Conquering Clearance Sales

by Barbara J. Sloan

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When a drastically-reduced income and the loss of 85 pounds coincided, I decided it was time to buy clothing from the clearance racks I'd always rejected because I thought they looked disorganized.

I discovered that on weekdays when there are relatively few shoppers, clearance racks are as neat and orderly as other sections. Three years later, I seldom buy anything that isn't on clearance.

While conventional frugal wisdom suggests buying clothing at discount, off-price, consignment and thrift stores in order to save money, I find I save more money and get better quality clothing at major department and specialty stores. I also like the fact that my clothing is always new.

Better yet, I've found ways to save even on clearance prices and you can, too.

1. Construct a basic, interchangeable wardrobe.

It's easier to build a wardrobe from clearance racks if you buy a lot of mix-and-match solids. You can choose a few colors that look good on you, say navy, black and taupe, and then add accessories to brighten up your look. I prefer an array of colors, so I watch for items that coordinate with what I already own or find in the same shopping trip.

2. Buy near the end of the season.

Stores routinely mark down clothing to 15 or 20% of its original cost, but only when it's close to the end of the season. If you are buying for kids, buy the size they will wear next year. Shop frequently at this time since racks are often replenished to make way for the next season's stock.

3. Make sure that returns are allowed.

Then you can shop for coordinating pieces. You can also change your mind. Sometimes colors look different in the store's fluorescent lighting than they do at home. Most major department stores allow returns on clearance items, while some off-price stores do not.

4. Combine clearance sale savings with store coupons and "early bird specials."

One store in my area frequently offers early bird shoppers $10-off coupons for almost anything in the store. Multiple coupons may used on a single item. My friend and I combined coupons that cut the price of a $110 winter jacket on sale for $70 to $7. Many people stop before work for the coupons and return later to shop.

I've also applied 15% to 20%-off coupons to clearance purchases. By doing this, I was able to buy a $35 hooded, zippered sweater for only $2 and a $50 hand-knit, decorated sweater for $4. I also found $70 lined wool slacks for $7.

You can find exceptional prices on jewelry and gift items, too. I have purchased brand name $15 costume earrings for as little as sixty cents a pair.

5. Combine special discounts (senior, disabled, etc.) with clearance sales.

Shop only on the discount day or ask to have items held until then. Using this approach, I purchased a $20 name-brand swimsuit for my grandson for $3 and name-brand children's shirts for as little as $1 and $2 at a national chain.

6. If you wear a small size, shop the children's clearance racks for extra savings.

A size 14 or 16 might fit if you wear an extra-small or small. Children's clothing is usually priced lower than adult clothing of similar quality.

7. Don't expect to find coordinated separates at the same time.

On the other hand, you might get lucky. I found a lilac summer sweater and matching pants on the same clearance rack.

8. Buy it only if you love it .

We all know a bargain isn't a bargain if you don't use it. Make exceptions only for basics you know you will use.

9. Ask for a further discount on items with small flaws that you can fix.

Many stores will give you at least another 10% off on these items. Here again, make sure you can return it if you can't fix it.

10. Enjoy compliments on your new wardrobe!

No one need know how little you spent unless you tell them.

Barbara Sloan is a freelance writer who lives and shops in South Central Connecticut.

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