I know that many of you have been hitting the stores this week, and will be in the coming weeks in hopes of getting a fabulous clearance deal. I mean, everyone you’ve ever known you’d call thrifty talks about clearance deals, so it’s one sure-fire way to save money, right?
You have really got to watch what you are doing. The word “clearance” is overused. It used to mean that a store was clearing away product, wanted it gone fast, and was willing to mark it down big to make that happen. Now, meh, it kinda means that, but stores are smart. They aren’t going to mark it down 75% when shoppers will take things off the shelf at 30% off. There’s no sense in making unnecessary, drastic cuts when so many people go insane at the very mention of the word ‘clearance.’
Post-Christmas sales are the worst in big box stores. The next holiday is Valentine’s Day, and that takes up very little space. It’s also still the height of winter so there’s plenty of time to gradually replace winter jackets and sweaters with bikinis and tank tops. There’s really no rush to get all that holiday stuff off the racks and shelves.
Before Christmas, I went into the holiday section and looked around at the ornaments, gift wrap, gift boxes, etc. Everything that day was 40% off. This past Saturday, the day after Christmas, that section was 50% off and there were so many people and carts it looked like a war zone. Yesterday, at that same Meijer, and where the holiday trees and things once were was vast, open space and what was left was only a shelf or two. Everything was still at 50% off.
It went that fast because the sign said ‘clearance’ and because it’s clearance shopping season. Sometimes I wonder if the guys in the back room at Meijer watch through those cameras with bowls of popcorn with psychology professors and just laugh… “Watch this sir! We have an extremely limited selection, the holiday is over, and we’re going to create a sense of urgency to buy this stuff by simply using the color orange and using the word clearance, and marking down a mere 10% more!”
Years ago, when people didn’t look for clearance sales as they do now, and back when stores ordered far more than they needed, there were deals. Weeks after Christmas, there’d still sit bins full of rosy cheeked Santa gift wrap and 90% off bows that just didn’t sell well during the actual season. This rarely happens anymore. You’ll find some rock bottom pricing at Walgreen’s, CVS, Rite-Aid. These places are severely limited in shelf and rack spacing.
5. Know where to shop.
You aren’t likely to get the best deal at Meijer, or Walmart, or Target, or KMart. You are likely to get the best deals at the mall or drug stores.
Last year, a cute Carter’s outfit caught my attention at JCPenney. Clearance price, $6! The same little outfit was at Meijer, but the clearance price there was $13. I started comparing the two types of stores and example after example, this rang true. Watch yourself at the big box stores. They have more storage space, they can afford to stretch out clearance a little longer.
Big box stores often have things on clearance while similar items are on sale for a comparable price. Seriously, I was at Target once and found cereal on clearance for 15% off (laughable, I know) but the real shame was that the entire brand line of cereal was 25% off that week – it was cheaper to buy off the shelf than to buy the clearanced items. I’ve seen other examples of this on the Meijer grocery clearance rack. I don’t think it’s intentional, I think this happens when you have such a large store.
The rule of thumb I find true is, the bigger the store, the higher the clearance price.
4. Check the condition.
Stores often have an as-is type policy for clearance deals, so check out what you are buying before you pull out your wallet.
Last week, I had my son try on a winter coat at Meijer, price tag: $13! I made him zip it up, pull on the hood, the whole shebang. I was ready to throw it in the cart when I realized he was fumbling on the zipper. He couldn’t unzip it. I couldn’t unzip it. I checked the other coats on the rack – same problem. I saved myself $13 and the inconvenience and hassle of having to buy another coat just by taking a few moments in the store.
Try it on. Check out the cut. It’s not a jacket if it lifts above your navel when you lift your arms, it’s a burlap sack with arm holes and isn’t worth even the minuscule price on the tag unless you are going to re-craft the fabric for something useful. Check the elastics to see if they are weak.
You don’t always have to put it back on the rack, just know what you are getting into. I have a fabulous wool winter coat that I grabbed for $8 at one of those ‘take an additional % off’, and then ‘take another % off because it’s Tuesday’ type department sales. The original price tag was $279. The cut was perfect, but the buttons were falling off. This was acceptable to me. I am no seamstress and I have to re-attach these from time to time, but I knew I was getting into this when I bought the coat.
Don’t be shy about opening boxes or asking an employee to help you out, if it looks like an open box. In some cases, open box deals are wonderful – Best Buy is a reliable place for such things. I can’t trust your average KMart or WalMart employee to know if all the necessary components are still inside.
3. Buy what you know.
Unless you have been shopping for weeks for TV sets and you’ve compared brands, reviews/rating, features and price, you shouldn’t get lured in by the words, ‘sale,’ ‘blowout’, ‘clearance.’ Least of all listen to Crazy Larry from TV or his sales people trying to tell you what a rock-bottom deal they can get you in, today only. There may be a suggested retail price of $1299 on the tag that makes the $399 orange tag look good, but you have no idea – this model could be obsolete or they could be selling all day long for $200 elsewhere.
If you don’t know it, don’t buy it until you do. The last thing you want to do is realize that what you bought all the children you know mp3 players that take batteries instead of charging through a USB port. Forty bucks in batteries later, you may realize that you saved nothing on your great purchase, and you spent more.
One year I found Tyco RC planes, cars, and boats on clearance at Toys R Us for $20-$25 each. As we’d purchased one the Christmas prior for over $100, I put several in my cart and on the spot planned out birthdays, father’s day gifts, the next coming holidays, etc., until I realized that these were the models that did not come with the battery. The batteries were $45 each. Those RC models went right back on the shelf.
Still, if there’s an awfully tempting deal in front of you and feel the need to buy now, then by all means, use your phone a friend option and call someone who does, or someone who can search online for you in a few seconds.
2. Put the ‘hunt’ back into bargain hunting.
Be wary of fresh clearance. It’s often the same price as a regular sale.
Find what you want and make decisions based on the information you have. If you see the jacket that caught your eye twice since last fall on the clearance rack and there’s 2 left in your size, but it’s only 40% off, you should probably pick it up. If it’s just a run of the mill red sweater that you know you’ll wear, but isn’t anything special and there’s dozens left in all sizes, wait. The price is much likely to fall lower.
Find your prey, stalk it, and pounce when it’s at it’s most vulnerable point.
1. Be practical.
No matter how low the price, do not listen the voice in your head that helps you justify bad purchases. You know the voice, it says things like,
“There are tons of occasions in which this puke green sweater dress with raspberry belt would be perfect for!” or,
“Those boots at that price? You can suffer through a mere half size too small without a problem!” or,
“Sure, your daughter isn’t into bright colors this year, but I am certain by this time next year she’ll totally be into neon colored pink camo snow suit.” or,
“I can wear wide leg pants.”
Buying stuff you don’t need negates any savings you think you got for the day. I see this crap all the time at thrift stores, brand new, with tags.
Always ask yourself… Do I need it? Will I really use/wear it? If there’s any hesitation, walk away and look at something else or go get a pretzel or something.