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Cents in the City: Tips and Tricks for Shopping on a Budget

Cents in the City: Tips and Tricks for Shopping on a Budget

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Maya Bluthenthal
UpdatedMar 1, 2019
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    5 min read
Key Takeaways:
  • You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you can get it for less.
  • Use websites that are geared to providing values and stick to buying what you need.
  • Don't go big game hunting. Hunt for big values.

Cents in the City

Hey, I’m Maya. I live in New York City, where I’m a student at Columbia University. When I moved here last fall as a freshman, I expected a whole range of new experiences but hadn’t thought so much about managing my money and all the different ways I am challenged to make smart financial choices. So, with this blog, I am going to share my thoughts and experiences about the life of a college student in a big city, and the ways that money and finance come into play. "Cents in the City" seems like a fitting name for my posts. What do you think?

Shop Smartly, Get What You Want for Less

The holiday season came and went. Whoosh. We are already done with January 2019. With a little time to reflect under my belt, I want to share some thoughts about one way we celebrate the holidays…shopping!

With friends, family, and colleagues in mind, gifts can start to add up. This presents an even bigger challenge for people like me because I love to shop (holidays or not). Fashion is my particular poison, and I love it passionately, which is why I’ve developed some strategies to shop affordably. My passion for fashion isn't going to wreck my financial health.

In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite tips and tricks and hopefully save you from going over budget this year, including the 2019 holiday season that seems a long way off but will arrive faster than imagined.

In the Stores or Online?

I’ll start off by acknowledging the national holidays of savvy shoppers everywhere: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While 2018’s shopapalooza iterations have already come and gone, plenty of online shops continue their holiday sales way past Thanksgiving, often right through the first weeks of the New Year. The stores that once seemed too expensive often offer deals ranging anywhere from 30 to 70 percent off, which means BIG savings. They need to clear out their unsold inventory. Although you use this advice until 2019 Holiday Season, I’ll follow up by showing you how to secure major deals all year long.

And, in the spirit of too much of a good thing is never too much, keep the Black Friday in July sales on your radar.

Live Like a Student, Spend Like a Student

Being a student often means living on limited funds. I don’t know about you, but this definitely applies to me (trust fund kids, go spend your parents’ money as you please!). Lucky for us, fellow students, there’s a magical site that has already considered this dilemma. UNiDAYS is a site dedicated to providing students with year-round discounts on TONS of brands. From Apple to American Apparel, this site is riddled with discounts! UNiDAYS makes what once was unfathomably pricey reasonable for those of us on a budget. In addition to apparel, the site offers deals on lifestyle, food, health, fitness, beauty, and tech products.

Used Doesn’t Mean Useless

My absolute favorite method to shop affordably, though, is thrifting. While some people are turned off by the idea of second-hand items, I’ve found it to be an unparalleled method for saving serious cash, and for scoring unique finds that help me define my own style. Stores like Goodwill, Crossroads Trading and Salvation Army are great places to scavenge for unique pieces and incomparable prices. Finding what you want can take time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. Some of my best discoveries include a Ralph Lauren dress for $2 at Goodwill, and a pair of $35 Dr. Marten shoes at Crossroads (retail price: $130). Taking the time to poke through the racks at thrift shops can lead you to specialty and antique items you can’t find anywhere else, adding an element of uniqueness to your gifts, too. Thrifting is a great way to shop without breaking the bank. It is also a kind of sport, like hunting, with the bargains you find your trophy. All the fun of the hunt with no killing. Yay! 

Make Money from Shopping?

So far, I’ve provided some methods to reduce the price tags of the items you desire, but imagine if you could make a profit from your savvy shopping. Depop is an online platform to buy, sell and discover apparel and accessories. I initially joined Depop to check out its huge spectrum of unique items, but soon realized I was missing out on an opportunity to make some money myself. Starting in my senior year of high school, I opened my own Depop “shop,” listing wardrobe items I no longer wore (bonus that I made my mom happy by purging my closet). That same $2 Ralph Lauren dress I’d bought at Goodwill? I sold it for 10 times what I paid for it, giving me a profit of $18 dollars. By keeping my Depop page looking good, and learning to describe the clothes I sell with flare and enthusiasm, I’ve already gathered over 3,000 followers and occasionally find my clothes receiving promotion from the Depop app itself.

Many other sites offer similar platforms, including Poshmark and Ebay. If you put some energy into it, selling your unwanted goods on these types of sites can go a long way in helping to find great gifts and fund your own shopping excursions. Making a deal with yourself to sell something old before you buy something new is one way to help keep on track and on budget. 

What Works for You?

These tips I’ve shared are beneficial hacks for shopping in general, and hopefully will help you in your attempts to prevent yourself from spending too much money this season. I’m also interested in hearing what you have to say about shopping on a budget. What are your strategies to prevent yourself from overspending this holiday season? Do you find yourself shopping for yourself, too? How have you handled these dilemmas with limited funds?