Hello there! We all have that one friend. You know the one — the one who always looks fabulous, has a perfectly curated closet, and her expensive-looking shoes always happen to be $30 or less. As an outsider, how annoying is it that some people just always manage to get the best deals? Believe me, I get it. I’ve had those friends and I was sick of being on the outside wondering when I would have the killer closet (on a twenty-something’s budget) — so, I became that friend. I’m a firm believer in looking expensive on a broke girl’s budget and my blog’s mission is to help others achieve this, too. Working in the retail industry for a few years now (and majoring in apparel merchandising in college) has taught me a thing or two about the way retailers work and ultimately, how to shop the best deals.
My boyfriend will tell you that if I’m not at work or planning out blog posts, I’m shopping online. I’d like to consider myself an online-shopping veteran of sorts — I understand the lay of the land and can anticipate when I’ll get the best deals (but more on that later). But, I get that not everyone has the background I have and can find shopping to be a total hassle — that’s where I come in. I’ve learned a handful of tricks over the years that have helped me be a savvier shopper and that friend. Want to be that friend, too? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be here! Let’s get started!
7 Habits of Highly Effective Shoppers
1. Nail Your Timing
Honestly, if you get one takeaway from this, I hope it’s this: timing is everything. I expressed a similar sentiment in Shopping Secrets From a J. Crew Addict and it’s for good reason. After working in the field for a few years, I understand how markdown and promotional cadences work. Most of your specialty retailers (think Banana, LOFT, J. Crew, etc.) follow the same type of calendar for new product releases and seasonal markdowns. There’s obviously a lot that goes into that, but here’s what you need to know.
There are 2 key time-frames for the deepest discounts: January and July. These months are considered the very end of the two biggest seasons for retailers, winter and summer. These markdowns will be deep — at least 50% off the original price, if not more! These items will mostly be seasonal styles that you won’t get a ton of use out of in that season (since it’s over), but you’ll be happy you have it when the weather shifts back again.
If an item is hot and won’t make it to the end of the season, that’s fine too. After a retailer releases a new item, wait 3-4 weeks — it’s bound to be included in some sort of promotion. This will be a lower discount (25-30% off) than if you waited, but if it’s trendy and will sell out, this will be your best bet. Basically, the rule of thumb is the longer you wait, the deeper the discount. This leads me to my next point…
2. Patience, Patience, Patience!
I can’t stress this one enough! I know how satisfying it can be impulse shopping, but you do not need to be paying full price for something that if you waited just a few weeks, you could save major money on. This is the one I pride myself on the most. People ask me often how I can afford so much J. Crew. Condescending comment aside, it’s because I know my timing and I’m patient. I have literally never paid full price at J. Crew — ever. If you’re willing to wait, your wallet will thank you. That being said, it’s good to monitor those must-have styles. If they’re a must for you, chances are they’re a must for other shoppers too, and if you don’t keep a close eye on inventory, it’ll sell out. I make a point of checking a least once a week on the items I know I intend on buying, but they haven’t been discounted yet. If you see sizes selling down, go ahead and pull the trigger!
3. Plan Ahead
I always kick off each season with a wish list. I get it, you’re not as crazy as me and probably don’t do this, but it really helps! My wish list takes into consideration two things — the trends that I want to play in and the basics I need to refresh. I then break this down into “need to haves” and “nice to haves” and prioritize. If you’re on a budget, this is key! For example, that trendy top is cute and all, but if you’re only going to get a few uses out of it, it’s probably better to invest in new leather ankle boots that you’ll wear every week and for years to come.
Note: By planning ahead, you can also be strategic about coupons and online discount codes that your item may be eligible for!
4. Know When Quality Counts
It’s probably the hundreds of hours I spent in classes learning about fiber properties, fabric content and garment construction, but quality is number one for me. After college, I stopped shopping at Forever 21 immediately. Ethics aside, I couldn’t care less how cheap their clothing is if it just falls apart after wearing it once. If you constantly get frustrated by this too, you should think about upgrading your brand choices. Now, with higher quality comes a higher price and we obviously don’t all have unlimited budgets on clothing and accessories. So, it becomes important to pick your battles.
