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Shopping Madness: 5 Tips to Get an Extra Bargain

Retail stores are opening earlier than ever to try to catch the wave of Black Friday shoppers -- see disgruntled Wal-Mart employees for more information and kvetching -- but a scan of the ads thus far isn't offering too much incentive to risk life and limb at a midnight -- excuse me, 8 p.m., whatever -- store opening. A few retailers even started their deals online today (probably a boon to public safety), and many more will put their deals online starting Thanksgiving so shoppers can sit at home in PJs bloating on turkey instead of sitting in a pup tent outside Best Buy.

There are the standard cut-rates on third-tier flat-panel TVs. Wal-Mart is selling an iPad for the same price that the Apple store charges, but is throwing in a $75 gift card with purchase. Other stores are offering "doorbusters" that amount to 25-50 percent off or so. In other words, nothing you can't find in winter and summer clearance periods.

Yes, I'm a huge fan of off-season shopping. I'm also a longtime advocate of the bargain hunt, considering I've always been a fashionista label-snob but have always drawn a journalist's salary. And even when I started making more money, I was set in my ways: Why buy regular price when redlines exist? Hunting for bargains, with years of strategy and wins under one's belt, is a sport of sorts. Unfortunately, days like Black Friday are turned into a full-contact sport -- see the case of the Wal-Mart worker trampled to death in 2008. And there's a bit of disappointment, as a fiscal conservative, to see people throwing things in the cart en masse that may not be the best deal after all.

So in the interest of shopping diplomacy, here are a few things to watch as you shop.