5 Better Ways to Spend Your Time and Money on Black Friday

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If you resisted the urge to skip out on Thanksgiving dessert or Thursday night's last NFL game to head to Target (TGT), Wal-Mart (WMT) or Toys "R" Us and still haven't hit so much as a Web site today, congratulations: You're one of more than half the U.S. population with better things to do today.

Roughly 147 million shoppers say they plan to go pushing and shoving for deals this Black Friday weekend, according to the National Retail Federation. In a promising statement about the future of humanity, that number is down from 152 million last year. Of that 147 million, only 71 million are committed to heading out among the unslept, unwashed masses and doing their holiday shopping under any circumstance.

The other 76 million are going to hang back and wait to see exactly what stores are offering before putting themselves in harm's way. While retailers took that as their cue to bombard consumers with circulars, TV ads, Facebook ( FB) posts, tweets, company blog entries, emails and alerts through mobile apps, shoppers took at as their opportunity to decide whether they needed the stress.

If you're still undecided about your Black Friday plans, let us make a humble suggestion: Forget the sales. Let the lemmings claw at each other over out-of-date televisions and "deals" they could get just as easily on Cyber Monday, Green Monday, Free Shipping Day or whatever other fabricated retail holiday comes next. There are real deals out there that won't subject you to crowded store aisles, parking lot traffic or forced flash sales and specials. They're not even particularly good items for holiday wish lists, unless you're really into buying holiday gifts for yourself.

We looked past the organized riots at America's outlets, malls and big box stores and found five better things to spend your time and money on this Black Friday:

Plane tickets

Thanksgiving travel's all over but the hectic flights home and it's already way too late for the winter holidays.

If you have nothing better to do between Nov. 27 and Dec. 12, though, you're just the person the airlines are looking for. For reasons pretty well spelled out, almost nobody flies on these days and airlines drop prices like mad just to fill seats.

Priceline ( PCLN) keeps track of the best days to fly throughout the year and those dates (with the exception of the Sundays of Dec. 2 and 9) are big, green pastures of open seats and low fares. AirTran offered a $59 one-way sale last week just to get rid of some of that late November/early December stock, while American is still offering $209 round-trip ski airfare to Vail, Colo.

Many of the better deals went out the door on Monday, but there are still lots of options to pick through.

Cars

Last year's Black Friday fell on Nov. 25 and, according to automobile pricing site TrueCar, was the best day to buy a new vehicle in 2011. Car prices were down 9.5% on average from their manufacturer's suggested retail price, while folks who bought a 2011 Mitsubishi Endeavor that day got it for 23% less than its list price.

With car sales up as a whole this year, Black Friday discounts aren't quite as generous, but they're still available. The average discount is down to 6.3%, TrueCar says, but folks shopping around for a pickup get the biggest average discount of all at 11.6%. Chrysler's entire 2012 line of Ram trucks is selling for 12.3% less than its sticker price, while the 2012 Chevy ( GM) Silverado 1500 has 14.4% knocked off of its price.

While Ford ( F) is knocking 11% off its entire 2012 line -- including the Focus (9.2%), Econoline cargo van (12.1%), Expedition (12.1%) and Lincoln MKX (11.9%) and MKZ (13.1%) -- Volkswagen seems most eager to get its lots cleared before the holiday ends. The 15% price cut on its 2012 Routan Minivan and $6,500 dealer cash for remaining 2011 Routan models are the biggest Black Friday deals in the industry.

Wedding dresses

There are a ton of Christmas and New Year's proposals and nuptials and a whole lot of lead-up to amateur hour proposals on Valentine's Day, but you know what you won't see a lot of from New Year's Day to, oh, May? Weddings.

January, February and March are the absolute slowest months for weddings in the U.S., according to the folks at TheKnot. While couples will concede to the cold to get some Christmas trees and garland into their photo album, they're far less likely to do so when all the lights and decorations have been packed away and half the country looks like Siberia.

Frugal brides have already booked dates during these months for discounts on venues, catering and photography, but demand for wedding dresses in particular bottoms out this time of year. Boutiques are filled with dresses for after Christmas, when all those holiday proposals turn into planning, but those same boutiques are dead before then. You'll have room to negotiate and, with everyone else holiday shopping, you'll have the racks and fitting room nearly all to yourself.

Tools

This one's a bit tougher, as Wal-Mart, Sears ( SHLD) and other stores that sell tools will be teeming with Black Friday shoppers. Home Depot ( HD) and Lowe's ( LOW) are just slightly less mad, but don't underestimate them.

Both of the hardware giants have Black Friday circulars and deals and aren't afraid to use them. However, while the rest of the shoppers are distracted by pre-lit Christmas decorations, $15 starter tool kits and $500 discounts on french-door refrigerators, there are saws, drills and cabinet sets going for half price.

If you know what you're doing and know what departments to avoid like a pack of rabid reindeer, this is an easy way to stock your workshop or garage at minimal cost.

Cookware

The markdowns of these items start before Thanksgiving, but don't tend to make it too far into December.

The folks at Dealnews saw a 35% spike in cookware markdowns from October to November 2011, so this is your moment to updates your pans, countertop appliances and other kitchen toys. Unfortunately, you're kind of in the same predicament as your hardware-seeking friends. The discount stores are going to be swarmed with amateurs and shops such as Williams-Sonoma ( WSM), Sur la Table, Crate & Barrel and even Bed, Bath and Beyond ( BBBY) are either in swarmed shopping centers or will force you to contend with Black Friday sales of their own. In Bed, Bath and Beyond's case, you'll be fighting folks seeking 20% off their entire order and 25% off Dyson vacuums.

If you have an out-of-the-way outlet you know about, go for it, but we can't promise you'll avoid the madness altogether.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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