Open Thread: Let’s Talk Saving

Wow, we were not expecting that response to the “how much do you spend on clothes” thread — among a lot of our friends we’re the cheapskate.  (We run with a lot of well-dressed ladies!)  Keep in mind, however, that we haunt the sales — as we tried to make clear, there’s a difference between what you think a work-appropriate item of clothing should cost and what you’ll pay for one.  For example, yes, most of our bags cost around $600-$700 — but we figure out which brands we like, and then stalk the sample sales (both online and in NYC); we’ve also gotten some ridiculously great deals.  In general, we end up paying around $200 for a bag.  But that’s part dedication, part talent, and part ego, also — we enjoy getting a good sale on things we think are high quality.  Pictured:  Money, originally uploaded to Flickr by AMagill.

But how much you spend on clothes should, obviously, be less than what you’re saving — for retirement, for a down payment, etc.  So let’s talk about this.

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Reader Mail: How much do you spend on clothes?

Reader S wrote in, wondering whether she’s spending too much or too little on clothes…

Given some of the comments re: the price of the interesting Tahari dress/suit last week, I thought it might be worth doing a poll on actual price ranges that people think are appropriate for certain items. Sometimes I would like to know where I “stand” amongst women in how I budget my clothing purchases. For example, I try to keep my shoe purchases around $100 or less, even though I COULD spend more, because they get ruined so fast from walking around the city, esp in the winter. But I would spend more on other things. Am I totally normal, or a total cheapskate? How many people buy bags that are over $1K?

There really are no right answers here, but it does strike us as an interesting discussion. There are two kinds of price points to talk about, though — one is what folks expect things to cost (a good pair of work pants), the other is what folks will pay.  As we’ve mentioned, we like the sales — but we don’t buy things because they cost “$X,” we buy them because we like them and we think they’re of an acceptable quality for the office.  For example — an $8 t-shirt isn’t something, generally, that we would say is acceptable for the office.  But we’re happy to buy a $34 t-shirt at $8.  So, that said, we’ve listed below (after the jump) the price points that we would generally expect to pay for something for the office.  For almost every price we’ve listed here, we would absolutely consider something marked at a higher price, but a) only if they look amazing on, b) we’re acquiring a “name” to add to the closet that we’ve lusted after, or c) … c) would be if we had a specific event to go to and knew that in order to run with the chicks who were there we’d need to put our best fashionista shoe forward.  (For example, just for kicks, let’s say we were to have a meeting with Erin Callan or some other CFO who is notorious for wearing amazing stiletto shoes.  You can bet we’d be there with our best newly-purchased shoes on.)  By the same token, we probably would consider things in a lower price range, also, but only as “need them now” splurges or “I don’t quite know why but this cheap dress looks amazing on me.”) (But we wouldn’t wear them to a meeting with a fashionista.)   Pictured: Does “sale” mean lower prices or does it mean “get outta here”?, originally uploaded to Flickr by sylvar.

UPDATE: We’ve been busy with this whole “job” thing but we are told you guys miiiight be misreading the post. All prices we list are the 100 percent price — we don’t actually pay that — in keeping with the example above, it’s the $34 price — not the $8 price. And so while a lot of bags are in the $600-$800 range, we actually pay more like $200….

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How to Get Great Deals on Workwear: 10 Online Shopping Tips

how to get great deals on workwear

2017 Update: We still stand by the advice below on how to get great deals on workwear; you may also want to check out our latest discussion of our favorite online shopping apps!

Here’s my confession/boast: almost everything I own was bought on sale. My favorite Iisli sweater jacket? Tried it on at Bergdorf’s when it cost $430, snapped it up at a winter sale a few months later for $150; then loved it so much I bought another one on HauteLook for $125. I’ve gotten pants from Banana Republic for $6.99 and worn them a lot. I once snagged an entire ball gown at an outlet store for $20 and wore it to my firm’s black-tie gala. Alas, most of these amazing takes came from the days when I shopped the stores really regularly — since then, I’ve had to adjust our shopping habits for a life where a) I’m usually, you know, working when the stores are open and b) it’s harder to set aside time on the weekend to shop.  So how CAN you get great deals on workwear and other clothes if you can’t peruse the discount racks? I’ve got some great ideas… (Pictured:  “Closing Down” Sale 2, originally uploaded to Flickr by johnthurm.)

(A caveat before I start the tips — in my mind there is a difference from buying good clothing at reduced prices, and buying cheap clothing.   Personally, I have serious ethical issues with shopping at stores that specialize in knock-offs.  (Hat tip to Counterfeit Chic, who covers the issue regularly.)) If you really care about these issues,  you may want to check out The Corporette Guide to Slow Fashion for Workwear.

1.  The next time you’re actually out and about shopping, do a little legwork — learn your size in the brands you ogle online.  Are you a 7 or 7.5 in Cole Haan pumps?  Are you a size 8 or 10 in Tory Burch?  If you figure this out it’ll be much easier to snap up sales when you see them, whether they’re at online discounters like RueLaLa or department stores.

