For a Bloomie Touchdown, Craft Your Game Plan

Following a Christmas season filled with more food, family time and rainbow-print toe socks (thanks, Mom) than I’ll need in a lifetime, I spent the last couple days of break seeking out mindless entertainment on my laptop.

Sure enough, a twinkling gem sparkled on the AOL homepage: “How to Shop on Black Friday,” brought to us by eHow.com. A little preparation and a pre-shopping game plan, apparently, will take you a long way in the pursuit of a fabulous find.

I’ve always thought Black Friday merely referred to the annual post-Thanksgiving sales frenzy. But according to the trusty ol’ Internet, the term can be used to describe any store’s blowout sale that hurls push-up bras and digital cameras our way as a strategy to clear its racks — a phenomenon that often takes place in the same proportions between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s an exciting time (especially when you spot the same God-like Coach purse you’d seen glowing on its pedestal while Christmas shopping for Aunt Jenny weeks earlier, now being sold for a whopping 75 percent off, just waiting to be snatched up by my greedy little paws).

When it comes to shopping, I’ve realized that the mall perfectly embodies my high-school cafeteria at lunch hour — complete with the “cool” (devastatingly boring) table at which I don’t belong (Abercrombie & Fitch), the cozy corner in the quad that’s hard to tear myself from when it’s time for class (Forever 21) and the comfy “reject” bench that looks like a pretty good time, but is too embarrassing to hang around much (Old Navy).

As a general rule, our budgets dictate the type of stores we frequent. So, regardless of what meets our fancy, we average Joes must always remind ourselves that our place is in Payless and consignment row — not Bloomingdale’s. I, for one, can never find a top in Charlotte Russe that will blend into my black-and-blue wardrobe, but a Guess mannequin is usually rocking exactly what I’ve been searching for. Accordingly, I always spend a few moments in front of aforementioned window display, feeling covetous yet penniless.

But sales unify mall rats of all shapes and sizes — rich or struggling, expert or rookie. Shopping is a sport. Its rules remain the same whether your equipment consists of Daddy’s American Express card or a humble sack of quarters. All you need to know are the cardinal rules of the game — which brings us back to our little Internet how-to.

First, take advantage of the technology available to you. If you have an iPhone check the “Pic2Shop” app for the lowest prices in your area, or click your way to www.shopzilla.com to compare prices online. Rummaging around for coupons or asking the already swamped makeup lady at Nordstrom where to find cheapest women’s shoes will only waste precious time, allowing for varsity shoppers to swoop on your desirables. Google-image a floor plan of your corporate wasteland of choice beforehand. I’m serious — it helps.

The next step is easy: Come equipped with a list of desirables (and consult it frequently) to make sure you’re not distracted by every sequined sandal that flies your way. Bring a pen and cross off the items you’ve already purchased. Another plus: this creates an illusion of strict business, so you can speed past the piranhas pushing bedazzled cell phone covers onto unsuspecting shoppers in a fast-talking flurry.

The last step is especially important for those who never mustered up enough pride to switch tables in high school. Sometimes the eerie, perfume-fog environments of a fancy store can divert one’s attention away from his or her shopping mission, but don’t get drunk on name brands. Clothes are clothes. Just because you drop $85 on a rhinestone-encrusted Ed Hardy tee, it won’t necessarily win you a spot at the cool-kid table (and if it does, consider relocating).

Next time you hit the mall, don’t be intimidated into your usual hunting grounds. Finding real treasures become more of a reality when you do the research and create a game plan. A step out of your comfort zone might even win you those Rock and Republic jeans you’ve had your eye on. So get cracking on your research and dig up your most serious sneakers — the sales are calling.

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