How to Avoid Paying Full Price

One of the important lessons I’ve learnt during my 5-year project to build a Gentleman’s Wardrobe is how to avoid paying full price. This is important partly because I am a man of modest means and partly because I am fundamentally careful with money. Those who know me well might even describe me as tight-fisted (but not usually to my face…). Importantly, not paying full price means that I can stretch my modest budget a little bit farther without having to resort to purchasing poor quality items.

Not paying full price means that none of my suits cost me over £60 and a number cost under £40. Every pair of shoes I have ever purchased has cost me under £50 and most were purchased for far less. I feel slightly cheated if I have to buy a pair of jeans for over a tenner and expect to be able to find Jermyn Street shirts for around £20.

So how do you go about avoiding paying full price?  Here are 7 tips:

1. Only buy when it’s discounted:  It is an obvious point but one worth stating up front.  The easiest way to avoid paying full price is to wait until the item you want is discounted. One of the few upsides of our current economic climate is that if you wait long enough, every item you wish purchase will eventually be discounted.

Different retailers have different sale schedules. Broadly speaking, however, most UK clothing retailers have sales promotions around now for summer and after Christmas. Many will have sales promotions in spring and autumn as well. Get to know what the sales promotion schedules are of your favourite retailers

2. Shop at discount stores. Stores like T K Maxx make their name by selling branded items at discount.  Other retailers have Outlet stores where they sell items at discount rices but without the sort of sales experience or assistance available from their high street stores.  Stores like Primark seek to offer items that resemble the design of designer brands but at far lower prices.

3. Get a discount card. Discounts are not only available from seasonal sales; they can also come from loyalty cards. The best known are probably Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard. However, there are other possibilities. If you are a student, whether full or part time, a valid NUS card will entitle you discounts from a number of retailers.

If you use a credit card consider a card from M&S Money which will provide you with discount vouchers on M&S products. Recently, I was very chuffed to be able to buy an item than was already on sale at M&S and to pay for it in part with M&S vouchers gained from my M&S MasterCard, thus achieving a double discount.

Even better, the M&S Money MasterCard comes with 0% interest on purchases for the first 15 months. So once you make the minimum monthly payments you can spread the cost of your purchases over several months without incurring interest charges.

If you need or prefer to make your annual wardrobe purchases in a big hit but would prefer to be able to spread out the payments over 12 months or so a 0% purchase card could be useful. However you MUST repay it all before the 0% interest period ends. If you can’t be sure you will be able to do this then you should stay away from credit cards in general.

Another possibility for discounts is store cards. One has to be careful of store cards as they charge exorbitant amounts of interest and are a very efficient way of squandering money. For this reason I NEVER use them.

Nonetheless, it is possible to put them to work for you rather than against you. Many stores will offer up to a 10% discount for the first purchase you make after signing up for a store card. If you were making a large purchase it might be worth considering. However, if you were to consider this you need to be sure of 3 things.

First, that it is possible to pay off the purchase in full without incurring interest charges.  Many cards have a brief interest free period, say 15 days.  Others do not, so they will charge you interest from the date of purchase which will negate any discount earned.

Second, that you have the money in hand to pay for the purchase in full. If you wish to use a store card in order to get a discount, fine. If you wish to use a store card because money is a bit tight at the moment but you wish to make a purchase anyway, then it is absolutely NOT fine.  Don’t do it.  If you do need to purchase now and pay later a 0% purchase card is a much better and safer proposition.

Third, once you have got your discount, pay off then cut up the store cards and discard. Never forget that store cards (and to a lesser extent credit cards) are a tool of Beelzebub. They are not your friend. Where do you think those massive bankers bonuses come from? So proceed with caution.
4. Be Patient. If you are in a hurry you will spend more.  If you take time to seek out deals you will spend less. You can either save time or save money.  It is very difficult to do both. Pick one.Being patient may require more than simply waiting until an item goes on sale and then buying it. Rather, it might involve a little bit of shopping around for the kind of item that you are looking for so that you get a better idea of what it is likely to cost and a clearer understanding of what it is that you want.

Having a target price in your head is also a good idea. Just because an item you want is discounted does not mean that it becomes a good deal. An item that you fancy which has been discounted from £75 to £50 may not be a good deal for you if you really don’t want to spend over £30 on it.

5. Visit regularly and continue to shop around.  So you’ve found an item that is just about perfect and you want to avoid paying full price. So how will you know when it’s been discounted?  Visit regularly.  If it is a shop that is easily accessible, one that you pass on the way to and from work, this is easy to do.

If it is not then you need to think outside the box.  Make use of their website. Better still, sign up for their newsletter so that you get an email when the sales begin.  However, be aware that you will then get annoying/tempting emails telling you about a lot of other things on sale that you are not looking to buy.

