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Mile-long lineups at dawn. The rustle of sales flyers. The steam of a thousand cups of coffee. Employees behind a locked glass door, rushing to get last-minute stock out. Suddenly, the doors open, and you're left to defend yourself against an army of shoppers, all trying to get the best deal. How do you handle the pressure? Do you push and shove your way through the crowds, just like everyone else? Do you try to sneak under people, grabbing the items they can't see? How can you possibly make it out of this madness alive?
Relax. If you've ever worked a Black Friday in retail (and trust me, I have), you see things that you normally wouldn't notice about these sales. There are methods to getting the most out of the year's best deals without breaking your wallet - or your back!
Come prepared. No, I don't mean with a can of mace, or your best pair of boxing gloves. Bring a list of items that you want to buy. There are many people that head out at the crack of dawn, only to browse the shelves for good deals. These are the people that will normally miss out on the most popular items, because they didn't realize what the special was for them! A list is very important here. Do you trust your memory at 5am? Neither do I, don't worry. Also, avoid bringing a circled copy of the store's flyer, because this is very likely to get snatched right out of your cart, and then we're back to trusting our early morning memories! Write an actual list of items you're looking for, or if you're feeling especially crafty, cut them out and glue them to a piece of paper for your own reference.
Don't be distracted by shiny things. There will be a lot of items on sale, and some of those deals will be almost irresistible, but you don't want to buy something you have no use for. This is where the list I mentioned above comes in handy again. Have an idea of what you're buying, and who it is for. This will limit your temptation when you see items that are incredibly cheap, but perhaps not as useful as what you originally planned to purchase.
Have a back-up plan. There are literally hundreds of people at some Black Friday sales, so that makes it much more difficult for you to guarantee you'll get the item you've been waiting for. If you're going to the sales to get a head-start on your Christmas shopping, make sure to have a few ideas in mind in case you aren't able to get the gift you were originally planning to get them. Also know if there are other stores that might have a similar deal on that item - this makes it more likely you'll find what you're looking for.
Be polite, but firm. With everyone grabbing for items and running around like headless chickens looking for what they want to buy, it's very likely you'll be bumped into, or have something snatched out from under you. Make sure that you are polite (just like you would be on any ordinary day) and try to avoid doing these things back. If someone grabs something out from your hand, or runs over your foot, don't be rude - say "excuse me" and move on. Don't be afraid to speak up, though - if someone is in your way, they might just not know it! Kindly ask them if they wouldn't mind moving over so you can get through, and they shouldn't have a problem doing just that.
Have your wallet handy. Not many things are more annoying on such a busy day than someone digging through their purse or pockets trying to find their money. Are you paying with cash? Have an idea of what your total should be, and start getting it ready while the cashier's ringing your items up. Don't dig through your change purse and start scrounging for pennies, if you can help it. Remember that you're one of millions shopping, and if you were stuck waiting in line behind someone who wasn't prepared to pay, you'd be frustrated too.
Know the store's policies. Not sure about someone's size, or if the toy you bought was the right one? Get a gift receipt, if you can. Know what the rules are for returning items, and make sure to follow them, in case the recipient needs to return the item. On top of this, know the rules of the sales themselves. Does the store offer rainchecks on sale merchandise? Are there substitutions on items similar to ones that have sold out? Is there a limit on sale items? Can you use coupons with the sale items? If you don't know the answer to these, check with customer service before you try to pay for your items.
Have fun! Keep in mind that everyone out shopping on this day is walking through the same frenzied store that you are. Black Friday is the unofficial start of the holiday season, and who wants to be grumpy during the holidays? Try to enjoy the life and excitement around you, and make the most of the day. Make it an event - start early in the morning at the stores you want the most important items from, stop for lunch mid-way through the day, and then head to see what's left of the other items you've seen. Take your friends, your significant other, your kids, or just yourself, and enjoy being out in the hustle and bustle. Don't make it just another rushed day of shopping - really have fun doing it, and you can make it a day to remember.
Guest contributor Angela Lindsey has written various things for various places around the internet over the years and posts at her own blog, Angelamaphone.net.