I thought that it would be a fun way to celebrate Friday (even on shortened weeks, a Friday is well-earned lately!) to provide a lil' guide for Black Friday.
Yep, I said Black Friday.
Dude, it's mid-October!!
But...like...we haven't even had Halloween yet!!! Isn't Black Friday, like, 6 weeks away??
Mhmm. BUT, Thanksgiving is wicked late this year (it even overlaps with Hanukkah for the first time, like, ever! No, that's not true, but it's the first time in a super long time), meaning that Black Friday, too, is super late and pretty darn close to Christmas.
So, if you're hoping to scoop up some good deals and get a great crack at your Christmas list on that Day o' Craziness, I've got some tips to help you make the most of the day -- meaning spending less money, wasting less time, and maintaining some semblance of your sanity.
It's kind of funny because we may not even keep our Black Friday tradition this year. My sister and I have been doing it since...well, at least 6 years, I think, but it might go back even further (with every gray hair that shows itself, my memory wanes a bit more). We've had every type of experience you can imagine, sans the violence (although there has been some national news-making violence at nearby stores while we were at a nice, safe department store...those wackos). Now, with a couple of cuties (not our husbands, though we lucked out in that department) at home, we want to be sure it's worth our while to get up at 3, or 4, or 5 to fight the crowds. It looks 50/50 right now, depending on how our lists stack up.
Anyhoo, we still have plenty of knowledge to pass on, so here's a list to get you ready; the name of the game is PREPARE YOURSELF!:
- Know your ads! We've had years (last year was one of them) that we didn't even peak at the ads until Thanksgiving evening. Not saying that's stupid...but it's not the smart thing to do. ;-) Sign up for email updates to see when the ads are leaking (hint: they're already starting! I got the MACY*S one today...and, if you're brave enough, the Walmart one is available, too.), and I even downloaded the free app to my phone from blackfriday.com (there are plenty of reliable sites like this one, too). Compare prices in advance!
- Keep a list! Santa does it; you should, too. Yes, you should have a list of everyone you need to buy for and what to get them, but this is a different list. I tend to set it up by store, then item (sometimes in parenthesis I'll jot down who it's for...as you can see, I love a good parenthetical notation ;-)) WITH BRAND NAME, COLOR, SIZE, AND HOW MUCH IT COSTS. The last thing you want to do is grab the wrong brand name and end up paying $10 more for a shirt (this doesn't sound like much, but this is the meaning of BF -- the difference between paying $27 for a dress shirt and $17 -- and don't get me started on $9 jeans!!!). You will NOT have time at the check-out to run back and grab what you meant to get. Plus, that line of folks behind you will definitely be shooting you the Grinch-eye. Oh, and keep a polite-but-firm eye on the cash register as things get rung-up. Know thy sale item, know thy price.
- Know your stores! Keep in mind what your favorite stores/products are. If you don't usually shop at a store, it's cool to check out their ads in advance, but generally if you don't like their products (sorry, Sears!), it's not worth your time and energy to go to that store. Our favorites to peruse in advance are JCP, MACY*S and Kohl's, with the occasional Old Navy or Target check. This year, I'll also be staring down the Toys 'R Us ad, mostly for clothes (since we're swimming in toys, and we let Santa get the nice, eco-friendly toys that we enjoy playing with, too ;-)). Then, we pick which ones are the most worth our time and visit them in order of relevance. Some years, JCP is our big haul (they have great sales on sheets and towels, and most of Dave's clothes come from awesome BF sales; I over-buy and put stuff aside for his birthday, which is in February...sneaky wife), while other years Kohl's is.
- Team up! You may notice I don't mention Kmart or Walmart. I've learned from past experience that Kmart is not usually worth our energy (plus, the one we go to tends to be a bit...ghetto....), and if we need something from Walmart or Best Buy, we send in the big guns: Dave's brother-in-law and his young adult sons. I swear, they have nerves of steel and are MADE for the strategy of The Great Electronics Battle. Mary and I stay safely in our comfort zone of slippers and ties and pillows. Even Target and Old Navy are rare (unless there's a huge deal) because folks get cut-throat at these places. Like, crazy.
There is power in numbers, though. If it's worth the trip, (meaning, you can check a lot of items off your list) walk in the door already knowing what you need, let your partner-in-crime jump in the already-long-line and hunt down BOTH of your items. Be sure to bring along a cell phone to check in ("did you want this color blue or that color blue for John's sweater?").
Heck, we even have an annual early-morning phone call with our mom (she's usually up before 5am, anyway) to let her know how our haul's going and whether we were able to pick up the items she gave us to grab her. Oh, yeah, we also help out family with anything they may need. It's the season of helping/loving/sharing, folks!!
And, here are some stress-lifter ideas:
- Remember the reason for the season! I'm not getting all religious-y here, but I'm just reminding you that the reason you're buying gifts is that you want to share them with the people you love the most. This is NOT about "the hunt" (much as those Target ads try to teach you); it's about the giving. And if you can save some cash in the process, hooray for you!
That being said, back when Mary and I used to stand in line before the doors opened (I'll get to that in a minute), we had a habit of drinking cocoa/coffee and singing Christmas carols -- especially if there were flurries in the air. Some folks would start singing along; others gave us the evil eye, but we had fun! It was like we were welcoming in the holiday season in our own, crazy way. I highly suggest doing this, or even making your own tradition -- go in PJs, or ugly holiday sweaters, or wear Santa hats!
- DON'T knock down the doors! Over the years, we learned that if we waited even 15 minutes, we didn't have to wait in a line in the cold, pushing our way in (that's not really our style, anyway); we could leisurely stroll in since the line had already dissipated into the store. The deals WON'T be gone if you wait 15 minutes, or even 30 minutes, or maybe even 1 hour. Oftentimes, we'd go to a pillow display and think they were all gone, only to have a clerk roll out a bin to re-stock. If you can't find something, ask.
Also, a lot of these deals actually extend over the weekend, so stop by that Saturday or Sunday. The crowds will still be there (heck, that's how it'll be up until Christmas Eve; for me, it's not the crowds, but the crazy drivers that drive me NUTS), but a little less exuberant/rude, and you still might get some good deals.
- Stay home! Yes, I said that. We may do it this year; who knows? Some of these deals are available online. Heck, some deals are available at midnight (or 8pm on Thanksgiving...but I'm not a fan of that) online, so find out if it'll be worth NOT fighting over a TV and try to grab it online. Oh, and a lot of these deals extend for weeks, so keep checking back over the coming weeks to see if their stock is replenished.
- Know the store's hours and procedures! Save yourself a headache. Some stores are opening up earlier and earlier, so the "doorbuster" deals may not be worth it if you show up at 5am only to realize folks scooped them up between 8pm and 12am. Also, some stores hand out vouchers to the first 50 people (or some number like that), so even if you show up at 5, the people who have been in line since their last bite of turkey the day before claim dibs on the item. This is most common at electronics stores like Best Buy (and sometimes at Walmart).
So, there you have it! Some ideas for those of us who are brave enough to venture out on Black Friday.
What about you? Have you ever done Black Friday? Any tips to add? Or do you have a post-Thanksgiving tradition (whether shopping or movie-going or cooking or decorating)? Do tell!
Side note: We do try to buy a good percentage (between 25 and 50%) of our gifts from local producers/sellers.
Image is a royalty-free image from Getty Images.