How to shop sales and avoid wasting money on things you don’t need and will never use?
It’s that time of the year where we drain our bank accounts and max out our credit cards, because Christmas and because about two days after we sang Silent Night under our tree, every single retail outlet is putting up big red -50% or god forbid -70% signs. This is a guide to stay two feet on the ground with all this temptation.
MAKE A MENTAL NOTE OF WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED
Enter the sales period with a shopping list and only buy things not included on it, if they check these three boxes:
- Good quality
- Very low price
- Not a fad (doesn’t scream “trendy”)
Well… This is the golden rule, you could probably stop reading the entry at this point. Just kidding, tips and tricks ahead. Things you need doesn’t necessarily have to be warm coats or cotton underwear, could be a sequined formal gown you need for New Years, or something you just really want – read my “How to Save Money When Shopping” entry about it.
My shopping list for this sales season:
- Several pair of pants that are not denim, nor denim cut
- Long flat black boots that are elegant ✓
- Leather gloves and a warm hat (I avoided winters for 3 years, I’m low on warm stuff)
- An oversize wool winter coat ✓
- Several dresses that can be layered with pants and/or long sleeve tops
- Mini and midi skirts with no print
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR BUDGET
For starters I mean how much money can you spend altogether, but budgeting at sales for me also has a different meaning: Be clear about what something is worth to you. For example meanwhile I’d pay €150 for a wool winter coat whatever percent off, even full price, because I need it and it’s worth it, I would never buy a top from a chain like Zara for over €10, or a dress for over €20. I’m in Budapest now for the holidays, so these prices are realistic. I just draw the line before and when browsing, I might kinda like something but I’m strict and I put it back.
FIRST ROUND: SHOES!
2-3 days after Christmas all the big chains start their bi-weekly sales, and because most people don’t work at that time, it’s Black Friday all over again. Look for the last in line, Zara, when they put the “sale” banner online at midnight, it’s ON! I usually go hunting the very next morning, because with my fairy regular shoe size (38) the good stuff is usually gone in a couple days. I ignore everything else, because I can think of something better to do than queueing for 47 minutes for the changing rooms, and because…
SECOND ROUND IS FOR WHAT YOUR HEART DESIRES
… about 2-3 weeks in, they will do further markdowns. With mega-shops like Mango or Forever 21, it’s impossible for them to run out of selection, you’re not missing out on a lot if you wait it out. If you think you do, just think of it as Divine Intervention. You wouldn’t need that stuff anyway, just chill for another two weeks. No lines, you can peacefully browse and stay within your item-limited budget.
Unfortunately this isn’t foolproof, as this is mostly a fast fashion method, but even shops like Banana Republic, or Aldo do it. Again, best to track Zara, pick a random item you remember on their website and check back if they lowered the price of it again.
THIRD ROUND IS FOR BARGAINS
When February hits, sales usually becomes a messy shitshow. With new collections taking up more and more space, they cram the ugliest non-selling, make-up stained, broken zippered items in the corner. This is the intermediate level. I usually go back for another round and fish out some treasures and hide them in the bottom of my closet for a couple seasons until their leftover status is forgotten. I have plenty of €3-10 miracles in my wardrobe I’ve been wearing constantly for 3-4 years. This is for fast fashion, but I suggest going back to the more expensive shops around February, you can get things 80-90% off sometimes, and you can afford quality you never think you would.
All the online retailers like ASOS, Missguided, Nasty Gal, or Boohoo just spill out all their sales merchandise at the same time, already at least half off. This means you adjust the search filters, and look for a dress under €30 in your size, you still have about 1,800 options on just one website. Ugh.
I tend to procrastinate with these a lot, but please don’t follow my lead, going through every dress on ASOS is two hours of your life you’re never getting back. So what you should do:
- Search for the things on your list, be very specific
- Search for dirt cheap stuff, like under €10
If I find something I absolutely can’t live without, I just fill my basket with random bargain stuff until I reach free shipping and make an order. If I don’t find anything I really fall in love with after seeing about 1000 items on one website, I won’t order. It all depends on that one thing.
I don’t usually order expensive clothing, or risky things like pants or blazers online, because the shipping back is horrendous. So I use online sale shopping to buy just a handful of very cheap seasonal things I may or may not be bored of after two wears.
Another trick though: all your big retail shops usually deliver online too, so if you don’t want to leave your house, or didn’t find the right size from something you wanted to buy in the shop, just look it up. Delivery is usually free if you pick your package up from a store.
WHAT NOT TO GET?
I will try to make this as simple as possible, mostly because I want to write a separate entry about qualities of a clothing item you should never buy. Don’t get anything that is at least two of the following:
- Dated (it’s a trend, a fad, one can tell exactly what year and season it’s from)
- Low Quality
- You hesitate about
- You would only buy because it’s cheap
I wouldn’t suggest buying anything that’s one of the above, because you’re wasting your own money and the world’s natural resources, but nobody is perfect. If buy buy a fad, at least you’ll be cool for another month, if you buy low quality, at least it was cheap and you have no big expectations, if you hesitate, you can return it, if you buy it cheap, it won’t be a huge regret. But how about a low quality trendy item? Or something cheap you hesitate about? You get how you can’t win with any of these combos.
Although you can dance and sweat through a Zara shirt all night and return it without a word, they simply do this because they don’t advertise at all, so they need the word of mouth. A lot of shops don’t do returns on discounted items, some don’t give money back, some can change sizes only, so make sure you have all the information.
Congratulations, you graduated from responsible sales shopping! If you feel like sharing your haul with me (I might do the same later), e-mail me your treasures and tips to email@example.com, I’ll might share them on Facebook!
All illustrations: Lainey Molnar 2016