Christmas Shopping: Proceed with Caution (a short Part III)

If you've snagged deals at Black Friday sales, get out you receipts now. If you haven't braved the crowds yet, pay attention now to avoid a return trip. The stores you thought you knew and love may have become less lovable because they may have changed some policies for the holidays, namely return/refund policies. Over the years, retailers are getting less and less generous. Some stores that used to offer no questions asked returns have cracked down just for the holiday season. Stores like Express tracks how many times you return stuff--if you've cracked the limit, they ain't taking anything back.

Black Friday shoppers--before you become too smug with your bargain basement purchases, think about what you've bought. Are they things listed explicitly on someone's wish list, or is it something you *think* your niece/nephew/third cousin/long-lost uncle would like? To avoid loss of funds and/or your standing as someone's favorite relative, think hard and fast now. You may still have time to change your mind and recoup your hard-earned cash.

If you haven't done much shopping now, a crappy return policy is a good reason for strategic planning (aforementioned in Part I). Before you buy, ask about the policies.

Big Lots bargain finds--DVF luggage

I skipped out on the crazy Black Friday morning sales this year. I figured that by the time I get to a store, even if it's the crack of dawn, most of the good stuff would be gone. I was right--my dad went to Circuit City and couldn't find anything.

I found some good Diane von Firstenberg luggage and travelling totes for a very decent price. The travelling totes and train cases were $30, duffels at $40, and upright luggages at $50-60. The blue-suede-with-white-trim totes were so cute that I was tempted to buy one, but since I'm not about to go travelling in style any time soon, I wisely decided to put it down. Good prices could be found for bath products as well. Very fancy looking stuff for a very affordable price (anywhere from $3-$10). If you're into this kind of stuff, check out your local Big Lots. You just might find good luggage there.

Normally the 99 Cent Store is my first stop for gift wrapping paper and Christmas cards, but for some reason, my local store is really disappointing me with the quality of stuff this year. Not just holiday goods, but everything in general. So sad...I ended up getting some cards and wrapping paper there, but only because I've already hit several other places and couldn't find what I was looking for.


Christmas Shopping: Proceed with Caution (Part II)

On Friday, many people will be busy doing their Christmas shopping for their friends and family. When the prices are so good, they'll also inevitably buy some "Merry Christmas to Me" presents. It's fine and all if the prices are good and it's what you really need, but please don't buy things merely because they're good quality and on sale. Impulsive sales purchases will stimulate our GDP, but will hurt big in the long run (credit card debt, bankruptcies, etc).

Before you head to the malls and other major retailers, do an inventory of your closet. Take a look at what you have, what you need, and you have a "what I want" column on your checklist as well, really sit down and think whether it'll go with anything in your closet. If you don't do these things, you'll probably waste money by buying more of what you already have and stuff that you'll never wear. If you're travelling and can't physically do a count of what's in your closet, just take some time to think about it. It's better to do that than walking into the mall unprepared, falling prey to all those "sale" signs.

Also, set a limit to how much you're giving to yourself. We may get carried away by justifying our purchases with "it's great value," "I'll buy it down the road anyways," etc. While it's true that you may be getting significant savings now, cash is still being spent and the threat of debt is much more imminent than the joys of dressing up. If the item is significantly discounted but still expensive, don't buy it if you won't be using/wearing it in the foreseeable future. Save that money up for an even better dress when you actually need it. Also, even if something is of good quality, it'll do you no good if it's not something you'll use. Keep that in mind when you shop.

Have a Happy Turkey Day!


Christmas Shopping: Proceed With Caution (Part I)

We all need to prepare for onslaught of Christmas sales that are slowly creeping upon us. It's nice to save money on gifts, but don't blindly surrender yourself to the siren call of those "Sale" signs and prices. It's very easy to go from saving money to losing lots of it if you're not careful. Part I of this series is on shopping preparations.

Before you embark on your shopping expedition, really sit down and plan things out.
-First, make a list of people you need to get gifts for.
-Second, think about what to get for each person.
  • Set a budget for each person.
  • If a person has let it be known that he/she likes Widget V. 2.0 and you can afford to buy that, that's great, problem solved.
  • However, if Widget V. 2.0 exceeds your budget, think about alternatives. In order to do that, think about that person's personalities and interests. From that, think of a number of specific items that might fit the bill. It's good to have a list instead of just one product, since you want to be flexible when you hit the stores. The exact thingus you want might not be available or may be too expensive, so having backups is important. Also, you might want to consider bundling a few cheap items together. Having a bundle of cheaper (but not cheapy) stuff looks more impressive than a dinky yet expensive item.
  • Plan on getting a few gender-neutral extra gifts in case someone unexpectedly gives you something.