2.  Use online shopping apps to help keep you aware of discounts.  We try to point you to a big sale if we see one, but a lot of the best deals (60% off) fall in the “lucky sizes” realm, when very limited sizes are left.  Particularly if you fall on either end of the “regular” clothing spectrum — an XS, a size 14 — then you should set up sale alerts because there are tons of great tools.  We love ShopItToMeShopStyle can also be handy if you’re watching a particular brand of bags or shoes. (2017 Update: Check out our latest favorite online shopping apps!)

how to get great deals on workwear

3.  Don’t pay for shipping more than you have to.  When I shop online, I haaate paying for shipping — it’s my number one pet peeve.  If there’s a minimum for free shipping ($75 or $200 are frequent numbers) then I we will almost always try to fill my cart with at least that amount.  Bloomingdales had great sales recently and, the bag I wanted — a Treesje bag marked from $600ish to $180ish — would not have gotten me free shipping.  So I also bought a pair of Ralph Lauren shorts marked to $8 (I never wear shorts, but always pack them on vacations, so the price worked well) and a Kooba bag (also marked to the $190 realm) that I was curious about.  I wound up returning the Kooba bag, but the Treesje bag and shorts were great deals, and I still got the free shipping.

4. Look for coupons before you checkout.  I almost always check RetailMeNot before purchasing anything online; I also get a lot of e-mails directly from stores, which frequently come with coupon codes.

5. Shop off season. That Treesje bag I mentioned?  White patent leather — it arrived the weekend after Labor Day, meaning I won’t get to wear it for nearly a year.  That’s ok, though — when Memorial Day rolls around I’ll be salivating for it.

6.  Know the returns policy. Particularly if you’re filling your shopping cart in order to get free shipping, you need to  be sure you know how long you have to return items.  Some stores are very friendly — for example, I bought a ton of white dresses from Nordstrom’s, on sale, when I got engaged — different sizes, different brands, etc. — probably spending about $400 on four or five dresses.  Nine months later, when it was time to get dressed for the rehearsal dinner, I tried on the dresses and wore the one that fit the best; I returned the rest without hassle. (Just to clarify — I don’t recommend you stretch it out to 9 months on a regular basis. Rather, just know the returns policy so you aren’t surprised if it’s a 30-day policy and you thought you had 60 days.)

7.  Be flexible on the sizes. While in #1 we advise you to know your size, we also advise you to be a bit flexible on size when you’re ordering online.  A lot of great sales happen on clothes that have the wrong tag.  So if you see a size 8 and you’re a size 6, if the deal is right (and returns won’t be a hassle), give it a try.  (We would not necessarily advise this for shoes, though.)

8. Know what you wear regularly. My weekend uniform tends to be black t-shirts and jeans, so I frequently check around for black t-shirts on any site I’m shopping.

9. Consider buying multiples. If you see a deal on something that you already know and love, consider buying multiples, either in the same color or a different one.  I already mentioned my Iisli sweater, but I’ve done this a number of times — jeans, shoes, t-shirts, even bags.

10.  Understand that some things just don’t go on sale, while others might be able to be negotiated if you’re buying in person.  For example, I’ve never seen a classic Louis Vuitton bag on sale, and proudly bought mine at the store for full price.  On the other hand, they say that jewelry can be negotiated — for example, if you’re buying a good watch (Cartier, Rolex, etc.) from a reputable store it’s not uncommon for the sales person to give you a 15% discount. (You can also sometimes get a great deal on a handbag if you open a new credit card at the store.)

Readers, what are your best tips for getting steals online?  Any victory stories you’d like to share? What are your best tips for getting great deals on workwear? 

how to get great deals on workwear

how to get great deals on workwear

Reader mail: Can I take the leftovers from my business lunch?

Can you take leftovers from a business lunch?

2017 Update: We still stand by this analysis of when you can take leftovers from a business lunch — links have also been updated below.  You may also want to check out our ultimate guide to business lunch etiquette.

Is a doggy bag is ever appropriate in a business context? Today’s reader wonders what the etiquette rule is on whether she can take leftovers from her business lunch…

I was wondering if it’s ever appropriate to get leftovers from business lunches or dinners wrapped up to go. The portion sizes at restaurants can be so large, and I hate having food go to waste (especially food from eating out!) but I am fairly junior and it may seem a bit much (as in grabby or greedy). Thoughts?

We agree, leaving leftover food is wasteful. However, we must caution against asking for a doggy bag (even if the restaurant will shape it into an amusing animal). You’re right, it does sound slightly grabby or greedy — particularly because it’s entirely possible to ascertain beforehand if the restaurant where you’re dining is one that believes in large portions, such as by looking around the room or asking the waiter — which means that taking leftovers might leave the impression that you either a) ordered for dinner as well as lunch, or b) just are not very observant. Neither are good things for the business lunch. [Read more…]

Poll Results: Recession, Smession

recession money should you change your budgetLast week we asked:  How has the recession affected your spending and saving habits?  Although we’re all peeking through our fingers as we check on our 401Ks and various accounts, the good news is that it hasn’t affected us that much.

  • 46% of voters said they weren’t doing anything differently
  • 28% of voters are looking at these plunging prices as a great time to stock up (ha! ha) on stocks and other investments
  • 13% noted that they’d moved money around so no more than $100K was in one spot at once
  • 9% said they were carpe diem-ing it up and living for today
  • 3% said they were taking money out of their bank and hiding it in pickle jars in their backyard.

Commenters noted that they were trying to take less cabs and eating out less… (same here!)  One commenter also noted that she was going to buy a house sooner than anticipated.  (You go, girl!)

As always, the poll is still open — if you haven’t voted yet, please go do so!  And, just for kicks, if you have a recession-favorite recipe, post it in the comments below…

Pictured: 337/365: The Big Money,originally uploaded by DavidDMuir.

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