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Deal-seeking shoppers warming up for Black Friday

Nikki Jones (from left) Jeanette Phillips Lynnette Lassai get ready for today's sales.

Nikki Jones (from left), Jeanette Phillips and Lynnette Lassai get ready for today's sales.

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Updated: November 30, 2010 1:04PM

Nikki Jones will be marching into Macy's on State Street at 5:30 a.m. today with four friends, her mind focused on coupons and her shopping list in hand.

The Bronzeville resident has learned from her friends and relatives the savviest methods for finding deals on the day after Thanksgiving. Black Friday, named such because it's when many retailers realize their profits for the year, has become a blockbuster before-dawn sales extravaganza for shoppers looking to save money and the unofficial kick-off to the holiday shopping season.

Jones will join the 138 million or so bleary-eyed, giddy and determined shoppers nationwide today, Saturday and Sunday, eager to take home a coveted door-buster deal in a tradition that, at least for a time, keeps grim worries about the economy, overseas wars and a dismal housing market at bay.

Jones is shopping with relatives and friends, including Lynette Lassai and Jeanette Jennings -- the best way to have fun. "It's a rush," said Jones, who handles accounts-payable for a Chicago firm that invests in startup companies. "We share [gift] lists. You might see what someone else is looking for and be able to take advantage of a sale."

At Macy's, Jones will start on her long shopping list, which includes shoes, a coat, perfume and a robe. She hopes to find deals at Sears on a cordless drill and winter clothes. She will try JCPenney for towels, bedding and bathroom decor, and she will hit Target, Kmart and Wal-Mart for Wii games.

The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday shoppers will increase their spending by 2.3 percent this holiday season from last year, to $447.1 billion nationwide. Shoppers will spend $688.87 this holiday season, on average, up 1 percent from 2009 -- right in line with Jones' holiday budget of $500 to $600. The Deloitte consulting firm says Chicago-area shoppers are flush and plan to spend $1,363 on average.

Some determined deal-hunters cannot wait. Shoppers had already set up tents and were standing in line Wednesday at Best Buy stores in Aurora and in Houston, Texas, and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Jones, an admitted QVC devotee, snared her own early deal on Wednesday by successfully clicking an online offer for a $129 e-reader -- with free shipping. She chose to pay for it in four monthly payments of $30.

The National Retail Federation says shoppers are ready for some fun and bling this year: The number of people putting jewelry on their wish lists, 23 percent, is up 13 percent from a year ago, and more people are asking for cosmetics, lotions and other feel-good items.

Jones, one of those shoppers looking for the kinds of discretionary gifts many passed up during the depths of the recession, has printed out 10 coupons, each for $10 off, at Macy's.

"I'm like, 'Whoo-hoo,' " she said of her joy in finding the coupons. "I look for coupons that can be used on top of a sale," she said.

Jones will scan the jewelry aisles for items already on sale, and check out Macy's clearance rack.

She is a big believer in making lists of wants vs. needs and in researching deals online and off-line before heading to the stores.

Here are a few of her other tips, based on her hard-won experience in the wee hours of battling the shopping crowds:

*Look out for tantalizing deals, including bargains not advertised in the newspaper, to lure you into impulse shopping. If you can't help yourself, set aside extra money beforehand for these unplanned buys.

*Wear layers, since once inside the store, your heavy outerwear will start to get hot and uncomfortable.

*If shopping in a group, consider having a few friends arrive in separate cars to make sure there is room for all of the gifts and that all of the bags and packages can be stashed away, sight unseen.

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