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Five Tips for the Black Friday Shopper

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… er... starting next Friday.

It’s a tradition: in exactly one week from today, eager shoppers will rise before the sun and head out in droves to the nearest commercial outlet, forming unending store-wrapping lines, or in some instances even camping out, to grab the supposed best deals of the season.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is on November 25 this year -- exactly one month before Christmas -- and for most it marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. (Except for me. I start my shopping on December 22, to maximize my “Christmas cheer.")

But since it is a time-honored tradition -- and since I have a mother and sister who religiously stalk out every year in search of the coveted deal -- I have compiled a list of tips for the world-weary bargain-hunter to live by, particularly on that Shopping Day of Days.

Check ‘em out, and if you’re still bold enough to step out next Friday, you’re a braver person than I:

1. Do your research! As a former retail employee, I know what Black Friday means for the stores: put a few items on a really great sale, and shave a few bucks off everything else -- but make those small-ticket items look like an amazing deal.

Check the circulars and the online ads. Most places will release their Black Friday ad two days before the sale (the day before Thanksgiving). Compare to online retailers and other stores to make sure that sale is worth getting up at 3 a.m. and waiting in a 250-person line.

2. Avoid the gimmicks! Last year, someone I know -- he (or she) knows who they are -- waited in line for more than two hours at Boscov’s for a free Black Friday gift. Sure, they had to spend $100 to get it. And sure, they didn’t really need it. And maybe they never used it.

But it was free!

Don’t fall for tricks like free gifts and discounts, unless they’re actually worthwhile. Make your list, know what you’re after, and hone in on it like a laser-guided missile.

3. Bring the ads with you! This is another one of those retail-experience-guru tips. Some places offer the “lowest price guarantee,” which means that if their competitor is offering something for less, they’ll match it.

BUT -- of course there’s a but -- you have to be able to produce proof. It’s not enough that the other store is right next door. You’d better be able to whip out that circular and say, “Look! See it?! Now give me that $500 flat-screen.”

4. Clip the coupons! This one could also be titled, "Know the Store’s Policies!" You would think that on a day like Black Friday, stores would be stupid to let you add a coupon discount on top of their already-crazy savings.

But some of them still do, particularly department stores. If you’ve been waiting to use that 20-percent-off-a-purchase-of-50-dollars-or-more coupon, now’s the time! But find out ahead of time if you can use it -- you don’t want to look like an amateur, do you?

5. Shop online first! I already mentioned using the ‘net to compare prices, but you’d be surprised at how much shopping you can do on Amazon and other online retailers first. Some of these places already offer merchandise at sale prices that are lower than the stores… so figure out ahead of time if the deal is really worth the perilous trek!

Some major retailers will even “leak” their Black Friday ads a few days early. Search “Black Friday ads” to find them -- there are entire websites devoted to sale ads.

And finally, don’t forget about Cyber Monday, which falls three days after Black Friday. This newer sale tradition is beginning to eclipse its elder cousin. Probably because people don’t have to leave the house and risk being trampled.

Happy bargain-hunting!

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