Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

It’s now been a month since I moved and started my new educational program. Things have settled down enough for me that I will probably be able to post more often. One thing I didn’t mention in my last post is that I now live just a few minutes away from my favorite mall! Since it’s been a long time since I’ve written about shopping issues, I thought that now might be a good time to revisit this issue. Additionally, the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale (NAS), which has been a big shopping occasion for me for many years, starts tomorrow. Since I started Recovering Shopaholic in 2013, I’ve approached that sale in a variety of ways, some of which were more productive and successful than others. In today’s post, I’ll share about my 2017 NAS experience, as well as what I plan to do differently this time around.

sales shopping strategies

What tips and strategies do you have for successfully shopping sales?

Blogging about my compulsive shopping issues was kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it helped me to stick to a shopping budget for the first time in my adult life, as well facilitated my paring down an oversized wardrobe and refining my personal style. However, it also kept my focus firmly directed toward what I was buying – or not – and what I was wearing. In the beginning, that was beneficial, but I later felt that blogging on these topics hindered my recovery in some ways. For that and other reasons, I took a hiatus from my last blog and decided to shift focus when I began writing again. While I no longer want to write about clothes and shopping all the time, I’d still like to delve into these issues from time to time.

Shopping Progress and Setbacks

So how am I doing with my shopping now? Although I have experienced some setbacks and challenges from time to time, I feel that I’m in a much better place with it all now. I don’t shop or browse nearly as often as I used to, and the buy and return game isn’t taking up a sizable chunk of my life any longer. Yes, there are still times when I let shopping get the best of me, but the damage isn’t as serious or long-lasting as before and I’m able to pull myself back to sanity much more quickly.

My shopping success percentage has also increased. I wish I could say that everything I buy becomes a wardrobe workhorse, but that’s not the case for most people. Some mistakes are difficult to avoid, especially since clothing quality has taken a nosedive in recent years. It’s hard to know how well particular items will wear or wash, but I’ve learned that certain brands and fabrications (I’m looking at you, cotton and modal t-shirts!) should remain in the stores instead of coming home with me. I still make some mistakes that I end up kicking myself for, but that’s not 50% (or even more) of my purchases like it was previously.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I still sometimes wear “sales goggles” and end up buying things on sale that I had no business bringing into my closet. If I look back at pieces that were quickly purged from my wardrobe, a large proportion of them were sales or consignment purchases. In short, I was dazzled by low prices instead of allowing my common sense to prevail. Although I don’t do this all the time by any means, it happens often enough to give me pause, especially on the eve of NAS.

NAS Shopping – Past and Future…

For the first time I can remember, I isolated my NAS purchases from the rest of my shopping tracking last year in order to clearly see the patterns that emerged. What I learned was that I bought a lot of items during the sale, but very few of them stuck around when all was said and done. Thus, I expended a large amount of time and energy on shopping the NAS, but I didn’t end up spending very much money in the long run.

Now, you might say that’s good because I didn’t blow my budget on the sale, but our time and energy are just as important as our budgets – and may even be more important. I visited Nordstrom stores more than a few times during the three weeks of pre-sale and the actual sale (I didn’t track that part of the equation, but I wish I had) and I placed a number of orders on their website, but the bulk of what I bought was returned, either right away or a bit later down the line.

I don’t want to waste so much time and energy this year!  I know I could decide to sit out the sale like I did in 2013, but I’d like to be able to shop it reasonably and enjoy the process without it sucking up so much of my resources, both internal and financially. So here’s what I’ve decided to do…

Since summer weather only recently took hold where I live (and actually went way overboard with our recent heatwave!), I needed to spend some time evaluating my warm weather wardrobe now anyway, which I did earlier this week. I know that NAS is advertised as a sale on new fall and winter merchandise, but I’ve found that there are also lots of summer-friendly items available there. For example, I purchased three short-sleeved t-shirts at last year’s NAS that I was able to wear right away and have worn many times since. I made it a guideline (I don’t like hard and fast rules!) years back to primarily buy pieces for the current season when shopping NAS. When I allow for the rare exception, it’s generally for basics, replacement pieces (i.e. bras), or virtually fail-proof items, such as the black chenille cardigan/robe I acquired at the 2017 NAS (and have worn over a hundred times since then).

