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Practical advice for hitting the stores on Black Friday

(Left right) RosDeJesus Chicago Geraldid Reyes 13 AddisLeticiRosas Chicago have their hands full with merchandise while shopping Black Friday Gurnee

(Left to right) Rosa DeJesus of Chicago, Geraldid Reyes, 13, of Addison and Leticia Rosas of Chicago have their hands full with merchandise while shopping on Black Friday at Gurnee Mills.

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Updated: December 26, 2011 8:36AM

While shopping experts disagree whether the day after Thanksgiving will be the busiest ever — since this Black Friday appears to be the most heavily marketed with online and in-store discounts — a detailed list and a well-thought-out plan are always good ideas.

Here are some tips on how to survive without losing your mind:

† Set a holiday spending plan that includes a bit of splurging on yourself or a loved one, but make sure the spending total is in writing. Review your existing debts and what you’ve committed to pay toward those debts. Use your review to reinforce your spending commitment.

† Remove all unnecessary cards from your wallet or purse. Designate one card for holiday spending and remove all others for the day. If you have no more credit to use, pay for everything in cash.

† Do your homework. Compare prices online, review newspaper circulars, and set up your coupon and discount list in the order in which you’ll hit those stores. Set up a detailed, efficient plan of where you’ll go on a specific schedule. That way, the next deal will be right in front of you as you enter each retailer’s doorway.

† Don’t skip the essentials. Get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast, wear comfortable shoes, and shop during hours you know you’ll have the greatest energy. Make sure the smartphone is fully charged and, if necessary, have a plan and a schedule to recharge it.

† Stop, look and listen. Take note of where you park, especially in a large shopping lot, and write it down. Look for exits to see whether parking near an exit will save so much time, it’s worth it to take a longer walk to get to the store entrance.

† Check with mall concierges and customer service desks for services that will lighten your load, such as coat check-in, shopping-cart-like strollers, gift-wrapping services, mall-wide gift certificates or online deals available while you’re shopping. At Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, for example, valet parking at designated mall entrances costs $6 for the day, and is free for people with physical disabilities.

† Beware special credit card or limited-time credit offers. Look for words such as “no interest balance transfer” and other hard-to-decipher come-ons. Ask what these terms mean and don’t go for them if they put you into deeper debt. Beware having your credit checked at the checkout, since every time you do this, you may be lowering your credit score. Only open a card in-store if you can pay the entire balance off when you get the bill.

† Watch for small print in ads that suggests “a limited supply” or “while supplies last.” There may be only a few of these items in the store and you might see them marked up on online auction sites later.

† Read the fine print on sales and warranties for electronics, checking for return limitations or the refusal to give rain checks. Buy extended warranties with caution. Never pay more than 10 percent of the purchase price for a warranty.

† Check retailers’ return policies. Retailers often require receipts, adhere to a time limit for returns, and give only store credit, rather than cash, for refunded merchandise. Some retailers will lower the price of an item if it drops within seven to 14 days of purchase. Check to see if you can save on your next purchase by taking a survey listed on the bottom of the receipt.

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