Fashionably Frugal

by Shaunna Privratsky

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My family, friends and co-workers often compliment me on my clothes. They marvel at seemingly brand-new outfits and unique new pieces. Do I spend thousands on new clothes and designer labels every month? Of course not, I'm just fashionably frugal.

I cannot pass a clearance section, rack or table without at least peeking. Part of it comes from a lifelong need to save money; the other part is the thrill of cashing in on a wonderful bargain. I've scored some fabulous finds and learned a few secrets while cruising the clearance corner.

Not every bargain is a good purchase, no matter what the price tag reads. Franklin Jones said this about bargains, "Something you can't use at a price you can't resist."

Ask yourself if you really need the item. Do you really need eight short black skirts? Take a moment to visualize what you will wear with it. If the only thing that comes to mind is the twenty-year-old mini-skirt you haven't squeezed in since Thanksgiving 1989, pass up the bargain.

Will you need to buy something else to make it work? Even basic colors like navy or tan can have dozens of different shades, so be wary of buying single pieces, hoping to match them. However, remember that you can pair contrasting colors like deep purple and soft yellow or navy and lavender for a pleasing palette.

Can you afford it? Even if that London Fog raincoat is drastically reduced, do you really have $85 to spare? If you do, go for it. Classic pieces are always a good investment. Lastly, do you honestly like it, or is it the lure of the lurid orange markdown tag? Don't fall into the "bargain" trap.

Tip: What need will this item fill for me?

Clearance clothing racks are a haven for markdown mavens. Other than undergarments, I never buy full price clothing for my family or myself. My children, ages nine and six, are already learning to be smart shoppers. I often find new clothing cheaper than I could at garage sales or thrift stores.

Fit is the number one priority in shopping the discount racks. It won't matter if you find a pair of jeans for $1 if they are too tight or cut wrong. If at all possible, try clothing on at the store. Know the store's return policy before you buy, as some will not accept returned clearance items.

Tip: Know the store's return policy on clearance items.

Color is another concern when buying clothing. Will the lime green blouse match anything in your existing wardrobe? However, it might be a fresh injection of color for your tired staples. Lime green goes great with classic navy, black and royal purple. Don't be afraid to try new colors, just make sure you like the shade and that you have something to wear with your new purchase.

Check for rips, stains, missing buttons and broken zippers before you get out your wallet. There is probably a reason the item is on the clearance rack. On the other hand, the store may be moving old inventory.

Tip: Look for defects before you buy.

The biggest markdowns come at the end of the season. Buy tons of sweaters, corduroys and wool jackets at ridiculously low prices in April. Next September, you will be stunning in your new clothes. Likewise, shop for swimsuits, shorts and tank tops when the winter winds blow. You might be shivering in the try-on room, but next June, you'll be pretty in the pool and park.

Tip: Shop off-season.

Children grow quickly and may even skip sizes. Why spend hundreds on full-price clothing when your kids might not even wear them? Also, it's absurd to buy expensive play clothes that are going to get dirty, stained or torn. Don't ever be afraid to let kids play because of their "good" clothes.

Clearance racks and discount stores are excellent sources for sturdy children's clothing. Garage sales are great, but be on the lookout for stains or holes. I've been to sales where a stained, holey pair of jeans was marked $5! I found new jeans for my son marked down to $4 at Wal-Mart and stocked up on them.

Tip: Don't buy too far "in advance" for fast-growing kids.

Compare quality as well as price with various stores. You can't be sure you're getting a bargain if you aren't familiar with the typical features and price range of the item you're purchasing. A quick look through the Sunday ads in the paper will give you an idea of the going rate on your favorite styles and labels of clothing. A $1,000 J. Mendel top may be out of your league, but if you spotted a look-alike for only $10, you'd know it was a bargain.

Tip: Know what to look for.

I saved the best for last. Try out thrift stores for the ultimate bargain bonanza. Everything is marked down from regular price, so it is tempting to throw your budget out the window. Even at thrift store prices, you can overspend and end up with a weightless wallet. Make a list of things to look for and keep a dollar limit in mind.

Tip: Don't overspend at the thrift store.

Style doesn't come from a checkbook. It's a way of putting together basics with a few new pieces like a brilliant blouse or a fabulous pair of shoes. It's about throwing a gorgeous new scarf on your six-year-old black suit and getting those "new outfit" compliments. It's about working with what you own and knowing a bargain when you spot one. Style can be had at any budget, without breaking the bank.

Keep your mind and your eyes open for bargains. By mixing new pieces with your old favorites, you can have an endless wardrobe for work or play. Be a dollar stretcher when buying new clothes and soon you'll be fashionably frugal.

Shaunna Privratsky became an expert in personal finance out of necessity. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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