A Sound Way to Plan for Any Sale

In evaluating my wardrobe – especially my warm weather items – and revisiting my shopping priorities list, I have identified a targeted list of things to look for at NAS and beyond. I was relieved to see that I don’t actually need a whole lot. When I peruse the website when the sale goes live, I will view the offerings with what I most need in mind. If I see something that jumps out at me, I will ask myself the following questions before even clicking on the item for further details:

  1. Is this type of item on my priorities list?
  2. Do I see myself wearing it within the next two weeks for a real-life situation or occasion?
  3. If not, is it a tried and true basic, a replacement for a wardrobe workhorse, or a “white whale” item (something I’ve been searching for a long time)?
  4. Is that wardrobe category already well-represented in my closet (e.g. striped t-shirts, long cardigans, straight-leg jeans)?

It goes without saying that I will take pricing and my budget into consideration, but I think that if I avoid reaching for anything and everything that catches my eye and instead employ a targeted shopping approach, I will take far fewer pieces home. I’m open to the possibility of one “wildcard” item that simply knocks my socks off, but I still need to foresee an actual occasion for wearing it in my near future.

I plan to review the website with my list at hand when the sale goes live and go to the store in the early days of the cardholder preselection period.  Since some items are only available online, I may need to place an order if I’m interested in any of those. Once I have everything in my home, I will make return decisions and do just one store visit to process those returns. I’ve found that the more I go to the store, the more I get swept up in the NAS frenzy, which leads to my buying additional items. I want to benefit from the sale without it taking up too much of my life like it has in the past.

Additional Sales Shopping Tips

The above is my basic plan for shopping NAS this year, but I want to mention some additional tips for shopping sales (and shopping in general) that I do my best to use on a regular basis. If you were a reader of my previous blog, I’m sure many of them are familiar to you.

  1. Don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t purchase at regular price. Leave those “sales goggles” at home! Also, consider your expected price ranges for particular items when evaluating whether or not something is a “good buy.”
  2. Wear an outfit you love to the store and don’t buy anything you don’t feel as fabulous in as what you’re wearing.
  3. If you’re shopping for something specific, either wear or bring the types of accompaniment pieces you will be pairing with it. It’s much easier to envision if something will work for you if you can see it as part of a full outfit. It’s not always possible to find the right items to pull an ensemble together in the store, so consider wearing them or taking them with you.
  4. Remember H.A.L.T. and don’t shop when you’re feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Bring water and snacks with you to the store and take breaks if you’re shopping for a long time.
  5. If you’re really worried about going overboard, schedule your shopping trip when you only have a limited amount of time available. That way, you will be more likely to only look for what’s on your list and not run astray. This is what I plan to do tomorrow, as I have two appointments with a relatively small window or time in between. Shopping with a supportive friend or family member who can rein you in can also be helpful.
  6. Use the “power pause,” a term coined by Jill Chivers of Shop Your Wardrobe. Take at least a few minutes – and ideally two hours or more – to step away from the point of purchase for a breather. This will allow you to more objectively consider whether or not what you’re considering buying will be a good choice.
  7. During your power pause, consider the six key shopping questions formulated by April Benson:  Why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?

Click here to download a reminder card with Dr. Benson’s six questions. Also, see this page for more self-help resources she has available for overshoppers.

More Tips and Your Feedback

I have written a number of other tips around sales shopping on Recovering Shopaholic, including this 2016 post about the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. You can see all of my shopping tips posts HERE. Although I have written a lot on the topic, I don’t always follow my own advice! It’s helpful for me to revisit what I’ve written in the past, as well as view the many tips and comments I’ve received from readers.

In that vein, I’d love to hear what has helped you to navigate sales more effectively. I also welcome anything else you have to say about this post. I will share how I did with this year’s NAS in a future post and I’ll be back soon with other essays about living a fuller life in today’s chaotic world. For those who will be shopping NAS or other summer sales, best wishes and I hope you find this post helpful!

