Saturday, November 17, 2007

Preparing for Black Friday

Only in the past few years have I become a Black Friday shopper, hitting the stores to find the best deals on the day after Thanksgiving. There really is an art and a science to being successful at shopping and saving on this day. Read Donna Montaldo's Top 10 Tips to Getting the Best Bargains on "Black Friday" article on for some good ideas to get started.

Preparation is key to survive this shopping madness. Know what people to whom you will give gifts want. Black Friday (particularly during the Early Bird special time period...usually before 10 AM or 11 AM) is no time for window shopping! There are huge crowds of people, frantically trying to get the deals for which they came. It's a crazy scene, and you have to be mentally and physically prepared to navigate through it. You will also have to enlist the help of friends and family (willing and able adults and/or teens) if you are after several hot bargains, even if they are all in one store. More than likely, it won't be possible for one person to do it all. You (and your helpers) will also have to get to the store early (before it opens, which is well before the sun rises). The best deals can sell out within minutes or an hour of the store opening. It's probably going to be cold, waiting outside the store in the dark of the wee hours of the morning, so dress appropriately.

Last year I had my first real experience with serious Black Friday shopping. In the past I had gone to get some bargains, but I knew that if I missed them, it wasn't going to be a big deal. However, last year my brother (and sister-in-law), sister, and I decided that we were going to get Mom and Dad a new computer. Barry found a good one for a great price during Circuit City's Early Bird sale on Black Friday. Actually getting it required the greatest form of sibling team work! We wanted to give this gift without spending a ton.

Barry was at his in-laws in North Carolina. He wasn't too keen on the idea of crawling out of bed before dawn to go to Circuit City, but I convinced him that this was what we needed to do. (Later, he agreed that this was the best strategy. He didn't realize it would be so intense.) Meanwhile, in Northern Virginia, Angie and I split up, staking out two different Circuit City stores in the area. We were all connected by cell phone and reported in to each other once we were in line, as well as our progress once we were in our respective stores.

Unfortunately, poor Angie never even made it into the store. (That's how crazy it was.) She nearly froze too. Barry got into the store, but he was dealing with a new seasonal sales associate who ended up sending him in the wrong direction inside the store, throwing a big road block in between him and the computer we wanted. They sold out before he could get it. I got lucky and probably by chance got into the right line inside the store. When I was actually paying for the computer, I called Barry and Angie to say that I got it. Angie headed home to thaw. I had a bit of a panic moment when it appeared though I had paid for the CPU and monitor, they might not have the CPU in stock because of confusion between the sales associates and stockroom. I called Barry back, and even though he thought it was too late, being a great sport (and having in an interest in getting this deal), he attempted to get back in the computer line. In the end, I got the whole package. Barry also managed to pick up a few smaller items that were deeply discounted in between the time I said I got the computer and when I called back to say I wasn't so sure. (There would have been no way possible for me to manage doing both.)

Mom and Dad got a great new computer. Barry, Tammy, Angie, and I were done our Christmas shopping for them within an hour, getting what we wanted to give them. And we didn't blow our budget doing it -- we saved about $400! Time well spent.

One final tip: if you know you are going to be seeking a hot item, go to the stores this week where you think you might be getting it. Ask a manager or knowledgeable sales associate how the lines will be handled on Black Friday during the Early Bird special time period. If you know in advance where to go, you probably won't run into the situation of being sent in the wrong direction that Barry did at Circuit City last year. For example, if they have separate lines for big screen TVs and computers, you'll want and need to know that before Friday morning.

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