My guide to bargain hunting

Perhaps Stacy and Clinton would not agree with this approach, but then again nobody’s handing me a card with $5,000 on it and telling me to shop my heart out.

I am also no fashionista. I own more black pants/shorts/skirts and Gap favorite tees than anything else. But I think I have a pretty good grasp on flattering shapes, fit and structure. And I do love to shop.

When my mom and I shop together, we’re looking for bargains. Her favorite place to shop is NBC – Name Brand Clothes, where everything is half of half of the original price. And sometimes less. This store is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig through racks for hours. You have to examine everything for holes, droopy buttons, stains, wrong sizes etc. And some days you may go home with nothing, because they just don’t have a good selection. But every once in a while you hit the motherlode, and it is so much fun.

That’s what happened last week, when we went to an NBC store in Kansas. The store was brimming with cast-offs from department stores all over the country. They even had stuff from White House Black Market. We were supposed to be looking for clothes for my rail-thin sister, but while my mom and her friend scoured the racks for Megan I started grabbing things for myself. Mwahahahaha.

I really hit the jackpot on these dresses. Considering I go to 3 or 4 weddings every summer now, I was more than happy to take them home. Each one was only $15 or $20, including one from Nine West that still had its original $134 price tag.

I also got this adorable 3/4 sleeve jacket.

And some strappy Bandolinos to go with my dresses.

The grand total for all of this, plus a ruffled cardigan and a stretchy athletic top was less than $100. If you added up everything I got plus everything Megan and my mom got, it would still be less than what I paid for one dress and one capelet at White House Black Market the last time I shopped there. Score!

There are definite limitations to the bargain shopping, though, so I thought I’d put together my list of rules I try to stick to when buying clothes at a place like this:

Don’t go in looking for very specific things. If you need a pair of skinny jeans in a certain size and color, you’re probably better off going to the Gap and paying full or maybe somewhat discounted price. A better goal would be something like “dresses” or “long-sleeved tops”.

Don’t shop only in the size you wear. At outlet stores, items may be slightly off-size, which is why they didn’t sell. So if you wear medium, you might take a run down the small or large aisle, just in case.

Try on everything. You can literally shop with a cart at NBC, so throw in anything and everything you think you might like and try it on. Many things I tried on fit surprisingly well, and some things that looked perfect on the racks turned out to be all wrong. Don’t waste time over something that doesn’t fit. Just move on to the next item.

Check for flaws. Many times we’ve gotten home with our bargains and found a broken zipper or a tiny tear. This is the risk you take with outlets, so be careful. At the same time, if you find a fabulous jacket and it’s missing a button but has an extra one, it just might be worth a 5-minute fix at home.

Find out which night of the week they restock, and shop the next day when they have the best selection.

Be ready to shop out-of-season. I might not have a chance to wear all of my summer dresses before summer ends, but that’s OK. There has to be some give-and-take in saving 75% of the price.

Don’t buy something just because it’s cheap. Some items, and probably a majority of the store, are there because they’re just a little bit too trendy. Take a run-through of everything you like before you buy it and ask yourself if you’re really going to wear it. It’s not a bargain if you spend the money and let clothes sit in your closet all year.

So, go forth and bargain hunt. And please tell me if you have anything to add to my list.