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More shoppers expected to hit the stores for Black Friday sales

COVINGTON -- More shoppers are expected to take advantage of Black Friday sales this year and spend more money.

Up to 152 million shoppers could be out and about during the most popular shopping day of the year, according to a prediction by the National Retail Federation. Last year's estimate was 138 million. Holiday retail sales are expected to hit $465.6 billion, a 2.8 percent increase from last year. Some retailers like Macy's, Kohl's and Target, are hoping to make bigger bucks by opening at midnight.

The average shopper will do about 36 percent of shopping online, up from 32.7 percent last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Cyber Monday, the online equivalent to Black Friday, has taken off in popularity, with retail websites offering coupons, sales, limited-time promotions and free shipping.

"As a direct result of increased demand, online retailers will offer hard-to-pass-up deals to shoppers all season long -- before, on and after Cyber Monday," said Shop.org Executive Director Vicki Cantrell. "In addition to many free shipping promotions, there will be plenty of extra ways to save on Cyber Monday, including percentages off entire sites and online-only sales."

Take Charge America, a national nonprofit credit counseling agency, is urging consumers to keep the big picture in mind and not overspend this holiday season.

"It's very easy to lose track of the true meaning of the holidays," Director of Education Mike Sullivan said in a press release. "It's about spending time with loved ones and giving thanks, not impressing house guests or purchasing gifts beyond our means."Shoppers who try to find a gift inspiration at the mall fall victim to impulse buys, pay less attention to price tags and are more likely to overspend, he said. Sullivan advised creating a shopping list and budget and comparing prices online before heading to the stores.

Putting gifts on layaway also isn't smart, according to Sullivan. Paying in installments can often result in fees. If you're considering layaway, that likely means you can't afford the gift in the first place, Sullivan said. He advised finding less expensive options, or free "gifts of time," such as babysitting or doing yard work.

Another way to save money during the holidays is to skip fancy wrapping paper and materials and instead wrap gifts in newspaper or decorate plain white paper with markers and glitter.

According to a Georgia Credit Union Affiliates poll, 45.1 percent of respondents report their holiday shopping budget to be between $100 and $500, and a majority plan on spending the same as last year.

Forty percent of consumers say an item's being on sale is the single most important factor in their decision to buy.

More consumers, three out of four, are also expected to pay with cash this year, according to Georgia Credit Union Affiliates. Retailers including Kmart, Sears, Walmart and Toys "R" Us, are bringing back layaway services in anticipation of a shift to cash payments.

According to Robert Dyal, vice president of business services and lending for Robins Federal Credit Union, there has been some reluctance among members to borrow or use credit cards for holiday expenses over the last several years.

"I don't believe many of our members will spend as freely as they did years ago, during more stable or growing economic times," Dyal said. He expects loan demand during the holidays to be similar to what it has been the past two years.

"Consumer confidence is still low and may not pick up again until after the coming election," Dyal added.

Dyal advised consumers to look ahead to next holiday season to break a cycle of building up holiday debt.

"Consumers should begin saving early in the year in order to avoid being cash-strapped during or after the holiday season," he said. "Designate and set aside a specific dollar amount each pay period and deposit it into a savings account."