After stuffing ourselves during Thanksgiving dinner, some of us got up early (and in some cases, really early) to partake in another great American ritual – spending like crazy on Black Friday. Some retailers like Wal-Mart and K-Mart got ahead of the game and had their doors open on Turkey Day.

I will never understand the point of lining up in front of a store in the wee hours of the morning just to get $5 off a sweater I didn’t really need in the first place. Even if I wanted to be part of the Black Friday madness, I would be doing it at the risk of my life – literally.

After a stampede last year at a Long Island, NY, Wal-Mart, which left one employee dead and three others injured, many retailers are increasing security and have run rehearsals with their staff on lining up customers outside of their stores. Shoppers will come to Wal-Mart stores this year and see erect barriers to help manage traffic flow and get wristbands on items with limited inventory.

Unfortunately, all of these security measures have to be taken because some people just don’t know how to be civilized anymore. Our consumer culture has turned some of us into unruly children and despite the current economic downturn and an unemployment rate in the double digits, retailers are still expected to see decent numbers of shoppers in their stores.

But my question remains: why are we resorting to a corrupt consumer culture and not spending our money better this holiday season? If waiting in front of a store at three in the morning or fighting with a fellow customer over getting the last iPod in stock is tempting, I have a few suggestions.

1) Save your money for a rainy day: If you don’t have any immediate shopping needs, your money would be more useful sitting in your savings account, especially if you are unemployed or at risk of losing your job. There is nothing cool about someone with no job but has a brand new $1,000 flat screen TV in their living room.

2) Shop Locally: If you have to shop this holiday season, consider supporting locally owned businesses. Many of them are struggling to stay open due to competition from national chain retailers. When you buy from a local business, you support the local economy and strengthen your community.

3) Donate to local nonprofits: Many churches and grassroots organizations that provide a wide variety of services in our communities are dealing with severe budget cuts this year. Food pantries and homeless shelters are especially needy this year, and your donations to them would go further in filling their gaps.

4) Help out a needy friend, family member or neighbor: We all know someone in our lives that could use a little help – financial or otherwise. Whether you invite your loved one out for lunch, help them search for a job, or just provide an ear to listen to them about their problems, the holiday season isn’t always about giving physical gifts, but giving the gift of your heart.