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Legally Thrifty: Savvy Spring Shopping

Spring is right around the corner. At least, I hope so. If you’re like me, the yearning for warmer weather goes hand in hand with the desire to go shopping for spring. It’s tempting to dive headfirst into a stylish sea of minty green or slither into a sexy python print. Before you reach for your wallet though, be a smart Ms. JD and figure out what you really need and how much to spend.

(Image from www.vectips.com – Illustration by Huan Tran.)

Building the classic components of your work wardrobe is just as important as indulging in seasonal trends. I admit that I get that exhilarating high and temporary happiness that comes from shopping. It’s the thrill of the purchase and the feeling of having something new and wonderful that makes the world seem like a better place. But like I’ve said, it’s temporary happiness that drains your finances instead of securing your future. So shop smart with the following tips from yours truly.

1. Stick to a monthly or seasonal budget.

InStyle regularly features a section where three editors each have a different budget to go shopping. Readers can follow the editors’ picks and get inspiration for what’s affordable on that budget. Similarly, you can evaluate how much you’ve typically spent on shopping in a given time period and try to scale back the dollar amount. For example, if $350 is your monthly average, $250 may be an achievable reduction in shopping expenditures. This method works best for those who are aiming to divert more of their disposable income towards loans, savings or investments.

2. Limit yourself to five items per season.

If you find yourself constantly purchasing frivolous items that you rarely wear again, challenge yourself to purchasing only 5 items for every 3 months. This is a common shopping vice that leads to perpetual unhappiness with your closet. I’m actually doing this challenge for 2012 (check out my blog post for more details) because I realized that I had frittered money away on “cute” things but lacked classic necessities in my wardrobe. My shameful secret is a lovely Diane Von Furstenburg leopard print dress that I’ve owned for over a year but has yet to be worn once. Overall, the 5 items challenge helps keep your shopping urges in check, which leads me to the next point. 

3. Avoid the inevitable regret of impulsive shopping.

Shopping is often instigated by either a positive or negative emotion. A fight with the boyfriend? A promotion at work? Let’s go shopping! Or let’s wait 48 hours to see if we really need another pair of strappy gold sandals. If you’re still thinking about it, a few days later, then go ahead and treat yourself. Chances are that you probably forgot about those sandals or the desire to own them isn’t as strong anymore. Another piece of advice - don’t drink and shop! You wouldn’t drink and drive, right? Your inhibitions are lower and clicking the “place order” button is dangerously easy. Remember, don’t store your credit card information online, even if you frequently shop on that site. Not only is this a huge risk for getting your credit card stolen, again you’re more likely to breeze through check out and make a regrettable purchase.

4. No “spaving.”

The art of “spaving” is spending to save. Which doesn’t make sense, if you think about it, but we do it all the time. For instance, department stores always offer “sales” where you get a $50 gift card for spending $250, etc. It’s only “free” money if you didn’t have to spend something for it. I’m guilty of loading my online shopping cart with extra items so that I can meet the free shipping requirement. This technique works up to a certain rationalization point. Like I ordered a book from Amazon along with 6 boxes of Kashi cereal. Sounds silly but I do eat cereal daily for breakfast. What doesn’t work is adding non-staple products like another pair of earrings just because you have to buy enough for free shipping.

5. Regularly purge your closet and reassess what’s in your wardrobe.

We tend to over-consume yet complain about how there’s nothing to wear. Spring cleaning includes tossing out those rarely worn clothes. If you think it’s too trendy to ever make a comeback, if it hasn’t fit for awhile but you keep on hoping that you’ll lose the weight, if your beloved sweater is full of moth holes and beyond repair…well you get the idea. No more excuses! Separate clothing to purge into bags designated for selling (works best for higher end or designer items), repair (wearable after a little hemming and hawing), donating (good condition clothes you will realistically never wear again), and trashing (too stained or dirty to be saved). Then look inside your closet and see what you already own so you can be smart about shopping next time. If you find 3 pairs of black pants, then you know to quash your next urge to get more black pants. If you don’t have a cashmere camel crewneck, maybe that should be on your winter shopping list. And so forth.

6. Splurge on classics, save on trends.

When we’re younger, we don’t think about our long-term needs - for our wardrobe. It’s true that every woman should have classic staples in rotation, as cliché as it sounds, like the little black dress and nude pumps that work for day and night. Splurge on classics that will last for years – you will thank yourself later. A few years ago, I bought a Burberry trench with a removable wool liner that has been an indispensable part of my wardrobe. I wear the trench to court over my suits, during rainy weekdays to work, and casually with flats during the weekend. Plus the wool liner is perfect for transitioning between seasons and adds to the versatility of the trench. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to spring for Burberry – any classically detailed trench coat will do wonders for your wardrobe. On the flip side, trends are just that – trends – and little should be spent each season on items that can’t be worn every year, e.g. colored jeans. I personally like Forever 21 for cheaply satisfying your trendy cravings. 

7. If you must shop, try to do so only on sale.

These days, sales, promotions, and discounts are so rampant that there really is no need to pay retail. Just do your research first. Mainstream stores like Banana Republic and Ann Taylor always have at least one promotion, like 40% off one item, going on at any given time. Sign up for emails from your favorite stores to be kept in the loop. For online shopping, www.retailmenot.com has a comprehensive listing of online codes and www.ebates.com is a must for getting cash back on your purchases. Bonus tip – some retailers offer a promotional discount to first time customers, so don’t be shy about asking.

Be happy, be smart. Shop wisely this spring and never (okay, almost never) complain about having nothing to wear again. Your wallet and your closet will thank you.

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