A Guide to Smart Shopping

Backpack, Herschel Supply Co. via Amazon | Oxfords, Forever 21 | Necklace, Target

Note: this post is much more detailed than usual, so if you'd rather listen than read, I've prepared a similar, but not identical, guide via video. Just scroll all the way down to the bottom!

When I scored this Herschel backpack for only $47.59 (retail $100!), I was absolutely elated--knowing you got an incredible deal is one of the most satisfying feelings. So in lieu of an outfit post today, I'll be sharing my personal bargain shopping tips, as well as how I managed to get this gem of a backpack for more than 50% off retail (see number 6).

1. Keep an open mind
Total brand-consciousness is a hindrance when it comes to true bargain shopping. Yes, I do like nice things and often oogle over designer items, but I also have no problem buying clothes at Target; a good chunk of my closet is from there, from $7 edgy sweaters to $6 polished flats. If it's cute and inexpensive, then why not? Style isn't about where your clothes are from; it's about your personal eye for aesthetics and how you carry yourself. And honestly, you can find pretty pieces almost anywhere; I've picked up a nice scarf for only $2 at my local grocery store before!

2. Find sales and dig
Clearance racks are your good pals. Spend a lot of time with them, especially if there's a promotion like H&M's "buy one get one for a penny" or American Eagle's "extra 40% clearance." It can be overwhelming at times, especially if you compare the disheveled potpourri of clearance items to the polished regular sale racks, but I promise it's worth it. You'll not only save money, but you'll also save time; there are many regular sale racks dispersed around the store, but there are only a few concentrated clearance racks. I also recommend shopping sales between seasons and after Christmas, because that's when retailers are looking to clear out space for new shipments.

3. Shop off season
$10 riding boots, peacoats, and formal dresses? Yes, please. This is my favorite shopping tip because it's one of the most effective, particularly for seasonal pieces or formal dresses. For winter items, I've noticed that shopping February-April yields the best results. For formal dresses, I've noticed that going anytime other than homecoming or prom season is on point (November-February or June-August). Macy's, in particular, has a wide selection of deeply-discounted formal dresses in the off-season. It's not like I have three unworn $10 dance dresses from Macy's in my closet or anything...but in all seriousness, I would definitely recommend getting a head start for formalwear; if you'll only wear a dress once, it's best to get as good of a deal as possible on it. So all you high school girls: shop for your homecoming dresses now!

 Peacoat, Sears | Boots, Old Navy | Scarf, grocery store

4. Be patient
See it in a glossy ad and want to have it now? Hold on, girl! I've been in your situation multiple times in my life, but I've found that simply waiting leads to the best purchase. Often times, regular price items will go on sale in about a month (hello floral dress for only $10 instead of $30). If you aren't willing to take the risk that it may sell out, then wait 24 hours and ask yourself if you really need it (also see number 9).

5. Search for coupons
If you frequent a store, sign up for emails or get their rewards card, especially if you don't need to open a credit or debit card (i.e., both American Eagle and DSW have this option). If you're afraid of junk mail, create a specific email just for promotions. While coupons are obvious for in-store shopping, it's easy to forget that there are a plethora of valid coupon codes online! One of my favorite sites is RetailMeNot, but you can also just google "[store] coupons." Just from a quick search, I've saved plenty of money on shipping, or have even scored extra discounts. 

6. Go online
Finally time for the story of how I got my backpack. I had first seen a friend carry it and thought it was the perfect package: both roomy and sturdy without sacrificing style. Well $100 is definitely something I'm not willling to pay for a backpack, perfect as it is (me and my cheap tendencies). Luckily, it was on Amazon in my favorite print for only $71.99. I already had a free $10 gift card from Swagbucks--a site where you can take polls, watch ads, play games, ect. to earn Swagbucks and then redeem them for gift cards, magazine subscriptions, galore--so I was going to grit my teeth and throw down $61.99 for a backpack. Luckily, I followed intuition and googled "Amazon coupons," and lo and behold, there was a 20% off fashion promotion--all you had to do was enter your email! So this girl clicked "place order" with a huge grin.

