Girls Weekend:How to save while Outlet Shopping&Bargain Hunting with Friends
There is only one thing better than finding a great bargain and that is finding one when you are with friends. There is a wonderful way to combine the thrill of finding something at a good price and turning a shopping trip into an event. The concept isn’t a new one but it sure stands the test of time. The idea is to gather your friends and plan an overnight shopping trip to an outlet mall. Not only can you save lots of money, but you can pool resources in order to find better bargains. Speaking from experience, my friends and I have been conducting what we call our “YaYa Sisters” annual shopping trip for the past 15 years and our motto is “it’s not what you spend, it’s what you save” and we have saved a ton of money over the years and you can too!
Best time of year to find Bargains:
Although most anytime of the year is a good time to shop at a factory outlet store because this is where manufacturers place surplus merchandise at stores dedicated to their particular goods. After dabbling with various times of the year our (unscientific) research has shown that late November or early December is the best time of year to conduct our shopping trip. We try to time our trip for either the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday (in America this is the last Thursday of November) or the first weekend in December.
We avoid the Thanksgiving weekend because we are either entertaining relatives but mostly because the crowds on that weekend are outrageous and takes the “fun of the hunt” out of the trip. We have learned that there will be excellent sales the weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday as merchants are staging for the post Thanksgiving crush.
We have also discovered that the first weekend in December to be the absolute best time for our trip because there are still wonderful bargains to be found, stock has been replenished and there are fewer people that the previous weekend and we still can get some serious holiday shopping completed as well.
Preparing for the trip:
Consider who will be participating in the big trip. Over the years we have taken up to as many as eight shoppers but have found that four seems to be the right number. Having four shoppers allows for one hotel room (more on that later), enough room in the vehicle and the flexibility to pair up or shop individually.
Choose what outlet(s) malls you will visit. We have found that some of the best ones are located about three to five hours from our home. Sure there are some that are located under an hour from our area but a day trip just isn’t the same as a full blown shopping weekend!
Determine a vehicle and driver- It is critical to have the right size vehicle to manage the volume of goods that will be purchased. We have found that either a mini-van or cross over vehicle works best. We fill the back of the vehicle up and recognize there is no trunk big enough to hold our loot! We have even been known to use an overhead car top carrier but learned the hard way that one cannot drive with an empty car top carrier on the way to the outlets while on the freeway as it will blow off -but that’s a whole other story!
Part of the fun of bargain hunting is sharing it with friends so to enhance our experience we choose to make a weekend out of it. We also have learned that it is best to find a hotel or motel with two key features: free breakfast and a hot tub. Free breakfast because we can save money and time by eating right at the hotel and a hot tub to soak our aching muscles after a long day of shopping!
We have also learned that we can find bargain prices at great hotels during the weekend. We look for hotels in areas that host business travelers as the prices drop sharply for the weekends and we snag a great deal. We also know that the cost of lodging is divided four ways and this is a great savings. We typically get one room and share a bed or we find a “suite” style of hotel that has a pull out couch in the room and then we request a roll away bed and everyone gets their own bed should one be desired.
Road food and Snacks
Our trip begins midday on a Friday as we have found that we can drive and get a few hours of shopping in on Friday night. This also means that we only need to take a half a day off of work and still see some benefits of bargain hunting. We make sure that we have some delicious snacks (usually fruit, veggies and some homemade goodies) and we pack lots of water as we have learned it is vital to stay hydrated throughout the trip. It’s easy to “shop til we drop” and not eat much during the day and that brings on some mean hunger headaches!
After we complete shopping on Friday evening we head to a restaurant to get a good dinner before checking into our hotel. We finish the evening off with a trip to the hot tub to discuss the days finds and to play for upcoming day. Saturday finds us shopping from the time the stores open until late afternoon at which time we stop for an early dinner. After dinner we return to the stores to finish the hunt and cap the night off back at the hotel and head to the hot tub. The car rides and hot tub time is where the bonding really comes into play as there is nothing like a group of women gabbing about great bargains and sharing in success stories of how much was saved.
There are several reasons to shop in a group as we declare what we are looking for in order for the group to be on the lookout for the items. We also pool coupons and share the savings advantage. For example if someone has a coupon that will yield great savings but the savings doesn’t happen unless one hundred dollars is spent this is where the power of the group comes in. We pool our merchandise together, reach the minimum necessary and then split the savings. We keep a running total of the purchased items and settle up during the ride home on Sunday.
This is vital during a power shopping trip. We use our cell phones constantly to update each other on the location of savings as it is typical for one, two or three to divide and conquer based on our needs. We have used walkie talkies in the past but have found cell phones to be easier and we don’t draw as much attention with cell phones as we did with the walkie’s!
Save the Planet:
Taking reusable bags has been a boon to the experience. Not only have we been able to reduce our carbon footprint a bit by carrying our own bags into each store but we found that we can haul more products and they fit better in the vehicle. We also can determine at a glance whose products belong to whom as rather than having multiple bags from one store and having to put initials on them we know which bags we brought.
Over the years we have found that if one person makes and pays for the hotel, another for the gas and then if we combine deals in order to yield greater savings one person pays for that. This way it helps to keep the finances straight and on the ride home we tally up the group costs and then everyone pays what is owed to the person who made the initial payment.
Advantages of Outlet Shopping with a Group:
There are numerous advantages for shopping with a small group of like minded shoppers and they include having more eyes to spot the bargains. The ability to bounce ideas off of each other is priceless (think-does this dress make me look fat?) as friends can influence decisions in ways like no other. Many times more money has been saved by having friends weigh in on purchases.
When focusing in on outlet shopping more can be accomplished. If you head to the outlets you will have a wide range of stores at your fingertips. This is an advantage when you are making many purchases and for gift buying.
Consider shopping at two or three different outlet malls that are located with an hour or so of each other. My group of friends and I have found that we spend Friday at an outlet located about three hours from our home and then on Saturday morning we drive another hour to a different outlet and shop for the bulk of the morning and round out the day at yet another outlet mall. Sunday is reserved for checking out of the hotel and driving home in order to capture Sunday afternoon and evening with our families. The car ride home is also one of our favorite times because we add up how much we saved and marvel at our savings and pat ourselves on the back for the effort that it took to save so much but to have so much fun as well.
There are many ways to find bargains ranging from online shopping to auctions to resale shops, but outlet shopping with friends is one way to find great bargains, have fun and bond with friends and create some lasting memories. The way my “ya ya sisters” look at it is many men have their hunting and fishing trips with the guys but we have our shopping trip with the girls and our family and friends are the recipients of lots of things and we get to experience the thrill of the hunt with our best friends. Happy shopping!
For more bargain hunting ideas check out my other hubs: