When it comes to planning a military campaign, Patton’s got nothing on me. The war in question involves fighting the hordes of holiday shoppers that will descend upon the malls and numerous retail outlets on the day after Thanksgiving – more fondly referred to as “Black Friday”.
In order to successfully accumulate the greatest amount of savings with the least amount of hassle you MUST have a plan in place before heading out to the shops. Otherwise, you will find yourself scrambling around, grabbing items willy-nilly and then standing in line for 2 hours to check out, only to find when you get home that you really didn’t get anything that you wanted. It’s the very same emotional state Napoleon experienced marching back to France in defeat.
In order to help you, my fellow shoppers, I will now pass along the accumulated wisdom of seven years of Black Friday adventures and misadventures. This walkthrough is inestimably valuable. Do not allow it to fall into the wrong hands.
- Make a list. By this I mean make a general list of what you intend to purchase for everyone on your gift list. Sort the list out by person and then under that person’s name list things like: clothes, shoes, books, toys, games, etc. Don’t forget to note clothing and shoe sizes! Now you know exactly what you’ll need to search for in the numerous Black Friday Ads.
- Sign up for Black Friday Ad alerts. I am signed up at Black Friday Ads (www.bfads.net) and GottaDeal.com (http://gottadeal.com/blackfriday/). This way I receive an email each time a store’s Black Friday Ad is leaked/released in advance. Now that most of the ads are out, you can simply visit these sites to view the scanned ads themselves.
- Compare the ads to the items on the list you made under Rule #1. This way, you’ll know exactly where you’re going to get the best deals for the most amounts of items on your list. You definitely want to visit as few stores as possible, so you’re not wasting your time driving all over town and spending hours in long checkout lines. Be sure to cross-reference all items and write down what store where you will purchase the item. (Ex: Susie/jeans/Target)
- STICK TO THE LIST!! Don’t go into a store and get distracted by sales on items that are not on your list. This will only suck away valuable shopping time, and leave you spending far too much money on stuff you really don’t need. Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean you have to buy it. The way that Best Buy can afford to sell you a 64″ flat screen for the same basic price as a mid quality suit is because they know that some of your fellow shoppers will spend at least that much money on Special Edition DVD Gift Boxes with Eye of Mordor shot glasses, or flying remote control sharks, or Dr. Dre’s ridiculously expensive headphones. It’s the same logic as All You Can Eat Ribs. Do not be coerced. Just because you waited in a tent all night does not obligate you to buy every shiny toy you set eyes upon.
- Have a shopping buddy (or two). I can’t emphasize enough the importance of this rule. When you have a shopping buddy, one of you can immediately go grab a place in the checkout line (which trust me, will already be long), while the other runs around the store, collecting the items on their list (see, this is why you MUST STICK TO THE LIST!). Then, you swap off. The best scenario is having two buddies with you, this way you can get even more shopping done. Teenagers or other people who really aren’t planning on spending much are good for this task. For example: last year my team consisted of my best friend and my teenage sister. When we went to Toys R Us, my sister grabbed us a place in the checkout line (which was already snaking halfway around the store), while my best friend and I grabbed the gifts. If my sister had not held our place in line, our wait to check out would’ve been even longer than the hour we ended up enduring. My sister was just along for the fun of it, so it was really beneficial to have her around.
- Dress in layers. It can get awfully cold standing in an hour long line outside a store while waiting to enter, but once you’re in there and collecting your goods, you can become quite warm. I find that dressing in layers really helps. Also, try to avoid wearing a heavy coat – you’ll find it quite burdensome to carry around the store with you. I usually just wear my hoodie over a long sleeve shirt, and maybe a pullover sweater or sweatshirt.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Listen people, its Black Friday, not a fashion show, so don’t go around wearing your high heeled boots, just because they’re cute. You’re going to be on your feet for several hours with very little breaks and your “dogs will be barking” before long if you’re not wearing your sneakers. On that same note – don’t bother with the whole hair and makeup routine. It always cracks me up when I see these women on Black Friday parading around like they’re going out for a night on the town. Nobody cares what you look like. Seriously. That doesn’t mean you have to look like a bum, but you don’t have to dress to the nines, either.
- Caffeine is your friend. If you plan on getting the best deals, you’re going to be up a looooong time. Most stores are now starting their Black Friday sales between 10pm to Midnight on Thanksgiving and the majority of sales don’t end until 11 am on Friday. So that’s between 11 to 13 hours of shopping time, after an already long day spent with family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday. If you can take a little nap before heading out, do so. Otherwise, be prepared to keep a constant stream of caffeine going to avoid the dreaded crash. Last year, I hit three sales that started between 10 and Midnight before taking a two hour nap then hitting the 4 and 5 am sales. Between the nap and a steady stream of vanilla lattes, I was able to complete my shopping without issue.
- Plan your route. Try to shop in a location that has the most stores in one spot that are on your list. Several places around the city have a Target next to stores such as Kohls or JCPennys. What’s great about this option is that you park in one place, and walk to the other stores, dropping your bags off in the car between shops. Parking spaces are at a premium on Black Friday and you don’t want to waste time trying to find one, not to mention spending time driving all over town.
- SAFETY FIRST! Black Friday is an ideal time to be targeted for a crime – people running around in crowds, not paying attention to their surroundings and leaving purchases in plain sight is just what a thief loves most. Try not to take a purse with you, or if you do, lock it in the trunk and only have your wallet on your person, preferably in a front pocket. Leave all purchases locked up in the trunk and not in the backseat where they can be seen. And though it’s easy to get distracted, try to pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. This rule is smart not only on Black Friday, but any time you go shopping.
- Take advantage of online sales. Many retailers are now offering the same deals online as they have in stores on Black Friday, along with free shipping in many cases. Wal-Mart has free Site to Store shipping on any purchase at any time, even on big-ticket items like TVs. If you don’t feel like getting out in the cold and crowds, this may be a great option for you. It’s one that I took advantage of myself one year because I was sick and didn’t want to expose everyone else to my germs. The online sales will start at the same time as the stores, so be ready to log in and have a fast clicking finger. Another strategy you can implement with online purchases is to have someone at home order some of the purchases, while you go out to the store to pick up the others. Example: have your spouse buy the electronic and other big ticket items online, while you go to the retail store to purchase things like clothes, which you may want to see in person. This can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run.
- HAVE FUN. The main reason I go out into the masses on Black Friday is not because I love the madness (okay, maybe I do a little), it’s because I have a lot of fun shopping with my girlfriends. We spend the time in line catching up while indulging in retail therapy. We have a motto: “If you can’t HANDLE the Black Friday, then don’t DO the Black Friday!”
If you still aren’t into the whole Black Friday thing, then perhaps you’d like to take advantage of “Local Saturday” this year. Local retailers are offering sales on the day after Black Friday, allowing you to score some deals while supporting your local merchants and artists. A great alternative, indeed!