How I shop on Black Friday

Tonight I was getting my hair cut, and the stylist asked if I shop on Black Friday. I said I have in the past, but probably will sit this year out. She asked what it’s like, especially in light of the trampling incidents in recent years. I said it can get kind of crazy, but it’s bearable with a plan. Here’s how I shop on Black Friday.

Some years I just shop online. It worked for me a decade ago and it still works today. You also want to be careful because some Black Friday deals, especially electronics, aren’t as great as they seem.

But what if the deal or deals you want aren’t available online? You’ll have to go in person. So here’s how to do that.

First of all, if you’re not in line an hour before opening, you won’t get much. Even an hour before, you aren’t likely to be way up front. I’ve been at Office Max at 5 AM and been in line wrapped back to the side of the store. Yeah, Office Max. It’s worse at a bigger store like Target.

So you need to make a list of the things you want, and don’t assume you’ll get everything you want from any particular store. One year I bought a color laser printer, and didn’t get it at the first store, though I got it later in the morning. The price wasn’t as good at the second store, but I still got a good deal on it.

So know what’s available where, get what you can, check out, and get moving to the next store. There’s a sortable Black Friday spreadsheet floating around (a Google search will turn it up) that will help with planning. The best stuff is gone in a matter of minutes–probably 10 minutes or less–so you really do want to just get in, get your must-haves, then get to the register. It wouldn’t hurt to visit the store on Tuesday or Wednesday, if you can, to reacquaint yourself with where your must-haves are likely to be. The insanely good deals are generally limited to a quantity of about 20, so the first 20 or so people to find it are the ones who get it.

Plan on getting up at a horrid hour. Dress for cold weather, get something hot to drink on the way, and get in line. You’ll be in the store for about 15 minutes, then you’ll be driving to the next store on your list–it should be someplace that isn’t open yet–and you’ll stand in line there too. You probably won’t get everything you want, but you’ll be able to get some of it, and save a few hundred dollars. I’m not exaggerating on that.

And sometimes you do get lucky. A few years ago, Ace Hardware had a Makita drill as a $50 doorbuster. I was all over that. So I headed out, drove to what my relatives said was an Ace, and… it was a True Value. And not open, either. I didn’t have a GPS at the time, so I returned, dejected. Later that morning, my wife and I had to run some errands, and those errands just happened to take us past a couple of Ace locations. The first one didn’t have any left. But the second one had bunches left.

That second store was in an older neighborhood, and it’s been an Ace for as long as I can remember, so we’re talking more than 30 years. So if you have a choice between going to a newer outer-ring suburban commercial district or an older one in an inner-ring suburb or inside the city limits, go for the older areas. They seem likely to get less traffic.

Like I said, I think I’m going to sit this season out. I can’t really think of any big-ticket items I need or want, and seeing this year’s spreadsheet didn’t change my mind. Yes, a $200 42-inch TV and a $200 laptop are both good deals, but we don’t need either of those things. I guess it’s because I’ve stood outside those stores before dawn for so many years in a row that there isn’t much of that kind of thing that I need. Maybe next year.

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