A recent shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret not only revived my lingerie drawer, but also turned around my shopping habits. See, shopping is one of my least favorite activities: I can’t stand to maneuver through crowds of people. I feel overwhelmed by the unending choices. Pushy sales people get on my nerves. I decided that while I still need to shop, I need to learn how to do it smart. That means being efficient with my time and money, and making sure I get the best value out of both in my quest to look cute.
I was not a very efficient shopper. My usual M.O. was to walk into a shop, head straight for the sales rack and peruse until I found something cute and roughly in my size. The rest of the time, my wardrobe is overrun by T-shirts with holes, scuffed-up shoes and a black-and-white houndstooth coat, which was fabulous — before I wore it every single winter day for six years straight.
Clearly, this was not efficient. About once every month or two, I would find myself faced with a lunch meeting, media appearance or special date and go into a panic attack because my crowded closet is void of the appropriate attire. A loathed half-day shopping would be spent finding just the right blouse or pumps. Time is money — especially when you’re self-employed like me — and all this hateful shopping cost me big bucks.
My bra shopping excursion taught me how valuable smart shopping is — why you must take stock of what you need, ask for expert advice and pay for quality goods. Further: Consider the cost-per-wear over a “good deal,” says Thea Wood, an Austin, Texas-based stylist, image consultant and style editor who I asked for further shopping tips. “It’s not a good deal if you don’t wear it,” she says.
Here are three reasons to shop smart using these strategies.
1. Smart shopping saves time. If you ask me, time is the most valuable commodity — you can always make more money, but you can’t make more time, right? Smart shopping saves time, thus making wisely acquired purchases more valuable. A closet that required 100 hours to fill on various, unproductive shopping trips would be far less efficient than a closet that required just 20 hours to fill.
To get a grip on the time spent shopping, Wood suggests taking stock of your wardrobe. What needs to be replaced? What are you not wearing? Would you wear that fabulous tweed skirt if you had the right sweater to go with it?
Make a list of what you need. “Everyone makes a list before they go to the grocery store — but never before they hit the mall,” Wood says. “I find the mall much more overwhelming with far more choices.” Then, stick to your needs with tunnel vision.
Another time-saving tip: Don’t be afraid to stick to what works. If you have a dress style that is figure-flattering, or a color that complements your complexion, go ahead and invest in more of the same. “Don’t be afraid to have a uniform,” Wood says.
2. Smart shopping saves money. Per my old shopping habits, I rarely asked myself if I actually needed the item. Who cared if I actually wore it? Then, as just happened last night, I find myself rummaging through my closet in desperate search for something to wear to dinner and come across a bargain-find off-the-shoulder black sweater — still affixed with the price tags suggesting what a great deal I’d found. Except, of course, I bought that sweater six months ago, and forgot I had it at all. No value in that!
Wood surprised me when she warned: “Do not get distracted by sales signs!” She is a big advocate for applying a cost-per-wear ratio to all clothing purchases. It may make sense to spend a few hundred bucks on a pair of jeans you may wear several times weekly for years. But skimp on a cocktail dress you wear only once — then accessorize with jewelry and a handbag you already own.
Don’t forget to factor in dry cleaning costs and time required to shop for replacements. “It makes sense to spend good money on a quality suit if that is what you wear to work every day,” Wood says. “It is an investment in your professional appearance, and you won’t have to spend time or money replacing it next season.”
3. Smart shopping is an investment in your mental and emotional well-being. Smart shopping does not discount the importance of looking fantastic. To the contrary, you should invest your time and money in acquiring items that will boost your confidence, Wood says. “You can’t put price tag on feeling confident and amazing,” she says. “When you feel special, you get positive feedback from others and that snowballs into a great day, and suddenly you see more opportunities and accomplish more.”
After my Victoria’s Secret spree, I went home, swooped my ratty old bras into the trashcan and giddily lined up my new frilly things in tidy rows. The purchase was clearly an investment: an investment in replacing the negative energy spent contending with old and ugly items with things that make me feel beautiful and give me pleasure. I spend less bad mojo agonizing over which bra will work with my outfit each morning. And I know the money spent on these lovely things will be put to good use each and every day, giving me an excellent cost-per-wear ratio and a confidence boost — unlike that sweater that may not be uncovered again until next year.