January is a time of year when sales abound in all of the stores. Not only are retailers trying to clear out the holiday items that didn’t sell, they’re also trying to make room for their spring merchandise.
As you may know, the fashion industry and retail stores are always a few months ahead of the game. While we’re still shivering (yes, even here in San Diego!) and donning coats and boots, the stores are beginning to stock everything that’s new and exciting for the warmer weather ahead, even if we won’t feel that warmth for another four or five months.
When a Bargain Isn’t a Bargain…
Sales can be a wonderful thing, but they also present numerous hazards for shoppers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked clients about clothing with tags still attached only to be told, “I bought that on sale” or “that only cost $10.” We often lose all common sense when we see a bright red “Sale” sign in front of us. I say “we” because I too have often fallen prey to the allure of a “bargain” that was just too good to pass up, only to find myself with an unworn wardrobe “orphan” down the line.
Since many of you will be shopping the sales this month, I would like to offer a few tips to help you shop smarter and avoid making misguided discount purchases.
Shop with a List
I always tell my clients that they should maintain an ongoing shopping list to take with them when they hit the stores. Not only should you create such a list, but you should use it to guide your shopping decisions – even when shopping the sales.
I’ve learned this one the hard way. Since it’s very easy to find tops that fit me (don’t even ask me about pants…), I would frequently snap up beautiful tanks and tees at rock-bottom prices. Sounds good, right? But many of those discount purchases, as well as the other tops in my closet, were never or rarely worn because I had far too many of them! It would have been far better for me to focus on my actual wardrobe needs than to amass more and more of what I already had.
Use your shopping list to target your purchases at the sales, and don’t try anything on that isn’t on your list unless it’s beyond extraordinary.
Shop for What You’ll Wear Now
It’s easy to be tempted to buy in advance for events in the future, but this can be risky. Sure, you’ll find lots of formal dresses on sale in January, but if your only dress-up events occur around the holidays, what are the chances that you’ll want to wear your sale pieces eleven months from now? Chances are you’ll want the latest and greatest items, or perhaps your size may shift such that your bargain purchases no longer fit you.
If you’re going to buy something on sale, buy garments which you can wear right away. For example, you’ll find lots of sweaters, coats, and boots on sale this month. Since the cooler weather will be around for at least a few more months (and longer for some locales), you can buy such items on sale and wear them immediately. These purchases will fit your body, the weather, and your current style aesthetic. If you can’t wait to wear a prospective purchase, and you know you’ll wear it very soon (and it’s on your list!), it’s a good buy.
Ask Yourself this Key Question
One magic question can save you a lot of money on misguided sale purchases: “Would I buy it at full price?” If you can honestly answer yes to that question (and the item is on your list and for the current season), it’s a good buy.
So often people buy something because it’s cheap, but they would never consider purchasing the item at full price. This is one of the biggest hazards of thrift and consignment store shopping (a specific tip on that type of shopping to come soon…), as well as sale shopping. We have a tendency to make allowances for color, style, and fit when the price tag is low, forgetting that it’s not really a bargain if you don’t wear it.
If you don’t love something enough to buy it at full price, don’t buy it on sale, either. It’s very likely your purchase will hang in your closet and collect dust!
Last but not least, consider whether or not you’ll be able to return the item should you change your mind. Even the best shoppers among us can make mistakes at times. We can get caught up in the sales frenzy or fall victim to poor lighting or “skinny mirrors” in store fitting rooms. But, unfortunately, many clearance items are “final sale,” eliminating the possibility of returns.
When shopping sales (and in general), it’s best to only buy things which could be returned later if necessary, if not for a refund than at least for store credit. Try to only purchase “final sale” items when you are absolutely sure they work well for your body, lifestyle, and personality. Reserve these risky purchases for things that are “10s” that you want to wear immediately!
Take Your Time
I hope these tips have been helpful to those of you who are planning to shop the post-holiday sales. I will leave you with one final tip… Take your time when shopping. Some of the worst shopping mistakes are those purchases that are made on the fly. I understand that people are busy and it’s hard to set aside a full day for shopping, but try to give yourself a couple of hours if at all possible. Take your list with you, try everything on, aim for “10s,” be careful, and have fun!
I gave a few of my best tips, but I know there are more valuable insights out there. If you have any other tips for sales shopping, please share!