RALEIGH -- For true Black Friday warriors, Thanksgiving wasn't a day off but a chance to prepare for battle.
Lots of people meander to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving just to see what the fuss is about. Others get up early, drive to the closest big-box store, grab the laptop they've been coveting and run back to bed.
But the truly devoted skip family dinners. They print maps of the floor plans of their favorite stores. They shop straight through the night, fueled either by caffeine or just the thrill of the almighty discount.
To those who are less fanatical about Black Friday, the fact that more major stores opened at midnight or on Thanksgiving itself was inconvenient. But die-hard Black Friday shoppers pushed forward with elaborate shopping plans Friday, the latest sign of just how far people will go to get a good deal in the weak economy.
Millie Ayala, 28, and her two sisters headed to the Toys R Us in Times Square to get in line at 5:30 p.m., more than three hours before the store's opening. They carried printouts of the store's ads and went over their strategy: Each would take one floor.
"Finances have been tough -- things are getting more expensive," said Ayala, a receptionist in New York who has two daughters, 2 and 4, and saved about $220. "But with Black Friday, things are a lot more affordable."
Keith Harris, an information technology consultant in Raleigh, also leaves his family dinner early on Thanksgiving to prepare for Black Friday. Just after 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, as he speeds his Ford pickup to the nearest Wal-Mart, he doesn't have time to wonder if Christmas has become over-commercialized.
"When Christmas comes and you're able to give more than expected because you saved money on certain items, it's a good feeling," said Harris, 38, who prints out maps of stores, scours ads and jokes that he wears sneakers on Black Friday because it's easier to run for sales.
Harris has been perfecting his Black Friday strategies for eight years. Last year, he paid his 20-year-old son and two teenage nephews $25 each plus breakfast to stand in line. This year, he talked his cousin Tonia Glasco into wheeling an extra cart at Wal-Mart.
At Wal-Mart on Friday, Harris and Glasco grab shopping carts, consult Harris' map and turn to the right down an aisle with telescopes and dolls. Harris is focused on his prey: a trampoline for his son, 8, for $158, and a convertible toy car for his daughter, 3, for $99. He's not sure of their original prices, but he figures he saves at least 30 percent off retail every year.
The fervent among the Black Friday die-hards give up Thanksgiving.
Lisette Rodriguez, 30, showed up at 9 p.m. Wednesday to stake out a spot in line at Best Buy in Manhattan's Upper East Side, which opened at midnight. She hoped to buy a Sharp 42-inch TV for $199.99 for herself and a PlayStation 3 for her 12-year-old son. She and three other relatives took turns holding their spot for 27 hours: Rodriguez slipped out for a Thanksgiving meal before returning.
"It's worth it," Rodriguez said.