You stopped checking your 401(k) weeks ago because you couldn’t take the pain. You haven’t filled up your car in months because the last time you did, it cost $60 — and you drive a Civic. And any candle of hope you may have had about getting a bonus, raise or combination of the two has been extinguished.
There’s a name for people like you — and me: recessionistas. And though I wish I could take credit for coining the term, I can’t. The New York Times defines it as “the new name for the style maven on a budget.” Now, this is something I can identify with — and I know you can, too.
Recently on the ShopBlog, I conducted a poll asking what recessionistas are doing to save money. A whopping 82 percent of you are “cutting waaaay back” on your shopping. The other 18 percent are hitting the thrift stores. Since the former isn’t an option for me, given my avocation, I thought this would be the perfect time to share some of my shopping secrets. When you are, in essence, a professional bargain-hunter, you learn a few tricks along the way.
However, I know you’re all hard-core bargain hunters, too. And we’re all on this economic roller-coaster ride together, which is why I’m inviting you to share your best money-saving tips with ShopGirl readers. Send them by e-mail, U.S. mail or the ShopBlog and I’ll publish them in a future column. If anyone knows how to pinch pennies in style, it’s Mainers — we live in the land of Marden’s, for crying out loud. We’ve been recessionistas since gas cost less than $2 a gallon.
Send your tips by e-mail to email@example.com; by U.S. mail to Kristen Andresen, c/o Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402-1329; or post it on the ShopBlog (which you should visit anyway because there’s a new, secret giveaway!) at http://shopblogbdn.blogspot.com/.
• Make a list and check it twice: At the beginning of each season, I take my clothes out of storage, try most of them on and donate anything that isn’t quite right. Then, I take a mental inventory (for instance, I have four pairs of wear-to-work black cuffed pants that all fit, so I don’t really need another pair, no matter how cheap they are). I also take note of what is missing. I make the missing pieces the priority. Once “the list” is covered, I can go wild in the clearance rack. But not before then.
• Clip coupons wisely: Yes, those “buy $75 get $30 off” coupons from New York & Co. are tempting. But I only use them when I know I am going to buy something there anyway. Contrary to popular belief, coupons (like gift cards) can actually cause you to spend more money. The same holds true at the grocery store, especially with brands you don’t normally buy. If you’re on a budget, stick to your list, and if a coupon can help, great. If not, toss it.
• Do it eBay: eBay can be incredibly addicting — it’s like walking into the world’s biggest Goodwill and finding things you didn’t even know you needed. Of course, that blessing can easily turn into a curse. If you can use restraint and you know exactly what you want or need — gray Banana Republic pants, Ryan Fit, in a size 10; a pair of black Nine West boots in a 6½; a J. Crew cashmere sweater, pink, XS — you’ll save money. Just double-check the shipping charges before you click the bid button.
• Clearance first: I make a beeline to the back of the store — any store, all the time. Usually, I find what I’m looking for, and I always stock up on wardrobe staples from the clearance racks. That being said, there are a few things that never go on sale, which leads me to my next point.
• Spend where it counts: Only you can determine what is worth the splurge and what isn’t — for me, I am willing to spend on jeans, outerwear, winter boots, handbags and undergarments. Everything else is $20 or less — usually much less. Figure out what your priorities are and stick to them. An easy way to do this is to amortize — in other words, break down the cost per wear. If you spend $100 on a pair of jeans you wear all the time, it ends up costing less per use than a $20 pair you wear once.
• The Web is your friend: Sites such as Overstock.com and SmartBargains.com offer name brands at rock-bottom prices — on items such as appliances, furniture and clothing. Even better, FreeInternet.com finds freebies all over the Web and collects them in one easy-to-use site. My personal favorite, www.ShopItToMe.com, allows you to enter your favorite brands, your size and other preferences. You’ll get an e-mail update when the price drops — all of the bargain hunting with none of the work.
• Thrifty is nifty: I adore thrift shops, and I’ve found amazing deals on everything from cashmere sweaters and Brooks Brothers suits to a maple desk and Fiestaware at Goodwill and Salvation Army. If that’s not your style, try some of the higher-end consignment shops, which sell very gently used clothing at a fraction of the retail cost — American Retro in Bangor, Frugal Suzy’s in Camden and Repeat Performance in Portland are a few of my favorites. I plan to do a column about thrift and consignment shops in the not-so-distant future, so send me your faves, too!
• Know when to shop: Kathryn Finney, author of “How to Be a Budget Fashionista,” told SmartMoney.com that Thursday is the best day to buy as chain stores gear up for the weekend. Promos start early, and the goods aren’t picked-over. Unsure of the best time to hit your favorite store? Ask a manager.
ShopGirl would love to hear from you! Send questions, comments or suggestions by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org, by U.S. mail to Kristen Andresen, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329, or by fax to 941-9476. For exclusive online shopping tips, visit http://shoppingblogbdn.blogspot.com.