Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has become associated with a huge rush of shopping for many Americans. Stores offer a variety of sales, and people run to get discounted items to check off their holiday gift list or to get something new for themselves.
For some, however, Black Friday has become an experience to avoid. The crowded stores, the sales on items they don't really need, the spending of money on unthoughtful gifts -- it adds up to an event that many people want to skip.
Still, if you have Friday off from work, why not use it to prepare for the holidays in other ways? Here are five great ways to spend Black Friday without rushing to the stores and opening your wallets wide.
Make homemade gifts. One great gift-giving strategy for the holidays is to make your own gifts. It's not too difficult to make batches of homemade soap, jams, custom stationery or even homemade beer.
The real trick with homemade gifts is that they take time more than anything else, and that's exactly what Black Friday gives to many of us -- particularly when we're not shopping. Pick up your supplies just before Thanksgiving, then settle in with a good movie or some holiday music and spend the Friday after Thanksgiving making gifts for your friends and family.
Write thoughtful holiday cards. One of the best ways to show your friends, professional contacts and family members that you truly care is a handwritten card during the holiday season. A simple, tasteful card with a thoughtful note on the inside that says something about the connection that you share is a spectacular way to maintain a relationship and show someone that he or she really matters to you.
Settle in a nice workspace including a few pens, a stack of cards and envelopes, some stamps and your address book, and write a few dozen thoughtful cards for people on this Black Friday. Drop them in the mail, and they'll find their way to the important people in your life, giving them something to smile about when they check their mail.
Make a truly thoughtful gift list. Many shoppers simply make a list of people who they need to buy gifts for and brainstorm ideas as quickly as possible, often grabbing thoughtless items at the last minute or giving generic gifts that don't match the recipient's interests at all. Nothing tells people that they were a footnote like giving them a thoughtless gift they wouldn't want or use.
Spend Black Friday doing some thinking and research into the people you care about. Visit their Facebook pages, and see if you can figure out things that interest and excite them. What do they post about? What do they have listed as interests? Those will often lead you right to a great gift idea that matches the person well.
Decorate your home tastefully and frugally. A festive home adds a special flavor and joy to the holiday season, but it often feels like an incredible chore to get out all those decorations and fill the house with them. It can also be a big expense.
Take a different approach this Friday. Spend some time in a park gathering pinecones or other materials for handmade natural decorations. String popcorn or dried berries together. Teach your children how to make handmade paper snowflakes, and use them for decor. These inexpensive decorations can give your home a festive and natural look for the holiday season.
Make a plan so you're not panicked before the big holiday. What are your plans for the holiday season? Are you going to have guests over? Are people going to stay at your house? Are you traveling? What kinds of meals are you going to be expected to prepare?
Get a jump on these things now, and spend Friday figuring out exactly what you need to do. Then, come up with a plan for the month of December that allows you to get all these things done one step at a time. Give yourself some tasks for the first week, some for the second week, and then a few daily tasks after that, so that if you follow the plan, the holidays go off without any unexpected hitches or big expenses.
You don't have to go out shopping on Black Friday to fill yourself with the holiday spirit. A day spent doing other things, like making homemade gifts or writing holiday cards for friends and family, can put you in the holiday mood without spending a lot of money on stuff you don't need and your family likely doesn't want.
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.