I did my first Black Friday shopping trip this morning. I hadn't ventured out on the weekend after Thanksgiving since an overwhelmingly bad experience in 1990. Seriously, I avoided shopping on this particular weekend for 20 years. Until today.
It was surprisingly fun, easier than I recall, and much calmer than I remember. Improvements in technology and people-moving are likely partly responsible for my improved shopping experience. People seemed cheerier, but I think delaying until the crowds thinned (just after the workday starts) saved me lots of hassles, bumps, and downright rudeness.
Perhaps part of it was the level of preparation I put into it. I reviewed ALL the sales papers, isolated five stores to hit today and Saturday, and made a careful list on a large index card. I logically grouped the stores, and got to sleep. Planning to hit the stores at 4 am proved to be ambitious, but I did make it by 7:30 am. Unfortunately, I hadn't looked up every store, and my memory of JC Penny's location proved faulty. I had to reassess right at the start, and head to Annapolis for Penny's and Toys R us before returning home to relieve Jon of Twins duty.
I've decided my readership can learn from my mistakes, so here is a primer on planning a big shopping trip to various stores, whether it's Black Friday or not.
1. Gather your papers, review them, isolate up to 5 stores you want to hit. Plan on an hour or so per store. Circle items you really want so you can flip to the correct page quickly when asking for help. (I ask for help constantly. Asking three clerks to help me find the Inflatable Bongo Ball finally got me someone willing to go into the back for two.)
2. Make a careful list on an index card, with the store name, wish list, prices, coupons (I use an "o" inside a "C" to note if I have a coupon for that item), and notations for any special deals (Ex: buy $100, get a $10 gift card). For Black Friday, I also put each store's "doorbuster" hours down.
2a. Don't focus only on gift items! Think about other needs. In addition to stocking stuffers and toys, I bought men's dress pants (buy 5, use coupons over 2 transactions to get one "free" at JCPenny's*), and simple, thermal drapery panels for our bald windows ($24 ea., JCP's).
3. Prioritize your top store, then group it with other stores on your list that are nearby.
Search online to locate your best stores. Always check the store's website to verify address; GPSs can often be wrong.
4. Prepare a shopping kit with your sales papers, any coupons you might use, a drink or two, some snacks, sunshades, eyeglasses, kleenex, other personal needs, and a shiv to protect yourself as you struggle to your car at 3 am.
5. Get Tip money for people who load your car. It's good karma.
6. Stick to the list. Of course, I did buy some items not on my list, but only as substitutions for items that were sold out, and for small items (Melissa & Doug puzzles) I have been eyeing for a while.
What to buy? Well, for the twins, whom I call "twoddlers," I bought Toys for 18 months (which they will be at Christmas) to 3 years. Yup, 3 YEARS and up, depending on the toy. Items with soft edges, which could be used for years, or which could be put into play with supervision (such as wooden blocks the size they've already played with, plastic furniture) topped my list.
I plan way ahead, and even at Christmas I keep in mind that they will be 2 years old in July, and plan to sock away certain goodies for then. I'm trying out a plan where I buy toys at the advertised "Lowest Prices of the year!" I'll hang onto the sales papers, and when their birthday comes around you better believe I'll be checking those prices! Generally I planned to save at least 50% off the MSRP. For things I really wanted to get (like the Melissa & Doug puzzles), I settled for a 25% savings, 10% more than the discount offered on the M&D website. I also found decent prices on items we regularly use (diaper pail refills at 25% off with coupons).
Note, too, that I buy toys of a type they already like (blocks) and which are multi-use. Blocks will last for years of creative play, and grow with them as their perspective and imagination grow.
Here's a sample TRU shopping list from today
Misc: Diaper Genie Refill 3-pack $16 -$1 coupon (norm. $20/3)
18mos & up:
Stacking cups: $3.99 (normally $12)
Neat Cottage Playhouse $99 (norm. $170)
2yo and up: (Their B-day is in 6 mos)
Imaginarium Building Blocks $20 (norm. $42)
Six plastic, mini yard tools $0.98 ea. on clearance, (norm. $7 - $23 for set of three)
Two Kid Galaxy Go-Go Soft, remote-controlled cars $15 ea. (norm. $28)
Melissa & Doug wooden letter puzzles $10 ea. (norm. $13)
3yo and up:
Castle building blocks $19 (norm. $38)
51-inch Inflatable Bongo Ball $25 (norm. $50)
Crayola Jumbo Banks $5 ea (norm. $8) for decor.
I think we did well, though I did have some sticker shock. It seems that I spend more per trip, but I make fewer shopping trips and hopefully, by saving a high percentage we'll lower our annual outlay for these types of goods.
Black Friday, Phase 2 tomorrow!
*The Dockers and Levi's were on sale for $38 a pair (norm. $55 - $70), and Jon needed several replacements for his fraying pants. And he's particular to Dockers. First transaction: $38*3=$114 minus $20 coupon allowed after 2 pm ($94). Second Transaction: $38*2=$76 minus $15 coupon ($61). Total cost for 5 pants = $155 + tx., or like getting one free ($35 off). It was actually cheaper to wait until the afternoon special to buy those pants, because they were not "doorbusters", but a weekend deal.