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A scientific way to approach Black Friday

Shoppers line up for Black Friday deals. KIRO Radio's Kim Shepard says the day has become as much about bonding with her family as it is a search for bargains. (AP Photo/File)

If you’ve never braved the early hours and chaotic crowds that are Black Friday, you might not know that the reality is much more about family than frugality. At least, it is in my home.

For the past few years, the Friday after Thanksgiving has started at an unreasonably early hour for me, my mom, my niece, and my mother-in-law. At first, it was my idea to go after those early Christmas bargains. But, after the first trek into the cold, dark retail jungle, it’s become something we all plan together and look forward to every year.

Of course, in the end, getting the biggest bang for your buck is definitely an important part of the ritual. I am nothing close to an expert on Black Friday, but I have picked up a few tips over the years that make the bargain hunt a bit more successful.

1: Plan ahead. Most of the Black Friday store ads come out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. If you missed them, they are all posted online as well. A great site that I used this year is

2: Scan the ads. Since I am a toy fanatic, I typically start with Target, Walmart, Toys R Us and Kohl’s. If there are things on my wish list I don’t find at these places, I then branch out to other more item-specific retailers like Best Buy, JC Penney, and Michael’s.

3: Organize. Make a list of the five or six best bargains from each retailer. I include three columns of information – item name, price/discount, time of sale. Specific item names are important because just Barbie or Lego isn’t enough information to correctly compare discounts. Because some stores (like Old Navy and JC Penney) offer several different sales times. One item might be on sale at midnight while another might not go on sale until 4 a.m.

4: Strategize. Instead of simply putting your stores in order of importance, try putting specific times at which you would like to be at each outlet, especially on Black Friday when opening times and sales times can vary so much. This can make or break the success of your shopping trip.

5: Think outside the box. Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabrics will be open for daytime hours this year with their Black Friday bargains starting in the morning Thursday. They not only offer great deals for the crafter in your family, but they have a ton of Crayola products, art items, and crafting kits for kids of all ages. They also offer discount coupons online, by mail and in their newspaper ads. I received one this week for 30 percent off my entire purchase, even sale items.

6: Price match. You’ve probably seen the Walmart ads about their price matching policy. If you bring in a printed ad from another store, they will match the price on that item. This policy includes Black Friday sales! Not only can you get more of your shopping done in just one place, but you may find you are able to buy that coveted toy that is already sold out elsewhere. It worked for me with my son’s big Lego set last year. One thing to remember, though, is they will only match specific prices on the exact same item. They do not honor percentage discounts.

Yes, you will wait in line (possibly for hours) and your feet will feel like you’ve carried 300 pounds across miles of hard pavement (which actually might not be far from the truth,) but you will also get to spend hours with the people who were tough enough to join you on the journey.

You will not only come home with a trunk full of toys to give away, but with stories and memories you can keep for a lifetime. Isn’t that, after all, what the holidays are really all about?

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