12 thoughts on “Shopping Check-in and Revisiting Sales Strategies

  1. Susan E Loughnane says:

    Great column and very timely! I spent the afternoon doing the return process (buy and return) because I knew it wasn’t something I loved. For me lately, the time I spend doing this really makes me pause. I don’t even want to think about how much time I have spent over the years on shopping and all that is associated with shopping. I like the HALT acronym and find that I do shop sometimes when I am angry, happy, tired, lonely, etc.. I have Dr. Benson’s book but have not read through the whole thing. I kind of use a one statement modifier when I am out shopping….. “There will always be nice things available” – just because I don’t buy it today, not missing out, there will always be nice things available.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you found this post helpful, Susan. Good for you for returning something you knew you didn’t love. I don’t want to think about how much time I’ve spent over the years on shopping and shopping-related activities. Even when I was doing my last blog, I think I focused too much on meeting my budget and didn’t think enough about the TIME and ENERGY the whole process was occupying. This is my LIFE here… I like your statement modified and will use it myself. You’re so right that there will always be nice things available. There never has been a shortage and there never will be!

  2. Jane says:

    You’ve really come a long way. I remember stumbling on your Recovering Shopaholic blog and binge-reading all the posts, starting from your very first post with the picture of your big closet. Haha. I feel like over the course of the last several years, you really worked on what was *your* style, as opposed to trying to fit into the latest fashions. I think that’s the way to go. It’s hard work though, and not as fun as buying tons of interesting things. But less crap to donate, after all is said and done.

    Since I can only afford to buy secondhand, I doubt I’ll ever experience NAS. That said, I still appreciate posts like this. I know NAS has been a struggle for you in the past, so I look forward to seeing how you end up approaching it this year.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for your kind words and acknowledgment, Jane. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to get to a better place around clothes and shopping, but I’m happy not to be where I was with it all 5 years ago. I don’t find shopping nearly as fun as I used to and I’m glad I’m not allowing it to occupy as much of my time. Although I was writing about NAS in this post, I hope that readers can apply it to the types of shopping they do. I will definitely give an update on my NAS experience when it’s all said and done. I’m committed to it being a lot less time-consuming than it was last year, that’s for sure!

  3. Gail H. says:

    Once you decide just how much clothes–or anything–you want to have, then it seems like you could ignore all sales and just shop when replacement is necessary. Otherwise, shopping becomes a hobby again and you are stuffing your closets and shelves.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      This is very sound advice, Gail! Shopping should be more about actual needs than preoccupation. I usually avoid sales nowadays. There seem to be sales pretty much all the time anyway, so they kind of get diluted. This is really the only sale I pay attention to anymore and I’m not really sure why. It’s probably a combination of habit and hype. Shopping used to be virtually my ONLY hobby, but I’m happy that’s no longer the case anymore.

  4. jerilynb says:

    Debbie, thanks for another good article. I don’t do the NAS sale. Nordstrom has only recently come to Milwaukee and their not a part of my shopping life style. Boston Store, a long time presence here, is going out of business and I’m avoiding its sales. There are no returns and I think I’d run into picked over items and sad feelings for a store that once was a standard.

    I tend to do the order online and return thing. My style during early retirement is black and denim. This has gotten dull. This month I indulged in Lord & Taylor through Walmart online. I was amazed to find out about it and spent a great deal of time inspecting the sight. I made a good deal of bargain purchases during a boring weekend. I returned half of them. So I was relieving boredom and getting rest.

    It was fun getting packages of things out of my normal range of clothes. Kind of like opening presents. My husband was very interested in seeing the items. In the past I would hid stuff things from him. The most exotic item I purchased was a Halston blue wrap waist pants, essentially harem pants. I felt as though I was Sybil in Dowtown Abbey. I’ll wear them for the next big tango dance. Additionally, I purchased two tops. A splashy black and bright pink print ruffle sleeve top has been worn three times.

    Although these items are of decent quality and I plan on wearing them, they’re not investment pieces. They’re not American made and most of them are polyester blends. My mother taught me to be a bargain hunter, but she did focus on when certain brands were on sale. She taught me to look for good quality fabrics, but she was thrilled when “permanent press” became available. The principle of “Don’t buy something on sale that you wouldn’t purchase at regular price” is replaced with “Never pay the full price.”

    This week I ended up at Nordstrom Rack located across town since hubbie wanted to go to a nearby restaurant and a shop. I hadn’t been there in two years. I didn’t know what to shop for. I’m unclear on my priorities. I don’t want to get another fun top. I had a whole big store in front of me. I held one pair of pretty shoes in my hand and whispered, “I want to kiss you.” I was afraid of spending money stupidly. I bought two bralettes similar to what I already own, but in needed colors. I got out of there without scares and now have an idea of what’s available there.

