By Vicky Oliver
I first realized that I was a frugalista a few years ago when I took a favorite black jacket back to the dry cleaners to complain that the garment had started to “pill.” The finely spun black lace had literally unraveled before my eyes –exposing the frayed white boning underneath.
“This garment is irreplaceable,” I said, knowing that I could never afford another one, and in any case would have no idea where to find a suitable replacement. “Can’t you do something?” I asked, staring into the sympathetic face of my dry cleaner. “Anything?”
“Cleaning it is only going to make it worse,” he muttered.
“De-pill it, then?” I said brightly.
“It’s too old,” he said, shaking his head. “It can’t take it.”
“You have to do something,” I said, digging in my heels.
“The only thing I can try,” he said, looking very hesitant, “is to go over the white spots with a black magic marker.”
For the next hour, we both stood over the jacket as if it were a patient etherized upon a table, or an ironing board anyway. The dry cleaner held a black Sharpie in his trembling hand, while I said, “There, there, no there,” and pointed out every single white spot on the garment. At the end of the session I asked what I owed him.
“Nothing,” he said, looking as if he could live quite happily without ever seeing me again.
That day I learned two valuable fashion tips from my dry cleaner:
1. A black Sharpie, strategically employed, may extend the life of one’s black lace clothing indefinitely.
2. Don’t dry clean any garment too often or you risk battering the life out of it.
I have worn the black jacket several times since, although not wanting to test whether Sharpies are truly “indelible,” I make sure to never wear the garment in the rain.
Here are some other fashion tips that I believe can save women money. For more, please check out my new book: The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You’re Not (Skyhorse, November 2011.)
Rediscover the Joys of Reversible Clothing
Reversible clothing first started as a practical alternative for travelers who wanted to save room in their suitcases. While its dowdy “two-fer” image has been hard to erase from our collective fashion sensibility, today’s options have little in common with your grandmother’s reversible pants suits! There have been more upscale marketers which have begun to produce reversible fashion, and the result is that it’s actually in style to double your fun at half the price. Each time you purchase an item that works just as well inside out, it’s like getting 50% off two wardrobe essentials. And the beauty is, you already know that the item fits perfectly. From dresses to blue jeans to belts to pantyhose, there are now tons of reversible options to play with, turning your whole wardrobe into a crayon box of fashion fun.
Some reversible items to experiment with: Pantyhose (particularly brown/black); Hermes belts (particularly blue/black); and vintage vests (look for Paisley/solid combinations).
Neutrals are In Every Year; Splashier Colors Not So Much
One year, purple is the new black. The next year, red is red hot. But black is always the new black. So over time, it’s a smarter investment. Black hides ten pounds on contact and will escort you from the office to a fancy shindig and then out to dinner without ever having to change. Black also does a much better job of hiding spills and will save you hundreds of dollars at the dry cleaners over time. If you look dreadful in black, consider moving it away from your face and wearing it on your hips instead (in the form of skirts or pants). If you still think black is overrated, heed your instinct and choose another neutral, such as brown, taupe, or gray. But shun white clothing like swine flu if frugal fashion is your aim. Because white will take you to the (dry) cleaner’s virtually every time you wear it.
Some neutrals to try: Black pants, charcoal gray pleated pants; black silk pants.
Be True to Your School
Do you live near your high school or college? Then get an “A” for punctuality by being first to scope out the clothing selections at school fairs and auctions. Teeming with school spirit and feelings of nostalgia, alumni often offer a special price break to their fellow alumni. There could even be an up-and-coming alum designer who’s using that very fair or auction as a platform to showcase her designs. Schools also look for new ways to emblazon the name of their alma mater on all sorts of high-quality gear, often at prices that are beyond reasonable. Volunteer your time to the school, and you may even receive some school “swag,” gratis, as a thank you gift for your dedicated service. Do you happen to look absolutely divine in your school colors? That’s an added fashion perk.
Some school items to check out: School scarves; school T-shirts (only if they are 100% cotton); school rings and other bling for not much cha-ching.
