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4 Shopping Tips to Avoid Mistakes and Save You Money

Donna is a retired Certified Image Consultant with experience in women's fashions and cosmetics. She loves sharing insider fashion tips.

Are your closets and drawers full of unusable fashion mistakes?

Are your closets and drawers full of unusable fashion mistakes?

Don't you hate it when you waste money on expensive, trendy items, in-season purchases, or your reluctance to return garments? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most Americans spend around $1604 per year on clothing. If you are like most people, you want the best deal for every dollar. Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate buying mistakes and stretch your wardrobe budget further.

1. Not Returning Unusable Purchases

I don't know about you, but I can relate to Mignon's comment. The wardrobe items I hate are my shopping mistakes: too big, too small, or just don't feel right.

Here's my dirty little secret: I love shopping, and I hate to return clothes. Whether you buy online or in retail stores, returning unwanted clothing is a chore. Either you have to drive it back to the store and wait in line to return it, or you have to package it for mailing and drive it to the post office, both of which cost you more time and money. Ugh!

Are you as guilty as I am of hanging these garments in your closet or throwing them into a drawer rather than endure the ordeal of returning them? If so, try these tips to save money and cut down on the loathsome chore of returning clothing.

Women usually love what they buy, yet hate two-thirds of what is in their closets.

— Mignon McLaughlin

Measure Yourself

When possible, try clothing on before you buy them. If you cannot try something on because you are shopping online, or you're pressed for time, this trick prevents many purchase mistakes.

You'll need to measure your:

  • Bust
  • Natural waist (don't pull the tape snug)
  • Hips
  • Inseam
  • Sleeve length
  • Wrist size
  • Back length

For a perfect fit, measure across the fullest part of the bust and over the largest part of the hips—this is typically seven to nine inches down from the waist. You may need help to get the correct measurement for hard to measure spots like back length or inseams, so ask a friend to help or enlist the aid of a tailor or seamstress.

Use Size Charts

When shopping online, compare your measurements to the size charts, and buy the closest size. Read customer reviews to see if an item runs larger or smaller than the size chart.

Your reason for doing this is because manufacturing sizes are not standardized across the women's clothing industry. Most manufacturers use proprietary measurement guidelines, patterns, and fit models, which explains why you can wear a size 8 in one label but need a size 10 or 12 in another.

Shopping retail but don't have time to try on the clothes? Slip a tape measure into your pocket or purse. Measure garments you are thinking about buying to gauge whether or not they will fit.

Be Your Own Fit Model

Most clothing retailers have online shopping as well as retail locations. So if there is a brand you love, head to their store. Try on a range of garments like tops, bottoms, jackets, outwear, and so on to get a feel for how their sizing works.

Record your measurements in a note-taking app or notebook, and use it when you shop on their website. I use Evernote to store measurements for everyone in my family to avoid buying the wrong size.

2. Not Researching Store Return Policies

Return policies vary from store to store. One store may take back sale or final clearance items while another does not. Are you as guilty as I am of not doing your homework to find out what the store policies are before you make a purchase?

Fortunately, even if you can't return an item, there are ways to mitigate this buying mistake.

Pinterest is a good site for finding ways to refashion your clothing.

Pinterest is a good site for finding ways to refashion your clothing.

Options If You Can't Return Purchases

If you read the policy too late, here are some ideas for getting some money back.

  1. Donate it: While you won't get your money back (immediately) when you donate an unwanted garment, ask for a receipt. Clip the garment receipt to the donation receipt, and ask your tax preparer about claiming a tax deduction.
  2. Give it away: Do you know someone who would love to give your impulse buys a good home? Give it away and make you both happy.
  3. Trade it: Save the item until your next favorite clothing exchange rolls around, or trade with a friend or relative. You'll both end up with something you like, and you won't feel like your purchase was a total loss.
  4. Sell it on consignment: Just because it didn't look good on you, doesn't mean it won't be flattering on someone else. Consign online or at consignment store locations and recoup some of your wardrobe dollars.
  5. Alter it: Could your misfit garment be altered to fit or be more flattering? This option may cost a few dollars, but if it revives a wardrobe malfunction into a wearable garment, it's worth it.
  6. Refashion it: If you're handy with a needle and thread or a sewing machine, you can refashion it. For example, you can sew lace on a hemline that is too short, or add darts to a shapeless top or dress. If you need some inspiration, search for "refashioning ideas" on Pinterest (see image for a screenshot of my board.)