    Although shopping can be a delight, I need to know what I want more clearly and write it down. I’ve been holding off on making purchases until I complete decluttering and I know what I have. This hasn’t gone smoothly and I don’t want to punish myself, so adding a few items is okay. I know I want for quality clothes and not getting the “junk food” of looking good.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for sharing about your shopping journey, Jerilyn, and congrats for being adventurous and trying out different types of styles. Your seem to have a good attitude about the whole thing. I think you’re on the right track with doing small bits of experimentation to help you gain clarity on what you want. I know the decluttering can be overwhelming, but if you do it a little at a time, you will get there. Some people benefit from a one-in, one-out (or even two or three out) approach, especially those who tend to buy a lot. It’s good that you don’t want to punish yourself. I’ve found that doesn’t lead to meaningful change. Awareness is key and that can take a while. Best wishes and keep up the great work.

  5. Claire says:

    Ha, I’ve always wondered how much of the NAS hype has come from Angie at YLF. Like, I generally enjoy her voice/site but none of that was ever even on my radar before her and honestly it’s just not relevant for my life at all. I will say that discovering RACK was really helpful for me, and noticing that store may have been an offshoot of her NAS fervor. But those long “picks” posts are a snooze, for me 🙂

    Well, as I’ve mentioned before my use of in-store shopping is actually a way I help manage my health condition, so it’s a very different experience for me and has an alternative ROI, if you will. It gives me low-key exercise and social contact, and provides a convenient way to get out of the house on my own terms without the stress of worrying about flaking out on another person because of pain or fatigue or whatever. Also it takes *forever* to find clothes to work around my weird neurological and gut problems so I have to spend the time anyway to keep up with my needs. I would be lost without TJmaxx/Marshalls/Target and I do turn to budget/sale items a lot because it’s so impossible to know if an item will really work until I get it home and in use, no matter how careful I am, so I hedge my bets. I like to use tips #2 & 3 that you mention here, too.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Claire, I think you’re right on that Angie of YLF has contributed a lot to the NAS hype and fervor, but lots of other bloggers and YouTubers have followed suit to feed the frenzy. Sometimes I’m ashamed of myself that I even let myself be triggered by it at all, as I should definitely know better at this point. I’m not allowing it to occupy that much of my time and attention this year, though, and for that I am thankful. I’m glad that the Rack has been a helpful thing for you. I should really take advantage of that store more often and I might now that I’m living closer to one.

      I have long used in-store shopping for the same reasons that you do, as a way to be out and about among people and feel more “normal” on the days when I don’t feel as physically horrible. It’s an easy thing to do at pretty much anytime and it’s not a horrible thing as long as we keep it in balance. It can even be a positive thing as long as we remember that salespeople aren’t really our friends even if they are super friendly. I hear you about the difficult in finding the right types of items with pain issues. Part of why I like Nordstrom is the ease of doing returns there, as I still return a lot. I’m glad you found some of my tips helpful. Sales and budget shopping can be a good thing, as long was we avoid the pitfalls inherent in that type of shopping, which it sounds like you’re doing.

  6. RoseAG says:

    The NAS is big in the blogosphere. I’ve seen at least 3 rundowns of what to buy on various blogs. They must offer good commissions.
    The most interesting was this morning where someone bought little adhesive pads that fit on the back of your earlobe for earrings that are a little heavy for your ear. Not something you’d think of when shopping at Nordstrom.
    It’s not my time to shop. We usually vacation in late July/August and I’m always working on getting my act together for that, so shopping for Fall isn’t a priority.
    I find that noting what I discard is very helpful. I have patterns of doomed purchases and looking carefully at what leaves my wardrobe says a lot to me.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, the NAS is huge with bloggers, Rose, and I’ve read that the commissions for that sale are quite a bit higher than the average, which is why there is so much hype. I didn’t know that Nordstrom sold those earring pads, but they can definitely be useful. This time of year isn’t the right or best time for me to shop, either, at least not for fall items, as weather stays warm here through October or November. I do better at the sale if I just focus on staple items and things I can wear right away. I did buy a pair of black booties that I may not wear for a while, but black booties are a major staple for me and I know they will be worn a lot. I agree with you that looking at why we got rid of things is extremely helpful. I still do that now even though I’m no longer blogging about it on a regular basis. We can learn a lot from both our successes and failures.

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