4/4/12: Congratulations to my winner, JENNIFER! I will be in touch about your prize!
If you've been around WINOW for very long, you know that much as I love thrift stores, they have a close second place in my heart in the form of discount stores. I've waxed poetic about TJ Maxx and Marshall's (more than once) and showed you my Big Lots bounty (again, more than once...). Though I may not have mentioned them often here, I'm also a big fan of Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Tuesday Morning, and, when I can find one, Gabriel Brothers.
And so it was that I found myself, given a rare day with nothing on the agenda and no pressing thrift shopping to take care of, browsing a variety of these stores. I wasn't completely without aim--I was, as I always seem to be these days, shopping for bras--but I didn't let that mundane task stop me from looking around. And I have to tell you, the discount stores in my neck of the woods are looking good.
Apparently, TJ Maxx is intended to be the slightly more upscale of these two stores, but I can't tell the local outposts apart. They seem to have more or less the same items at more or less the same prices. A few things that caught my eye at one or both of these stores were:
theBalm "Hey Mama" Set
See that set above, of three full-sized products from theBalm (bronzer, blush, and translucent powder)? It's $49.99 on Amazon. It was $9.99 at TJ Maxx or Marshall's this weekend. I think maybe it's being discontinued, as I can't find it many places online, but the individual products are still for sale on theBalm's website. Same with the individual products in the other sets I saw at my stores, including color-specific eye kits for $9.99 ($35.95 on Amazon) and the Timebalm Skincare Age Fighting Heroes kits for $12.99 ($57.99 on Amazon).
Le Creuset Stoneware Oval Dish
The 3 3/4 quart oval stoneware baking dish from Le Creuset shown above originally retailed at $70. Amazon has it right now for $35.95. I picked one just like it up off the clearance rack at TJ Maxx for Mark this weekend, for $13. A while back, after realizing that none of our rubber spatulas were in anything approaching decent shape, I spotted a whole passel of these Le Creuset versions at Marshall's. Amazon has them for $9 each--I believe I paid $2.99.
Caldrea Cloverleaf Sink Set
My Marshall's and TJ Maxx almost always have Caldrea products, which I think is awesome, because I love their hand soap. One new product I noticed this weekend was these hand sink sets--a little stainless steel organizer equipped with dish soap, hand soap, and countertop cleanser. I believe they were $12.99 at my stores. At Balducci's, they're $46. There were a variety of other products available as well, including smaller sized lotions and hand soaps for $2.99 each, and sink side hand soap and lotion sets in a similar stainless steel holder for $9.99.
Calvin Klein Women's Seductive Comfort Customized Lift Lave Bra
You had to know I was going to come back to bras, right? My favorite bras are Calvin Klein--they've just always fit me really well and been very comfortable. They're also often available at Marshall's and TJ Maxx. This one was, I believe, $14.99. It's $46 to get it in my size on Amazon.
For a while, I was kinda off Big Lots. They built a new store close to my house and it seemed like I never found anything there. I kept trying, though, and this weekend's trips were fruitful--I saw all sorts of cool stuff, and found a number of things that made their way home with me. Some of the highlights were:
I really don't get Crocs, though if my feet swell much more I may have to reconsider...I know, however, that lots of folks are crazy for them. These classic variety ones retail for $34.99 on the Crocs site, and I don't see them in adult sizes for less than around $25 anywhere. Big Lots had a bin of them for $15 each. They even had some in my size, but so far I have resisted.
Tom's of Maine
Tom's of Maine Soothing Mint Maximum Strength Sensitive Fluoride Toothpaste
I am a dedicated Tom's of Maine toothpaste girl, and I nearly always buy it at Big Lots (typically 4-6 tubes at a time). This visit, I was stoked to see the store carrying the sensitive teeth variety, which I could use right now, as pregnancy has made my whole mouth sensitive. On Tom's of Maine's website, this toothpaste is $5.99/tube. The lowest I see it for elsewhere is $4.99. At Big Lots, it was $2.50.