3. Buying Trendy Items

You can't turn on your TV, computer, tablet, or mobile device without being bombarded with advertisements for the trendiest shoes, handbags, clothes, and jewelry. But keeping up with trends gets expensive quickly. How do you know when to invest in a trend and when to say no?

Create a Capsule Wardrobe

Instead of redoing your wardrobe for a new trend, start with mix-and-match separates of neutral colors. This is called a capsule wardrobe. Next, you can just add accessory pieces in the latest styles.

For instance, adding animal print shoes, handbags, or jewelry can make a capsule wardrobe look fashion-forward.

Another idea is when Pantone announces the shade of the year, add inexpensive accessory pieces—bracelets, earrings, or statement necklaces—in that color to instantly look on-trend.

The main reason to focus on accessories for wardrobe updates, instead of trendy tops or bottoms, is that accessories are cheaper, especially if you shop for them at consignment stores, thrift shops, or through online auctions.

For example, you can scoop up the latest styles of earrings and statement jewelry sets on eBay, or the Liquidation Channel, for pennies on the dollar compared to buying them at discount stores or other sources. Find trendy shoes at:

  • Thrift stores
  • Consignment shops
  • Discount retailers
  • Outlet stores
  • Online auctions

The key is to be patient. Wait and see which trends stick and which do not. Animal prints are an example of an enduring trend. Knee armor and electronic outfits are examples of failed trends; aren't you glad you didn't invest in them?

Mix-and-match a capsule wardrobe to make multiple outfits.

Mix-and-match a capsule wardrobe to make multiple outfits.

These shoes cost $5 instead of the sticker price of $24.99

These shoes cost $5 instead of the sticker price of $24.99

4. Buying In-Season

If you buy in-season, expect to pay top dollar. Retailers count on you to bow to peer pressure and aggressive marketing tactics and make trendy impulse buys.

However, if you just grit your teeth and wait out the season, those same styles will be on sale at an average of 40%–90% off retail. Cha-ching! That's like buying an Armani suit at a thrift store for $80 instead of spending over $2,000.

Find Off-Season Bargains

Here's a quick way to plug a hole in your wardrobe budget.

Shopping Apps: You've probably heard the saying, "There's an app for that!" It seems like there really is an app to solve any problem you might have, and shopping is no exception. You can use a shopping app to alert you to sales, discounts, and coupons to help you save money on all your apparel purchases. My personal favorites are RetailMeNot and Shopular.

White top $5 off-season sale, leopard print sweater $3.57 at a thrift store, belt $1.25 overstock sale, funnel scarf $2.50 clearance sale. Outfit total? $12.32!

White top $5 off-season sale, leopard print sweater $3.57 at a thrift store, belt $1.25 overstock sale, funnel scarf $2.50 clearance sale. Outfit total? $12.32!

What Are the Most Important Shopping Rules

Shopping miscalculations are expensive learning experiences, but they are not fatal. James A. Froude once said, "Experience teaches slowly and at the cost of mistakes." The good news is you can cut your learning curve down by using these techniques to prevent future buying blunders.


  • If you can't use it, return it.
  • Resist the temptation to buy on-trend.

With the money you save, you can afford to treat yourself to a fashion splurge like new shoes, handbags, or outfits that are smart buying decisions. On the other hand, it's always good to stash your cash, so you'll have more money at the end of the month in case you need it.

How to Avoid Holiday Shopping Mistakes


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, Consumer Expenditures 2013, accessed 01/06/2015,

© 2015 Donna Cosmato

What's Your Worst Shopping Mistake Ever?

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 11, 2015:

Hi tirelesstraveler, I don't spend that much either! I do like thrift stores but I'm getting hooked on the new online consignment shops where you can sell your clothes and either get paid or take a store credit. Beats donations to the Goodwill!

Judy Specht from California on January 10, 2015:

Wow people really spend 1,600 a year on clothing? I don't think I have spent that much on clothing in the last 5 years. Thrift stores are the best.

Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on January 10, 2015:

Hi MarloByDesign, I remember the first time an online company charged me for a return - they took it out of my PayPal! Like you, I contacted them and got it waived. Thanks for reading and commenting on this, I'm always a little nervous going into a new topic.

MarloByDesign from United States on January 09, 2015:

Rated "Useful". I enjoy finding a bargain at thrift stores too. I also hate returning clothes, but I will go back to the store or mail an item back to get my money back! If an online company wants to charge me shipping for returns, I always call and get it waived. Always.