On to the actual tips: I cannot stress enough how useful online shopping is for saving money, especially on big purchases. I've even gotten both my prom dresses on Amazon for under $50 each (see here and here)! Amazon, of course, is one of my favorite resources, though I have dabbled in ebay. If you're wary of online shopping because of possible unscrupulous sellers and poor quality items, be sure to check the seller rating and item reviews. When I buy online, I pore over customer reviews to make sure I order the right size and receive a top-notch product; I rarely buy if there are no reviews. If you simply proceed with caution, all should go well.

Dress, Forever 21 | Flats, Target | Wristlet, Target

7. Try discount outlets
If you're looking for more high-end brands, stores like TJMaxx, Marshalls, and Nordstrom Rack are definitely go-to for good deals. Here you can find discount designer shoes including Coach and Steve Madden, marked down Nike sports gear, and a wide variety of clothes, including brands such as American Eagle. I've even snagged a multi-color Hurley tank top for only $1 at Marshalls (worn in this post here)! While not all items will be as extreme bargains as that was, there are still plenty of money-saving finds. Personally, I like to shop for socks, running shorts, athletic bags, and beauty products at these stores.

8. Pop some tags/go thrifting
I'll be completely honest: I used to avoid thrift stores as if they had contagious illnesses. But once I got over the funky smell and cluttered racks, I've never looked back. While there certainly are your stereotypical ugly holiday sweaters and grandma knits, there are also of-the-moment finds at ridiculous prices. Take this $4 Express sequin skirt in this post, for example. You can also find some stylish designer pieces--I've picked up a classic J. Crew sweater for only $5 at Goodwill before! Many thrift stores will also have new Target items at discounted prices. In addition, thrifting is environmentally friendly and often charitable (i.e. Goodwill and Volunteers of America). A word of caution, however: be sure to inspect your clothing carefully before purchasing, especially if it has lace; since most thrift stores are donation-run, pieces may sometimes be damaged. 

9. If you splurge, splurge on a versatile item
Less of a bargain shopping tip, more of my personal shopping philosophy. While I normally can't bear to spend over $15 on a single piece, sometimes the extra money is worth it. For example, I am much more willing to drop $30 on a pair of brown ankle boots that I can wear with anything than on a pair of multicolor Sperry's that are difficult to style. So use your best judgment. While you're considering an item, envision your closet and mentally create possible outfits. If there are countless options, go for it. If not, then let it go. Some of my favorite items actually have been splurges for me, like this brown and black striped blazer in this post and this post, and these ankle boots in this post

If you have any tips of your own, do share! Successful shopping is definitely a trial-and-error process that's highly personalized, so learn from any slip-ups and follow your intuition. Since this is my first weekend without work in awhile, I won't be commenting until a couple days later, but I promise I've been keeping up on my reading! I plan to be back soon with an outfit post so I'll drop by and say hello then :) 

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This post was not sponsored in any way. Just wanted to share the love and possibly save you some money!

Remix: Casual to Work

Casual outfit: Dress (worn as top), Forever 21 | Skirt, Persunmall | Necklace, eFoxcity | Shoes, Target
Work outfit: Dress, Forever 21| Blazer, Marshall's | Necklace, eFoxCity | Heels, Payless
Photos by George Liu

I've recently developed so much respect for people who work on their feet every day. As outsiders--casual shoppers in a department store, parched teenagers looking for a resfreshing summer drink, bustling adults running errands--it's easy to overlook things. When did that grocery store cashier wake up for work? How long has that salesperson been standing? What crazy hours does that barista tackle?

My parents insisted that I work this summer, and I can't help but be extremely grateful--it's a perspective changer. After four full days at Nordstrom, I now finally understand. I understand the aching feet. I understand the burnt-out mind. I understand that working is exhausting, regardless of whether you're a burger-flipper or an engineer. And both are equally respectable, for everyone has different stories.

That fast-food restaurant employee? He may be a recent immigrant trying to pave a new life in a foreign world. That weary hotel concierge? She may not have slept in the past three days, working back-to-back shifts of two jobs. It's not easy. Immediate appearances are a mere glimpse into a situation; they're far from the whole story. And this applies universally. That moody woman? She was just diagnosed with cancer. That sweaty pack of athletes running extremely slowly? They're not out of shape--they're on a cool-down after finishing an excruciating workout.

So be mindful. Be gracious.

