Having to watch how much you spend doesn’t mean you need to go without the fine things that can make life more enjoyable. Here are some tips for how to score big even if you’re counting pennies.
By Carol Johnson
Designer Clothing at Discount Prices
It used to be that stores had regular, predictable sales at the end of every season, as they moved out the old season’s clothing to make room for new duds coming in. Those days are pretty much over, but there are so many new shopping options and inventory management strategies that it doesn’t take a Bill Gates to be able to afford Bill Blass suits. Department stores get rid of old inventory by selling it to outlet chains. Some of the most popular outlet stores for name-brand clothing are Marshalls, Ross, and T.J. Maxx.
There are also department store clearance houses that specialize in better quality clothing and high-end designers. Check out Nordstrom Rack (Norstrom’s clothes), Off 5th (Saks Fifth Avenue clothes), and Last Call (Neiman Marcus clothes). Kathryn Finney, founder of ‘The Budget Fashionista’, a fashion-bargain website, says that she always gets her husband’s footwear at Nordstrom Rack, because the prices are always at least 60% off retail.
Sample sales from big design houses are held all over the country and offer clothing for both men and women. Although most samples run small―sizes 4, 6, or 8 usually―you can expect to find a wealth of variety, including canceled orders from stores like Barneys and Saks, as well as designer overruns, resulting in savings of 40-60% on average. To find listings for sample sales in New York, visit nysale.com and www.lazarshopping.com. In southern California, check out bargainsla.com, billiondollarbabes.com, and dailycandy.com. To find sales all over the country in cities such as Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, visit Finney’s site at thebudgetfashionista.com.
Last, but not least, don’t shy away from hand-me-downs. Not only can vintage clothing save you a bundle, it is also actually trendy and in style all the time. A quick search on Google will take you to hundreds of websites dealing in vintage clothing. The ubiquitous online auction house of eBay even has a huge selection of vintage goods. For local sellers, check out flea markets and consignment shops. For high-quality vintage clothing at the best prices, take a look at non-profit or thrift stores that support charities, especially stores who are patronized by upper crust folks. Thrift stores operated by city operas, Junior League groups, and the American Cancer Society are known for offering notoriously high-quality clothing.
Live like Royalty on a Middle Class Budget
Just like clothing stores, furniture manufacturers regularly have to find homes for overstocks, discontinued furniture models, and canceled orders. Many furniture companies sell their extra stock to discount retailers such as Tuesday Morning, Big Lots, and HomeGoods (which is owned by the same company that owns Marshall’s and T.J. Maxx). This is the same furniture that is sold in department stores and catalogs, but you’ll pay up to 80% less.
Up to 10% of a furniture store’s stock comes from customer returns, either from people who decide the color or style is wrong for their décor, or because of slight damages. Often stores have to sell items that were previously used as floor models in showrooms, or for magazine or catalog photo shoots. For the biggest selection of furniture such as this, look for furniture chains that ship extra merchandise to stores designated as ‘clearance centers’. Call local furniture stores to find a clearance center near you.
Eat, Drink, and be Thrifty
If you’re a fan of Starbucks coffee, but don’t have hundreds of dollars a year to shell out for a cup of Joe, consider making your own four-star coffee at home for less. Buy whole bean coffee and grind the beans daily so your coffee is always fresh. Many people think the best place to keep coffee is in the fridge, but according to Sherri Johns of Whole Cup Coffee Consulting, you should store coffee in an airtight container at room temperature. “The refrigerator is a coffee coffin, because if dries out the flavor,” Johns says.
Instead of brewing your coffee with a paper filter, use a French press (you can get one for less than $15). Johns says that paper filters ‘rob coffee of its oils and flavor’. The French press uses a plunger to push the grounds down through the water. And the flavor of the coffee will be extra rich because each cup will cost you about 12 cents, versus the $1.50 or more you’d pay at Starbucks―which could amount to savings of several hundred dollars a year.
To give your kitchen the feel of a five-star restaurant, all you have to do is splurge a little on some fancy sauces or condiments to accompany regular fare, and you’ve got a dish fit for a king. For example, mufaletta salad or giardiniera―marinated olives, peppers, and other vegetables―can be spread on cold cuts or sandwiches to give them extra zing. Hot chili sauce squeezed on any type of meat will give it an exotic spicy flavor.
With any kind of roasted or grilled chicken meal, add a side of mango chutney or spiced apple rings. Broil any kind of fish and pair it with sautéed julienne glazed carrots. Use your imagination and get yourself out of the standard ‘meat and potatoes’ fare, and be your own celebrity chef while saving a bundle of money.
With a little bit of imagination, a little bit of open-mindedness, and a little bit of research, you can indulge yourself a little without abusing your budget.