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Strategies for surviving one of the most popular shopping days of the year – the day after Thanksgiving

It’s become tradition. Every Thanksgiving evening after the turkey is polished off and the plates are cleared, Cathy DiCecca sits down for tea and pumpkin pie with her oldest daughter Marissa, and the two women huddle over newspaper fliers as they make some very important decisions: Where will they start shopping when they hit the stores at 4 a.m. the next day, and what do they have to have?

For the past six years, DiCecca has been in store lines long before dawn on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving – and the official kickoff to the holiday shopping season – when stores boast big sales and open ridiculously early while giddy shoppers gobble up the latest trend toys and must-have electronics.

“You can get some really great deals,” DiCecca, 47, of Plymouth said. “And even if there isn’t a hot thing we’re trying to find, it’s just fun to make a morning of it. No children, no husbands, just us.”

Most early-rising Black Friday shoppers devise a list, starting with the items most likely to fly off the shelves first, then compare prices and store opening times while deciding when to hit which shops. Some ultra-serious shoppers even bring clipboards or cut pictures of items from fliers and paste them to their list of stores. They bring coffee to wake and warm

them and magazines to entertain them while they wait in lines that sometimes snake through stores and out the doors. It’s all worth the trouble to a growing number of bargain hunters in quest of the best deal.

“If you have the time, it’s crazy not to do it because you can save a lot of money. I would say I have saved hundreds,” said Kelly Beacher, 37, of Hull, who has left home as early as 3 a.m. in hopes of being one of the lucky few to get some sought-after children’s video games in previous years. “I get 75 percent of my shopping done that day.”

This year doors open at most area malls, including South Shore Plaza and the Hanover Mall, at 6 a.m., yet department stores like Kohl’s and JC Penney in some towns will open as early as 4 a.m. And many stores at the Wrentham Village Premium Outlets will open the minute Thanksgiving is over, right at midnight.

Yet this level of down-and-dirty combat shopping is certainly not for everyone.

Last year DiCecca brought along her grown son who was visiting for Thanksgiving, but he didn’t exactly see the charm in waiting for an hour in a long line outside Circuit City – especially because it was chilly and drizzling and they didn’t have raincoats or umbrellas.

“He said, ‘You’re crazy, Mom. Nothing can be worth this,’” she recalled. “I told him, ‘Come on! This is the spirit of Christmas. Get over it.”

Yet this year some longtime Black Friday shoppers are planning to sleep in and stick to ordering online – a practice so popular following Thanksgiving weekend, the day has been coined Cyber Monday.

Others have already have a jump on their shopping.

With Christmas lights going up in stores long before Halloween decorations come down, many shoppers these days feel the urge to splurge earlier in the season. Retailers have been doing their part to lure shoppers in long before Thanksgiving weekend with early sales and promotions. About 40 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping before Halloween, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation.

Lynne Davis, 60, of Hanover has so much shopping done early, she is leaning toward skipping the Black Friday rush for the first time in 16 years.

“I’ve been trying to shop ahead of time and I’m in good shape this year,” Davis said. “All the stores have been putting good sales on.”

She may even save money by avoiding the stores on Black Friday, she figures. Every year, she finds herself getting caught up in a buying frenzy.

“It has caused me to purchase more than I need,” she said. “You see the mad rush for leather gloves and you start thinking, ‘Gee, if I buy two pairs instead of one, I can give them away to someone.’”

Then again, it isn’t easy to give up this longtime habit, and Davis wasn’t ready to completely rule out the possibility of shopping that day. After all, “I always say I’m not going to go, and then I end up going,” she said.

Susan Greene, 43, of Hingham, a veteran Black Friday shopper, also hasn’t decided whether to venture out this year. She felt a little soured by the massive, sometimes pushy crowds she saw last year.

“You used to be able to get a lot done really early, but now there are so many more people out at that hour, so you’re waiting in line for two hours, and that takes some of the fun out of it,” Greene said. “I want to avoid the chaos if I can.”

But for those determined folks who can’t stay away, it is advised that they do their homework, create lists, map out routes and stick to their plans. Beacher recommends that people seek out the electronics on their list first because they are most likely to sell out fastest.

“You need to have a game plan, you need a nice jumbo coffee, and you get under way,” Beacher said.

For DiCecca, Black Friday shopping is not only about getting the best deals (although last year she did get a $150 digital camera for less than $100).

Most of all, DiCecca enjoys the girl time with her oldest daughter. And if her younger daughter isn’t working at her own retail store that day, she often joins them, too.

“I get to spend time with my kids,” she said. “And when you’re standing in line, trying to keep warm, you’re talking to everybody. You find out what they’re looking for, they tell you where they’ve seen this and that. You meet people, and it gets you in the spirit. It’s fun.”

DiCecca typically gets through many of the box stores and most of the mall – maybe 20 stores in all – before relieving her husband from watching the grandchildren so he can head to work by 11 a.m.

And then after the women drop off their shopping bags and regroup?

“If we’re feeling brave enough, we pack up the kids and go back out to do some more shopping.”

With a little planning, shopping for bargains on the day after Thanksgiving can be a rewarding experience.

By Dina Gerdeman

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