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Top 5 Ways to Be a Smart Shopper


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College students are notorious for being poor, which is why it’s important to be a smart shopper — someone who knows how to budget, save money and still look fabulous. If you’re looking for ideas on how to make the most of your money the next time you go shopping, here are five tips to help you out:

1. Set a budget.

Limiting how much you spend on clothing is not only good for your wallet, but will prevent you from making frivolous purchases. Your budget could be $50, $100, or more depending on your personal finances, but set a monthly limit on clothing purchases– and stick to it!

If you have trouble keeping track of how much you spend, try using an online budgeting tool like Mint, which will alert you when you’re about to go over your monthly spending limit.

2. Buy what you need, not what you want.

Before you purchase something, ask yourself if you truly need the item or it’s just something you want to buy. Every few months, look through your closet and make a list of items that you need — like wardrobe staples — so you can easily differentiate your needs from your wants. Take that list with you when you go shopping to keep yourself from making unnecessary purchases.

Of course, it’s okay to buy some items just for fun every once in a while, but make sure you’ll actually wear these clothes and you aren’t getting them just for the sake of buying something.

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3. Buy clothes on sale.

Have you bought an item for full price, only to spot it on sale a week or two later? If so, hear me out on this: when you see a full-priced item you want, wait until it goes on sale to buy it. It may seem like a pain, but waiting for the price of full-priced items will save you a lot of money in the long run.

Also, it’s a good idea to sign up for the e-mail lists of your favorite retailers or check out CF’s weekly Coupon & Sales posts, so you’ll be in the know about great sales and discounts that can save you even more money.

4. Choose quality over quantity.

Always opt to buy higher quality items over cheaply made clothing. Even though high-quality items are more expensive, they will end up lasting much longer. Saving up your money for a $70 cardigan is often a much smarter financial choice than blowing the same amount of money on three inexpensive tops that will fall apart after a few wears.

Additionally, learn how to calculate the cost-per-wear of clothing before you buy. You can do this by dividing the price of the item by the number of times you expect to wear it. For example, if you buy a trendy top for $20 that you’ll probably only wear twice, it will cost you $10 each time you wear that top. However, if you purchase a $100 pair of jeans that you’re likely to wear 50 times, the cost-per-wear is only $2.

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5. Buy what fits.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but buying clothes that fit well is an important part of shopping wisely. Although it seems like a hassle, it’s crucial to try on clothes before you buy them. In the dressing room, make sure to move around (i.e. sit down, lift your arms) to ensure that the clothes fit properly. If the item is uncomfortable in the fitting room, it won’t be comfortable at home.

On a similar note, buy clothing that actually fits you, despite the size on the tag. Don’t try and squeeze into a dress that is too small just because it’s the “right” size. Clothing measurements vary from retailer to retailer. You may normally be a size 6, but at certain stores, a size 8 or even a size 10 may be a better fit. Also, remember to buy clothes that fit you now, not clothes that will fit once you “lose five pounds.”

What do you think?

Do you think you’re a smart shopper? Do you set a budget for yourself when shopping? Any other tips you’d like to share? Be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Posted on on April 3, 2011 / Filed Under: Shopping / Tags: , , , , ,

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31 Responses to “Top 5 Ways to Be a Smart Shopper”

  1. 1
    April 3rd, 2011 at 10:52 am

    If I wait for things to go on sale, they never have my size. It’s hard enough on a normal day!

  2. 2
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Also ! ask for student discounts everywhere you so, Charlotte Russe for instance offers 10 % off with a student I.D and i know every college student is looking so save money. I also have started going to Platos Closet and getting great money for my lightly worn clothes. i usually use the money i get from Platos to buy my new clothes , so its like i am never really spending money , just recycling!! :):)

  3. 3
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:29 am

    this is a hugely useful post! I’ve actually really re-evaluated the way i shop now that i’ve left the college world! I definitely look at things in terms of if I’d be able to wear them to work and if it portrays the stylish post-grad look i’m going for!:)

  4. 4
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I kind of disagree with your statement about quality over quantity. I’m not saying you should buy cheaply made clothing and accessories (like, I hate to say it, things from Forever XXI). However, if you focus on buying name brand or quality things, often times you are buying clothes that are the same quality as something you could get somewhere else for cheaper. Also, if you read the washing instructions on your clothes and take care of what you’ve bought, then “poorer” quality clothes will last a lot longer. The washing machine is a horrible place for delicate tops, so handwash them. The dryer is the place to go if you want to ruin your bras, so hang dry them.
    Also, if you are fixated on name-brand, try places like Marshalls and Ross, but beware of two things:
    1) These places cater to a large audience, so check every inch of your choice before you buy it. There might by hiding stains, holes, etc. that you miss in your first glance in the fitting room.
    2) These places are the “leftovers,” so you’re going to see some hideous stuff. But don’t be discouraged. You’ll be able to find those hidden gems, and then, when you can say that you got Rampage combat boots for $10 (personal experiences :]) you can be very very proud.

