Best Buy stores in Roanoke and Christiansburg opened at 5 a.m. today. Kohls opened an hour before that. According to the reports from those brave enough to venture into the area, Wal-Mart’s parking lot was packed with Christmas shoppers on Thanksgiving afternoon and is still packed right now before the sun comes up.

Some chain stores opened right after midnight, wanting a jump on "Black Friday," the busiest shopping day of the year, the day when most retailers hope to do at least 40 percent of their holiday business.

With consumer confidence headed into the crapper, most economic analysts expect a dismal holiday shopping season. Mortgage foreclosures, job losses and an overall nervousness about the future could mean cutting back by consumers.

Still, too many people will pull out too many credit cards to buy too many things that cannot afford and don’t need. On Wednesday, I watched a young man with credit cards close to their limits combine three of them to buy a $400 cell phone with all bells and whistles. I was there to buy a new phone too but used Verizon’s "new every two" discount and an extra rebate to cut my cost to under $50.

Still, my Wrangler gets less about 15 miles-per-gallon on Southwestern Virginia’s winding two-lane roads so my 90-mile roundtrip to buy a new phone that I could have done without added $18 in gas costs not to mention wear and tear on a seven-year-old Jeep. So I have little room to talk.

I may not be standing in line with the hoards on this Black Friday morning but I’m still a conspicuous consumer. At some point in this Christmas season, I will venture into the stores to buy gifts for loved ones and while the plastic that I pull out of my wallet will be a debit — not credit — card, the question still exists: Could my gift giving express just as much love by spending less?