This is a guest post by Susan Su.
I’m a snob. I eat organic food, love designer clothes, buy premium pet food, and hate Old Navy.
But, I’m also one of the cheapest people I know (apart from my Chinese mother – who is THE cheapest person I know, bar none).
Ramit has written about swapping out name brands for generics, and many readers have commented on the low, low price of clothes at Target or Walmart. But, I am a strong believer in quality. A truly nice suit during a salary negotiation can give you the confidence and polish to push for a 10% pay hike. Stylish and professional office clothes can add a crucial accent to your earnest hard work and painstaking PowerPoints. Fresh, organic food can keep your family in robust good health and flourishing at jobs, school and life instead of feeling sluggish and ineffective. An investment in a sexy outfit can yield returns in a hot first date, or a long-lasting flame.
Target never worked for me. The clothes were always the wrong shape and size, and wore out after only a few washes. Even though an item only cost me $20, I considered it $20 wasted when it was unwearable after the third week of ownership.
For nice clothes, one trick I used to think was so smart was going to Nordstrom Rack. I bought a Michael Stars shirt (these normally start at $40 for a tank top, but are sparkly and fabulous) for $10. That was back when I was an AmeriCorps volunteer making $800 a month and living off of food stamps. $10, or three bakery scones as I like to think of it, was within my budget.
However, once I made my debut in the world of private enterprise, and let my inner efficiency expert out to play, I realized that I do NOT have time to go down to Nordstrom Rack and paw through massive, disorganized piles of ugly, out-of-fashion clothing in order to find that one buttercup-yellow Michael Stars tee. I went a couple months ago on a Sunday after a long night of rest. Still, I left exhausted, empty-handed and pissed off after wasting and hour and a half rummaging and waiting in line at the fitting rooms. I left with the grumpy and self-destructive thought that next time I’d just buy full-price and be done with the chaotic likes of discount retailers.
The beauty of buying full price, I always thought, was that all the arranging and selection is practically done for you — by all those people that the store or brand pays to look pretty, try to sell you things, and put clothes on mannequins in semi-creative ways. I hate paying for salaries (and other costs) that I don’t think are really adding major value to my core need – the need to buy pretty clothes and look awesome.
There is, I discovered, a way to have it all. You can buy high quality, fashionable, well-organized and well-displayed clothes and spend less time than getting a mani-pedi. How? Do it on the Web!
Here are the specific sites and services I love:
1. Shop It To Me. When signing up for this automated personal (discount) shopper service, I selected the brands I like, the size I wear, and how often I wanted to receive email alerts. I was skeptical because I’ve signed up for SO many email alert type services that I promptly relegated to some obscure email filter. Why would this be any different?
I found out when I got my first Shop It To Me SaleMail. Everything it suggested to me – an amalgam of sale items across the Web – played to my tastes (because I chose the brands), fit me (because I chose the size) and was available (as opposed to sold out) at a MAJOR discount. Most items have been half off or more. If the same item is available on two different sites for at two different levels of discount, Shop It To Me will include only the cheaper option in your SaleMail, automating all your time-consuming comparison shopping.
The best part is that you can skim through the images in your SaleMail while having your morning whatever and click straight through to the retail site if you’re interested in making a purchase instead of wasting hours going to physical storefronts or even wasting hours at individual online shopping sites doing comparison shopping.
Items: Men’s and women’s clothes and shoes.
Brands: Almost everything at almost all levels. Brands range from Louis Vuitton to Nike to Victoria’s Secret to Free People to The North Face to Tufi Duek … you get the idea.
$$ Saved: I picked out a hypothetical full outfit from a recent SaleMail I received. $489 regular price total – $244.50 discount price total = $244.50 total, or a savings of exactly 50%.
Time Saved: Estimated time to find same deals on Internet (incl. shopping around): 1 hr – Time it would take me to make purchase from SaleMail: 10 min = 50 min saved.
2. Amazon.com. Nope, they don’t just sell books anymore, and yep, shipping is still free on many items. Amazon has some great deals on brand-name clothes, like this James Perse sweater vest for 66% off (if that’s your style), but my favorite apparel item there is SHOES. I saved $50 on a pair of Palladium flats the other week. They were still full-price on Amazon’s sister company, Endless.com. The reason Amazon can sell stuff for less is because they are now an aggregator of items on the Web – not just a vertical retailer. As shown by Shop It To Me, aggregators save you money AND time because they do all that sifting for you.
Items: Everything under the sun, including apparel items. Great for shoes, and way cheaper than Zappos.
Brands: Most common brands are available here. Really unique, high-end, or fringe brands are rare, but a search only takes a minute.
$$ Saved: My Palladium shoes cost $73 originally. I bought them for $22.99, a savings of 50.01 or 69%. I also got free shipping and didn’t have to talk to sales people.
Time Saved: There’s a shoe store about 1.5 miles from my house that sells Palladium shoes. It would take me about 40 minutes to walk there and back + 15 minutes to buy the shoes, for a total of 65 minutes. It took me 5 minutes to buy the shoes online, for a savings of 1 hour.
