3 T-Shirts for $7: The Risks and Rewards of Buying 'Irregular'

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Pack of Hanes ShirtsI'd been meaning to buy some new undershirts, so when I happened to see that the dollar store near my apartment was selling packs of Hanes V-necks, I decided to check it out. I was startled to find that a three-pack of shirts came to just $7. By comparison, the same package costs $12 at my local Kmart (SHLD).

Then I looked next to the price tag, where another label had been affixed: SLIGHTLY IMPERFECT.

Well, aren't we all, I thought. I slapped down $7 and brought home my new shirts to see what constituted "slightly imperfect."

Pack of Hanes Shirts One shirt had a random seam a couple of inches in length placed on the front of the shirt; either it had been torn and repaired, or else a screw-up in the manufacturing process put some extra stitching into it. Another shirt had a similar stitch in the middle of the back. The third had a few spots of what appeared to be a rust stain, though I've yet to see if it will come out in the wash.

I'm happy with my purchase. They are, after all, undershirts: They won't be seen by the general public, and none of the imperfections had any impact on the fit or comfort. They won't be appearing in any commercials with Michael Jordan, but they'll fit nicely in my top dresser drawer between my underwear and my socks.

Everyone knows that you can save money by purchasing used clothes, either at secondhand stores or on websites like eBay. But irregular or imperfect clothes represent another category of savings: Merchandise that's new, but which came out of the factory looking a little bit off. It might be something as innocuous as a double stitch on a sleeve, or it could be a manufacturing error which led to a shipment of pants that don't have quite the intended fit.

Manufacturers label these screw-ups accordingly, then ship them off to discount retailers that don't mind selling rejected clothes. RG Riley, a wholesale distributor of closeout merchandise and "hand-graded irregulars," says that it sells to a range of retailers, from dollar stores to drugstores to your local Goodwill Store.

Since an item can be marked irregular for a variety of reasons, employing this strategy comes with a bit of risk. Melissa Massello, editor-in-chief of Shoestring Magazine, says she remembers buying a pair of "irregular" J.Crew jeans from an outlet store as a teenager.

"The seam on the zipper was a little crooked," she recalls. "I got them for $20 because they were irregular, but they didn't fit like they were supposed to."

So if you're buying clothes from a discount retailer and see that an item is marked "irregular," "damaged" or "imperfect," you'll want to inspect it and try it on before you buy. If the flaw isn't something you can live with, Massello says that you'll want to determine whether the time and money it will take to fix it -- either by patching it yourself or taking it to a tailor -- is worth the discount.

Of course, you don't always have that option: The undershirts I bought were sealed in a package, so I didn't know what was wrong with them until I got them home. That makes it a bit of a crap shoot, but the good news is that most packaged items tend to be cheaper clothes like socks and underwear. So if I'd gotten them home and discovered that those undershirts weren't even fit to wear under another shirt, I would only have been out $7.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

Photos by Matt Brownell

Your Food Bill is Going Up: Ways To Save In The Grocery Aisle
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3 T-Shirts for $7: The Risks and Rewards of Buying 'Irregular'

Sure, it's tempting to buy those neatly trimmed broccoli florets, but in doing so you're throwing money down the drain.

"Those packaged fruits and veggies that are already diced, chopped or sliced are marked up 40% over their whole-food counterparts," consumer money saving expert Andrea Woroch says.

The same goes for meat and poultry.  Buying ground beef already formed into hamburger patties, or chicken cubes on skewers, can cost as much as 60 percent more than buying the raw ingredients and doing the prep yourself. "Once again, you are paying for the convenience," Woroch says.

She offers a better idea: If you're too busy to start slicing and dicing after a long day of work, carve out some time over the weekend to prepare ingredients for use during the week.

An item's label on the supermarket shelf should list its price per ounce or unit price. Use that apples-to-apples comparison between brands to figure out which gives you the best value for your buck, advises Jeanette Pavini, household savings expert from Coupons.com.

Comparing unit prices will also help you to determine if those bulk buys are really a good deal after all. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Not all organic produce is created equal.

For example, don't waste money on organic fruits and vegetables with tough or inedible peels such as pineapples, papayas, mangos and avocados. "Most of the pesticides can be removed or washed away," Woroch says, citing WebMd research.

If you do opt for organic, make sure you're getting the real thing. Look for the organic seal certified by the USDA, which confirms the food is grown, harvested, and processed according to federal standards.

Labels that boast "natural," "hormone-free" or "antibiotic-free" don't necessarily assure that food meets organic standards.

And when it comes to seafood, the U.S. has no organic fish regulations, so "don't waste your money on false food claims," Woroch says.

Follow retailers and store brands on social media sites for grocery savings.

For example, if you "like" a retailer like Wal-Mart (WMT) or a brand like Ronzoni on Facebook, you can get advance notice of deals and the scoop on upcoming sale events.

Don't take a sale sign at face value, Pavini tells DailyFinance. "If a sale says five for $10, don't feel obligated to buy all five. Check the store policy: Usually you will get the same discount even if you just buy a single quantity."

If you've missed out on a store sale, don't be shy to ask your supermarket to apply the deal to a later shopping trip. "If the item you want is out of stock, have the store give you a rain check so when the items is back in stock they will honor the sale price," Pavini says.

While many fresh fruits and vegetables are available year-round, they're usually less expensive when you buy them in season. So plan your meals according to what produce is freshest. You'll pay less -- and your food will taste better, too.

And last but not least, tap coupon sites like CouponSherpa.com, Coupons.com, RetailMeNot.com and FatWallet.com for printable coupons, coupon promotional codes and online coupons to slash that ever-increasing grocery bill.

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