I’m a Bay Area native, I work for a San Francisco non-profit, and I live in Oakland. What does this mean? It means I live frugally in one of the wealthiest and most expensive places on the planet. To top it off my job entails meeting face-to-face everyday with affluent clients, and I need to look the part. I make my lifestyle and professional wardrobe work by a variety of means, currently one highly successful shopping method I use for clothes involves combining The Gap credit card rewards points system with shopping at Gap family stores (Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic) during their frequent sales periods.
With The Gap Credit cards, you get a higher number of reward points for money spent at Gap family stores and a lesser number of points for dollars spent elsewhere. At first I was skeptical and frankly embarrassed charging things like dinner and groceries on my Gap card. But frugality (and saving time) won out. I used to spend a lot of my precious free time searching for a good deal at department stores, or scouring vintage racks to update my wardrobe, now I get my work basics at Gap stores instead.
To accrue the points I act like my Gap card is my only credit card and use it for everything possible. I also pay off the bill every month, never carrying a balance. The points add up to roughly $100 in money I can spend on clothes every 6 months.
Gap family stores often have great lines of clothing (amidst horrid lines), so if the line of the season works for my style I’ll stock up on rewards points and head over at the right moment to buy a bunch at once. The key to the success of this system is waiting until the right sales, some sales are subpar and only give you 15-20% off. A few times a year they offer 30-50% sales, and that’s when the frugal shoppers like me emerge.
How does this work in practice?
One Sunday last spring I went to Bay Street Mall in Emeryville CA, where a Gap and Banana Republic are within short walking distance, armed with a coupon for 30% off at Banana Republic and 5 rewards points.
I earned my 5 points with roughly 7 months of credit card purchases, and they were respectively worth $50, $30, $20, $10 and $10. The real trick here is through combining your reward points, as each store lets you combine just 3 separate coupons/rewards/or promotions at once.
At Banana Republic only their new line of clothing was 30% off, but the store also had last season’s items at 50% off. I wasn’t a fan of the new line, but on the 50% off rack I found a soft long-sleeve blouse, normally $41.99. With the $20 coupon I paid just $1.08 for the blouse, and it has become a great work essential for me.
Despite the blouse, my mission that Sunday felt imperiled thanks to the ugly new line at Banana Republic, but I soldiered on down the mall to The Gap. Luckily, I loved The Gap’s new clothing line AND they were having a 40% sale on everything in the store, including sale items. Bingo.
I try to keep these shopping operations like strategic missions, maximizing the likelihood of finding clothes with minimal time and distance covered. Managing the time and energy you spend doing this kind of shopping is important. I don’t spend more than a couple of hours, and I don’t go with anyone else.
On these shopping missions it’s important to trust your eye and make a quick decision. I paw through the racks waiting for that feeling of attraction to a great fabric, texture, color, or pattern. I ignore anything that doesn’t draw me right away, but if I like it even slightly, I’ll add it to my pile.
At The Gap I loaded my arms with 2 giant piles of clothes, spent an hour in the changing room, and emerged victorious. The sale rack-styles were pretty great and I found a few items that were at the lowest prices I’ve ever seen at a Gap store, like a $54 sweater for just $7.97. But that was just the starting sale price. After the 40% sale and applying my rewards coupons, the sweater came to a total of 55 cents. Another pair of pants from the sale rack came to 35 cents. In the end I used my allotment of 3 cash reward coupons (the $50, $30 and $10) which left me with a balance of just $12.87, and one more reward $10 point leftover for later.
I have a sense of satisfaction for a job well done every time I wear these clothes. I still sometimes blush when a sales person comments on my Gap credit card at checkout and says, “Huh, The Gap has a credit card?”
But then I remember: rewards points mixed with 40% off sales, and I smile. Shop wisely folks.
1 long sleeve blouse: $.99 ($41.99 before discounts)
1 Rayon Tunic: $2.08 ($29.95 before discounts)
1 Loose Top: $2.08 ($29.95 before discounts)
1 Pair Chino Pants: 35 cents ($4.97 in sale rack before discounts)
1 Pair Rayon Blend Trousers $2.23 ($19.20 on sale before discounts)
1 Boatneck Tunic: $1.74 (24.95 before discounts)
1 Slouchy Turtleneck Sweater: 55 cents ($7.97 on sale rack before discounts, $54.00 full retail)
2 Belts: $1.39 each ($19.95 each before discounts)
Total with 9% Sales Tax: $13.95
My total discount was -$186