When I was in Calgary last week, I started brainstorming ideas for my How To series (feeling simultaneously guilty about missing the post last week due to travel and meetings) while wandering around Nordstrom at Chinook Centre. I was exhausted, hungry, and generally feeling a bit out of sorts, and I knew deep down that it was a dangerous time to be shopping. I picked up so many things, planning to buy them, but quickly realized that because of my physical and mental exhaustion, I wasn’t even thinking about what I was buying. I stopped, had a bit to eat, and rested for a bit before continuing on, with much more success, both in finding great pieces and sticking to my budget. The more I thought about things later that night, the more I realized that shopping can easily become confusing and expensive.
Over the years, I’ve picked up plenty of tips and tricks when it comes to shopping that I can pass on to others. Whether you love shopping or loathe it, there are things you can do to make the experience even better. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
Go In With A Plan and a Budget
When you’re heading to the mall or the department store, always try to go with a plan. If you don’t have a plan ahead of time, or if you don’t have any idea of what you’re looking for or how much you want to spend, you run the risk of spending mindlessly. While it may seem like I shop all the time, I almost always go with a specific item in mind. If I can’t find what I’m looking for, I try to leave before I get too distracted (and buy things I don’t need). To the same end, it’s important to have a budget as part of your plan, bearing in mind what you need or are looking for, what you are comfortable spending overall, and building in contingencies for those times that you’re looking for a winter coat but see the perfect pair of shoes or the skinny jeans you’ve been searching for months for in vain. I find (as someoneg who loves shopping) that totally restricting myself when I see something I know I will get lots of wear out of leads to disappointment, and ultimately, overspending trying to compensate for what I didn’t get in the first place. That said, I always make sure I’m aware of my finances, how long it will take to pay something off if it’s going on the credit card, and what I am ultimately comfortable with spending. It helps me to balance things out.
Don’t Shop When You’re Bored/Stressed/Hungry
Or at least, don’t plan to spend money. The vast majority of times I’ve bought things that I don’t really wear or even like (later on down the line) happened when I was shopping without a purpose – either out of boredom or as a stress reliever. These are normally the times that I end up picking up things that I definitely don’t need, but bought because they seemed exciting and distracted me at the time. (Seriously, my tag line is more than just a tag line – it’s an accurate description of me.) I am pretty guilty of this. A great recent example of this are the beautiful Michael Kors snake print heels that I picked up at Holt Renfrew this past summer. Although they are cute, I’ve maybe worn them twice, and I definitely did not need them. The combination of a crazy work day, stress, and a great sale price meant I was sold on them that day, when on a normal day, I might have walked right by them. Not shopping when you’re bored may seem hard, but what I really recommend is just looking around, notating things that caught your eye and then thinking about them later. If you’re still craving them, then it’s time to add them to your shopping plan. I still have to work on this tip a bit.
Try Somewhere New
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of only checking out stores that you’re comfortable or familiar with, especially with the amount of fast fashion shops that are out there. While they definitely have a time and a place, be open to checking out smaller boutiques or shops that are harder to get to than the local mall. The best part of trying somewhere new, like a local boutique, is finding brands you may never have heard of, finding high quality items at a reasonable price point, and meeting super helpful and knowledgable staff. Many of the local boutiques in Edmonton have super stylish, friendly, and engaged staff who are keen to not only help serve you, but to give you more information about the products and brands they stock. Getting a style education with your shopping is always awesome.
Even if you’re shopping at local mall, you never know what you might find in stores that you don’t usually visit – I hadn’t stopped into a Garage Clothing store for years, but several weeks ago, a bright (and plaid!) blanket scarf caught my eye and drew me into the store. Two blanket scarves and a cardigan later, I will definitely return to see what other interesting (and affordable) things I might find there in the future.
Buy on Sale
Ok, this is my number one strategy. I rarely buy anything full price and always watch for coupons, discounts and sales. Generally speaking, the only items that I purchase at full price are one that pretty nuch never go on sale, and that usually involves designer handbags. Some larger department stores, like Nordstrom, Hudson Bay and Holt Renfrew hold larger sales a couple of times a year, like the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale in the summer. As for sales or discounts at your favourite stores or boutiques, I recommend signing up for emails from your favourite shops so you can stay up to date with the latest deals. This is seriously the shopping tip I use most.
Splurge vs. Steal
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a thing or two about spending my money wisely and it essentially comes down to determining what to spend more money on and what to buy at a more adorable price point. Everyone is different, and you will determine what aspect of your style you want to invest in, and which part you’re willing to revamp a bit more often. The mixing of high and low-end pieces is a great way to make your style budget stretch. But before you start splurging, think about your habits, lifestyle, and personality when choosing what you want to invest in. For me, handbags and great shoes are my go to – no matter how much my clothing style has changed over the years, a classic like the Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 or a timeless leather bag like my Tory Burch Robinson Square tote will be chic for many years, and if cared for properly, will last me a lifetime. Experience (including many blisters from walking around London and Paris in bad shoes) has taught me that really great shoes are important and now I ensure that I choose quality over quantity. For someone else, investing in more expensive wardrobe staples like classic business suits and dresses may make more sense. Whatever you choose, investing in a few key, elegant pieces that you care for properly and then supplementing your wardrobe with other lower end, trendy items will allow you to stretch your wardrobe budget and still look fantastic. A great place to check for investment pieces at a more reasonable price point is thrift stores. While I personally haven’t had a designer find while thrifting, they are out there if you’re willing to search.
Of course, what is shopping without stores, and I definitely have my favourites. As far as department stores go, Canada has a much smaller variety compared to the U.S., but that is slowly changing with the growth of Nordstrom in Alberta, Ontario, and BC. Nordstrom is one of my favourites stores to find pieces at various price points, from designer bags and shoes, to chic and adorable sweaters and shirts, like my favourite tunic top. Simons is a fantastic Quebec-based department store with a great variety of pieces and price points and it is expanding across Canada these days. I also love Hudson Bay, which now carries more high-end brands and has some great sales throughout the year. Of course, Holt Renfrew is a classic institution in Canada and still a go to for high-end pieces, like my much-loved Burberry tote (thank you, overtime!).
As for my staple stores, I love J. Crew for classic items like pencil skirts, shirts, and jackets that will last for years. Aritzia carries great understated pieces and I always find the best cardigans for fall and winter there. Forever 21 has the trendy styles that I love at a price I am willing to pay, though it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. H&M always has interesting finds, like my much loved navy dress coat (that I’ve had for four years and wear all. the. time). Zara is one of my absolute favourites for chic pieces that are still relatively affordable, especially coats, dress jackets and dresses. And, of course, blanket scarves. I especially love Zara because of the quality and elegance of the items combined with the more reasonable price.
No matter what you’re looking for or where to go to find it, shopping doesn’t have to leave your wallet and your spirit totally depleted. For those of us who love shopping, it should be a fun adventure (as long as you’re spending wisely!). For those who really don’t enjoy it, having a plan and a budget will help you to get in and out more quickly. Either way, if you use the tips above, I promise you that you’ll come out with fewer regrets, better pieces more suited to your lifestyle and budget, and a happier wallet and closet.
Enjoy the pretty things in life,