-Third, do some "comparative shopping." You definitely want to get the best deals.

  • Do some research online to supplement knowledge gleaned from Black Friday print ads. Sites such as BargainsLA provide information on sales at smaller local retailers and wholesalers that don't necessarily advertise in newspapers.
  • Just because something is on "sale" doesn't mean it's the lowest price possible. I heard that some sneaky vendors actually mark things up.
  • Some sales items are not of the best quality, especially clothing. The name-brand label may be there, but not the name-brand quality if it's a "special value" secondary line. Some things may have started out as high-quality, but with rough handling from the crowd, things might change. When you get to the store, don't forget to inspect the merchandise thoroughly.
  • Certain stores may have some superlow price on one item just to lure you in to make you pay higher prices for other things, so don't be fooled. Keep this in mind for the next step.

-Fourth, figure out how many things you can get at each store and plan a schedule. Since certain items are available at the superlow price for just a few hours, and because crowds = parking problems, you need to plan wisely. There's no time to fly from one location to another.

  • A balancing test may be involved--ask yourself how important it is to get a particular item, if you're willing to get one expensive item for cheap at the expense of not getting 3 things, or vice versa. That'll determine retail locations to hit.
  • Make it a team effort. If your family has more than one car, send people to different places to get different things. Have multiple people in each car--you just know there will be a lot of circling the parking lot looking for a space, so have one person drive and the other(s) getting dropped off to shop.

-Finally, don't forget online stores. If you can get stuff online, it'll save you a lot of time. That will maximize the chance of scoring stuff that are only available at brick-and-mortar establishments.


Wild Herds in Aisle Nine

I survived the BCBG annual warehouse sample sale today. This year is definitely crazier than last year. I actually went much earlier this time and the line was much longer. Good thing I had a friend who had friends who got there earlier. Hence, it didn't take very long before we got inside, but once there, all hell broke loose. Seeing the chaos, we scheduled to meet outside in 2 hours. In the end, those 2 hours weren't enough, since it took an hour just to wait in line for the cash registers.

Time constraints made me much more efficient, but still, in the beginning, the chaos dashed my plan in pieces. Having my heart set on getting suits, I went looking for them. But suits were hard to find, especially with throngs of people around and things not very clearly marked. Once I found the jackets, my mantra became "grab now, match later"--that is, matching the tops with bottoms that I could grab. I couldn't find any matching bottoms since all the small sizes are either nonexistent or gone. Still, at $25 a pop, the blazers were cheap. I ended up buying 2 of them in neutral colors that will be easier to match in the near future.

The next big-ticket item I homed in on were dresses. Again, all the petite sizes were gone from the racks. After that, I went for the less coveted basic pieces. Then I circled back to the sorting area where people who grabbed too much come to their senses and let some go. That's where I picked up a really nice dress. I also picked up a small chiffon top and a matching skirt. The skirt was really funky--one of those corkscrew types, with stuff hanging down. At first, I wisely decided against it, but while I was waiting in line, I saw one abandoned on the racks, so I ended up buying it. That's probably the least practical piece of clothing I had out of the 6 pieces I ended up buying.

The checkout line is a funny place. While standing in line for an hour just to pay, I realized how much cash was going to leave my wallet, so I abandoned a few items on the rafters above. However, as I progressed further down the line, I picked up a few other things (a blazer and that corkscrew skirt, a pair of shoes). I got to talking with people I was standing in line with, and we were appalled by the amount of good clothing strewn all over the ground, prime for trampling. One lady told me that she saw a person dragging her bag on the ground, didn't realize that halfway through the bag tore away along with the contents, and when she did, she found a group of women closing in on the torn bag and picking off the pieces. She actually had to fight people off. I don't know how many levels of hearsay this is, but that goes to show you that during these crazy sales, people can become wild animals. While I haven't personally witnessed any animalistic behavior, this was definitely a crazy sale. I ended up spending just shy of $200, but most of the things are very practical--3 jackets/blazers, 1 chiffon top, 1 chiffon skirt (not all that practical), 1 pair of leather shoes, 1 dress. The most expensive item is a really nice $45 dress. I was a little pissed that my friend's satin ballgown-type dress was considered a "dress" at $30 and mine was a "gown" at $45. I'm not sure that it's worth the $480 that's on the price tag, but it's certainly worth my $45, despite my grumbling that it's not $30.

