Shop Smarter, Not Harder: Save Money in College

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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:

How To Be a Smart Shopper?

1. Set a budget.

Limiting how much you spend on clothing is not only good for your wallet, but it’s the best way to 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.

To be a smarter shopper, before you purchase something, ask yourself if you truly need the item or if it’s just something you want to buy. A great cost effective option is to look through your closet and make a list of items that you need — like paper towels, wardrobe staples, and cleaning supplies — 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 it’s not everything and you’ll actually wear these clothes and you aren’t getting them just for the sake of buying something.

Important to note, avoid impulse purchases to avoid overspending!

save money to buy online- Woman shopping online while compare prices.

3. Buy clothes on sale.

Have you bought an item for full price, only to spot it on seasonal sales in 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 to take advantage. 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. Make sure to check for negative feedback on the items you’re trying to buy!

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 large quantities like 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.

woman carrying a shopping bags - smart shoppers and impulse purchases for better prices

5. Buy what fits.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but buying clothes that fit well is an important part of shopping wisely. Shop smart! 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!

8 thoughts on “Shop Smarter, Not Harder: Save Money in College”

  1. 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 🙂

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.


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