Loyalty is Always In Fashion
Retailers treat their best customers like shopping queens and kings, showering them with “Friends and Family discounts,” special sales where they can save small fortunes and even large ones. If you are watching your cash this year (and who isn’t?) it makes sense to purchase all of your presents from one department store, so that you will quickly wiggle onto that store’s A-list.
Some stores to consider: Whichever store rolls out the red carpet for you is the one that should be first on your go-to list.
To Take Advantage of Group Discounts, Become a Groupie
Independence is highly overrated. There is power in groupthink — especially when the group happens to think it deserves a hefty discount. (Any group worth its buying mojo does.) Familiarize yourself with some websites that offer deep discounts to the group. Learn to look for promotional codes online. Be proactive. Don’t wait four score and seven years to check out Foursquare. Shop guilt-free by signing up for Gilt.com. It’s always the season to shop with the flock — and be richly rewarded for your efforts.
Some additional websites to check out: Groupon; Living Social; Amazon, and Daily Candy.
Complain Sparingly, If Necessary
Don’t make it a habit to become a professional pain in the butt, but also don’t be shy about writing to companies when their service leaves something to be desired. The company may try to make it up to you with a promotional offer or a discount on your next purchase. I was flabbergasted when a certain eyeglass store that shall remain nameless made me wait forty-five minutes while a certain female salesperson helped every single male customer in store first. (It was almost as if they had taken a recent survey and had decided that men were the only customers who actually made any purchases.) When the sales lady finally acknowledged me, she said, “I’ll get my junior associate to help you instead.” I stormed out of the premises and wrote a heartfelt letter about the experience after carefully researching whom to send it to. Within 36 hours, I received an apologetic phone call plus two free pairs of eyeglasses. The same saleslady who had ignored me just three days prior now had to fawn all over me while I chose my two free pairs. Receiving $400 from this upscale eyeglass store for a letter that took me ten minutes to craft healed the initial wound and helped me forgive the store for the original oversight.
Some notes about complaints: Be polite. Never upload your issue onto Facebook in an attempt to make the problem go viral. Just write to the store the old-fashioned way: send a letter.
Fill Out Customer Surveys
Today the customer isn’t just right, she has a real “voice” in how companies make their buying decisions. Facebook, with its one billion subscribers, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, and Twitter have all proven that companies must listen to their customers in order to survive in the new economy. If you are asked for your opinion through a customer survey, take a moment to fill it out. You might be rewarded with generous discounts. Even if you believe that some aspect of the shopping experience could have been more fulfilling, take care to phrase all suggestions cordially. Stores worship polite customers. In retail parlance that often means showing them hefty discounts! The bottom line? You and the store are in a long-term relationship. To make sure the relationship lasts, be sure to treat the store with plenty of TLC. If you shower the store with love, chances are excellent that the store will return the favor.
Some pointers about surveys: Be specific. Mention the day, time, and department if possible so that your answers can help the store improve. Stores will pay more attention to survey responses that show care in the way they were written. It may sound nutty, but double check your responses to make sure there are no spelling mistakes!
There are at least five times during the year when friends and family might buy you a gift, including: your birthday, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day (if applicable), your wedding anniversary (if applicable), plus Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. There is no shame (and quite a lot of benefit to be had) in telling people what you want. Send emails that let those closest to you know what you like to wear, and the brand names you like best (or at least a store you frequent so that you can return the item for one you prefer if necessary). Why just register when you get married? That’s just once in a lifetime — or two or three times at most. But five times a year you have the opportunity to ask for and receive exactly what you want. A few minutes spent figuring out how to phrase the email that tells your mother that you already have five terrycloth bathrobes, but would really appreciate a pair of Coach gloves saves everyone time and angst. And in a year or two you’ll amass a clothing collection that you truly love for no lucre.
Vicky Oliver is the author of The Millionaire’s Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire Even If You’re Not (Skyhorse, November 2011) plus four bestselling books on career development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Vicky@GetTheMillionairesHandbook.com
(Photo courtesy of Note Booker, Esq.)