3. Etsy. Etsy is a way cool crafty, arty site where people from all over the country showcase their talent and sell the beautiful things they created. I have a thing for unique, handmade metalwork earrings. The mass-produced commercial stuff doesn’t hold a candle to a hand-hammered pair of sterling silver danglies. But, they are f-ing expensive at the boutiques where they’re normally found. Then, I found Etsy. My Fashion Institute of New York friend and all her jewelry design classmates make beautiful stuff, then sell it on Etsy without the boutique markup. The other day I found some one-of-a-kind metalwork earrings for under $20.It’s not just for women either – there are men’s items, stylish home things, art, gadgets, books, and more.
Know anyone who wants these $14 Republican finger puppets for the holidays?
Items: Unique, handmade everything – gifts, furniture, books & zines, jewelry and tons more.
Brands: No brands! This is the place you go to find the one-of-a-kind delights that are usually exclusive to hip boutiques and gift shops, at a fraction of the price.
$$ Saved: Saw a cute pair of earrings for $18. Saw a similar pair at a boutique last month for $45. The difference? $27 or 60%.
Time Saved: This site may not actually save you time because it is so full of all kinds of fun, impressive stuff to ogle. However, ogling here is probably still faster than scouring your city or town for similar cute items.
Added Bonus: If you’re crafy, you could actually make some money on Etsy this year. List your stuff!
FOOD AND HOME
1. Amazon.com (again). Unless you are a hardcore homesteader, chances are you use canned tomatoes in some form or another. I like to use them to make quick tomato chipotle soup, chili, and homemade ketchup. I recently realized that canned, organic, ‘fire-roasted’ tomatoes are $0.50 less per can on Amazon.con than at the grocery store. Not only is this awesome because I don’t have to go to the store, but I also don’t have to worry about buying it as often because it’s a 12 pack.Amazon works for toilet paper, soap, this facial scrub I like to use, cereal bars, organic tea and soymilk, vitamins, and just about everything else. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered I spent $50 too much on a large amount of premium vitamins and supplements when I checked on Amazon and found the same exact brands but for 20% less. Who knew a storefront cost that much? I don’t care if I see it in person, if I know what it is. In fact, I prefer to live like a (beggar) queen and have things delivered to my front door for less money – who wouldn’t?
2. eBay. As much as I scoff at the big, gaudy store by my house, I still kind of love Pottery Barn duvet covers. Problem is, they are so freaking expensive that I’d never EVER buy one. $200 for a duvet cover is a travesty, no matter how cute it is. But, what if it were $50? And brand new, in its original package? And delivered to your door? This is the magic of eBay. Don’t ask me how these sellers get this stuff (fell off the truck?), that’s not my problem. I just go, put in a bid, and forget about it. That is, until I get the “You’ve Won This Auction” email. I’ve used eBay for said Pottery Barn duvet cover, for a lovely hypoallergenic silk comforter, and for 400-thread count Ralph Lauren sheets, all at massive discounts. The point here is that it’s simple, automatic, and cheap, but still premium.
Items: Sundries, but I like it for bedding and home items especially.
Brands: eBay works best for brand names that you recognize.
$$ Saved: I’ve saved $150 on the duvet cover, $40 on the sheets, and $3,000 on a car (yes, I once bought a car on eBay).
Time Saved: At least 1 hour for going to the home goods store.
3. Only Natural Pet. A shout-out to pet owners – I know you’re out there! This great site has everything healthy and fun for your pet. The best part is that you can set up an automatic pet food delivery service – you choose the kind of food and the frequency, and, because you’re a guaranteed customer, OnlyNaturalPet rewards you by giving you 10% off every single delivery. Pretty awesome because pets eat all the time, and pet food and supplies tend to be bulky and somewhat time consuming to obtain.
Items: Pet food, toys and supplies
Brands: Better quality natural and veterinary brands.
$$ Saved: If you opt for recurring food delivery, you save 10% on your order, each time.
Time Saved: 30 minutes per week going to the pet store.
4. Your local farm. I’d like to give a nod to vegetables. Ok, so we know you can get packaged goods (food, clothes, bedding) for less money when you buy it online. But, fresh vegetables, especially if you buy organic, are always pricey and require frequent trips to the farmers’ market or store, right? Not if you sign up, online of course, for a CSA box.CSA = community supported agriculture, and in many cases, involves a big box of just-picked, local, and organic produce delivered to your home for less than you’d pay at the farmer’s market OR the store. Why is it less for this superior product that’s delivered to you? No store overhead. Plus, the producer has a guaranteed customer every week, so those price hikes s/he was implementing to hedge against a slow day at the market aren’t necessary with a delivered CSA.
Site: Search up “CSA” near your city or town
Items: Farm fresh produce
Brands: Um… it’s produce, from the earth. No branding, no marketing.
$$ Saved: At $29 a box, delivered every other week, I’m saving around $10 per week on fruits and veg.
Time Saved: 2 hours per week over going to the farmer’s market or grocery store.
Online shopping can help you live a healthy, stylish, and frugal life in so many ways. To me, the most important thing I save is the time and sanity I used to waste on running errands, going to the mall, comparison shopping from store to store, and waiting in line. Now I use that time to do the things I really enjoy (and can’t automate) – eating, trying on the clothes that came in the mail, and relaxing with the people I love.
Total savings: $20 to $500
Last thing to do
1. See other tips in the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge
2. Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.
If you found this post helpful you’ll probably like my new Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance. This is an excellent place to learn more simple ways to improve your personal finance and money management.