Dannelle Gay

Dannelle Gay of Sun Prairie bought 50 boxes of cereal last week on sale with doubled coupons and paid nothing for it — one of the strategies she taught this fall in her “Black Friday Boot Camp” class. Gay, who delivered the cereal to her church’s food pantry earlier this week, will be among the many Madison-area shoppers looking for a Black Friday bargain after they finish their Thanksgiving dinner.

For Dannelle Gay, Thursday kicks off a day that will last a year.

Along with countless thousands, the Sun Prairie super-shopper will head out after her family’s Thanksgiving festivities to partake in Black Friday, that bonanza of markdowns meant to stir up a holiday buying frenzy and lift retailers into the black for the year.

But unlike many others wheeling shopping carts down aisles and late into the night, Gay plans to shop for all of 2013.

Gay teaches “Black Friday Boot Camp,” a one-hour workshop that she presented at area libraries this fall to gird shoppers with ideas for making the most of the season’s doorbusters. At Sun Prairie Public Library, where she also holds classes on smart shopping for kids and using coupons, “she draws quite a crowd,” said Tracy Herold, the library’s director. “She’s one of our more popular programs.”

Those crowds might be a sign that while Black Friday is a social outing for many, it’s also a way that serious shoppers such as Gay can come out ahead in difficult economic times. Gay’s online blog, called Operation 40K, was inspired by the cost-cutting efforts that enabled her family to sock away $40,000 in less than a year.

“We’re talking the fifth year of a recession that is a depression for a lot of people,” said Gay, the mother of a six-year-old. “I’m simply sharing skills with them to help use free money from the manufacturers to change their families’ financial situation.”

Her top tip: Use Black Friday to buy not only holiday gifts, but to stock up on a year’s worth of birthday presents for family and friends. And don’t forget the groceries and toiletries: In 2011, for example, Gay used coupons and discount cards on Black Friday to get 12 months’ worth of free toothpaste.

Throughout the year, she also scopes out bargains to take to her church’s food pantry. On Monday the delivery was 50 boxes of Quaker brand Whole Hearts cereal, which she purchased on sale with doubled coupons for the grand sum of — nothing.

“I don’t believe in having a mini-warehouse in your home, with 40 years’ worth of toilet paper, that kind of thing,” she said. “I believe in using all the deals and discounts we can get to bless other people. You might not need the free deodorant that you get at the drugstore, but pick it up and donate it because personal essential pantries (the toiletries section of the food pantry system) are always looking for that kind of thing.”

Despite the long lines, the sometimes-crazed crowds and the red-eye hours, Black Friday shopping makes economic sense, said Ann McGrath, who took Gay’s boot camp class. Her main take-away: “Be more organized,” said McGrath, who expects to hit all her Black Friday destinations Thursday night and be home in bed by 1 a.m. At Gay’s suggestion, she’ll try “price matching” to help save on time and gas.

“Instead of going to five different stores, take the ads with you,” McGrath said. If a big-box store advertises a rock-bottom sale price, often its competitors will honor that price at checkout.

Sarah Bull, who also attended Gay’s boot camp, said that Black Friday has turned into a “family affair” for her household, with all three of her kids searching for bargains. Son Caleb, 14, has mapped out the family’s shopping route for Black Friday 2012.

Last year, the Bulls’ shopping haul was “really huge,” but this year will be simply “huge,” said Bull. After last year’s spree, “I still have two years’ worth of Christmas presents in the attic.”


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