  5. 5
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for the article! I use pretty much all of these tips especially the one about buying what you need. I have a list which I always use when I shop for clothes – just because if I don’t I’ll end up with random clothes that are very cute, but I’ll still really have nothing to wear. One of my other favorite tips is buying clothes after the season has ended. I have a totally cute bathing suit that I bought in September of last year for almost nothing. I ended up paying less for a good quality expensive swimsuit that I would have buying a cheap swimsuit during summer.

  6. 6
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I think way to save money on sale items is, if your not sure you really want the item or not look at its original price, if you won’t pay that price for it don’t buy it.

    I’m one of those people that get really excited when I see a sale and don’t really think what I’m buying, and then I get home and realize how much I spent on things I really didn’t need! Sales can often cost you money not save you money.

  7. 7
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    If I stuck to buying classic, quality pieces only, I’d end up with a wardrobe full of everlasting pieces I can no longer even look at. I own a couple of quality staples, but I also buy some trendier items every season if I find them interesting. I pick the cheap ones – since they can get a lot of use only for a short period of time, but their cost per wear is probably higher than the cpw of a pair of jeans that will last ten years.

  8. 8
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Totally agree, there are some great tips here. I have accumulated a (small) designer closet over a few years all on a college girl budget! I save up a small portion of my allowance, which adds up to quite a bit over 5 or 6 months, and wait for the big sales! Shopbop, Net-a-Porter, La Garconne and Forward Forward have sales around the same times (biggest ones are biannual — in the summer and black Friday). I also became friendly with an upscale consignment shop so I can find vintage designer clothes without all this digging. Its worth keeping wishlists and bookmarking to-die-for items. Do your research online! Try it on in stores, find a coupon and buy it online! I also use ebates for Shopbop, Sephora and other online destinations. Cost-per-wear is an argument I use on my parents around X-mas time ;)

  9. 9
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    Awesome article. I am a bargain hunter, and I’ve been known to make a $100 shopping trip cost only $40 due to perfectly timed sale runs with coupons and a sweet charm that scored me some freebies. If everyone learned how to bargain hunt, even if it’s just knocking $10 or $20 from their usual shopping trip, we’d be saving so much money and be able to reward ourselves better.

    One of the best points you made is buying quality clothes: Too many times have I bought cheaply-made clothing that lasted only a few wears (such as elastic lace around camisoles, or even underwear) and the colour fading no matter how careful you are to wash it. Always buy quality clothing, especially if you wear dark or brightly coloured clothes. Black fades the worst, so investing in a quality pair of black skinnies will save you money in the long run in not having to buy a cheap pair, toss and repurchase a new pair when they turn grey.

    One tip for people looking to save money is to read reviews online. Not sure if you want to shell out $100 for a pair of jeans at Abercrombie? Read the reviews, and search for people who are similar to you in size (a top might work for skinny girls with small boobs, but might not look as good on curvier women with bigger boobs, and vice versa). Are you looking to try a new brand of clothing or makeup? Read the reviews! Usually you can read reviews right on the site, but some sites (like Abercrombie) don’t have that option, but there are plenty of forums and blog sites that have reviews in the comments. Just Google it.

    Another tip that runs along the same lines is to search out which companies you want to purchase from before you do. If you know the mall you’re going to well, and have favourite stores there, check their sites for sales, coupons, and deals they might have for certain items. It could save you a lot of time just browsing through the mall and also save you a lot of money.

    One last tip…ladies, do not buy cheap bras or underwear!!! A pair of Victoria’s Secret lace panties do not get that weird elastic worm look around the band like cheaper brand lace panties get. They do not fall apart at the seam, nor do they fade (easily, anyway). Cheaper brands might have an awesome line of underwear, which is great, just don’t buy cheap all the time…it’s not worth it. Same with bras. Buy for comfort and quality to keep the girls happy and safe. Don’t risk buying a cheap bra with poor support and a risk of the wire popping out!

    Hope this helps anyone <3

  10. 10
    April 3rd, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Great tips! The only one I have trouble sticking to is the quality over quantity. It’s hard for me to justify buying a $60 jacket when they have something similar (and 1/2 the price!) at forever21. But you’re totally right – the more expensive items usually last a lot longer.

  11. 11
    April 3rd, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    This just made me want to go shopping =)

  12. 12
    April 3rd, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    1. I give myself a clothing allowance. Works really well for me! And what’s left I save up to spend on clothes later.

