Black Friday survival guide

Whether you embrace it or avoid it, America’s post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy has something to teach you

Photo by Priscilla Garcia

For some, Black Friday is the official start of the Christmas season. Others think it’s a symbol of dangerous overconsumption in America. In today’s precarious economy, Black Friday—the day when many retailers finally go from red to black in their accounting ledgers—is undeniably important to the success of merchants large and small. Whether you are energized or baffled by the legions of shoppers lining up outside stores before dawn on the morning after Thanksgiving, the uniquely American custom of Black Friday is only growing in popularity.

Toys R Us leads Sacramento’s 2011 Black Friday charge by opening at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving night. This year, for the first time, both Target and Macy’s stores throughout Sacramento will open at midnight on Friday, November 25. The Folsom Premium Outlets open at the same time for the annual Midnight Madness sale. Most other major retailers follow suit between 4 and 6 a.m. Even local independent merchants get in the game with holiday sales and seasonal deals throughout the day.

Mirinda Glick, SN&R’s ad services coordinator, has been participating in Black Friday in the Sacramento area for at least seven years. Glick speaks fondly of the annual ritual of staying up late with her mother and sister on Thanksgiving night, sorting through newspaper ad supplements. By 3 a.m., the trio is waiting in line clutching hot cups of coffee.

“There’s an energy to it,” Glick explains. “We’re all together as a big group doing this crazy thing.”

Kelly Rausch, a 37-year-old Granite Bay resident, also loves the Black Friday tradition. “People are in such a good mood,” she says. “Everyone just knows it’s going to be crowded and crazy, so they’re in a good mood to start with. They’re all dressed up for Christmas. It’s a fun start to the season.”

Whether you decide to jump into the Black Friday fray, shop for deals online on Cyber Monday or eschew consumerism in favor of Buy Nothing Day, we’ve got a strategy to help you survive the wildest shopping day of the year.

1. Do your research.

Black Friday sales are not for browsing. With huge crowds and limited stock, it’s best to know what you want ahead of time. Research Black Friday sales at sites like and Pick up weekly and daily newspapers on the day before Thanksgiving for more details on local sales.

2. Read the fine print.

Stores often have a small supply of deeply discounted “door buster” items to lure customers. They’re hoping that once you’ve made the effort to get there, you’ll buy something else if the $20 DVD players are gone. Read ads carefully to learn how many items are in stock. Check customer reviews online to research the item’s quality. Make sure electronic items come bundled with everything you need. Sometimes a laptop is cheaper because it does not include “extras” like cords.

3. Pick the calmest location.

Smaller chain stores in outlying areas offer the same deals with more manageable crowds. “Don’t go to the busiest store,” Glick recommends. “We go to Target in Lincoln because no one goes there.” She will choose a mall like Citrus Heights’ Sunrise Marketplace over the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, or a regular Target over a Target Greatland.

4. Stay warm.

You’ll go from chilly, outdoor temperatures to a warm store in under a minute, so dress in layers and carry a light blanket. Wear comfortable shoes and leave your vanity at home. “We are all dressed ridiculously,” Glick says. “No one’s got any makeup on, and you’re usually wearing your pajamas.”

5. Make a smart entrance.

Consider alternate, less-crowded entrances. Going in through a back door or a garden center can give you a leg up on other shoppers. When doors open, don’t waste time getting a cart. Make a beeline for your top-priority item.

6. Bring friends—or make some in line.

When it comes to Black Friday, there’s an advantage in numbers. Friends and family can guard your cart and keep your spirits up in a long checkout line. You can also help each other grab the best deals. Send one person to sporting goods and another to electronics and then meet in the middle with enough spoils for everyone.

7. Don’t cause a police evacuation.

Last year on Black Friday, police evacuated a Sacramento-area Walmart when customers started pushing and shoving one another in the electronics department. Let’s avoid that kind of behavior this year. Remember that your fellow human beings are more important than a discount digital picture frame and act accordingly. This means no pushing, no yelling and no behavior your kindergarten teacher wouldn’t approve.

8. Stay home and shop.

Rausch, who has been shopping Black Friday sales for five years, admits that the comfort of online shopping grows more enticing each year. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to keep going out there vs. shopping online, which is kind of sad,” she says. “But it’s just so much easier to shop online.”

Sometimes you can score the same Black Friday deals online, while staying at home in your PJs. If a national chain starts an online sale at midnight Eastern time, you can take advantage of your West Coast time zone to snap up that deal at 9 p.m. Thanksgiving night.

On Cyber Monday—the Monday after Thanksgiving—online retailers often host hourly specials and exclusive giveaways. Research your options at

9. Stay home and buy nothing.

Let Black Friday inspire you to consider your shopping habits. Buy Nothing Day is an international movement held on the same day as Black Friday, which challenges people to spend no money whatsoever for 24 hours. Find out more at

10. Remember what is truly important.

Most people interviewed for this story couldn’t remember what they’d bought in Black Fridays past. They all remembered the breakfasts with friends, the fun of staying up all night together, and the joy of sharing in a festive holiday experience with their community. As Glick puts it, “It’s more about the fun of going than what we actually get.”

So whether you stay home with your loved ones on Black Friday, or brave the stores for a predawn shopping challenge, don’t forget to stop, look around you and be grateful for the ones you love.