The sale is still on tomorrow, but I doubt that a whole lot is left. If you're willing to go at your own risk, check out BargainsLA.com for the address. Then again, even on the first day, there's little to be found because things are so chaotic. Maybe I'll go later next year to avoid the craziness.

Bottom line: when going to crazy sales, strategize ahead of time. Know what you need, what you don't really need, what sizes of which brand fits, etc. When you prioritize, you'll have a better chance of scoring what you really want. Even if you don't get the things lower on your wishlist, you won't really lose out. Get a friend or 2 to go along with you to save a place in line, but make sure you have plans to meet at a certain time to check in with each other just in case you all get dispersed by the crazy crowds. Wear comfortable shoes--there's a lot of walking and standing, so it's no time to look really cute and trendy in your 3-inch heels and miniskirt. That would have been appropriate for Melrose or Robertson, but you're shopping at a warehouse, for goodness sakes! If you'll be in line early in the morning, layer your clothes because it warms up really fast once the sun comes up.

If you want cheaper BCBG clothes without the madness, there are other ways. Go to BCBG outlets, liquidation stores, and eBay. It won't be as crazy-cheap as the warehouse sale, but it's not all that much more expensive. At least you get to try things on, have time to think about it, and not run the risk of getting trampled the moment you put something down. As for eBay, avoid getting things from sellers shipping from China. Those seem to be a little sketchy.


Christmas shopping saga part II--Classic Closeouts

This is the second time I ran into the FedEx guy on the run--last time it was right when I got home, this time it's right when I was leaving my apartment. I had to wait until the end of the day before opening the package. I have to say that I'm quite disappointed with many of the purchases.

First, I take issue with the marblelized stone nugget drop necklace. Yes, it does look good--not nearly as good as the picture, but it's probably because of the ugly plastic packaging--and it's only $5.99, but the green one (as pictured) has a terrible clasp. It took a lot of finger strength to pry the gated side open so that I can take the ring side out. At least the one I bought for someone else (in apricot) has a better clasp.

Second, I was ticked off by the Adidas boy's mesh shorts. At $5.49, they are a steal. However, they don't work very well as gifts. The pair I got has no tags on them, and the label inside had a cut on it--typical of clearance outlets, but not with things I've bought from Classic Closeouts, hence the surprise/discontent. The shorts themselves looked OK, but they're a bit sheer; a little more lining could have helped. There are also these weird slanted cut-outs at the hem serving as side vents, parallel to the Adidas stripes. It's barely good enough to be a Christmas present. At this point, I don't care. I'm too busy and too broke to do more shopping for the kids.

Finally, my biggest disappointment is this lamp. I bought it because I needed another light source for my desk. It looks really cool. At $19, the price is right. However, the moment I started putting the lamp together, I saw trouble. The lamp shade was kinda flimsy. The metal pole and socket assembly was also a bit flimsy; the added weight from the lamp shade causes the pole to twist and turn. I put in a regular light bulb and it was nowhere as bright as the picture represented. Took that lightbulb out and put in one of those brighter energy saving bulbs, but as I tightened the light bulb into the socket, the whole socket assembly twisted loose and fell apart. I managed to put everything back together, but it was clear that whoever was assembling it didn't do a very good job tightening the screws and whatnot. It's so Ikea-quality that it's not worth the $90 retail price that was listed. However, it's more of a hassle to send it back, so I'll just milk it for as long as I can as an additional lamp for the living room.

Another minor gripe is that the lid of my new storage jar has a ding on the lid. However, it's not really noticeable and doesn't affect functioning, so that didn't get me too irritated.

There are a few things I was happy with. The Adidas adult Climalite top (XL) was perfect, with tags and all. The packaging is again quite ratty, but I can remove it. A $3 pair of silver-disk drop earrings look great, and it would have looked even better if not for the packaging. The marblelized bracelets were lovely.

So, here's the lesson of the day: packaging is the key. Remove the plastic packaging material used for shipping (but not the original packaging, if included), check the quality, take off those "Made in China" stickers or tags, then repackage it in a nice box with tissue paper, good wrapping paper, and all the trimmings. No one would ever know they were under $10.


Christmas Shopping Saga Part I--Yak Pak

It's been 2 crazy weeks of school culminating in the completion of a 25-page paper, and yet, these coming 2-3 days are even more critical. Since I'm fairly burnt out, I need some breathing time before finishing a 33+ page paper AND work on another assignment, and hence this post. Adding to the stress are the impending holidays...my goodness, I can't believe Thanksgiving and Christmas are just weeks away! Usually I'd get most of my Christmas shopping done by now, but because of the chaos this semester, I'm way behind schedule. If I had the money, shopping on a short notice (i.e. days before Christmas) wouldn't be a problem. But since I've always been poor (and especially now that I'm 100K in the hole), I don't have that luxury. Yeah, there are sales, but it's still hard to get nice things for cheap. That's why I shop for things so early.

