Surviving Black Friday

Amy Julian

What better way to spend the day after Turkey Day than dragging your probably still-distended stomach out of bed at 4a.m. and standing amongst fellow crazies in close to freezing temperatures? Some call it masochism; I call it thriftiness. Gear up, strap on your steel-toed boots, and sharpen your elbows, because the day that coupon clippers like myself anticipate all year is fast approaching: BLACK FRIDAY.

Sure, Black Friday (the “official” name of the day after Thanksgiving when stores slash prices to draw consumers into their stores) is not for everyone. Heck, I’m sure it probably wouldn’t be for my boyfriend if it weren’t for my discount-obsession and the prospect of scoring an XBOX system for 50 bucks! And during hard economic times, Black Friday, now more than ever, makes sense. Stores are hurtin’ just like consumers, so prices are expected to be lowered even more than usual.

I can remember my very first Black Friday experience. Our main goals: a 2.5 megapixel (yes, that was the topnotch quality back in the day) for $80 bucks, and a 5 CD stereo system for $35. Little did I know, I would come home with a slice out of the back of my calf from woman hell-bent on getting the last Tickle Me Elmo and a bruise on my head from the Cootie game that tumbled off the shelf I was climbing. But hey, what are a few bumps and bruises in the name of saving money, right?

Don’t go into Black Friday unprepared. Here are some tips on surviving the early-morning rush in one piece and with the deals you want:

1. Wear sneakers and reinforcement. You laugh, but rubber soles and ankle protection are a Black Friday-er’s best friends. Just ask my boyfriend who walked away from last year’s Black Friday with his ankle mangled from a shopping cart. Steel toed boots may be your best bet (just make sure you can get good mileage and traction-you don’t want your shoes to slow you down on your way to that $18 DVD player).

2. That said, ditch the shopping cart. Unless you are buying a big-ticket item like a TV or computer, shopping carts are totally pointless. Not only do they slow you down, but you’ll find yourself in constant deadlock with your other shoppers who just simply needed to have a cart to put their two Hannah Montana wallets in. Do everyone’s ankles a favor-if you can carry your item(s), leave the cart at the door.

3. Leave your coat in the car. Of course you’ll be freezing when waiting in line, but ditch the jacket before heading into the store. Guarantee: stores will likely have the temps in the stores cranked up to about 95 degrees and schlepping through hordes of people will likely overheat you and make you feel sick. Not the best state to be in when shopping.

4. Enlist help from a friend or family member. We always come up with a plan of attack. Scenario: two items you need to get to before the store runs out-what do you do? When you have someone with you, split up and establish a meeting place near a register. Trust me, you’ll get what you want and it’ll feel extra good to show off the booty you scored and share stories of how you leapt over a pile of people to get your deal.

5. Bring cash if you can. The reason is two-fold: on the one hand, cash makes your transactions quicker, allowing you precious minutes to get to the next store you have to hit up. Not having to go through the “swipe, wait for approval, click OK, sign, wait for receipt…” just hand off the cash, grab your receipt and go. Cash is also the best way to avoid impulse purchases. It’s all too easy when relying on a credit card to pick up extra things just because they are on sale and mega-cheap. Because, do you really NEED that extra bathrobe or handbag simply because it’s half-price? Sure everyone will love the stuff you got them for the holidays, but come January 1st, all you’ll get is a hefty, high-interest credit card bill that you can’t return.

6. Finally, the biggest thing about Black Friday is strategy. It sounds like a military tactic, but here’s what we do: Thanksgiving night, my boyfriend and I sit down with all of the sale papers (be sure to get the newspaper on Thanksgiving day, as all the ads for Black Friday are in there-can’t be sure they’ll be online yet) and a few pieces of paper and literally draw a map. Things we consider: what time does the earliest store open? Can we then get from there to the next store by the time those doors open? What’s the best route we can take to avoid traffic and get there while there are still items left? What items are the “hot items?” Things like video game consoles and electronics are always the first things to go-if you are deadest on getting a new laptop for 200 bucks, bypass a store you are going to for something small. In the end, you’ll end up happy and with everything you wanted.

While it sounds like chaos (and it can be) Black Friday is actually pretty fun. Waking up at 4 o’clock to be at Wal-mart for the 5a.m. Doorbusters may not be your idea of a good time, but by the end of the day (which will likely come at about 5p.m. when you turn in for the night after a day of fast-paced shopping) you’ll feel like it was worth it. And as you lay your head down on that pillow you scored at Target for $1.99 (Black Friday 2001) and pull your $4.99 fleece blanket (Wal-Mart, 2004) you’ll start counting down the days until you can do it all over again next year.