ways to spend Black Friday

Today is the beginning of the holiday shopping season in the United States (although thanks to online sales it is creeping into other parts of the world as well), and if you’ve been out and about you’ve likely seen stores that are more crowded than they have been all year. With incredible (re: crazy) discounts and every merchant trying to get their hands on the consumer dollar, it seems odd that this day is the one that marks the onset of shopping season, After all, it is the day after Americans give thanks for all that they have – and all Black Friday seems to offer is the chance to go out and get more stuff to be thankful for (or not) next Thanksgiving.If you’ve overdosed on family togetherness around the Thanksgiving bird and the thought of venturing into a store on Black Friday leaves you shuddering, take heart. There are still a host of things you can do on Black Friday that don’t involve fighting crowds and shelling out a lot of dough. Here’s a sampling of things to do and places to go, and many are free.

1. Experience a national treasure. All national parks and historic sites are open Friday. While administrative offices may be closed, visitors centers, museums and sites will be open. Tours will be available as usual.

2. Explore a park you haven’t yet visited in your own town — or a nearby town. Parks in most states and municipalities are open 365 days a year.

3. Commune with the animals. Many zoos are open year-round, holidays included. This time of year, you will also find zoos with holiday light displays, that really bring the place to life as it starts to get dark. Double check with your zoo, as sometimes there is an extra fee for the night lights show.

4. Have an artful day. Many art museums are open on Friday. Get there early and avoid the crowds sure to come in the afternoon after their holiday shopping. Or check out art districts. Black Friday sales aren’t limited to shopping malls. Art galleries want your business, too, though there’s no charge just to look. Here are 9 ways to visit museums on the cheap.

5. Scoop up deals on Thanksgiving decor. While everyone else is shoving their ways through crowded aisles to nab doorbuster deals, head to your nearby grocery stores and/or drug stores (such as Walgreens or CVS). All those Thanksgiving-themed items from plates and cups to napkins and knick-knacks will be reduced in price by 50 percent or more, as retailers clear the shelves for even more Christmas paraphernalia. You’ll find a ton of items decorated with autumn leaves or in warm fall colors, ideal for parties down the road.

6. Pull out a cookbook (or check the Internet) and try a new recipe — preferably nothing having to do with turkey or sweet potatoes. Living on the Cheap’s Heidi McIndoo offers 23 delicious ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers.

7. Take in a movie. Film studios roll out their best films these last few weeks of the year, in hopes of building Oscar buzz. Check out what’s playing at your local cinema and see the performances everyone will be talking about. Remember that most theaters offer discount tickets for morning or early-afternoon showings, so if you want to really save, try a 10 a.m. screening then grab a bite of lunch afterward.

8. Start making some homemade gifts. Do you knit or crochet? Enjoy a quiet day while creating some thoughtful gifts for loved ones. Make packages of cards, make homemade vanilla extract, or create special Christmas ornaments with the kids.

9. Clean out your closets. Instead of adding more possessions, gather up things you don’t use to sell or give away. Pack them into bags or boxes and donate them to a non-profit such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. Not only will your home be tidy, but you can get a receipt for a tax-deduction.

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