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Tips to Avoid Black Friday Disaster

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Even for the most veteran shoppers, Black Friday can be overwhelming.

With brains still addled by gallons of gravy, brave shoppers rise in the predawn hours and ready themselves for battle. For the savviest have learned that going without a game plan can be disastrous.

Those with no list, no plan and no reinforcements are bound to fail. Those are the people who are tired, frustrated and sitting on a bench at the end of the day.

If you don't want to be one of them, follow these tips for a successful Black Friday.

Not surprisingly, I'd advise you to start preparing now.

In recent years, it has become easier to plan your Black Friday shopping because of the Internet. It is now fairly common for some retailers' Black Friday ads to be leaked online long before Black Friday. That's something that the retailers don't particularly like. But the information is out there.

Check websites such as bfads.net and blackfriday.info to view actual scans of the ads and find out what will be on sale. Also, you should double-check the actual ads in the newspaper. There will be more fliers than those online, retailers could make changes and there are often additional coupons.

Remember that many of the super hot "doorbuster" deals come in limited quantities, and you may have to line up well in advance to score the bargain.

It is not unheard of for people to line up a day or two in advance for a particularly hot deal, so if that's the only reason you'll be headed to the stores, plan accordingly.

In recent years, many retailers such as Best Buy have started a ticket system on Black Friday, handing out tickets to those waiting in line for the hottest deals before the store opens. This avoids scenarios where people are in danger as everyone rushes for the same items all at once. You might want to check with your local store about what the procedure will be on Black Friday.

Once you figure out which stores you want to hit, be sure you sign up for those companies' e-mail newsletter lists online. Many of them will send additional coupons or savings passes to subscribers in the days leading up to the weekend.

Or check wow-coupons.com (click on retail) to look for printable coupons that might be available.

Finally, keep your eyes out for bonus offers. Many businesses, from Outback Steakhouse to Borders, are offering a bonus gift card when you buy a certain amount in gift cards. If you don't mind going through the checkout twice, you could buy the cards, collect the bonus card and then do your holiday shopping. That's an instant way to stretch your money.

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WHEN YOU GO:

** Sleep! Get lots of it. As soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are done and you've squeezed down another sliver of pie, head for the stairs and turn in early. And make sure you eat breakfast when you get up.

** Take a team. It always helps if you can shop with a group. Good planning means you will be able to divide and conquer. Send people in different directions if you are in search of a hot item. Remember a fully charged cell phone so that you can communicate, and set the ringers to extra loud.

** Dress appropriately. Wear the most comfortable shoes you own and a good pair of socks. Wear a watch. Don't wear bulky coats or heavy garments. Malls and stores get hot in a hurry when they're crowded. Wear layers if you can, and try to leave your coat in the car. You will be glad you don't have to carry it around when you're on your fifth hour of shopping.

** Things to pack: Along with your cell phone and the numbers for your friends who are shopping with you, consider taking: hand sanitizer, a snack, a bottle of water and a larger bag for holding smaller bags.

** Travel light: Despite the fact that I just told you to pack all that stuff, try to take only the things you will need. Use a smaller purse that you can position across your body so you don't have to worry about losing it (and it's more secure from would-be purse-snatchers, too). Do not carry all your credit cards. Take just what you will need for the day.

** Have patience. Remember that this shopping day is among the busiest of the year. Retailers are open nearly 24/7. It's true that people can and will be really rude. But take the high road, and avoid having to call your Aunt Bernice to bail you out of jail.

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STAY HOME:

Of course, it's also becoming easier to participate in Black Friday without ever leaving home. Shopping online can be a great way to score some Black Friday deals without ever getting out of your pajamas.

** Sign up for e-mail lists and see if you get any special offers in your inbox.

** Check sites such as RetailMeNot.com or CouponCabin.com for online savings codes and passes.

** Look at sites such as UPromise.com and Ebates.com to see if you can actually get some of your money back from your purchases made online. (Note: You will want to sign up for those sites and create an account before Thursday so that you are in the system before you do your shopping.)

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