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Black Friday tips and tricks from a pro

When I mention shopping on Black Friday, most people cringe in horror, but the idea makes me giddy.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Black Friday!

I first went in 2001 with my aunts and grandma, just to see what it was about. Let me tell you, my grandma is hard core. No one is allowed to touch her Black Friday ads unless you sit next to her, and you can't even think about leaving the table with them.

After my first trip, I was hooked. It has now become a yearly tradition for me and my sister. We've been able to recruit others to join us, some vowing to never come back and others sticking around. We spend Thanksgiving Day pouring over the Black Friday ads and making our lists.

Over the years, we've scored some great deals, gift cards and freebies. In 2009, we were the lucky recipients of a new Lego Rock Band game from Old Navy, plus limited-edition reusable Target shopping bags.

The horror stories are few and far between. I find shoppers on Black Friday are much nicer than in the weeks leading up to Christmas. They'll save your spot while you run back for the item you forgot — though they might also ask you to pick up something for them.

Here are a few helpful hints to prepare for the fun and excitement that is Black Friday. Happy shopping!

• Plan. Study the ads and note sale hours and dates. Search early online, but be aware those ads aren't always the final version. Target tends to have a two-day sale, so unless you're looking for electronics, you might save that store for the afternoon. Some stores have early bird or afternoon specials.

• Bring an organized list, plus the store ad to save time and headaches. You don't want to discover at the register that you didn't get the right version or size.

• If a store gives you a map (and the good ones will), be sure to study while you wait in line. What else do you have to do?

• Start in electronics, as those tend to be most in demand and least in supply.

• Stick to your list and be smart about impulse purchases. It's only $2.99, but do you really need an electronic tie sorter?

• Be courteous. No running or pushing, or you'll be on the news — and not in a good way. And don't try to hedge in line and think no one will notice. The big stores tend to have security and police present to make sure things don't get out of hand.

• Bring coffee and a jacket or blanket to keep warm outside. Books and media players are handy for entertainment. I've never brought my own chair, but other people always have them.

• Brace for disappointment. Often, stores will restrict quantities for each item, or workers will hand out vouchers to the first people in line for big electronics. Sometimes you know before the store even opens if you're lucky.

• Bring a buddy or two. You can divide and conquer the store, or a friend can hold a place in the checkout line while you get last-minute items. At the very least, you have someone to keep you entertained.

• Be sure to head out early. Major electronic and toy stores have lines that begin the night before. The early shopper definitely gets the good deals.

— Melissa Hamilton of Clearwater is a business analyst, mother of two and Black Friday veteran. For more shopping deals, fashion commentary and snark, visit tbt*'s Deal Divas blog at tampabay.com/blogs/divas.

Put your kids in a zoo

While you go out stalking sales on Black Friday, your kids could be stalking lions and hippos at the Busch Gardens Black Friday camp. There are sessions from 6 a.m. to noon with breakfast and snack provided or noon to 6 p.m. with lunch and snack provided for $30 per session or $55 for both sessions. To register your child (ages 5-11), call (813) 987-5087

Black Friday tips and tricks from a pro 11/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 18, 2010 3:59pm]

    

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