    2. If I only would buy what I need I cannot buy clothes for years! And I know many of you couldn’t either if you were truly honest.

    3. I always buy my clothes on sale. I think it’s a waist of money if you don’t. I know you have less choice when you wait till sale, but it’s not like I have nothing to wear if I wouldn’t wait.

    4. I totally disagree with choosing quality over quantity! If I only would buy quality items I don’t have much choice when picking my outfit in the morning.
    And second. The cpw would always be high. I have set myself a budget for how much the cpw may be and I could never get it that low with investment pieces. (I’m sure, I have an excel sheet with everything in my closet. And yes, I’m a little crazy…) The cpw of less quality products is way lower than the cpw of quality items.

    So I only buy cheap clothes when they’re on sale. Saves me a lot of money and I have a closet full of clothes. I totally recommand it.

  13. 13
    April 3rd, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    My budget is 60 dollars on clothes:) I agree with the quality over quantity but these days college students can not afford expensive items because they have to buy books, pay for tuition and other things. The only expensive item I have is a 50 dollar Guess jacket that I wear often.

  14. 14
    April 3rd, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Great tips! :D

    My main strategy in buying clothes is purchasing sales. I own a lot of brand name clothing that I wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. Like for example, I bought a few pairs of $98 jeans last summer for a little under $30 each!

    Always, always, ALWAYS wait for the sales or look for coupons or codes that give you a certain percentage off. Usually 20 and up is best. Become familiarized with which discounts different stores give. An example would be American Eagle. They have 15, 20, 25, and 30% sales every once in a while. If its below 25% off I don’t purchase, I wait for the rarer 25% and 30% sales to come along. However, there are some stores that will NEVER do sales higher than 20%, so go for them when they are! :) Don’t go for anything less than 10 or 15% unless you really, really want that item because that percentage (depending on where you live) will just cover taxes. Also, if you shop online try to get free shipping. If you just buy a few items, your discount could be eaten up by shipping costs.

    I would also STRONGLY agree with the “buy clothes that fit.” Many and many times over, I’ve bought clothes that were too big because I didn’t feel like trying them on in the store. I would wear them without trying them on first and I would end up with clothing that didn’t fit and couldn’t return :(

    Also, buy clothes you WILL wear. I bought a skirt two years ago, I still haven’t worn! It fits great and I like it, but I’m more comfortable wearing pants and jeans. I still have the skirt because it’s “my skirt” (just in case I need it for a certain occasion that’s too formal for jeans but not so formal to require a dress). However, I learned my lesson: only buy clothes are comfortable wearing. It’s okay to buy a few things “in case you need them” or want to try them out, but don’t fill your closet with them. If you want to change your style, try doing so gradually just in case you end up not liking it or changing your mind :)

  15. 15
    April 3rd, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I never buy anything unless it’s on sale, usually.

    But I also disagree with the “Don’t buy things that will fit you when you lose 5 lbs.” rule. I mean, if you’re trying to lose weight, why not motivate yourself with a cute pair of jeans/dress or something? Then if you DON’T lose the 5 lbs, it’s your own fault that you wasted your money.

  16. 16
    April 3rd, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    I actually avoid the sale rack, for the most part. Sometimes, I find some great pieces, but most of the time, it’s full of end-of-season pieces. To me, it’s not worth it to buy something that I may only wear a few times before the weather changes – if it goes out of style or I fall out of love with it, I definitely will not have given that piece a long life in my closet!

    Other than that, I definitely abide by the rules listed! Another rule I like to follow is to avoid buying too many similar pieces. I love experimenting with color, so I like to have lots of very different cuts to choose from rather than a similar silhouette in many different colors. I find that following that rule allows me to be more experimental and really branch out with my style.

  17. 17
    April 3rd, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Love this article! I’ve bought the majority of my clothes on sale. Stalking your favorite stores online can help you save a lot of money! I bought a dress in a store for $150 for a graduation dress. It was painful forking over the money, despite being in love with the dress, because I only own two pieces of clothing that cost me over $100 – my purple leather jacket and my winter wool coat. Less than two weeks later, I saw the same dress on the website for $90, went immediately to the store to receive a refund in the price difference. I had used a $20 giftcard to help pay for the dress, so all in all I ended up paying about $80 instead of $150 plus tax.

    I’d also suggest second hand stores like Goodwill, Out of the Closet and even outdoor swapmeets and vintage fairs. Chances are, if you’re willing to put in the effort to dig, you’ll find something totally unexpected and unique. I recently found a slinky mad men-esque dress for 10 bucks and a very cute small crossbody back for 1 dollar!

