I have heard from the mouths of middle America "I need some shopping therapy." Others just need to replace the denim jacket they outgrew (last year) with a new one. Still more realize the holidays and birthdays are coming and gifts must be purchased for ourselves and others. For whatever reason, trips to the mall and other retail excursions may soon be in your future. But how can someone whose budget only allows for a diet of ramen noodles and tuna afford mall prices? I will tell you how.
Look for the clearance section. Clothing stores are often filled to the gills with clearance or marked-down merchandise, shoved tight on racks hidden along the store's back wall. While some of these items have seen their fifteen minutes of fame, you can find classic pieces, such as a black skirt at up to 75 percent off the original price. Ask the sales associate if there's certain times each months he's set to the task of marking down merchandise. That's when shoppers will have the biggest selection of clearance merchandise to look through.
Take advantage of sales. Retail is a highly competitive field, and in order to stay afloat, shops must offer sale prices on just about everything that's on the sales floor at some point. Wednesdays and Saturdays are traditional days when sales start. If it's not on sale when you go shopping, chances are it will be soon. Which leads us to our next point.
Buy the Sunday newspaper and go online. The Sunday newspaper is made fat with circulars from major department stores, advertising the latest sales. And, if you know which store you plan to visit, first visit them online to see what's advertised there. Both media will often have coupons that allow you to save further. Armed with this information, discounts will be yours.
Sign up for the store's card. With their eyes on the bottom line, retailers know that shoppers who have a line of credit at the store are among the best customers. To thank you, these shops offer discounts of 10 percent just for applying and wads of coupons to keep you coming back. If you plan to shop there often, sign up, but keep a balance on the card that you can easily pay off, because store credit cards have notoriously high finance charges. If you are incredibly cheap, you can sign up for the card in order to get your discount, and then never use the card again. The opposite situation is when a store offers a "membership card" that costs money to join. If the 10% off discount card has a $20 annual membership fee, you have to spend $200 in the store just to break even. Weigh this math against the promise of discounts to see if it's worth it.
Ask for a discount. Many retailers will not look at you funny if you ask for a discount. In fact, several encourage bargaining by printing "no sale is ever final" on every price tag. It doesn't hurt to ask. If you think something is grossly overpriced, has damage, will go on sale tomorrow, or should include some extras, just say so. Bargaining works best if you engage someone of authority at the store. This also works well if you're buying a lot of stuff at once. But be reasonable in your bargaining. The worst that could happen is that they say "no."
Find out the store's policies. Many will meet a competitor's price on a similar item, while others will meet that price and sell it to you at 10 percent less. Some stores offer a sale adjustment if the item you've just bought goes on sale next week. Other retailers guarantee what the cashier charges you is the accurate price and, should a mistake occur, will offer a discount to satisfy the problem. Also, be knowledgeable of return policies. You don't want to get stuck with something just because you let a month pass after you decided you didn't want the thing.
Buy something of quality and use it. Looking to save money, Samson buys the lowest priced hammer he sees, at $10.99. It breaks after three uses, and out Samson goes to buy a new hammer, every two months. He could have opted for the $25 hammer with a lifetime warrantee. It would have paid for itself after the third trip to the store. But, if he buys the $10.99 hammer and only uses it once, he would have made the right purchase for his wallet. So, when you're out in the retail world, consider whether what you're buying is an investment or something fleeting. You're not saving any money if you have to keep buying the same things every two months, and you're also not saving if you buy something for $100 that you never use.
Look for a partner. I was surprised to find that using my American Express Card will save me money on flowers, or that my AAA card gets me 10 percent off at Payless. Investigate if your credit cards, membership cards, student identification or other membership will get you a discount at a "retail partner." Look for this information on their website. And, you can find savings at the mall's help or service desks. Such places often have benefits programs, such as showing mall receipts to earn a free gift certificate to mall stores, or a free doodad.
Combining these tactics at the mall will save even more money. Milk it for what it's worth, but don't buy stuff you don't need or didn't plan on buying just because it's a good deal. Besides, you probably have enough stuff already. Don't worry about owning everything you think you want. The cost of browsing is only the amount of gas it took to drive there.
Catherine E. Galioto is a freelance writer from New Jersey, who appears regularly in more than seven publications. Contact her at email@example.com.
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