A guide to navigating the malls the day after Thanksgiving

It's that time of year again.

The day after Thanksgiving still reigns as one of the busiest shopping days of the year, and it helps to have a battle plan before heading out into the throngs of shoppers.

We talked to shopping experts - including Gwinnett Place Mall marketing director Shelley Korenbrot, who spends the entire day after Thanksgiving at the mall each year - to get some tips on how to survive Black Friday.

Tips for shopping

1 - Do your homework. Go through the newspaper sale ads and make a game plan. Be sure to compare prices and take note of any early-bird specials. Also, get out the calculator to help decide ahead of time which sales will save the most money.

Using the buy-one-get-one-free deals can be a good way to simplify holiday shopping, said Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic, shopping experts for Fine Living TV Network.

"If you're at a loss for gift ideas, going with a theme can be a life saver," Wallner said. "For example, decide that everyone on your list is getting DVDs, cashmere sweaters or cookbooks this year. If you take this road, buy one, get one free and other such sales promotions can be a great cost-saving measure."

2 - Come up with gift ideas ahead of time. At Thanksgiving dinner, pay attention to what people are talking about. You could overhear a few hints that will give you present ideas.

"Think about what the person on your list likes to do and consider changes in their life - A new job? A new home? Decided to take up golf? - for inspiration," Wallner said.

3 - Book a babysitter. The object of the day is to get as much shopping done as possible, and keeping an eye on a wandering, listless child will probably impede that. But that doesn't mean you should go alone. It's helpful to have at least one person with you to help carry bags, make trips back and forth to the car or hold your place in line, Korenbrot said. She's also seen a lot of super-zealous shoppers go in groups, pass around the shopping lists and divide and conquer different sections of the mall.

4 - Make a map. You can find maps of most malls by visiting their Web sites. Use a shopping list to plan out the most efficient route through the mall or to determine the best place to park.

"This way, you won't be going back and forth all day looking for that one last thing on your list," Korenbrot said.

5 - Get there early. Yes, the adage is true in this case. The early bird gets the best parking spots and the best deals, Korenbrot said. Some die-hard shoppers even recommend sleeping in your shopping outfit to save precious minutes in the morning.

"After about 11 a.m., the parking lots are about 80 to 90 percent full," Korenbrot said. "If they get there between 7 and 9, they're doing good. They may not get the first space, but they'll be close enough to make a couple of car drops to put packages in the car."

6 - Wear comfortable shoes. You'll be walking a lot, so it's not the time for style over practicality.

7 - Keep an open mind. Yes, yes, you should try to stick to your list, but there will always be sales that weren't advertised or new items shoppers may not know about. Don't let lists constrict creative gift-buying.

8 - Be aware of your surroundings. With big crowds of shoppers carrying loads of bags and loads of money, it could be easy for pickpockets to strike, the Better Business Bureau warns. Never leave your wallet or purse on the floor or counter, and try not to get overloaded with packages. Always feel free to ask a mall security officer to escort you to your car if you're nervous.

9 - Pick up a few things for yourself. Sure, the object of the day is knocking items off your holiday shopping list, but it's OK to reward yourself. After all, you were brave enough to venture out on one of the busiest shopping days of the year - that's worth a little present.

10 - Relax and have fun. There's a lot to do, but you've also got all day to shop. Take time out to rest weary feet, grab coffee or lunch from the food court, even stop in to see Santa. And with all the crowds, it's a great day for people-watching, Korenbrot said.

"You've got to enjoy the day," Korenbrot said. "It's just a fun day to be at the mall."

Shop Til You Drop

•Nearly six out of 10 moms, or 59 percent, say they'll spend about the same amount of money on holiday gifts this year as last year. Only 11 percent plan to spend more.

•Forty percent of moms start holiday shopping in October. Only 9 percent wait until December and just a brave 2 percent start shopping the week before Christmas.

•Forty-five percent of moms with kids between the ages of 3 and 12 plan to buy six to 10 gifts for their child this year.

Source: KidzEyes marketing research firm

What a kid wants ...

•41 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 17 say money is the best holiday present.

•27 percent say electronics are the top choice.

But moms say ...

•54 percent of kids will get toys.

•26 percent will get electronics.

•17 percent will get clothes.

•And only 2 percent will get money.

Source: KidzEyes marketing research firm

If You Go

Local mall hours for the day after Thanksgiving:

•Gwinnett Place Mall

2100 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday

•Mall of Georgia

3333 Buford Drive, Buford

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday

•Discover Mills Mall

5900 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday