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Black Friday 101: How to survive the biggest shopping day of the year

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Ah, the blessed holiday known as Black Friday. It's the day we celebrate what it means to be an American consumer. The doors to most stores will open at the crack of dawn and the deals will roll out, giving shoppers unbridled access to cheap stuff that will become our holiday gifts to our friends and family.

But as with all holidays, there can be a dark side. Just like slurping up too much of that congealed cranberry stuff that is served in the shape of a tin can on Thanksgiving, shopping Black Friday can get really extreme, really fast. To combat the potential exhaustion and insanity, we've compiled a list of tips and tricks that will keep your shopping bags full and your brain locked in chill mode.

See also: I'm an idiot, and other misconceptions about retail employees

10. It's called Black Friday, not Black Thursday for a reason Take this time before the shopping madness begins to enjoy a day off. Even if you're a giant ball of stress because you're in charge of cooking the turkey (or cooking a vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free/paleo-friendly turkey alternative,) take the time to be with the people around you and do not, under any circumstances, go shopping. Seriously, there is something really gross about shopping on a day that used to be reserved for time with family and friends. And though some professions require folks to work when the rest of us are pigging out, don't make retail employees endure the insanity that they face the rest of the season.

Curious as to which big box chain stores are violating their employees' time off/sanity? Here's a list of the offenders, plus a list of companies observing the holiday -- so you can give them your business on Black Friday, like a normal consumer. If you just can't stand the idea that you may be missing out on the "sweet deals" of an early Black-Friday-happening-on-Thursday sale, take a walk around the block. Chances are, that nervous energy is just your body wanting a break from all the food and holiday bickering.

Mouse Trap A.K.A. the West deck parking garage at Cherry Creek Mall.

9. Give yourself plenty of time Shopping on Black Friday in Colorado means driving. A lot. Unless you're a one-stop shopper, you're probably going to hit any number of consuming destinations like Park Meadows, Belmar, Flatiron Crossing or Denver Pavilions in a single day. Remember, road rage does no one any good. And even on a regular day, I-25 is always a mess, 6th Avenue is a joke and Speer Boulevard is undriveable. Black Friday traffic is no different. Taking deep breaths is key to surviving the never-ending circling you'll do inside the massive and confusing Cherry Creek Mall West Deck Parking Garage (seriously, that thing is built like Milton Bradley's Mouse Trap except it isn't fun and doesn't involve a bath tub.)

8. Get some rest No, really. Stress is caused by all sorts of things, and there are ways to stop it in its tracks. Shopping should be fun -- I mean, the point of all of this is because you want to buy your loved ones gifts to show how much you adore them, right? Get a good night's sleep -- the tryptophan in the turkey from Thanksgiving should help -- and you'll wake up refreshed and ready to buy stuff until you drop.

7. Pack snacks Yes, like camping or music festival-ing, shopping on Black Friday can become an eighteen-hour endeavor. If you get "hangry" (that's when you're so hungry you're angry) in the middle of your retailing expedition, everyone around you can sense it. Do those people and yourself a favor and be conscious of your blood sugar levels. If you're prepared, that mall staple, the Cinnabon, won't even be able to call your name -- and really, do you need to pack all of your calories and carbohydrates (not to mention double the daily recommended amount of saturated fat) for one day into one bun? Keep some high energy, portable snacks like nuts and dried fruit in your bag and you'll be set!

6. Stay hydrated Did you know that some scientist somewhere figured out that sometimes when we think we're hungry, we're really just thirsty? True story. Carry water with you on this shopping adventure and your body will thank you. Treat shopping like exercise and you'll be able to cram in some extra cardio and weight-training while using the stairs instead of the escalator, and then you'll really need water. Plus, if you've been wondering how to truly fit in here now that you've moved to Colorado permanently but aren't ready to commit to buying a Subaru, you can get a Nalgene bottle for your water with a handy carabiner that allows you to attach your refreshment to your purse or pants -- like a real native.

5. Buy local, buy local, buy local Denver and Boulder are lucky -- we've got a healthy community of local merchants offering specialty goods, unique items and affordable and globally conscious products. From Wash Park to Pearl Street, vendors and markets are open year-round to fill all of your shopping needs. Save your shopping for Small Business Saturday, or throw out mall-centered traditions and go local this Black Friday. Check out our lists of the best spots on South Broadway and along 6th Avenue and our Westword Best of Denver 2013 round-up of shopping destinations for just some of the greatest in locally owned businesses.

4. Buy nothing Buy Nothing Day is not-coincidentally the same day as Black Friday, and it is exactly what it sounds like: a day where you buy nothing. Not even the usual $4.03 Starbucks Venti no whip sugar-free non-fat latte you start your day with. Nothing. Take some time to reevaluate why we are a culture of consumption, or just spend the day binge-watching The Bernie Mac Show on Netflix. You can buy stuff on other days, of course, but maybe think about taking all of that money you were going to spend on plastic crap, er, gifts, and pay off a credit card. It feels almost as good as getting an awesome deal on a knock-off iPad.

3. Be kind to retail employees These people are here to help you. They are, however temporarily, your friends. Just like any other stressful situation you may encounter in your life, approaching it with a smile is the best way to go. If a store is out of that yoga DVD/mat combo pack you saw on the Internet somewhere, don't yell at them. The sales associate is just the messenger. Most of them want you to leave happy -- it's not personal if a store is out-of-stock of something. It is just out-of-stock, and that's the truth. If you're not completely sure as to how to act toward someone who works in retail, we've got a list of things to remember when talking to a salesperson that should be helpful in keeping those shopping pursuits running smoothly.

2. BYO-Bags The grocery stores have trained us to do this already, but bring your own bags. While you're idling for 25 minutes in the Target parking lot waiting for a space, at least you can be safe in the knowledge that you're saving the planet. That industrial-size IKEA fabric dumpster of a bag that holds at least three Kitchenaid mixers you never thought you would be able to fill again? Now is the time, my friend.

1. Have fun Once upon a time, shopping was so fun, a board game was made about it. Recapture those Mall Madness memories by shifting your attitude -- remember, shopping is a choice, not a life or death situation. If you're feeling overwhelmed, go home. If you want to ride the high of getting the best deals on cool crap for your friends and family, go for it. Know your limits and don't try to overdo it. Black Friday is just one day -- but there are 363 (because you aren't going to be that guy who shops on not-Black Thursday, right?) other days of the year when you can shop 'til you drop.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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