Monday, April 4, 2011

How I shop for cheap

I was born to be a shopper. And much more than that, I was born to be a budget shopper*. My mother is the master of shopping for a great deal (as in $400 down to $14 great deal). While I have not yet reached her level in deal-hunting, I've learned a few tricks of my own, and thought I'd share.
  • Timing. Shopping only takes as short or long as you want it to. If you have 30 minutes, you have time to shop. Sometimes the quickest decisions force you to make a good one (if not, look below on returning).
  • Be patient. If it's not perfect, or not on sale (and you want it to be), don't buy it. Better to have one of what you actually want than three similar pieces that just don't cut it.
  • Know its worth. No, not the value of the fabric, or worksmanship, but what the piece is worth to you. How much are you willing to pay? Keep that in mind.
  • Round up. If it's $18, call it $20 (it will be at least that after tax). If it's $13, call it $15. 
  • Try it on. A hanger is nothing like a woman's body, so it's really hard to judge. Even if you're just slipping it on over your clothes, try it.
  • Shop for now. Sure, we all want to lose another 5 pounds, but will we? Who knows. Shop for the body you have now. If you're looking at an investment piece (a suit, per se), but still hope for changes in your body, buy value now and invest later.
  • Return at will. If you can't try it on, or if it's a great deal and you can't bear to make a choice, make sure you can return it. Keep your potential return receipts in your wallet (or somewhere else where you can find it easily) and make note of return deadlines. All those little purchases add up.
  • Leave empty-handed. Don't shop just to buy something. Be okay with leaving with nothing.
  • Shop discount. Ross, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack...there are plenty of places where you can find great deals on quality duds. Just be picky when you're there--there is a lot of nothingness to sift through.
  • Thrift. I am not that experience here, but am hoping to start this soon.
  • Don't be duped. An extra percentage off is usually only worth it when it can be applied to already-on-sale items.
  • Step away from the computer. In my experience, stores generally have better sale prices in person than online (plus, you don't have to pay shipping). If you can't find your size or the right color in store, but you know it exists, ask the sales associate to call another store. Oftentimes they can either hold the item for you or send it to your store so you can still get the store sale price.
Some of my favorite budget purchases have been my $6 Old Navy trousers, my $16 Nina pumps (which still retail at full price for $89), my $13 LOFT skirt (sale + coupon), and my Ann Taylor suit ($40 total after clearance and coupon).

*I know budget means different things to different people, and at the core is just spending less than you make. Budget clothes for me mean under $50 in general, and under $20 for things like tees and tanks. I do randomly splurge, however, although I do make sure to stay within my means. I'm debt-free and intend to stay that way.

What are your budget shopping tips?


  1. Very good tips! Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. That's a pretty good list of tips, and with that outlook, I think you'll do just fine as a thrift shopper! That said, I do disagree w/ the online versus brick and mortar one for those of us who are unusually sized--for me, brick and mortar is often just not possible, and it's better to suck it up and pay S&H to get stuff that actually fits.

  3. some good tips...i have already applied some to my shopping mantras and the rest ill try to!!!

  4. thanks for these tips! you've seriously found some amazing deals in your time and i loved your suggestions. i have to get into thrifting too!

    cute & little

  5. Awesome tips as always! Here are a few things I've picked up along the way:

    Check newspaper circulars, email newsletters and websites for coupons. JCPenny and Kohls have $10 off a $25 purchase in the newspaper, text or by direct mail all the time. The Banana Republic/Gap family sends out discount coupons via email often. It can be a pain to get all those eNewsletters, but it really pays off in the long run.

    See if your favorite stores have shopper clubs or panels. I belong to JCP Rewards Club to get GCs for reaching spending levels and for certain participation. I also belong to JCP Insiders and get everything from GCs to free clothing for being a panel tester. (It's by invite only, if you want an invite, let me know).

    If you prefer online shopping use eBates to get cash back quarterly. Also check retailmenot for discount codes. I think everybody knows about sites like Guilt Group, Rue La La and Ideeli who offer limited time sales on designer duds, but if not, that's also a good place to get bargains (depending on your budget level).

    There's a lot of ways to dress well and still be frugal!

  6. great tips! I especially LOVE the leave emptyhanded one... So important to remember. I apply pretty much all of your principles to my home purchases too!

  7. One tip I have for thrifting is learning to shop off-season. For example, I am now thrifting for fall items. The spring items I'll be wearing were thrifted many months snag those things people have cleaned out of their closet making room for new seasonal clothes.

  8. What a great post! Smart shopping is a key consideration for any young professional!

    My tips? I consult reviews online and talk to friends about the products they have bought and enjoyed. I am also a huge fan of the traditional discount stores - T.J. Maxx and Marshall's!

    Here are the best sources for customer reviews:

    And here are my discount store tips:

  9. @bows and sparrows - you're welcome!

    @grace - that's a good point. I shop regular sizes, so in-store is often cheaper. Specialty sizes are probably best found online since in-store inventory is probably less.

    @shooting star - thanks!

    @kileen - I can't wait to start thrifting! I've already grabbed a few Sactown girls to help me. :)

    @rachel - YES! I can't believe I forgot ebates. I don't shop more at one store than another, and I don't get the newspaper, but for those that do, those are great tips!

    @ashley - oh, yes, these would help in any shopping situation.

    @terri - that's another thing I have to learn!

    @freshinkblog - great tips! Thanks for the links.

  10. These are fabulous tips! What a great post, thanks for taking the time to write all of these out!

  11. i think people often forget that leaving empty handed is okay! it's better to not buy anything at all than to waste something you're eh about cause you'll never really feel great wearing it.

  12. @ melissa - thanks hon!

    @ step - yes! It is definitely worth the wait instead of buying something for immediate gratification. If I ever get in the mood that I have to buy SOMETHING (anything), I usually head to the coffee shop and treat myself to a green tea latte. Much cheaper and just as enjoyable.

  13. Great tips and great reminders! Another place to scope out are estate sales and garage sales. It might be tough to find the right size for certain items, but if you have a little sewing knowledge you can score some great deals and find cool vintage duds. =)

  14. @stylepint - oh those are good ideas! I like garage and estate sales for home goods or fun little things, but I've never tried them for clothes.

  15. Love these tips! I'd add to look for discounts/coupons online. For example, Express and Loft constantly send me coupons for 40% off. A simple google search can save you tons!

    As for thrifting, I loooove thrifting and am hooked! I wrote a series on thrifting tips for newbies. It may take some digging, but you can find some fabulous deals at thrift stores.

  16. @hercatwalk - yes! google searching is awesome. Nice posts!


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