Big Style, Small Budget: Insider Tips on Shopping Savings

By Erin Donnelly

There’s nothing like a date with the tax man to have your fashion fantasies come crashing down to earth. First there was your accountant’s cruel revelation that no, your fancy Prada tote isn’t a tax write-off even if you only bought it to impress your new boss. Now, some pencil-pusher at the IRS is holding your Jimmy Choo fund in the palm of his hands while you contemplate a life with a little less Karl (as in Lagerfeld) and a lot more K-Mart (as in your worst nightmare).

happy woman holding up shopping bagsBut cheer up. Just because you’re tightening your purse strings doesn’t mean you have to abandon your passion for fashion. Just ask Pamela Pekerman, handbag trend forecaster and founder of BagTrends.com, and Kathryn Finney, founder of TheBudgetFashionista.com and author of How to be a Budget Fashionista. From the best online boutiques for designer discounts to whether or not knock-offs are worth buying, these fashion experts are giving our SingleMindedWomen readers the inside scoop on how to look like a million bucks without spending a fortune.

Read on for fabulous tips that’ll help you look chic on the cheap.

Bargain Fashion Tip #1: No knock-offs.

“A single, powerful woman should never purchase a knock-off bag,” says Pamela Pekerman of BagTrends.com. “First, it’s bad for the economy because the money from sales goes overseas to seedy institutions and it continues a vicious cycle of cheap labor in poor conditions. Secondly, it’s just tacky.”

Bargain Fashion Tip #2: The late bird catches the worm.

Don’t scoop up seasonal merchandise as soon as it comes out. Instead, wait for it to hit the sales racks so you can purchase next year’s swimsuit at a steep discount. Kathryn Finney, “The Budget Fashionista,” advises buying summer items in August and September and fall and early winter pieces in late January and February.

Bargain Fashion Tip #3: Play nice with salespeople.

Being friendly to shop assistants can reap big rewards. They are your inside track to information about upcoming sales, membership discount programs, and when new merchandise will arrive, so accept their help rather than brushing them off. Says Finney, “It’s amazing how much you can get from people by just being nice.”

Manaquins and racks of women's clothingBargain Fashion Tip #4: Go online.

Both Pekerman and Finney recommend the Internet as an excellent place to find discounts on designer wares. For handbags, Pekerman recommends visiting ShopBop.com and ShopBagTrends.com, which often run good specials. She also suggests that shoppers with a specific brand or store in mind should Google the name along with the word “coupon” or “discount”; doing so may turn up sales codes that are still active.

Finney, meanwhile, looks for discounted designer duds at Bluefly.com, SmartBargains.com and Overstock.com. “You can also find great deals on eBay,” she says, “although you must be careful not to score a knock-off. And if you see something in a store that you like, put it on hold and/or pull up a site like Shopzilla.com, and search for that item. You may find it online for less, and many online stores now offer free shipping coupons.”

Bargain Fashion Tip #5: Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale.

That fur-trimmed, lime-green hobo bag in the clearance aisle may have a designer label on it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a smart buy. Pekerman is quick to caution against purchasing anything too trendy, “because [they] are not worth your hard-earned money, especially if you’re trying to be smart with your cash.

Yellow purse sitting on red tomatoesSo how can you be sure you’re getting a good value on that bargain handbag? “When you’re shopping on a budget you want to keep a few things in mind,” Pekerman advises. “First is the quality of the leather or PVC and quality of construction. If t he seams are coming undone, or if you pull on a strand and it causes a chain reaction, move onto the next bag. Even if you are looking at faux leather, you still want it to have the feel and look of real leather. MAXX New York (shown) uses some great materials in this group and they keep prices under $200!

“Next, you want to consider longevity. Sometimes it’s that hot pink, leopard-trim Dolce & Gabbana that has reached Marshalls; you don’t want it whether it’s $75 or $5. That is $5 wasted. It’s better to spend $100 on a really great Cole Haan bag, which you can often find on sale. Maybe you’re not getting this season’s ‘it’ bag, but you’re getting a great name, great pebble grain leather, and longevity.

“In terms of brands that are always priced right, even without sales,” Pekerman says, “look for Elliott Lucca, The Sak, Aksuona (a new evening bag line from the UK), and Hype.”

Bargain Fashion Tip #6: Mass discount stores are your friend.

While you may cringe at the thought of buying your groceries and your outfits at the same store, the influx of low-priced designer specialty lines for mass retailers like Target are reinventing the world of discount fashion. Pekerman is a big fan of the recent collaborations Target has made with big-name accessory designers like Devi Kroell and Loeffler Randall, citing their under-$50 price tags. In addition to Target’s GO International line, which has brought the likes of Jovovich-Hawk and Erin Fetherston to the masses, Finney favors Kohl’s for affordable looks from Vera Wang (shown) and Dana Buchman. She’s also excited for Norma Kamali’s new budget collection for Wal-Mart.

Bargain Fashion Tip #7: Know when to splurge.

You can’t scrimp on every single thing, and sometimes it’s just smarter to pay a little more for certain items. Finney’s splurge-worthy item of choice is shoes (Carrie Bradshaw would totally approve), explaining, “Your feet are so very important.” She also recommends investing in a good-quality wool winter coat if you happen to live in a cold climate.

As for Pekerman, she says that “every woman should invest in two great bags and that may mean a little splurging. It should be a classic shape and style that you can love for a very long time in a color and fabric that will fit into your everyday work/weekend lifestyle. The second bag should be a fabulous black or muted metallic clutch; Lauren Merkin is the queen of clutches and for $250 you can get an amazing item. You’re a fabulous single diva and you need this bag!”

Want to give your beauty routine a budget makeover too? Read this week’s Q&A, “Bargain Beauty Buys.”

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