NB: some discounts are available only online. Others are available only in store.  Some amount of visiting the store and the website may be necessary depending on which you are after.

All the while keep your options open by continuing to explore other possibilities. Waiting to purchase something gives you time to reconsider. Do I need it right now?  Do I need it at all? Is this quite what I’m after? It also gives you opportunity to see whether you discover something more suitable.

6. Be prepared to return it. So you have patiently waited for months and found what appears to be the perfect item at the right price. However you might want to wait patiently for a bit longer before you wear it. Some stores will do a staged discount.  Be prepared to return it if the price falls further.  This Daily Mail article describes a number of people doing this after Christmas when prices fall.

In addition, I find that items often appear more attractive in the shop than they do in my closet. The idea is often more attractive than the reality. So once you have your item at home and have had opportunity to try it on with whatever else you intend to wear with it you might just ask yourself whether you like it enough to pay whatever price you just paid for it.  If not be prepared to return it.

NB: it is important to be very clear what is the return policy of the retailer.  Don’t be shy about asking what is their return policy before you purchase an item.  That way you know exactly how many days you have within which you can return the item and receive a full refund.  If a full refund is not possible then don’t buy unless you are absolutely sure of your purchase.

If the item that you are looking to buy at a discount is a one-size item, like a tie, then you need not worry whether it will be available in your size. However it can be very frustrating if the item you are after finally goes on sale but they don’t have any left in your size.

If you are worried about this you might consider buying an item in your size at full price and then waiting to see whether it falls in price. If it does then purchase the item at the lower price and return the higher priced version.

If they no longer have the item in your size you have two options: It might be possible to purchase the item at the lower price even if it is not quite your size and then to return it using the earlier full price receipt. Sometimes this is not possible because the barcodes differ with sizes.  So you may not be able to return a size 17 shirt using a size 16 receipt.

If it is not possible to get the item in your size at the discounted price nor to employ the tactic above, you nonetheless have the luxury of considering whether you like the item sufficiently to keep it despite failing to get a discount. If you do you can feel smug that you had the foresight to buy it when you had the chance. If not then return it and start again.

Clearly this is a little bit of a risky strategy. First, you risk bonding with the item so that you find it difficult to return it even if it does not fall in price. Second, most stores have a limited period within which an item can be returned for a full refund, usually 28 days, but it is less for some retailers. What happens if the item falls in price after that time is past?

7. Keep up to date receipts. If like me you often purchase something without being sure that you will want to keep it you must make sure you keep up to date receipts. Sometimes this requires purchasing and returning the same item on multiple occasions to ensure your receipt is up to date and still valid for a full refund.

If the item you are after is in plentiful stock this is easy. I remember waiting for the price of a coat to fall but worried that they would run out of my size. So every 26 days I went into the shop bought a new coat and then returned the previous one, which of course remained unworn. Unfortunately I seriously miscalculated when the coat would go on sale, so was still in this ‘buy then return’ cycle 4 months later.  I eventually gave up.  Some you win….

If shopping online where a return may incur postage charges or if your size is no longer in stock keeping an up to date receipt might be more challenging. Whilst waiting for the price to fall on an item that I had purchased online I was conscious that I was coming near to the date at which my receipt would cease to be valid for a full refund. It was by no means clear that I could get another in my size from the online store and none of my local shops had the item in stock.

So I simply popped into my nearest shop the next time I was in the vicinity and asked whether it was possible to return the item and then to repurchase it. I was expecting raised eyebrows at this odd request but the shop attendant did not bat an eyelid. He simply refunded the purchase. And then re-sold it to me.  The end result was that I kept my item but with an up to date receipt. This came in handy when the price did fall 3 weeks later.

The reasons why I may not keep items I have purchased are manifold. Generally speaking if I see something that I like which is in my size and broadly within my price range I will buy it and think about it further at a later stage. Often I’ll work out that I don’t need it, or can’t fit it into my budget, or don’t like it as much as I thought, or indeed have something very similar to it already. It can then be returned promptly.

This is in many ways inefficient because it requires an additional visit to the shop. However, I am happy to continue with this practice despite the inefficiency because there have been a number of other occasions where I have wished I had bought an item when I had the chance because by the time I got round to making up my mind it was gone.

Needless to say all this only works if you manage receipts well.  If you don’t, try sweet talking your wife/significant other into managing your receipts  for you.  Otherwise you are headed for disaster

So there you have it my 7 tips for how to avoid paying full price. If you have others that work for you which do not involve buying stuff that ‘fell off the back of a lorry’ add them via comments on the blog site.  We could all use any help we can get.

Happy hunting.

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