A basic rule of thumb is to go for quality on basics and items you carry from season to season, and skimp a little on trendy fast-fashion items. For example, things I never skimp on: shoes (mostly flats and boots), jeans and sweaters. These are fit-critical styles that I live in most of the year and I need them to last. On the other hand, trendy statement jewelry or that ruffled, one-shoulder top with the cut-outs? Go ahead and pick it up from Zara or H&M. You’ll likely only wear it that season before it’s out of style anyway, so you don’t need to spend a pretty penny on it. There’s a reason it’s called fast-fashion, so be weary of buying anything you plan to wear more than 4-5 times from one of these retailers.
Pretty simple, right? Let’s move on.
5. Hit Subscribe
Don’t you hate it when you get to work on Monday and everyone is talking about the same killer sale they shopped over the weekend that you missed? You had no idea about this amazing sale, so you sat at home bingeing The Crown on Netflix for 12 hours straight. There is a pretty simple solve to this — always hit subscribe. If there are retailers you consistently shop at, always subscribe to their emails and mailers. Just by signing up, you typically get a discount code for your next purchase. Over time, you’ll start to see the savings pile up from those email-only flash sales (I’m looking at you, LOFT) and customer-specific coupon codes.
Note: Subscribing is also the best way to ensure you’re getting the best deal. Often, online will have a slightly better sale than in store or vice versa. Usually the details are spelled out in the email, so you can determine if you need to make a trip to the mall or not.
6. It Pays to Be Loyal
Alright, you’ve subscribed — but now what? Take your relationship to the next step by committing to a few you love. Now, I’m not saying you have to sign up for every brand’s credit card, nor should you. But, there are some major perks of having a brand credit card. For example, I have them for the brands I do 70% of my shopping at: J. Crew, Gap and Target. With Target, I save 5% on EVERY purchase, which racks up crazy quickly. At Gap, I get 10% off every purchase, not to mention early access to sales, higher discounts than non-cardholders and exclusive offers (plus it can be used at Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta). J. Crew’s card definitely takes longer to rack up rewards due to the higher price-points and threshold, but in one year of having my card, I’ve received at least $75 in reward cards. They also send you a coupon for your birthday and for being a loyal customer around the holidays.
Now, if a card isn’t for you, that’s fine too! The more purchases you make consistently with a brand, the more coupons you’ll get. You know when they take your email and phone number at the end of a transaction in store? It’s truly to send you coupons. Take advantage of this and you’ll reap the rewards!
7. Shop Around
As loyal as I am to my few favorite brands, I’m smart enough to know that sometimes other brands do it better, at a lower price. When I do my planning ahead for the season, I shop around. If I’m looking for leather mule slides, I’ll hop online and first look at my favorite retailers. Even if they have a style I love, I’ll do a search on Polyvore or ShopStyle, filtering by price. Sometimes, I’ll find an identical pair for half the price. If I have a big shopping trip in Indy around the corner, I’ll usually scan retailers online first to better plan where to go.
Bonus Tip: Get Paid to Shop
Say what? I know what you’re thinking, “that sounds like a scam.” It’s not, I promise — it’s just my enticing way of getting you to grab your smartphone and download a few apps. You would be shocked by how many free apps there are that give you rebates and cash back on purchases you were already planning to make. I use Ibotta on a weekly basis, which essentially has you scan your receipts and select qualifying items you bought and you get cash back directly. I’ve used this for a little over a year on and off and I’m almost up to my third $25 giftcard! Other great ones that I or my close friends frequently use are Receipt Hog, Ebates and Honey.
What do you think? Did you learn a thing or two? If you have any shopping-related questions, please holla at me in the comments!
Until next time —