Every magazine out there seems to be covering this topic: shopping smart in this economy. They often come up with a list of 100 items under $500 or gifts under $100, but they don't tell you why or how you can look for reasonably priced products. To me, what matters in shopping smart is setting up the right strategy.
In the study of marketing, they use the terminology "value customer" when describing price-sensitive shoppers. These value customers favor discounts and products sold in bundles - even if that meant buying a couple more unneccessary products to benefit from the "buy 5 get 3 deal." These people make up the target segment that can be easily persuaded into trading in quality at slightly higher prices for cheaply-made inexpensive goods that don't last more than a year or two. When buying household utilities, this may be a perfect way of staying economical. In high fashion, however, being a value customer requires more sophisticated tactics.
First, it takes a lot of time and effort to be a value customer. You have to constantly fish around for the same product at a better price. This takes research costs - the time and money it takes you to jump from one store to another looking for that unbeatable price. Borrowing the term from economics, we can also say that being a value customer has an opportunity cost - cost that is lost by taking on one activity or in other words cost that you could have benefited from by going with an alternative solution. I'll try to explain this in the next paragraphs.
If you want to save more money in the end, you cannot and should not go cheap on every item. First thing that comes to my mind is a jacket. People often underestimate the importance of buying a jacket that contours body shape. I'm all for shopping at menswear section for slim boyfriend blazers or even at boys department for the classic navy boy blazer, but when the design itself has flaws - which often occurs in cheaply-made jackets - there is nothing you can do to fix it: the arms will look too loose on you or the shoulders will look too wide. Furthermore, the seams on less-costly jackets are usually sewn on sloppily. It is these seams that can make a jacket look like they were made for the body.
Another category of items that you'll be tempted to cheap out on but should not - because you will regret this - is shoes and bags. Let's take a closer look. When you see a woman strutting down the street in high heels, you can immediately notice how some of them have these uncomfortable gaits. It's not the way they walk. It's the flawed design in shoe-construction. One critic claimed that her legs looked much sexier in Manolos. I strongly second this comment. Manolos or not, when you wear well-constructed shoes, particularly heels, it puts your feet at a certain angle that makes your legs prettier. Not only do quality heels boost up your appearance but also, they are more comfortable to walk in because they correct your posture. There's one exception to this don't-cheap-out-on-shoes rule.
When you're walking around the city all day, you're bound to ruin your everyday shoes. I don't know how many flats and flat sandals I had to part with from overworking them. If you wear them everyday, flat sandals don't seem to last more than a season no matter how carefully you walk in them. I've spent way too much on buying expensive sandals, thinking that breaking this holy grail no exception when it comes to shoes rule will end up costing me more than investing in several cheap shoes. However, I've finally come to realize that if you're going for basic sandals for everyday use, you can certainly cheap out on them and wear them all summer long until they last. The only thing is, even with inexpensive sandals, you still have to make sure they give you some arch support.
Cheap accessories are also something that you can experiment with - guilt free - when going recessionista. I've recently bought a hand-made wrap-around leather bracelet with tiny gold studs in the streets and it's become my signature everyday item. Accessories are an easy way of adding value to your look. If you're searching for that look-of-the-moment item, why not purchase an inexpensive version of it and experiment with different styles? There are countless options: colorful spring/summer cotton scarves, gold jewelry, headbands, etc.
Aside from going cheap on the extra touch, basics can also be bought cheap successfully if you hit the right stores. Men's Calvin Kline white cotton t's, women's tanks at American Apparel or basic cotton shirts at J. Crew could prove to be useful and surprisingly long-lasting.
Here is one last fun suggestion. With summer months approaching, I find it satisfying to go vintage on sundresses. They tend to have flattering cuts - especially on petite frames - and you can buy a bunch at a time in different prints and colors without breaking the bank. I also find this activity to be a ton of fun - just something girly to do on a sunny Sunday afternoon with your bestfriend. Try on some seriously uplifting bright dresses as you listen to the country song playing in the background while rummaging through the racks.
Whichever way you decide to shop smart in this economy - because you cannot not shop - you should keep in mind that being a value customer on the right items will save you more in the end!