My (public) debut as a bargain shopper

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I am a self-professed recreational shopper. Always have been. Some people play sports competitively. Me, I shop competitively.

The thrill is in the bargain. Hunting it down, getting it in my sights and then moving in for the kill. I sharpened my elbows as a child in Daffy Dan's in New Jersey (mob aside, a reasonable state with no sales tax on clothing; are you listening California?) but have since refined my methods.

My current weapon of choice: coupons I find online. My trophy purchase mounted on the wall of my closet: a 100% cashmere sweater with the Sak's label still in it that I got for $5 at a thrift store in Malibu.

It was only a matter of time before my prowess reached the TV networks. I was asked by CNBC to take a camera crew along while I shopped. My terms: They don't get in my way.





Bargain shopping at the professional level is a serious business. Would you ask Tiger Woods to please redo a shot because the camera guy missed it? Of course not, so don't ask me to poke around the used blenders when what I want is a nice top to go with the Banana Republic pencil skirt that I got the day before for 35% off using a combination of coupons and discounts.

My tips, and others not shared with the CNBC viewers:

Don't leave the house without first googling the name of the stores you'll be visiting and the word "coupon." I honestly never bother with Macy's One-Day sales (too crowded) because I can find the same coupons online. I just got $10 off any sale or clearance item of $25 or more there with my online coupon -- the same one Macy's runs in the daily newspaper I no longer subscribe to. That coupon brought the cost of bubble jackets for my two children down to $20 -- for BOTH of them! They were $65 jackets on sale for $14.99 each, less $10.

Triple A (AAA) does more than come and change your flat tire. If you show your AAA membership card at the management office of most premium outlets, they'll give you a booklet of discounts. The stores vary in their generosity, but I just got 30% off at the New Balance outlet. The sneaks I bought were last year's model marked down from $99 to $29.99. Less my 30%, I paid about $20 for a pair of $100 shoes. Many restaurants, tire shops, bookstores will give you a discount just for showing them your Triple A card, but yes, you have to ask.

Never pay for online shipping. Sorry, but that is so yesterday. Virtually every major store will have a free shipping coupon online. And if they don't have it this week, they will next.

Senior discounts. Banana Republic doesn't advertise this, but they will give seniors 10% off the entire offer just for showing them you are over 55. I am flattered that they asked to see my drivers' license as proof of age. Movies will also give you a discount; age cutoffs vary.

Shop on Tuesdays. To boost sales on this traditionally slower shopping day, many stores (Banana Republic among them) give 10% off on Tuesdays. Its sister stores, Old Navy, GAP and GAPKids may follow suit.

Shop the thrift stores. I used to avoid them because they always had such a musty smell and the idea of wearing someone else's discards didn't appeal. I like good stuff. Then I discovered a new category of thrift stores: Resale shops in wealthy communities. What can I say? The rich have nicer castoffs than we do. My favorites in the Los Angeles area are Artifac Tree in Malibu and any of the National Council of Jewish Women stores. They get designer labels and sell them for a song, plus you can negotiate the price. I've had less success at ADdress on Wilshire, which is allegedly where all the Oscar-worn gowns wind up the week after, but a friend claims to have scored an Armani dress for $100.

Join your local NPR station and get a fringe benefits card. Our KCRW membership is $50 a year and gives us 15% discounts at bookstores, 15% off at our favorite restaurants, discounts on a host of services provided by a wide range of sponsors. And the $50 is a tax-deduction for charity.

Faithfully read Julia Scott's BargainBabe.com blog here. She is a goddess of bargain shopping. I worship at her feet.
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