Perhaps it’s the fear inspired by the thought of going to the stores on the day after Thanksgiving and the messianic fervor of the people in them that the name Black Friday immediately conjures up a terrorist group celebrating a religious holiday. Maybe that’s just us. Forget the name. The question is: Should you go?

We’ve been wrestling with what advice to give you for a week now. Particularly since many stores have extended Black Friday into what we’ve dubbed the Retail Holiday Shopping Megalopolis, a vast cluttered merger of our favorite holidays. Many of our favorite stores have already begun pulling the markdown trigger and Walmart just announced they will offer on Friday in-store price matching on competitors Black Friday pricing.

Still, there are truly amazing bargains to be had at the opening bell at many stores.  They have been plotting and planning how to lure you in since last January; they’ve squeezed their vendors for the best possible prices on commodity items; they’ve given up margins or are selling items as loss leaders (meaning they are selling the product for less than it cost them to buy). They know that you have limited dollars to spend and their goal is to get you into their store before you spend your hard earned bucks elsewhere, and, this is key, they’re banking on you buying way more than the advertised ‘deals.’

If after scrutinizing circulars and online sales you see products that you absolutely could use or want to give as gifts get organized and start making lists.  The first thing you need to pay close attention to is how many of the item they have in stock. Lots of places will advertise a blockbuster price but qualify this in fine print saying something like “a minimum of 3 available in each store”. Well, think about it– unless you are first in line, chances are you not getting it (like you need more of that in your life).

It’s a no brainer if you pulled an all day/nighter waiting for the newest Harry Potter film (although, it escapes us why anyone waited when you could waltz into the movie at anytime the next day), or you just love camping out, or it’s just the exact wide screen HDTV that you’ve been looking for and could never afford otherwise and you think it could be fun. (Uh?) Whatever your reason, make it a good one before you spend the night outdoors.  And, double check that the item advertised is really the same make and model as the one you’ve been lusting after.

Back to the list thing.  This is the key.  Remember budget is just another word for edit and you need to go in armed with an edited list of items you want to buy at specific stores. If you have the stomach and relaxed goodwill (we come up short in this department), go store to store to store cherry picking some of the great bargains that the stores are offering.

Stick to the list.