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HOW TO SAVE WHILE SETTING UP YOUR WARDROBE

Wintertime means dressing in layers, donning a tee, blouse, sweater and coat to accommodate shifts in temperature, indoors to out. Take that same principle and apply it to discounts, and you could be saving 40% to 50% or more on shoe and clothing purchases. It really is a matter of stacking one type of discount atop another.

USE DISCOUNTED GIFT CARDS

Gift card exchange sites, such as Cardpool.com, offer gift cards for 3% to 35% less than face value. Typically, the amount of the discount is between 5% and 20%. So a $20 gift card will cost you $16 to $19, a significant savings, and a good base element — like a well-made cotton tee — upon which to stack your layers of discounts. Cards from hundreds of retailers — like Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom, even Marshall’s — are available at exchange sites. The challenge? Getting your hands on the cards. As thousands of folks are aware of the cost advantages, competition is stiff. At most sites, you can sign up to be alerted by email when the cards you want become available.

JOIN PREFERRED SHOPPER CLUBS

For web-only retailers, this is often as simple as typing your email address into a pop-up on your first visit to the site. For traditional retailers, you might need to provide a bit more contact info. Club membership puts you on the inside track to advance notice of promotional pricing and clearance events. Download a store’s app, and you might be privy to additional special offers, such as free gifts. The downside? Sometimes, clubs blast emails more than once a day. (Ouch!) The savings might be worth the inbox real estate. For example, Lands’ End routinely offers sitewide discounts of 20% to 30%. The special pricing usually lasts from one to several days (and is sometimes extended beyond the original deadline date.) Say you buy a $50 Land’s End gift card at a 10% discount, and then use the card at a 20% off sitewide event, for a total savings of 30%. If the number of emails gets to you, set a day each week to batch-delete them.

PORE OVER SALE CIRCULARS

Yes, circular sounds like circa 1950, but stores like Macy’s, Sears and JCPenney still publish their weekly discounts in print, as well as online. Taking a few minutes to peruse special offers can pay off big, especially at the end of a season. Per the traditional wisdom, shop in January and February for winter outerwear and clothing, July and August for warm weather duds.

SHOP CLEARANCE

Heading for the clearance rack seems to have lost its stigma since the 2008 recession. Clearance events are just what they seem to be. Retailers need to clear their physical and virtual shelves to make room for the new season’s designs. They’re serious about it, so savings opps abound. Suppose you find an item for 50% to 75% off retail. Buy it with your discounted gift card and see that percentage rise by 5% to 35%. On top of that, preferred shopper clubs sometimes offer an additional discount off of clearance prices.

SHOP OFF-PRICE RETAILERS

Stores like TJ Maxx, Ross and Marshall’s start the pricing conversation typically, at a discount of 25% to 40% or more. No wonder they’ve become so popular. A clearance event can mean savings of up to 80%. Buy that fab sweater with your 10%-discounted gift card, and yep, you’ve saved a whopping 90% off retail. In some cases, stores are so eager to be rid of the merchandise, returns are not allowed. If you’re not quite committed to those five-inch heels, get clear about the return policy before you cough up the cash.

TROLL COUPONING SITES…RELIGIOUSLY

Before confirming your purchase at any e-tailer, make a quick coupon code search for that store. You might be surprised at how much you can save. Some store sites offer 15% off to all first-time customers; if you missed the new-customer offer when you started shopping the site, you can find the discount code at a couponing site. Holiday- or brand-specific promotions, for a period of weeks or months, are also to be found at coupon websites. Think of web couponing as the last chance to add one more layer to your stack of discounts.

Bonus Tip: Couponing sites like RetailMeNot post discount codes for gift card exchange sites. As a first-time purchaser, you might get $5 off a 10%-discounted $20 card. That means paying $13 for $20 of buying power, a whopping 65% discount! Add retail special pricing, and you might waltz out of the store paying next to nothing for $20 worth of merchandise.

Rebate sites, like Ebates, and price-comparison apps present other avenues toward savings.

PROVISOS

As with anything worth having, patience, forethought and some appetite for risk are required. To score a killer deal on a pair of soft-as-butter over-the-knee leather boots might require you to wait until a store or sitewide sale is announced. While you’re waiting, of course, the store might sell out of your preferred size or color. If you prefer not to wait, a less obvious option is to simply ask the clerk or store manager for a discount. Your request might be turned down, but, well…. nothing ventured, nothing saved.

Some discount offers cannot be combined with other promotions. Most sale deadlines are firm. Read the fine print, and calendar the deadlines if you have to. Hassle? Maybe. But why leave money on the table?

Rebate sites and retailer apps, though free to access, often come with lengthy contract language. Be sure you understand what you’re signing up for and how much of your online behavior will be tracked.

To distinguish a real value from just a very low price, become a smart shopper. Educate yourself as to fit, fabric and cut when it comes to clothing, so you can recognize quality without relying on designer labels. Discover which fibers are most durable or best suited to your purposes. Give yourself a crash course on the characteristics of quality footwear. A discount is not worth having if the goods won’t wear well or fit properly.

It can take time and dedication, but saving 40% or more on items you truly need or want can pay dividends. Whether you devote the cash you’ve saved to a college fund, mortgage payments, or an investment account, your family’s bottom line will be that much stronger.

This article was written by Daphne O’Neal, contributor for The Daily Clutch.