Autumn is upon us, bringing shorter days, cooler nights—and endless ads for jackets, sweaters, boots and other pricey fall and winter gear. If you too have what I call a "mom mailbox" overflowing with fashion catalogs, as well as big and little family members who want and need new clothes to last until spring, you're probably feeling overwhelmed by the amount of money you expect to shell out to pay for it all.
I’m here to help. I’m a longtime fashion editor as well as a mother of young kids, and I know a thing or two about how to shop without blowing the budget. My mantra? Put needs before wants, and never pay full retail. Whether you’re buying in a store or on your laptop from your couch, deals abound. Allow me to share my top 10 strategies for scoring bargains so your family stays stylish, comfy and warm.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Get started with a free financial assessment.
Take Wardrobe Inventory
If your kids are anything like mine, they’ve stashed into drawers and shoved into corners all sorts of clothing items that have plenty of use left in them. Assess what you have and size up what can be salvaged or handed down to a younger sibling. Then write out a list of what everyone in the family actually needs. Shopping without a list is the fastest route to buyer’s remorse.
Browse Online First
Before you pull into the mall parking lot, spend a few hours online perusing the stores you’re most likely to frequent, gathering intel on what’s available and bookmarking or pinning things you like. I get my kids to pitch in with this—it helps them organize their own needs and makes them a part of the process. (Plus, it teaches them to think about what they want to buy and not give in to impulse purchases.)
While you’re browsing, sign up for store newsletters, so you’ll be in on special offers. And, according to Andrea Woroch, consumer and money-saving expert, make sure you maximize your savings options. Visit CouponSherpa.com to find in-store coupons for hundreds of popular national stores such as American Eagle, Macy’s and Kohl’s, says Woroch.
Mark Columbus Day on Your Calendar
With so much competition for customer dollars, retailers are forced to hold lots of sales. To zero in on savings events, focus on holiday weekends through December, says Becky Worley, consumer and technology contributor at ABC News. This is where you'll see the best deals. Columbus Day is the next big-sale holiday coming up, so make sure to keep your calendar clear that weekend. The second-best holiday sale happens after Thanksgiving during the shopping Olympics known as Black Friday.
Snag Savings Online
Prices can be lower when you cybershop, but shipping charges often chip away at your savings. Follow my golden rule of online shopping: never pay for shipping. To help find those deals, look for free shipping codes on sites like FreeShipping.com, suggests Woroch. Or take advantage of free site-to-store shipping—a new offering from popular stores like Kohl's, JCPenney (on purchases $25 and over) and Macy's—and sometimes you can snag even more savings. For example, Woroch has seen offers in which you buy online, ship to a store for pickup and are given a bonus coupon for 15% to 20% off your next purchase.
When you’re considering a purchase online or in a store, find out how much the item is selling for at other retailers. This comparison shopping can save you major moola by directing you to the cheapest option. “The Invisible Hand browser extension will help you find the cheapest prices online while the ShopSavvy app provides instant price comparisons for in-store purchases,” says Woroch. Retale and Flipp make it easy to find sales at stores in your zip code, so you can quickly compare deals and know where to go for the best bargains."
You can also request a price match; Target, Walmart and Best Buy, for example, will match Amazon's price tags. And check out dealnews.com, which compares the best online deals at hundreds of major retailers, says Worley.
Shop for Jeans in October, Coats in December
Certain garments go on sale at different times throughout the year, so if you can hold out, you’ll stretch your dollars by striking at the right time. Last year’s boots will be on the sales rack in September, and denim is more likely to get marked down in October. If the weather in your area allows, try to buy new coats after Christmas, when outerwear prices are slashed. Should your kids push back (“Mooooom, I neeeeed it!”), tell them they’ll be happier if they wait to see what’s trendy before they impulsively buy something they'll wear once before stashing in the back of the closet forever.
Buy Adult Clothes Year-Round
The one thing I avoid during this time of year is shopping specifically for myself and my husband. I do that throughout the year whenever I see a good sale (especially after Christmas and following July 4th). Unlike our kids, who want to look stylish and grow out of their clothes fast, our fall and winter needs are pretty predictable and not driven by the latest style craze seen on Musical.ly.
Think Off-Price and Overstock Stores
Off-price options like HomeGoods, DSW, T.J.Maxx and Marshalls offer super bargains because they’re often buying merchandise directly from manufacturers who couldn’t sell out last season. “They’re especially good for basics,” says Ellen Warren, a columnist on shopping and style for the Chicago Tribune. “A patient shopper can plow through the sales racks at those stores and save even more.” I also check Overstock.com regularly. Will they have the latest stovepipe jeans your teenager craves? Not likely, but I’ve scored amazing savings for kids and adults on outerwear, underwear and shoes.
Go for Second-Hand Steals
It's worth checking out consignment stores and outlets like Salvation Army and Goodwill for all kinds of clothes at drastically reduced prices, says Warren. Coats, jackets and other outerwear can be costly, and buying almost-new saves big bucks. Online resellers such as Poshmark and ThredUp are also top resources for gently-used items.
Ask About Same-Day Deals
Once you’re in a store and you’ve filled your cart, whip out your phone and search the name of the retailer plus the words “coupon code.” Ask about same-day sudden sales announcements when you hit the checkout too. Stores are forced to rotate inventory frequently, so you never know if a last-minute deal is available. Finally, are you making a big purchase? “Before you check out ask about opening a company credit card on the spot,” says Warren. “It usually entitles you to a 15% discount.”