To make things easier and to save more money this year, I decided to get accessories for most people, since it doesn't require going to the store (or multiple stores) to try things on, etc. I got a bunch of bags from YakPak.com that arrived just a few hours ago. I've been eyeing YakPak's specials for a long time and knew that it could come in handy someday. Well, this is the time. They have a "3 bags for $10" sale where you get 3 random things that were made as development prototypes; some never made it to final production, but judging from the array of cool things available for sale on their site, I was willing to bet that even the "rejects" should be pretty decent. There's also a women's footwear "2 pairs for $15" special. These shoes supposedly retail for $100+, but I don't care about the price. Expensive shoes can suck, and sometimes cheap shoes look great. No, this random shoe special doesn't mean you'll get a size 10 and a size 5--you get to choose the shoe size. Since there's free shipping for $35 and over, I decided to order 2 random bag packs and 1 random shoe pack. I figured that if I order now, I'll get to see how "random" these things are, whether they work well as gifts, and if not, at least have some time to assess what else I need to buy.

Shipping was fast. I ordered the stuff maybe 3 or 4 days ago, checked the website, which kept saying that shipping was pending, and was surprised by the UPS delivery guy who showed up today with my package. I unpacked all the goodies, and boy, the bags are definitely a good deal. I really like this blue tote bag--well-constructed and durable, has a zipper on the top, and plenty of external pockets (like the ones in the front) where you can stuff additional things, albeit less securely. The zipper was a bit stubborn at first, but after a few zips, it was fine. As much as I like the tote bag and wanna keep it, I keep on asking myself what I'm going to do with it. I have lots of canvas tote bags as it is. Oh well, I'm sure it'll come in handy someday.

Wrangler makes bags? I didn't know until today. Maybe it's part of the brand's "comeback," along with the likes of Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt. The white, no-frills canvas purse is pretty standard, great for a casual summer event. I like that it doesn't announce itself as "cowgirl." Even the huge "W's" are tasteful and not a dead giveaway. The "Wrangler" label is fairly small and discrete. This will be going to a cousin who likes all things country. As for the messenger bag, it's mine, all mine. My laptop, in its protective sleeve, fits into it perfectly. I've been looking for some kind of a backup laptop bag so that I don't have to lug around my backpack on days when I don't feel like it. The only problem is that the flap has no fastener, so it's just hanging loose. Not a big deal, though...I'll just tuck it in, which is even better because it hides the "Wrangler" tag. The pockets on the side of the bag are really cute, too. They have the "W's" on them like the white purse.

The Dickies bags are great. The Hawaiian print is very girly and cute...I know exactly who to give this to. My only complaint is that it's a tie enclosure, no zippers = not very secure. Still, it's good for a casual outing where crowds (and pickpockets) are not a problem. Small gray purse is very standard and goes with everything, plus it's durable and won't get dirty. The green mini-duffle is definitely a time saver for me. I've been racking my brains for what to get a 13-year-old guy, since I'm too busy to pay attention for what's "cool" to kids nowadays. It's always tougher to get stuff for guys on a budget. This bag is perfect for vacations, when you just want a smaller bag to put CD's, snacks, a pack of cards, PS2, or toiletries for the car but don't want to lug around a big duffle. The olive green makes sure it won't be ridiculed as a "man bag."

The great deals on the bags make up for the shoes. The shoes are just one step shy of hideous, and I'm saddled with 2 pairs of them (I was expecting them to be different, like the bags). The fact that the tags on them had Japanese on the back suggests that they were made for the Harajuku crowd. I don't get the side ruching AT ALL; it just makes the shoes look old, wrinkled, and worn. Still, I think I can make it work in spite of the bowler/skater look. I'll probably donate the second pair, since I'll lose money on them if I Ebay it. There are people who really need shoes, and even though these aren't the greatest, they fit well and serve their purpose. If for some reason you actually like them, they fit true to size with a little extra room (but not so much that you should size down).

On another note, I also bought some cool jewelry from Classic Closeouts that I'll be "packaging" together, but it'll take a while for them to get here, so we'll see what happens.

Addendum: after seeing my purchases, my friend also got 2 YakPak specials. They're great too! I'm willing to surmise that the quality of the surprise specials is consistently good.