I’m a 5th Degree Black Belt in Competitive Shopping…& Training an Army.

15 12 2011

As I sit in my cozy living room, proudly surveying our beautiful Christmas tree twinkling with colorful lights, I can’t help but feel a warm rush of pride when I look at all of our presents for our two families neatly wrapped and sitting under the tree.

And guess what? I was done with all of my shopping–for thirteen people–by Thanksgiving.

Know why?

I’m a 5th degree black belt in competitive shopping.

Well, probably. I don’t really know anything about the whole belt system in karate. If we’re being totally honest, I’m hoping that the belt system is even applicable to karate–I took a semester of tae kwon do in college for a PE credit, and really I only paid attention to the terminology enough to know how to kick dummies properly.

Oh, you don’t believe I’m a black belt in shopping?

Read on.

Read off.

Read on.

Ok, not everything translates from classic karate movies to my vernacular, apparently.

Let’s take into account my rigorous training: a childhood of battling crowds at Mall of America, plentiful hours shopping in luxury destinations such as Las Vegas, Florence, Orange County, and Rome, and most importantly, a shopping master: my mother. She trained me to battle everything from Saks Fifth Avenue to the local Goodwill stores.

Add to that an impressively long 8-year career in competitive track and field, and time well spent as the high school’s cross-country captain, and you have a recipe for one part shopping enthusiast, one part endurance athlete.

Alas, I count myself as a 5th degree only because I have many years of competitive shopping training ahead of me, if I want to reach the super-human level of my mom. She still schools me by way of credit limit, shopping bag hauling, and rewards card perks. Oh, and not to mention she can get a mean deal on Ebay.

My only hope is to surpass her in the online world of Groupon and Living Social, which I wield like a sword as she remains skeptical of dubious online outlets.

Someday, Grasshopper.

In the true spirit of zen (maybe, I’m guessing?), I’ve decided to pass on my competitive shopping skills to a whole new generation. Over the last few years, I’ve patiently trained many a young enthusiast in the fine art of sifting through items at Goodwill to find an incredible steal, shopping in the off-season to get deeply discounted merchandise, and knowing when to properly pounce on an excellent bargain that they simply can’t pass up. One of my finest moments was recently hearing one of my youth remark to me, “Like you always say, Cassie, you can always buy it and return it later if you change your mind…but once you pass it up, you can’t get that opportunity back.”

Oh, Imelda Marcos would be so proud.

In fact, I’ve trained a small army of competitive shoppers so well that they decided this year to embark on the ultimate challenge:

Black Friday shopping…all night long.

First, we did our good deed for the night and took a crew of high school youth to the local Target, to pass out warm hot chocolate to the hundreds of people standing in line in the freezing cold–a simple way to cheer people up and remind them to love each other, and that God loves them. Who knows, perhaps our small youth group ‘s act of kindness–that the kids themselves planned–is the reason that there weren’t any pepper spray attacks in south St. Louis this year?

As soon as we ran out of supplies, however, we wiped the kind smiles off of our faces and got down to business.

Over coffee and carbo-loading at IHOP (all-you-can-eat pancakes, to be precise!), we studied reams of paper detailing the secret Black Friday specials of several major stores. As we sat, planning our strategy, I had these fine words to tell my young friends:

“Be strong. Grab the good deals without hesitation. Remember, you can always put it back on the shelf if you change your mind–but if you miss it that first time, it’ll be gone forever.”

Lines at our local mall at 3:00 am...it was packed!

Then, as we tied our scarves around our foreheads like true karate enthusiasts (no, I’m not kidding), I said these profound words:

“If I’m going to be out shopping with you all night, I better not hear one word of complaint about how tired you are, or how you’re sick of standing in line, or how you want to go home. You make a decision now to commit to this thing–it’s Black Friday 2011, and we will not be stopped until we literally drop.”

Ironically, for some reason, the kids were wistful that I hadn’t brought along any eye-black, so we could truly suit up for the occasion.

Next year, perhaps.

We battled our way into  a parking spot at the mall at midnight, as stores flung open their doors and piles of sweaters, phones, and lotions stood gleaming on racks, just calling out to us. After hitting a total of several dozen stores at the mall over the course of several hours, we then drove to Best Buy–where employees fearfully looked at us parading through the doors with vim and vigor at 3:45 am with terror, like we were ravenous flesh-eating zombies ready to drain the life out of them. After Best Buy, we hit Walgreens, and briefly considered going back to the mall–but decided that by that time (5:00 am), all the good stuff would be gone already.

With my car piled high with bags, we triumphantly returned home.

Victorious young shoppers, justly earning their own black belts in competitive shopping.

Now, a few weekends later, I just got a new assignment–er, call–from one of my young protegés:

“Hey Cass, I need to get an outfit…can we go shopping?”

Shop on, young Grasshopper.

Shop on.