals, your friend can scoop up discounted pajama sets at Macy’s, and so forth. Don’t forget to bring walkie-talkies or cell phones for constant communication.

Here are some examples of the doorbusters offered by participating stores:

Best Buy
Insignia 7.0 Megapixel Digital Camera, $59.99
Panasonic Viera 50" 720p Plasma HDTV, $899.99
Toshiba 15.4" Dualcore Notebook Computer, $379.99
Garmin Nuvi 260W GPS System, $189.99

Wal-Mart
Black and Decker 12-Cup Coffeemaker, $15.99
Sex and the City movie, $9.00
Philips 2GB MP3 Player with 1.5" Color LCD Display, $29.00
Shop-vac 5-Gallon Wet/Dry Vac with Accessories, $15.00

Circuit City
Assorted DVDs (over seventy titles, including Borat and Family Guy), $2.99
Guitar Hero III Bundle for Playstation 3 or Xbox 360, $54.99
Nintendo DS Bundles, $139.99
LG 8350 Cell Phone and Jabra BT Headset, $50 GC (with a Verizon Contract), $0.00

JC Penney
Entire Stock of Sheets and Sheet Sets, 50 percent off
Entire Stock of Men’s Outerwear, 60 percent off
Twelve-Piece Wine Glass Set, $15.88
Entire Stock of Gold and Fine Sterling Silver Jewelry, 65 percent off

Information courtesy of BlackFriday.info

Even if none of the doorbuster sales are appealing (there are also other sales that continue on through the day), it’s still a good idea to team up with a shopping friend. Parking and dealing with frantic, sleep-deprived shoppers is hassle enough, so make it a goal to finish your shopping as quickly as possible. Then you can join up afterward (establish a meeting place beforehand), compare and exchange purchases, and get a much-needed drink (coffee or otherwise).

Separate the Steals from the Scams
If you’ve already figured out what you’re getting everybody for the holidays, it’s a good idea to figure out which stores are having the best deals on your gift list items. The best way to do this is to scour the Black Friday ads and comparison shop. However, don’t head to a store simply because they have the cheapest price. Sometimes what’s being offered, particularly when it comes to electronics like computers and cameras, isn’t the best quality. Before you buy, check for reviews of the item online. (Consumer Search and Epinions are two Web sites that offer this service.) You may end up eschewing a laptop at Fry’s for a more expensive one at Best Buy, for example, but the extra $100 or so that you spend could save you hundreds in the long run.

Establish Strict Budgets and Timelines
The whole reason for waking up early on the day after Thanksgiving and braving miserable shopping conditions is to save money on holiday spending. That means making a list and checking the prices twice to guarantee that you’re not going over your gift budget. The deals can be mighty tempting on Black Friday; but if you don’t envision giving that price-reduced item to someone this season (buying gifts for future occasions is a nice idea, but not when money’s tight already), skip the deal. If you go over budget, you’ve missed the whole thrifty point of Black Friday (other than the garish display of consumerism). Setting up a firm deadline (e.g., finish shopping by noon) will also help with this, and meeting that deadline will make sure your entire day isn’t lost to shopping.

Get as Comfortable as Possible
Remember how I mentioned dressing in many layers before leaving the house? It might be cold (especially if you get there when the stores open) and chances are you’ll be standing in line at some point—dress accordingly. As the day warms up, you can shed a few layers (which will help with mobility, too). Wear comfortable shoes and clothes—whatever it takes to keep you as calm as possible amidst the chaos. And don’t forget to bring snacks! You could be in the stores longer than anticipated, and there’s nothing worse than dealing with crowds and a growling stomach. If you can’t get through a day without a cup of coffee, make sure you’ve got that on hand, too. The point is to eliminate as many potential stressors as possible before you leave the house.

Navigating the crowds and luring bargains of Black Friday can actually be kind of fun … or your worst nightmare, if you don’t prepare beforehand. Follow the tips above and the bargains (or the frenzied people vying for them) won’t get the better of you. As for a post-BF celebration, I suggest a hearty, energizing brunch to propel you home, and a long, well-deserved nap. You’ll sleep better knowing how much money you’re saving this holiday season. And, if you’re like me, you’ll start thinking of ways to do it even better next year.

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