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Black Friday is no time for winging it

Finally, the tanking economy's silver lining: Black Friday. This most hallowed of shoppers' holidays will be bursting with bargains and, even better, there will be fewer hands fighting over the discounts in the predawn scramble.

Tight-fisted consumers are not only forcing retailers to slash prices, but to resort to kooky gimmicks to make a buck.

Prime Outlets Ellenton, which remains the Tampa Bay area's earliest riser with its midnight opening, is promising gift bags to — get this — early shoppers who don't want to waste time getting dressed and arrive in pajamas. Pier 1 Imports wants shoppers so badly it's holding a weeklong sweepstakes. The prize? A new car!

On Friday, you'll need to do more than just get up early to really score. Stores stagger their openings, and many deals expire by 11 a.m. Fortune will favor the prepared mind.

With a little organization, even those of us with the leanest of budgets can land some great deals and keep our dignity in regular clothing while we do it.

Be strategic. Know what you want and where you're going before you leave. A list will keep you from ending your shopping day with a big helping of buyer's remorse, or worse, with empty bags because all the good stuff was already gone. Whether it's a flat screen TV for your hubby or an MP3 player for that hard-to-buy-for teen you seek, make a list of stores that sell the item and do some research to make sure Friday's markdowns are really a good deal. Pore over the newspaper ads and inserts. Many stores, like Target (www.target.com) and Best Buy (www.bestbuy.com) have their sale ads online, too. Once you've determined your need and which stores have the best prices — stick to the plan. Don't buy the $9.99 Wii bowling game at Best Buy just because it's a steal. Then, after you've stuck to the plan, reward yourself. We suggest satin pajamas from Victoria's Secret, where most $60 sets are $10 off.

Bring snacks. People tend to overspend when they're tired and hungry and just want to get their shopping over with so they can get to lunch. The food court will be packed, so bring water, nuts, granola bars and fruit to keep you energized instead of a quick, and short-lasting, hit from a Coke.

Be on guard. Salespeople are sure to be more aggressive this year when commissions are so scarce. So, don't be surprised if you enter a department store and get accosted by at least two dozen perfume sprayers (and that's before you even reach the escalator). Also, be alert in parking lots, as authorities expect an even higher-than-usual uptick in holiday crime because of the economy.

Always ask: Would I buy this if it weren't on sale? The $1 panties and bra bin may seem like a dream-find at first. But after a couple of washes you'll understand why they were so cheap. Remember, items marked down extremely low are that way for a reason — and it's often poor quality. Instead of acting on these impulse buys, look for good name brands and quality items on sale. Those are the better deals in the long run.

Don't forget the little guy. Sure, big box retailers and department stores will try to blow your socks off Friday, but don't forget about discount retailers and independent stores. It could be as simple as making a call to your favorite boutique to find out what deals it will have. Shannon West, owner of St. Petersburg vintage store Sequins and Denim, is opening at 8 a.m. Friday, two hours earlier. Shoppers can save up to 75 percent on certain items at the 441 Central Ave. store.

"We have some great vintage pieces that make great gifts, jewelry, and some new handbags," West said.

Old reliable discounters like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls also are good bets since the spiraling economy caused many high-end department stores to cancel shipments. As a result, vendors called the discount powerhouses and offered merchandise on the cheap.

"We've been able to pick up a lot of those orders," said Laura McDowell, spokeswoman for T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. "So a lot of things you'd find at high-end toy stores, you're going to find at our stores for much less."

Premium denim jeans, gaming systems, and popular toys like Hannah Montana and Barbie will be in stock this year, McDowell said. T.J. Maxx and Marshalls both open at 8 a.m. Friday.

Perhaps the biggest tip to keep in mind this year: Relax. Black Friday is just the beginning of holiday shopping. So-named because it is typically the day retailers go from being in the red to being profitable (in the black), this year experts expect deep discounts to be around all season long.

"What we once were able to afford we are definitely cutting back on," said debt management expert Clarky Davis, also a national television personality known as the Debt Diva.

"So, you're going to see people doing things like spreading out their shopping instead of doing it in one fell swoop and calling stores to find the best deals."

Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report. Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at nhutcheson@sptimes.com or (727)893-8828.

Midnight 3 a.m. 4 a.m. 5 a.m. 6 a.m. 8 a.m.
Prime Outlets Ellenton Best Buy JCPenney Wal-Mart, most malls Target International Plaza
Snag a 4.2 oz. Large Polo Black cologne for $38.92 at Designer Fragrance and Cosmetic Co. (regularly $55.60) Begins handing out door-buster tickets for limited quantity items, like a $379.99 Toshiba laptop. Stores open at 5 a.m. Has a ½-carat diamond necklace or bracelet, $79.99. 50-inch Samsung plasma television at Wal-Mart, $798. Print a Macy's coupon (macys.com) before you go for $10 off a $25 purchase good until 1 p.m. Features an Aiptek red handheld digital camcorder, $69. The latest bloomer offers free gift wrapping services starting today.


Read the Deal Divas blog at blogs.tampabay.com/deals.

Black Friday is no time for winging it 11/26/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 28, 2008 7:19pm]
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