Published November 20, 2012
For better or worse, Black Friday is an American institution.
But despite its runaway popularity - a record 226 million shoppers visited a store or website during the 2011 weekend, according to the National Retail Federation - Black Friday can easily turn frustrating and costly for shoppers who don't plan properly.
These 10 steps can lead to a disastrous Black Friday. The alternative tips, on the other hand, may prove useful if you'd like to avoid the "disastrous" part.
Sure, it's wonderful to sit down to turkey and all the fixings with your loved ones. But this is precious time that could be spent planning your evening attack. Comb every sale flyer you can find for hot deals, but don't worry about doing the math on prices - see step 2.
Alternative: Forget the shopping adventure ahead and enjoy some sweet potatoes with your kids. Relaxing ahead of time should leave more energy for later too.
Black Friday is about fun … along with consumerism and waste and the attempt to fill the void in your soul with material items - but mostly fun. Everyone knows that counting pennies is not fun, so buy what you want and leave the calculations for later. There are great deals everywhere, so how can you go wrong?
Alternative: Calculate precisely how much you want to spend for each person on your list and stick to it - even if it means leaving your credit cards at home.
Who better to help you navigate the chaos of Black Friday than your friend who's spent the last year in treatment for her compulsive spending disorder? She knows this terrain, so there's almost no chance those once-a-year deals and frenzied storefront scenes will cause her to relapse, right?
Alternative: Seek out your sensible friend - the one who's driven the same compact car since 2003 - to be your voice of reason in the aisles.
Average cost of a gallon of gas in the U.S. today? Just under $4. The knowledge that you scored every amazing deal within a 35-mile radius of your home? Priceless.
Alternative: Factor gasoline costs into your prospective purchases at faraway stores. You may actually save money by paying more at a store closer to home.
With deals everywhere, you'd have to be crazy to engage in hand-to-hand combat with another shopper over something like a discounted bread-maker - particularly since your competitive instincts may be driving you more than your need for home-baked bread. Crazy like a fox, that is.
Alternative: Don't start an altercation for the sake of saving a few dollars. No discounted item is worth an ejection from your local retailer - or worse.
Nothing beats the elation of scoring a $99 tablet - even though the price cuts elsewhere in that store have likely been weakened to protect margins. In any case, there are only 50 of them up for grabs, so it's going to pay to get there early. Aren't you glad you skipped dinner?
Alternative: If a door-buster is the only reason you're visiting the store, you may save more by going somewhere that offers low prices on multiple items you want.
Once you have that tablet - or perhaps only a fractured eye socket - it's time to turn your attention to the kids. While it may have been ideal to buy that must-have item on their list in October, when its price was 30 percent below its current figure, finding one now should still be a cinch given how much ground you'll be covering tonight.
Alternative: Go in search of that toy before Black Friday. Otherwise you're likely to exert more effort and pay more for the item - if you even find it.
Again, this is Black Friday. Is it even possible that prices could be lower at any other time of the year? Well, consumer surveys have indicated that prices may indeed be lower at other times of the year. But that bustling crowd around you is all the proof you need that this is the best shopping opportunity of the year - if not decade.
Alternative: Review the regular prices of sale items before you visit the store. Not every Black Friday "deal" represents a deep discount.
As the first rays of sunshine peak over the horizon, other, weaker shoppers may concede that their judgment has been seriously eroded by six hours of frenzied buying and head home. That's when you strike, scooping up the overlooked deals that their "better judgment" prevented them from buying.
Alternative: Pick up what you budgeted for and head home to rest as soon as you can - lest you spend the rest of your day off unconscious on the couch.
Yes, you may have been able to find some similar deals two days later, all while sitting on the couch in your pajamas. But looking back on your Black Friday - the excitement, the competition, the driving, the endless lines, the crushing credit card bill that mounted throughout the night - it's clear that no other shopping experience could ever quite match it.
Alternative: Remember that Black Friday is the beginning of shopping season - not the end.
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10 steps to a disastrous Black Friday