One shopping guideline I’ve often mentioned on this blog is, “Don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t buy at full price.” While I frequently repeat this tried-and-true principle, it didn’t originate with me (although I don’t remember where I first read or heard it). I firmly believe we shouldn’t buy things just because they are on sale or for the reason that we’re getting “a good deal.” We’re far too likely to settle in terms of quality, fit, color, or silhouette when faced with a very low price.
Discovering a New Twist
While I still whole-heartedly believe in the above precept, I thought of a new twist on it while shopping with a friend this past weekend. We were mostly shopping for clothes for my friend, and issues of price came up frequently as she wrestled with the “to buy or not to buy” decision.
As we talked about the merits and flaws of particular garments in relation to their price, I realized we have very different perceptions and expectations for how much items of clothing should cost. As one example, my friend believes $40 to $50 is too much to pay for a t-shirt style top, whereas I’m more than willing to spend that amount on such a garment if I love it and feel it fits me impeccably (although that wasn’t the case back in my “quantity over quality” shopaholic days).
These discussions with my friend resulted in my adding an addendum to the “don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t buy at full price” rule. I’ll do my best to explain my revised philosophy below.
Expected Price Ranges
We all have price ranges that we expect to pay for particular garments. While these ranges shift over time for a variety of reasons (income level, quality standards, etc.), at any given time we typically have a number in our heads that we’re willing to pay for our clothing and accessory purchases.
Let’s say you’re normally willing to pay around $50 for a top or $100 for a pair of shoes. In most instances, you don’t even try on more expensive items, as you know you won’t buy them anyway. However, let’s also say that you really like particular brands that cost quite a bit more than your desired price range.
To illustrate things more clearly, let’s use an example of one brand that is mentioned by a lot of readers, Eileen Fisher. You may love the look, fit, color palette, and fabrication of Eileen Fisher clothing, but it doesn’t fit into your current price range. But like with all brands, Eileen Fisher items sometimes go on sale, and the discounted items might dip down into the range you are willing to pay. If you follow the “sale rule” to the letter of the law, you should not buy the Eileen Fisher garments on sale because you wouldn’t be willing to purchase them at full price. But is that really the way you should go?
An Addendum to the “Sale Rule”
Upon consideration, I feel an addendum to the sale rule may be in order. I think that perhaps it should now read,
Don’t buy an item at a price lower than your usual range if you wouldn’t buy it for the amount you’d typically pay.”
While this is a bit more unwieldy than the original “rule” (and I may try to wordsmith it a bit), it may end up being more helpful in the long run.
Let’s go back to the example of my friend shopping for tops. Based upon my discussion with her, it seems she believes t-shirts shouldn’t cost more than $25-30. If finds a top she likes in that price range, she’ll buy it. If it costs more than that amount, she usually leaves it in the store.
The Danger Area
The danger area, however, are those tops that cost less than $25. She may end up buying them simply because she considers them to be “a deal.” Thus, she may lower her standards for one or more key aspects of the garment, such as the fabric, color, style, or fit. For instance, she may purchase a cream-colored tee instead of the white one she really had in mind, or she may buy a size too large because it’s the only one available.
I have done this type of thing myself many times! I think that’s why I purchased so many sub-standard consignment items. I’d think something along the lines of, “This skirt only costs $10. Maybe I can get my tailor to shorten it and take it in.” Or I’d buy a top in a shade of green that’s less than ideal for my skin tone (like the one pictured in my last post) because I loved the style, it fit me well, and “the price was right.”
I don’t think I would have made such poor decisions with garments that were priced in my usual range. I would have held out for items that were “hits” on all levels instead of just a few. I wouldn’t have lowered my standards.
The Bottom Line – Don’t Lower Your Standards!
In the end, something is not a “bargain” if we don’t love and wear it. If you’ve been a bargain shopper like me, I’m sure you can recall many items you bought on sale that ended up hanging in your closet collecting dust. In retrospect, those purchases weren’t really “deals” at all; rather, they were a waste of your hard-earned money!
However, on the flip side, it may be worthwhile to purchase certain items on sale if you love them but just wouldn’t be able to afford them at regular price. It may be helpful to shop the sales for your favorite high-end brands that are out of your reach otherwise. But the caveat to aim for “8”s or higher applies there, too! Don’t buy something just for the brand name if it’s “off” in any key area. It’s not worth it to settle at any price!
Take a few moments to jot down your price expectations for various wardrobe categories. It may be helpful to break things down into sub-categories as well (i.e. separate out t-shirts from blouses and divide tops by sleeve length if applicable). Get down on paper – or screen – how much you expect to spend (and are willing to pay) for particular items.
When you shop, have this information on hand. If an item in question is priced lower than your standard amount, ask yourself if you’d be willing to pay your usual price-point for it. If the answer is no, walk away! It’s highly likely that you’d be lowering your standards in some key area, whether it be quality, fit, color, or style.
Use sales as an opportunity to purchase brands and styles that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford, not as a chance to “stock up” on quantity over quality. But still be mindful of how you feel about the item in question. Don’t buy something just because it’s marked with a particular designer’s logo. You should always love everything you buy, no matter what the price. In short, never lower your standards!