This is a newsletter article I thought I would dust off since pirates (alas, the very, very bad kind) are in the news again.
If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that yours truly shouldn’t watch pirate movies. They’re just too darn inspiring. They leave me dangerously inspired to draw you a map to lead right to the best shopping treasures out there.
You may hear about fabulous deals in consignment shops, outlet malls, thrift stores, little out of the way places, but you don’t know why you never find them yourself.
As your captain, I will help guide you through the rough sale waters. It’s high tide and time to pillage & plunder the stores!
1. Do your research
I must have been a research analyst in another life. How many of my columns include this advice? Regardless, I cannot stress this enough! Know what you like, what colors are your personal basics, and what accent colors look great on you. Know where to get what you like and what it should cost.
For instance, I like going to Talbots for basics. You better believe I hit the Talbots outlet in Solon (southeast of Cleveland). I bought a basic tropical wool suit there for…$60. Regular price was $180. And I’ve been able to wear it together and as separates more than almost anything in my closet. It was the right color, right fit, and I knew it was something I would get a lot of wear from.
2. Be prepared to shop off-season
Get rid of the preconceived notion that hey, it’s sunny now, so that means it’s time to buy capris. Great sale shoppers shop year round and plan ahead. So what if you’re buying tank tops in December and wool pants in June? I know this probably goes against everything your mother told you, but if you find something you love now, you will probably love it five months from now as well. Plus it’s always fun to pull out your winter or summer clothes and find something you completely forgot you bought!
3. Get chummy with the sales staff
If you can get over the fear of being pressured to buy something you don’t want, a good sales person can be your greatest ally. You better believe they have advance warning about sales, and they will usually spill the beans.
Why? Many department stores like Nordstrom have a commissioned sales personnel. And if they aren’t commissioned, like at Dillard’s, you can bet they have a sales quota to meet. If you see something you like on Thursday and the sale isn’t until Saturday, you may be able to get them to hold it for you.
4. Brush up on your sale dictionary
Think quick – what’s a promotion? What does clearance mean? Hmmm?? A promotion is done in-season to push merchandise. This is the same stuff you will find much cheaper at the end of the season when it’s put on clearance. Generally, prices keep getting slashed until the merchandise is gone or until it ends up being sent to an off-price retailer (TJ Maxx, Marshalls) or a clearance center (think Nordstrom Rack or Last Call Neiman Marcus).
The favorite place for my friends and me to pick up good stuff on clearance? After it has bypassed all these channels, it usually ends up on the clearance racks at TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Ross (which I love, but are everywhere EXCEPT the Midwest!)
5. Stay away from oddball pieces
One of my worst buys ever was a brown cotton prairie-style skirt (bought when they were hot) with pale blue embroidery and sequins. Yes, it was 75% off and I wore it for a special occasion, but now it’s going to gather dust in my downstairs closet until I give it away. To me that is a big-time waste. I was shopping at the last minute, which I never do, and I liked it – sort of. But I never would have purchased it in a non-pressure situation.
To avoid this pitfall, make sure whatever you buy can be worn with AT LEAST 3 other pieces you already have.
Even at 75% off, that skirt was no bargain. Not only was it a waste of $40 I could have put toward something I truly love and makes me feel great, but more importantly, it bugs me every time I see it. I always ask myself “Why?”
See, even the pros make occasional mistakes. But believe me, I think of that skirt every time temptation strikes to buy something on impulse.
6. Beware of the BOGO
You may know that this means when you buy one get one half off. To a great bargain hunter, it’s a sucker bet. If you never pay full price for anything, don’t pay full price now, even if you get one for 50% off. Here’s how it works. Say two pairs of shoes are $50 apiece. You buy one for $50 and you get one for $25. Combined, that’s only 25% off. Any moderately adept sale junkie knows that is no bargain.
A better buy that we used to see everywhere is the buy one get one FREE. Keep an eye out for this and take advantage of it when you see it.
7. Buy only what you LOVE and NEED
I have seen way too many closets with pieces of clothing with miscellaneous sale tags still hanging on them – “but it was Jones NY and it was only $20!” Beware – this is a serious money and space trap.
Think of your closet as precious high-rent real estate in Manhattan. You sure as heck want to maximize every square inch – because you HAVE to. Whether you have a huge walk-in closet or a teeny tiny one, there shouldn’t be space wasted by pieces you bought on sale that will never see the light of day. Be smart when you buy.