Since 2003, we’ve been dishing shopping tips here on TBF. Long time TBF readers probably think we sound like a broken record (cost per wear, 70/30 rule), but that’s because these shopping tips really do work. Recently someone asked us if we had a place to review all of our shopping tips and I realized that it would nice to have all of our best shopping tips in one place, sort of like a shopping tip vault, so that they’re easy to reference.
So,we scoured our archives to find our list of 25 proven shopping tips that help you save money and look fabulous, then put them into one (albeit very long) post. While others may have been “inspired by” (some would say “stolen from” TBF), these tips come straight from The Budget Fashionista.
25 Awesome Shopping Tips
Shopping Tip #1- Use the Cost Per Wear When Shopping.
Frequent TBF readers know this is something I’ve been preaching for years and is probably my No. 1 shopping tip. Value is the key when building a great closet and The Budget Fashionista’s cost per wear formula can help you get the most bang for your buck. The cost per wear is the price of an item divided by the number of times you think you’ll wear it. So if an item costs $100, and you wear it 10 times, the cost per wear is $10. The more you wear an item, the cheaper it becomes. This tip is especially important because it forces you to focus on the utility of an item, i.e. the usefulness of an item to you, rather than just the price. Paying $5 for something you never wear is $5 wasted.
Shopping Tip #2- Know Your Shape
Can you flip through a magazine or walk through a store and automatically know what styles are going to look good on you? You should be able to do this. When you know your body shape well enough, you won’t waste time and money on unflattering trends (remember those harem pants you bought? Yeah, we thought so). First, stand in front of a full-length mirror for a few minutes. Don’t suck it in or wear your Spanx, just be honest with yourself.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do you carry most of your weight in your hips and thighs? You’re a pear shape.
2. Are your chest and shoulders wider than your hips? You’re an inverted triangle.
3. Are your hips, shoulders, and waist pretty much the same size? You probably have a “rectangle” shape.
4. Can’t figure it out? Ask a close friend for her opinion.
Shopping Tip #3- Recycle Fashion.
Pay a visit to your mother and/or grandmother. While you’re there, offer to “help” clean out their closets. You’ll be amazed at the goodies you’ll find. While visiting my grandma in Milwaukee, I discovered a vintage Coach saddlebag, dating from around 1960, in mint condition amid a box of old magazines. If you are unable to visit a relative’s closet, try having a clothing swap party with your friends. Ask everyone to bring unwanted, high-quality clothing to exchange for similar items from other party-goers.
Shopping Tip #4- Follow the 70/30 Rule.
This rule helps you prioritize your spending dollars. Seventy percent of your wardrobe should be classic pieces. We’re talking a dark pencil skirt, a black pair of pumps or a basic white button-up that can work with a wide variety of outfits. The last 30 percent of your wardrobe should encompass some fun–statement but work-appropriate jewelry, red pumps or a trendy ruffled blouse.
Shopping Tip #5- Try Things On
This rule will save you TONS of money and a great deal of time. You can’t get a real feel for how something looks on you until you’ve tried it on, period. There are really no shortcuts.
Shopping Tip #6- Get Editorial Inspiration
Don’t know what to do with those stack of Vogues sitting on top of your coffee table? Here’s an idea. Cut out the pictures with outfits, accessories, etc. that you like. Put the items into a notebook and carry it with you when you go shopping to use as inspiration.
Shopping Tip #7- Make it Fit
In this “off the rack, on my back” shopping culture, the importance of tailored clothing has been lost. Stars like Oprah look so fabulous because their clothes are tailored. However, you don’t have to be a billionaire to have your clothes tailored: just head to your local dry cleaner. Most cleaners have a tailor on staff. And stores like Banana Republic and Saks Fifth Avenue offer free tailoring on full-priced items.
Shopping Tip #8- Develop a Signature Piece
Your signature style piece is the one fashion item you’re going to be known for—sort of like your fashion calling card. It could be fabulous shoes, earrings, a blazer, a dress, etc. Focus your shopping dollars on these pieces. My signature piece is crazy necklaces, which I find at thrift stores and stores like Forever 21.
Shopping Tip #9- Learn where and when to buy.
July/August and late January/February are the best times to hit the stores for deals. Write down the names of your favorite stores, go to their Web sites, and register to receive coupons, special invitations and notifications of new products. Outlet stores are also great sources of designer goods.
Shopping Tip #10- Make A Shopping List
When shopping for yourself (or for gifts), write a detailed shopping list. When buying gifts, include all the people you need to shop for, their gift and the maximum you’re willing to pay for their gift. Keep the list out while you’re shopping, and have a pen handy to jot notes and check off items as you shop.
