It's 5 a.m., and Mary and Charles Livingston are at Home Depot, with a plan to save $700.
The husband and wife are in need of a new washer and dryer, for which they're about to pay $1,500. Along the way, they pick up a pot of decorative poinsettias, but overall they stuck to their plan.
This weekend, the average U.S. adult plans to spend $218, up from $159 in 2011, according to the Consumer Electronics Association's 19th Annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns Study.
Overall, 37 percent of U.S. adults planned to shop Black Friday, with one-third going to a retail store and 20 percent shopping online. Saturday and Cyber Monday will be the next most popular shopping days of the weekend, with more than a third of adults planning to shop on Saturday and a quarter going in-store or online on Monday.
"The 2012 Thanksgiving weekend has the potential to be the biggest shopping weekend on record," said Shawn DuBravac, the association's chief economist and senior director of research. "A full 66 percent of shoppers haven't completed any of their holiday shopping, but on average, by the end of the weekend, consumers expect to have completed some 30 percent of their holiday shopping."
After their trip to Home Depot, the Livingstons ate breakfast, then stopped at J.C. Penney, where they spent $280 on clothing for each other and family. At Kohl's, they each had a stack of about five pieces of clothing and still were looking around. Charles joked they would end up spending what they saved at Home Depot by the time they had finished for the day. And with Target, Payless and Sears lurking in the vicinity, the two could do some damage.
But both agreed that other factors could rein in their spending. The Livingstons said they're waiting for a house to close, and family medical bills are a factor.
"We're as fortunate as we can be given the economy," Charles said.
Rita Moran also started her Black Friday quest at 5 a.m. By 9 a.m., she had visited J.C. Penney, Payless and Kohl's. She still had her sights set on Target.
"We do it every year until we find everything we need," Moran said.
Specifically, she was looking for shoes, winter boots and clothing. While talking, she was in line at Kohl's to buy graphic T-shirts for her fiance, Jon, and sequined boots.
Elsewhere in Kohl's, the jewelry counter was steady, with customers taking numbers. The checkout line stayed consistent at about 20 to 30 shoppers deep, but moved fairly quickly.
The nearby J.C. Penney, which was operating multiple checkout lines throughout the store, had consistent lines of about 10 shoppers deep at each. The shoe department was particularly busy, and store manager Monique Stuart said many customers were spending money on winter shoes. Overall, Stuart said her location at 4485 S. Grand Canyon Drive had one of the largest Black Friday openings in recent years.
"It's actually been fabulous," she said.
Within 30 minutes of opening, all of the on-sale small appliances were raided, and within 10 minutes, 300 pashmina scarves were gone.
Alicia Bradford, who was holding a mountain of clothing in the boys section, said in her opinion, Black Friday was quieter this year.
She started her shopping at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving, to take advantage of Wal-Mart's early sales. By 10 a.m. Friday, she had added two more trips to Wal-Mart and a visit to Toys R Us and J.C. Penney. Bradford shopped primarily for her two children and estimated she spent about $400, not including the goods from J.C. Penney.
She mentioned that at 5 a.m., crickets could be heard inside Wal-Mart.
"It's never like that on Black Friday, ever," she said.
At the 8 p.m. Thanksgiving opening, though, Bradford said she could barely move inside Wal-Mart.
At the Forum Shops at Caesars, people were lined up outside of Apple, H&M and Victoria's Secret for their openings. The Forum's marketing and business development director, Maureen Crampton, said Black Friday at the center was "going famously."
She added that leather goods, accessories and clothing seem to be hot luxury items right now. The retail center is expecting a 3 percent to 4 percent sales increase over 2011.
"It looks as if the consumer is looking to make a luxury purchase this season, whether it be for others or themselves," Crampton said. "We are unlike most traditional malls, which I think makes it appealing. We always seem to garner shoppers during the holiday season because you're not fighting big box."
Another factor that might contribute to a bump in holiday retail sales is the addition of about five days to the holiday shopping season because of Thanksgiving coming earlier this year.
"That's really great for not only the shopper, but also the economy," Crampton said.
Elisia Coulter manages the Kohl's store at 4265 S. Grand Canyon Drive, which she said is "definitely" meeting holiday sales projections thus far.
"This season it seemed like everyone was in quite high spirits," she noted.
But that could have been the promise of candy canes, which were handed out to those waiting in checkout lines. Children were given stickers.
"Keeping the children happy is key to keeping the parents happy," Coulter said.
While some families brought young children, Coulter said many of the people who came to Kohl's Black Friday event were groups of sisters and friends who make Black Friday shopping a tradition.
"It seems like it's becoming more fun every year," Coulter said. "They're out to get a bargain, but they're out to have fun as well, which is nice."
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4588.