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What Makes a Bargain?

November 01, 2015

By Sally McGraw, alreadypretty.com

The clearance rack has such a specific siren song, and it can feel impossible to resist. But have you ever contemplated what constitutes an actual bargain? Believe me, it’s not just a rock-bottom price. If you spend $10 on a skirt but NEVER wear it, that’s a waste, not a bargain.

Before you plunk down your cash for something that looks like a good deal, take a few key factors into consideration. Here’s a little quiz you can take next time you’re browsing the racks to make sure your money will be well-spent.


Would you pay full price for it? 

Walking away from something that is dirt cheap can feel foolish, but it seldom is. Most of us have gotten suckered into buying items simply BECAUSE they’re so inexpensive without contemplating how they fit into our overall style. A great way to test the “why” of buying is to ask yourself if you’d have paid full price for the item in question. If not, why are you so eager to snap it up now? 

Is it a quality product to begin with? 

Cheaply made items sold at low prices aren’t bargains. They’re just cheap.Fabulously well-made items sold at low prices are actual bargains. 

The giant caveat here? All designer and beloved brand-name items are NOT well-made. Yes, there will be a quality chasm between a Gucci blazer and a Target blazer. But that doesn't mean that plunking down hundreds of dollars for the Gucci blazer makes sense just because it's been deeply discounted. For an item to be a true bargain, it needs to be useful to you and work within the confines of your personal style. An impressive brand name seldom impacts utility. 

Check seams, construction, materials, fasteners, fit, and durability, all of which are indicators of quality. You'll find both shoddy and exquisite quality at virtually every price point. 

Is it versatile? 

It might seem harmless to blow $4 on a pyramid-studded tank-top, but something that specific will likely have limited application. Ask yourself: Can you wear it to work AND on the weekend? Can you wear it during the day AND at night? Will it work through multiple seasons? Not every item has to be appropriate in every possible circumstance, but the more ways it can be worn,the more of a bargain it becomes. 

Also consider cost per use: $19.99 sounds like a good price for a sweater, but if you only wear it twice before giving up and donating it, that's $10 per wear. Weigh the total price against the total number of times you expect to wear the item. If you're down to nickels and dimes, you've got a bargain on your hands. 

Will it need to be tailored or dry-cleaned?

Very few people can wear everything right off the rack; Many of us need our pants hemmed or our shirt sleeves shortened on virtually every garment. Which is fine ... unless you're buying an item with a low purchase price and forgetting you'll be shelling out additional money to have it altered. 

Dry cleaning is spendy, and keeping your dry clean-only items in good shape is also spendy. This doesn't mean you'll never encounter a dry-cleanable bargain, just that maintenance costs should be factored into every clothing purchase. 

Do you already own items that will compliment it?

Unless you're building a wardrobe from scratch, all new purchases should complement items already hanging in your closet. Those suede platform boots maybe marked down to 70% off and calling your name … but if you have to buy a new pair of tights, a new dress, and a new jacket to make them work, they’re no bargain. 

Bottom line: Items that aren't versatile, need some post-purchase tailoring, require frequent dry cleaning, or don't align with your current personal style MAY end up being surprise wardrobe workhorses, it's true. But the odds are stacked against them, so be sure to check the return policy before busting out your credit card.