Shopping Tip #11- Have a Clothing Swap
This may seem like a lot of work to organize, but just take a second and image all those clothes shoved in your closet that you don’t wear just because you’re over them. Now, imagine your friends’ closets and think about all the awesome things in their closets you would love to score. Clothing swaps are a great way to get awesome new pieces into your closet WITHOUT paying, and are a fun reason to hang out with your girlfriends.
Shopping Tip #12- Limit Trips to the Dry Cleaners
This is a real money-zapper, even for yours truly, until I learned–and this may come as a shock–that you’re only supposed to dry-clean your suits two to three times per year, and even less often for items like coats. So how do you keep it fresh in the meantime? Spritz it with a bit of fabric freshener like Febreze.
Shopping Tip 13- Get Double Duty Pieces
Not every item you wear to work, to a meeting or to an interview needs to be a traditional suit (unless you work in law or finance, in which case you should probably stick to the basics). A tailored sheath dress paired with a cardigan and tights can make a flawless outfit for the office. Furthermore, that same dress will look hot sans cardi for a night out. Focus on finding fashion that can work in multiple situations.
Shopping Tip #14- Determine Your Budget BEFORE You Head Out.
Develop a budget the night before and stick to it. If you’re apt to give into temptation, and if you’re able to pay with cash instead of credit (ALWAYS a good idea), leave the credit cards at home and pay either with a set amount of cash or a prepaid Visa card.
Shopping Tip #15- Don’t EVER pay full price
There is one golden rule in mall-based retail–everything goes on sale (I’m looking at you, Macy’s). 🙂 Waiting six to eight weeks, the traditional time it takes between an item being placed on the sales floor and the time it goes on sale, can save you big money.
Shopping Tip #16- Know what looks good on you
Just because it looks great in a magazine doesn’t mean it will look great on you. Be honest with yourself about your body. It will save you time and money.
Shopping Tip #17- Scour the clearance racks
Don’t skip a clearance rack at a store just because you have the premonition that the clothes will all be lame; you might be surprised at the things you can find. For example, if you wear a size 14 you might not think to go shop at Lane Bryant. However, you should head into LB, because most 14s skip this store and there is usually a wide selection available in this size range.
Shopping Tip #18- Head to the outlet malls
Shopping at the outlets of your favorite stores and designers can save you a bundle as many brands are opting to send their overstock and off-season merchandise to their own outlet stores rather than, say, a Marshalls or T.J.Maxx. Some of my favorites are Premium Outlets, Off 5th (the Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet), St. John Knits Outlet, Donna Karan Outlet, and Last Call by Neiman Marcus.
Shopping Tip #19- Know your wardrobe
Take inventory of what’s already in your closet. You may be surprised with what you find, but more importantly you won’t make the mistake of buying the same item again. If you have three striped blouses, do you really need another? Probably not. And if you know that, you won’t be spending cash where it need not be spent.
Shopping Tip #20- Bring coupons
Stores send coupons out all the time to customers who sign up for mailing lists and e-mail lists, so if you have a store at the mall that you really love, then you should be on their mailing list and should use the coupons they send you. Sometimes stores will send coupons that can be used in conjunction with sales. Also, several stores like Payless, American Eagle, and Target will send deals directly to your mobile phone.
Shopping Tip #21- Don’t be fooled by the sales sign
Just because something is on sale, that doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. Before purchasing, ask yourself “Can I think of at least three places I’ll wear the item?” If the answer is yes, then quickly figure out the cost per wear (price divided by number of times you’ll wear it). If the cost per wear is less than $3, then it might be a good deal. If not, then leave it on the rack.
Shopping Tip# 22- Don’t pay with a credit card
Studies show that you’re apt to spend more freely if you pay with a credit card instead of with cash. So even if you get a 10 percent discount on a pair of shoes, it won’t be much of a budget triumph if you then turn around and pay 13 percent in interest on the purchase. Add compound interest to the equation and you’re wasting your money. And if you don’t want to carry cash, use one of TBFs favorite tips—load your cash onto a gift card.
Shopping Tip # 23- Get Thrifty
We absolutely love thrift and vintage stores. Most of the time the items are very discounted and totally unique. Though you may not find high-end basics, you’ll definitely come across great blouses, jewelry and skirts that can show off your fashionista swagger.
Shopping Tip #24- Know the names of sales associates
Sales associates are a great source of information on upcoming sales and have access to Friends and Family coupons, which offer up to an additional 25 percent off store merchandise. Some might even let you use their employee discounts.
Shopping Tip #25- Return Items ASAP
Receipts have a tendency to get lost (unless you read my book and use an accordion file to arrange your coupons). Returning your items as quickly as possible reduces this risk AND makes sure you return it before the deadline.