  18. 18
    April 3rd, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    If you want to go for quality at a lesser price, I shop outlets! It’s usually designer things (maybe last seasons, for example) at a discounted price! They usually have coupon books and other great deals.

  19. 19
    April 3rd, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    These are good tips I think everyone should follow. I used to buy everything in sight that seemed like it was reasonably priced. I’d buy a bag at American Eagle Outfitters I didn’t even really like because it was on promotion for $5. I’m definitely beyond that point now, and really debate whether or not I need the item, to avoid having huge amounts of clothing you don’t even really like!

    I’ve bought jeans that didn’t fit because I didn’t try them on, I’ve bought skirts with broken zippers at F21 because I didn’t inspect them, I’ve bought sandals that snapped in half while wearing them because they were $7.50 at h&m. I have absolutely nothing against shopping at lower end stores – that’s basically where I shop, on a minimum wage college budget – but you MUST inspect the item before you buy it for any defects, and consider how flimsy or cheap the product feels. If a shirt feels like it’ll tear or pull, it probably will, regardless of the price! And always try things on. If something doesn’t fit JUST right, don’t buy it. If you have any second thoughts about it, don’t buy it. Only buy it if you know you’re actually going to wear it, too. Don’t buy a floral jumpsuit because it’s trendy if you’re not daring enough to ever actually wear it!

    I agree with your tip to wait for sales, Charlotte Russe especially has everything regular price eventually on sale pretty quickly. Wait for Black Friday sales or after Christmas sales to pick things up for yourself. Join mailing lists and email lists to get great coupons and special offers. :)

  20. 20
    April 4th, 2011 at 3:07 am

    My New Year’s Resolution was to not pay full price for anything! :) (retail related, anyways.)

    Of course I have forgotten & slipped up a few times but I’ve been rocking it for the last month or so by ONLY going to Goodwill. I know some people think it’s gross/dirty to buy used clothes, but they are literally the EXACT SAME THINGS you would buy new – just slightly worn and MUCH cheaper! :D I do have some basic rules that I follow to use my time efficiently since it’s not as organized as a normal store, and to make sure I don’t waste money on something just because it’s a bargain. So far some of my favorite finds have been a Diane Von Furstenberg wrap tunic, a barely worn pair of Seven jeans, a super warm Michael Kors down jacket, and a practically new Eddie Bauer fleece. Pretty much the only thing you can’t rely on Goodwill for is shoes. Also, it’s always nice to check out other locations in your area, that way you can figure out which ones are more organized/cleaner/have nicer staff/better items/etc.

  21. 21
    April 4th, 2011 at 3:32 am

    These tips are great! The only caveat when it comes to waiting for sales is that the most popular sizes sell out the quickest. When it comes to chain stores, pay attention to the sizes on the clearance racks. For example, while my local Target tends to run out of “medium”s, the Target two towns over seems to always have an abundance left over, so it’s worth the drive!

  22. 22
    April 11th, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Great tips all around! One I will say is actually from the Today show i think. Its not washing your jeans everyday. it has to do with the way the fabric is done and all. i wish i could find that interview.

    Another tip I learned from working at Bath and Body Works. ALWAYS try to leave your email and HOME phone number. With BBW the company asks for your phone number to send you coupons in the mail! and the more times you leave it, the better the coupons will be over time, if you use them. Just make sure that your customer id is being scanned. its credit that you are using it. I dont get American Eagle coupons through the mail anymore because of it. :(

  23. 23
    April 17th, 2011 at 5:26 am

    i agree…really well said about the “needs over wants” point…
    i look forward for more ideas..!!

  24. 24
    April 17th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    DON’T SHOP WHEN EMOTIONAL. It leads to a lot of impulse buys.
    That’s the only thing I’d add, I agree wholeheartedly with this entire article.

  25. 25
    May 22nd, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    These are some really great tips. One other thing I do try to do after I’ve set my monthly budget is that say I don’t end up spending my entire budget that month, I don’t add what I didn’t spend on to the next month’s budget. That way, I don’t get used to spending more that my allotted amount each month, and I’m less disappointed when I can’t afford something because it’s over my budget. The only time I break this rule is if I’m saving up for something specific, and I know I’ll need over my month’s budget to but it :)

  26. 26
    May 24th, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    Also, an addition to number two is that if you refrain from buying something right away, like to wait for the price to go down, you will know for sure if you really wanted it, or just wanted to buy something. If you see something you like, wait a little while, and you could find that by the time it goes on sale, you really don’t want it anymore. Saves you from impulse buying and wasting your money. :D

    Love these tips! Although, I have heard all of them before, including the one I added…from my mom. lol!


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