And the shopping frenzy begins...

Yesterday, I stopped by Barnes & Noble on the way home, and I couldn't help but notice it looked unusually crowded. I felt like I was at a jam-packed Toys ''R" Us or Wal-Mart rather than a bookstore.

Then I remembered: It's the holidays, dummy!

And I went on a good day: Magazines were 30% off, so I snagged a special edition of TIME, which focused on the psychology of relationships, and the latest edition of Lapham's Quarterly, which centers on none other than my favorite historical figure of late -- Alexander Hamilton.

I later ventured over to the kids aisle and saw a Star Wars toy that I know my nephew will go gaga over. And I grabbed it just in time, as a kid came up to me and asked where exactly had I seen the toy. To his dismay, it was the very last item of its kind in stock.

It was only one day after Black Friday and I had already gotten a taste of the holiday shopping frenzy that's sure to sweep the nation over the next couple of weeks.

Judging from what I saw on the racks at Barnes & Noble, among the hottest items for kids this year are Star Wars, Strawberry Shortcake, Num Noms, Trolls, and Legos.

And let's not forget what's arguably the second biggest shopping day of the year behind Black Friday. Cyber Monday is tomorrow, and I know several people who plan to take to the internet before 7 a.m. to try to scoop up TVs, Blu-Ray Players, and other products at fantastic discounts. My wife and I plan to take a gander at the specials Amazon and other sites are featuring, in hopes of scoring a great deal on a laptop.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I sat out the Black Friday brouhaha and instead opted to do my shopping piecemeal over the next few weeks, even if it meant paying a little more. The fact is that stores are so eager to boost sales that they're offering great sales through the rest of the year. That's why I caution friends and family against feeling the urge doing all their shopping in one fell swoop. The merchants want us to think that the best deals are exclusive to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but that's not always the case.

More important, be careful not to spend money you don't have this holiday season. I know everyone wants to get a nice gift for all their loved ones, but this just isn't feasible for everyone. Just because something is on sale doesn't make it cheap. If you want to stretch your money further, you'll have to limit yourself to a set dollar amount per person.

Unfortunately, far too many people try to take the easy way out by running up their credit cards, only to pay the consequences later. Don't let this happen to you!  Be a savvy consumer and try to get the most bang for your buck instead. And this goes without saying: If there's something you really don't care to buy for yourself or someone else, don't be swayed into doing so by advertisements just to take advantage of a "limited time" offer.

Remember, even if they're peddling something at half off, you might still have to dole out a good chunk of money to purchase the item. Once you start trying to capitalize on as many sales you can find, you may quickly find yourself in the hole.

Happy -- and smart -- shopping, everyone!

Are there any stores you plan to hit up this holiday season? Are you looking to score deals online?

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