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How to Survive Black Friday's Shopping Mosh Pit

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On the edge of your seat in anticipation of Black Friday? First, let's set the stage: Last year, 79 million Americans swarmed stores the day after Thanksgiving -- half of them poised to fill their carts with cheer by 5 a.m., according to the National Retail Federation. Epic, right?

Well, bargain shoppers and retail stock pickers, hold on to your stocking hats: This year, the NRF says 138 million shoppers will venture out at some point over the long Thanksgiving weekend for a shopping excursion. Another survey commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that this Friday morning, half of U.S. adults who plan to shop for the holidays will wake up before sunrise, warm up the car, and go forth to conquer shopping centers and strip malls in the hopes of knocking off at least half of their holiday shopping list.

In fact, the NRF predicts that this season we'll shell out 2.3% more than we did last year for holiday cheer. In dollars-and-cents terms, that's $447 billion. In more personal dollars-and-cents terms, that's just shy of the $700 that average Americans say they're going to spend.

Feeling good about your finances, are you?

Ready? Set! Ready to spend!
Professional bargain hunters already have a detailed shock-and-awe strategy in place. They've pre-scouted the bargains on the Black Friday sales circular sites, mapped their plan of attack, loaded price comparison and bar-code-scanning apps on their iPhones, and bookmarked every coupon code/rebate/secret sales site they can.

This article is not for them. It's for those who've been busy power-cleaning the guest room for out-of-town visitors and transferring prepackaged appetizers into plastic storage bins to make it look like you've been cooking for days.

If on Friday morning, the thought of spending any more time with your extended family sounds worse than spending hours in a shopping mosh pit with strangers, then here are a few sanity- and money-saving Black Friday shopping tips:

Don't overestimate your deal-getting stamina: Concentrate your cost-cutting strategies on high-dollar purchases first. No need to drive around all day to find the best price on wrapping paper and snow globe stocking-stuffers (unless you're really sick of rewashing the dishes just to avoid the in-laws). Nail the savings equation right out of the gate, before you run out of steam.

Heed the "bird in hand" rule: Are you really going to remember to send in that rebate? Not likely. So don't bother driving to another store and fighting another crowd to get an item just for the rebate discount. Just buy the one in front of you and get on with it.

Not shopping for electronics? Sleep in: The real Black Friday bargains are electronics -- TVs, e-readers, cameras, phones. Friday (and the weekend through Cyber Monday) are when you will see the best prices of the season (and quantities can be limited, so wake up early if one of those items is on your list). Once you've snagged that flat-screen TV for a song, go home and take a nap. You know you want to. That's because most of the other items on your list (non-electronic items that cost less than $100) are still going to be on sale -- and will probably get marked down even more as the shopping season progresses.

Stay in your PJs and smugly snag sale items: Online-only retailers such as Amazon.com and Overstock.com make it easy for shoppers to snag sale items while still in their bunny slippers. Same goes for bricks-and-mortar stores: It pays to check out their online shops for deals -- and in fact, because quantities aren't as limited as they are in stores, your chances of actually getting a coveted item are better.

Excuse yourself from the table and shop on Thursday: A lot of online retailers have already posted their Black Friday sale items. And big box stores will start posting sale items on Thursday (if they haven't already). So excuse yourself from the dinner table and get your holiday shopping out of the way before dessert is served.

If you must go shopping, bring cash: Yes, credit cards are convenient -- they offer purchase protection, rewards, an easy way to track your spending (albeit after the damage is done), and they take up less wallet room. But they're also too convenient. Studies show that people spend more -- and more impulsively -- when no actual cash changes hands. Plastic makes us devalue what we spend because we don't experience the immediate loss of buying power that we do when we pay with cash. (Why do you think they use poker chips and not actual currency in Vegas?) If you tend to overspend, leaving your credit cards at home during the holidays might be the best Black Friday savings strategy of all.

For the past decade Fool.com writer Dayana Yochim has been training for the bargain shopping team for the Olympics in 2012. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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