I shopped my first Black Friday nine years ago. Before then my opinion of the whole thing was something along the lines of “You’ve got to be kidding if you think I am going to get up before dawn to shop with crazy people.” But then my husband and I got married, and we had two little boys, and there was this sale on bikes at Wal-Mart and I ended up shopping with the crazy people. Much to my surprise, I had a blast. We got ninety percent of our Christmas shopping done by 9:30 AM. The highlight of the morning was our trip to Wallyworld. We pulled in just as the doors opened, went straight to the bikes, hit the checkout before the lines got long and then rode tiny bikes through the parking lot. The whole thing took twenty minutes.
I won’t kid you, the twenty minute Wal-Mart trip was an anomaly. It’s usually pretty crazy, but that’s one of the things I like about it. There is a sense of camaraderie with the other shoppers, a “we’re all in this together” vibe. Contrary to what the media would have us believe, I have seen more random acts of kindness between strangers than frenzied mobs fighting over the last Hot New Toy. Little things like holding a place in line for someone who has to pee, or helping to carry a giant box out to the car. It can get ugly, we’ve seen the news stories, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
I expect that there will be a lot first-timers this year. With so many people worried about money, the call of the deal will be quite strong. If you are one of the newbies, or you’re just hoping that this year will go smoother than last, I am here to help. Here are my Top Twelve Tips and Tricks so that you too can spend December smugly telling your friends that you finished your shopping weeks ago.
1. Don’t be a Douchebag. In this, as in all things, this is my number one rule. It doesn’t help anything and it will give you heartburn.
2. Get a paper. My husband likes to surf the Black Friday sites the week beforehand, but the best way to figure out where you want to go and what you want to get is to buy a paper on Thanksgiving day and go through all the circulars.
3. Make a list. Write down what you want to get and where it is on sale. Do no trust that you are going to remember everything when you are in the trenches.
4. Make a schedule. Once we’ve gone through the circulars, we take the ones for the stores we want to hit and separate them into piles based on when they open. This is where you have to prioritize. Stores will probably be opening every hour from 4:00 to 8:00. It is possible to stand in line for a 4 AM opening and from there get to the next four stores on your list just as they open their doors, but you might miss some of the super doorbusters at the later stores. This is something I can’t help you with, you have to decide for yourselves how badly you want something and how long you are willing to wait for it.
5. Dress appropriately. You will get cold waiting outside and hot waiting inside. I recommend layers and comfy shoes.
6. You will stand in lines. They will be long. Accept it now and let it go.
7. If at all possible, go to stores you are familiar with. That way you don’t waste time getting lost on the way to the toy section.
8. Have a partner. You can keep each other entertained. You can divide and conquer. One of you can push the cart while the other ducks and weaves to get to the good stuff.
9. If you have a partner, for the love of God BRING YOUR CELL PHONE! ‘Nuff said.
10. If you are worried about going over budget, don’t get a cart. It’s easy to get caught up in all the deals and start impulse shopping. If you don’t have a cart you are limited to what you can physically carry. And without a cart you have the edge of maneuverability.
11. Stop for breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day. It might make you late to the next store on your list, but you will more than make up for it by not stumbling around like a zombie. A cranky zombie with low blood-sugar.
12. If you don’t get something you were hoping for, it’s OK. Your kids won’t hate you, your parents won’t disown you. Don’t let it slow you down.
Last, but not least, the stores. These opinions are based on my own personal experiences and anecdotal evidence from trusted sources.
Target – They are typically well stocked, well organized and well staffed, but they don’t do a lot of big huge discounts.
Kohl’s – Their jewelry is usually deeply discounted, like 75% off, but you have to get there before they open and go straight to the jewelry counter or you will spend the rest of the day waiting there.
Wal-Mart – A total crap-shoot. They do things differently every year so there is no knowing what you will find or where it will be.
The Mall – I avoid it unless I have a really compelling reason to go. There’s just too much stuff.
Old Navy – Fun if you have a clothes horse to shop for.
Office Depot/Max/Staples – We usually stop here to stock up on stuff we use at home, the deals are fantastic.
There is one store where I will never, under any circumstances, go. I won’t even read their ads because I don’t want to be tempted. I don’t want to name names, but it is a big electronics store with a blue and yellow sign. Everyone I have ever known who went there on Black Friday has left wanting to shoot someone. Just say no.
So that’s what I’ve got. If I didn’t mention a store you are considering, just leave me a comment and I’ll tell you what I know. Good luck, have fun and good shopping.