*        *        *

Definitely took a little detour there with my wandering thoughts of the week. Working has definitely been hard, but it's also been fulfilling. It's gratifying to help a customer find that perfect leather jacket or that trendy sweater in the catalogue. I'm only temporary, so I'm not commissioned like most employees, but I've still had a few customers mention me at the registers. There's nothing like feeling competent and useful. I also get to dress up and work with clothes--what's not to like? More about what I've learned while working retail to come!

As for these two looks, the second is actually what I wore to my Nordstrom interview a couple weeks ago, but sans the heels and gold flats in their place. I snagged the red bodycon dress for only $4 last year, and it's been such a versatile piece. I'm a huge fan of layering, and bodycon dresses are ideal for throwing circle skirts over--it completely transforms an outfit.
I'd also like to introduce to you the photographer for this post--my friend and neighbor George. As my own younger brother gets older, it's harder and harder to drag him out for outfit shoots, so I'm so grateful that one of my good friends was both willing and enthusiastic to help out. He's incredibly accomplished in both art and school, but more importantly, he's insightful and hardworking. It's been fabulous having classes with him this past year and I can't wait to see how he tackles his senior year! He's also a blogger, and you can check out his avant-garde tumblr here.

Life has definitely kept me busy lately, but that's exactly how I like it. Here's to many more adventures in this beautiful season.
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Lace top, Target | Tank top, Nike | Shorts, Forever 21 | Shoes, Target

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?every, every minute?
―Emily Webb, Our Town

Blanketed in darkness, the audience of the high school theatre production seemed to collectively pause for just a moment, holding its breath in sudden realization. Perhaps I was imagining things. But my expression of awe was certainly real. Was I taking life for granted, like many characters in the play? Was I not seizing each opportunity? Did I really, truly realize life?

That was two months ago, when I was still in school. When I was still stressing about AP exams and final papers. When summer seemed so agonizingly just beyond my grasp.

But this is now. Summer's in full swing, and the second half of 2014 is already upon us. After seeing Our Town, I resolved to become even more conscious of how I lived, to realize every minute. As just a little background, Emily utters those poignant words in the final scene, after she has died in childbirth and returned to earth to observe a day from her past (more about the play here). After just a few moments, Emily can't bear to stay any longer, for it pains her to see her family and younger self approach life so casually; Emily now knows that it's truly precious and painfully ephemeral.

Since we're now just past the halfway point of 2014, I wanted to evaluate my progress towards my goals for the year. While seizing life is not quantitative by any means, I believe that constantly striving to improve yourself through measurable goals often leads to fulfillment. So here's a recap of my goals, along with new commentary.

1. go to whichever college with a smile and my intense drive, regardless of  whether it was where I had originally hoped [in progress]

My first goal has yet to actually occur since I don't leave for orientation until late August. While I originally doted on Princeton, I'm certainly not unhappy about the way things turned out (more college thoughts to follow in a later post). Liberal arts schools have undeniable benefits--for one, I'm certainly looking forward to insightful discussions in Amherst's small class setting. More updates to come!

2. finish high school with nothing below an A-  

I did it, with AP classes bringing my GPA up to 4.317! While the inescapable plague of senioritis was certainly real, I take great ownership in everything I do, regardless of the situation.

3. complete an official half marathon in under two hours updated

Done in 1:51:20. New goal: run a full marathon without stopping this fall. 

4. chop my hair off and donate it after graduation (length and charity TBD) [postponed/modified]

Well, graduation came and went, and my long hair is still intact. I've grown a little too attached, and it doesn't help that I've found a loophole in my own goal: I didn't specify when after graduation. So I'm technically still in the clear haha. In lieu of this goal, I donated whole blood last week at the Red Cross--blood is certainly more vital than hair. It was mildly intimidating and my parents were extremely concerned about side effects, but my friend and I both made it out just fine and faint-free. I even finally got to find out my blood type! 

And it all continues, friends. We can always improve ourselves. We can always live more. There is no ceiling, really--even if you're doing something well, you can always do it better or more efficiently. 

The last sentence actually closely resembles what I said in a recent interview. Say hello to the newest member of my local Nordstrom's seasonal team! To say I'm looking forward to it would be an understatement, expecially since this is my first real job.

More adventures to come. Let's realize life.

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