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By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 11/20/2007 10:32:21 AM ET 2007-11-20T15:32:21

“Black Friday.” Doesn’t that sound awfully ... dark?

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It turns out it’s all a matter of perspective. For some, the shopping frenzy that ensues on the Friday after Thanksgiving is an obnoxious and distasteful display of unrestrained consumption. For others, the day represents a fun annual tradition of bonding with like-minded friends and family members who love to hunt for bargains.

Whichever scenario applies in your world, the following tips will help you make it through the day more or less unscathed this year.

1. It’s OK to do nothing. In fact, if you steer clear of stores entirely that day, you’ll have plenty of company. Many people shun most forms of shopping for the entire weekend, either because they can’t stand crowds or they’re turned off by the notion of people shopping from pre-dawn ‘til after dark. Each year on the day after Thanksgiving, the funny and incisive Adbusters Magazine sponsors “Buy Nothing Day” in countries all over the globe. The 24-hour event is billed as a “festival of restraint.”

2. You can always shop on the Internet. Stop and think of the myriad benefits: no crowds,  no lines, no need to change out of your pajamas. What’s more, many online retailers offer sales and special discounts on the Friday after Thanksgiving — and sometimes those sales kick in at midnight on the night before Black Friday. It might be a weird way to spend the wee hours of the morning, but you’re guaranteed not to get scratched, kicked or trampled.

3. If you must brave the crowds, be prepared. You’re really going to head out there? Then this isn’t a time for messing around. This is a time for strategizing! Get the Thanksgiving Day newspaper in your area and flip through all of those ads. You might be surprised to notice how many of the ads are time-sensitive — as in, deeper discounts may apply if you shop before 10 or 11 a.m. or noon. Other ads will let you know what time certain stores plan to open and close.

4. Be a savvy shopper. You can rise above the Friday fray by doing some homework in advance about products that really interest you this year — especially if they’re big-ticket items. Visit sites such as ConsumerReports.org — (if you don’t have a subscription, get one ... it’s worth it!) —and About.com to gather intelligence and read product reviews before the big day.

5. Distinguish between deals and duds. To ensure you’ll be getting an actual bargain rather than a ho-hum or too-high price, visit Web sites such as BizRate.com, Shopping.com and PriceGrabber.com as you’re doing your research to get a sense of how much items should cost

6.  Decide how early you’ll arrive, and plan accordingly. Can’t resist the urge to stand in line in the dark before your favorite store opens at 5 a.m.? Then remember to dress comfortably — warmly enough for the time you’ll spend outside, but with layers so you won’t collapse from heat stroke inside stuffy, crowded stores. Comfortable shoes are a must, and so are portable snacks and drinks. They’ll prevent you from having to endure low blood-sugar levels, dehydration or congested food courts.

7. Make friends with people in line. A spirit of camaraderie will not only make the long, dark wait more pleasant — it also could prove to be a godsend if you must give up your place in line so you can run to the bathroom. You could offer to hold a place in line for your newfound friend in return. Here’s a potential conversation starter for you: The term Black Friday comes from the idea that retailers spend most of the year in “red ink.” The day after Thanksgiving helps them begin to get back “in the black.”

8.  Pick the right shopping buddy. Unless you want to bicker and feel frustrated all day, think hard about who would get into the spirit of a shopping day like this. As Yuri Baranovsky wrote in a hilarious survival guide to Black Friday, “Taking your lover is like taking a walking argument — just don’t.” It also might be wise to leave your kids at home.

9.  Shop with a list. You’ll feel more in control and focused if you head out with a list of the people you’re shopping for, the gift ideas you have in mind for them and the target price range for each item. Otherwise, a shopping day like this one could be so overwhelming that you might fail to accomplish as much as you had hoped.

10.  Bring the ads you found. If you saw an advertised special that really impressed you, bring the ad along to avoid any disputes over how much an item is supposed to cost on Friday. Having the ad also could come in handy at stores promising “lowest-price” guarantees — especially if you find lower prices elsewhere.

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