overspending on a shopping trip this holiday season

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November 15, 2010

The start of the frenzied holiday shopping season officially begins the day after Thanksgiving. Known as Black Friday, it's a day famous for long lines, marathon shopping, and great sales.

But when hundreds of millions of Americans storm the doors of their favorite stores, there is plenty of potential for mayhem. In 2008, for example, a 34-year-old Long Island Walmart employee was trampled by over 200 shoppers. The mob of sale seekers actually tore the door off its hinges before charging inside, and tragically killing Jdimytai Damour, a temporary holiday staffer from Queens, New York.

In the same year in Palm Desert, California, two men were shot and killed inside a Toys R Us when a dispute broke out over sale items. The store was inundated with Black Friday shoppers at the time of the shooting, and they had to be evacuated. It's not rare to hear dozens of similar news stories all over the country each year.

Then, of course, there is the financial hazard to consider. Sales are sometimes so alluring, that bargain hunters and shopping lovers end up overspending instead of actually saving. We love a good deal as much as the the next person, so if you're going to be bargain hunting on Black Friday, we have a few tips to ensure your safety and keep overspending at bay.

Survive the Crowds:

If you decide to be one of the millions of shoppers battling for a bargain, read these tips first:

  • Plan Ahead: Go to the mall or store you will shop at on Black Friday and get comfortable with it. What is the layout of the mall? How is each store organized? You will need to know exactly where each store and department you want to visit is so you can shop quickly and safely. If you plan, you will not be one of the vulnerable shoppers aimlessly wandering around dazed by the mayhem.
  • Prepare Accordingly: It will probably be cold in the early morning after Thanksgiving and it will probably get hot during the crowded day of Black Friday shopping. Wear comfortable layers of clothing. Bring snacks, water, entertainment and phone chargers. It is a good idea to go with a large group of friends. Then someone can hold your place in line if you need to use the restroom.
  • Be Aware: Once you are inside the store, look to see if you notice an absence of planning. If the store seems disorganized, stay away. If there are no signs, P.A. announcements, or posted information, the store is potentially dangerous because there wasn't enough planning done to make sure the crowds are safe. If you decide to shop, know where the entrances and exits are in case of an emergency.
  • Monitor Crowds: Try to sense what the overall mood of your fellow shoppers is. If the store has offered competitive sales like "first one in gets the best bargain," then be aware that shoppers will be fighting towards the front. There will be pushing and shoving which could potential knock you down. If you find yourself closely surrounded by people on all four sides, get out of the crowd as quickly and safely as possible. If you are knocked down, you may be stepped on by those around you and potentially trampled.

Don't Overspend:

The average holiday shopper spends nearly $400 on Black Friday alone. And Black Friday is only the very beginning of the holiday shopping season. Follow these tips for spending wisely on your Black Friday shopping trip:
  • Make a List: To guard against overspending, go through the advertisements the day before you go shopping. Make a list of the things you want to buy. Then stick as closely to that list as you can. Although somethings may be tempting, remind yourself that you created the shopping list to budget your spending on Black Friday.
  • Arrive Early: The best deals on Black Friday are time sensitive, and they are usually in the early mornings. You will want to wait in line before the store opens because the best sale items are often in low supply. Decide which items will be the most popular and go for those first before they sell out. You could also strategize with your family or friends and organize a way to obtain different items on your list at the same time.
  • Cash Only: If you made a list of everything you wanted to buy, add up the total cost (including tax) and then bring that amount in cash. It is much easier to spend money on a card than with cash. Bringing cash will prevent you from overspending your allotment. Remember to include money for lunch if you plan to stay all day.
  • Check Facebook for Deals: Now, many stores are offering specials on social networking sites. There are even some free facebook giveaways just for signing up, and you can find deals in record time on twitter. By linking in, you will have an edge over your fellow shoppers and be prepared for unexpected instant sales.

Is It Worth It?

Every person is different -- and there are plenty of people who love the thrill of Black Friday. But if you are a real bargain hunter, then consider if the risk to your safety is worth the money you are going to spend.

The average cost of an emergency room visit in the United States is $1880 -- so if you are injured by an aggressive crowd, those ER costs will surpass the few hundred dollars you might save with advertised sales.

If you hate crowds but love saving money, there are some alternatives to the chaotic shopping spree. Black Friday deals have extended to the internet, and sometimes the sales even start before Black Friday. Shopping online may not be the traditional way you spend your Thanksgiving evening -- but it does pose less risk of crowd hazards.

And, should you choose to sit out the shopping craze all together, you won't be alone. The day after Thanksgiving, has been sponsored by Adbuster's Magazine as "Buy Nothing Day." Ultimately, it's your choice on how to spend your Black Friday -- amongst the bustling crowds, surfing the web, or taking a spend-free stance. Just remember that no discount is worth being trampled for.
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