Anchor Hocking Round Glass 6 Piece Storage Container Set
I have kind of a thing about glass storage containers, and Anchor Hocking is my favorite brand (they're still made in the USA!). This six-piece storage set, featuring lidded containers in 4-cup, 2-cup, and 1-cup sizes, retails for $14.99 on Amazon. At Big Lots, it's $6. I actually have a whole cupboard full of this set and similar ones, all from Big Lots.
Wacoal Luxe Extra Touches Push Up Underwire Bra
I know, back to bras! I have to tell you about this one because it excited me so much, though. Before my boobs decided to get huge, I wore a lot of Wacoal bras--always purchased at Nordstrom Rack for less than $30 each. The other day, I saw that they had a small selection of them at Tuesday Morning as well! This particular variety, which sells for $46-$70 depending on color on Wacoal's site, was, I believe, $26.
ASSETS® Marvelous Mama Modern Fishnet Tights
I tend to be of the opinion that the last thing my pregnant butt needs is shaping garments. Or fishnets. But if I felt differently, these Assets tights would be really cute. They're a nice moderate fishnet, come in bigger sizes, and are, of course, intended for the pregnant crowd. They're $20 on the Spanx website and I believe they were $12.99 at Tuesday Morning.
Burlington Coat Factory
Burlington Coat Factory is the newest addition to my discount stores list. I've found them to be a great source of bras and, oddly specifically, Calvin Klein dresses (usually around $10 for the former and $40 for the latter). Recently, though, I took a look around to see what else they had to offer, and I was pleasantly surprised.
Amy Butler Dancing Garden Comforter and Sham Set
How perfect are Amy Butler fabrics for bedding?? I didn't even know Amy Butler bedding existed until I saw the Dancing Garden set, pictured above, at Burlington Coat Factory. The organic set was originally priced at $130, and Amazon has it for $68.88, but at Burlington it was on clearance for $39.99.
Built Market Tote
Though I've never used one, I've always liked the look of the neoprene totes and carriers made by Built. They seem like they'd work really well for farmer's market shopping or carrying food to work. This variety, the large market tote, retails for $39.99 at Amazon and Zappos. The ones I saw at Burlington were $14.99.
Around here, Ross is the bottom of the discount store pyramid. The stores are often understaffed and very disorganized. Still, if you have the time and patience to sift, gems can be found. The ones I noticed recently were:
Core Bamboo Dishwasher Safe Bamboo Cutting Board
I like bamboo cutting boards--they look nice and they clean up easy, and bamboo is a great sustainable material. This small, 10.5x7 inch version, $14.27 at Amazon, is $4.99 at Ross.
I can't find a picture of it anywhere online, so I suspect the casual white porcelain Cook & Serve line by Portuguese company Vista Alegre has been discontinued. However, they still have quite a bit of it at my Ross store, and we've purchased a number of things ourselves, including a large platter (think Thanksgiving turkey size) and several sizes of baking dishes. The dishes are no-nonsense, heavy white porcelain, made in Portugal, and both look and hold up great. Prices vary, but some are as low as $4.99 for a smallish baking dish.
Michael Kors Mens Long Sleeve Dress Shirt
There are few articles of clothing I care about less than men's button down shirts, but I still took a look at the selection at Ross recently and was surprised to find a passel of Michael Kors shirts, like the one above, for $17.99. The pattern seemed to be the same was what you'd find at Macy's or similar, where the shirts retail for $59.99.
Good stuff, right?
Much like thrift stores, I think discount stores can be overwhelming for people who aren't used to them. It's true that a lot of what you might find in a given store is crap, and things don't work quite the same way as they do in regular department stores. On the assumption that at least a few WINOW readers are skeptical of these bargain warehouses, I thought I'd provide a few tips for newbie discount store shoppers:
1. Keep an open mind (and open eyes).
Just like you would in a thrift store, you have to approach a discount store with both an open mind and a sharp eye. You may find things you'd never considered, or even heard of, before. Things are quite often going to be in sections that make no sense. Shop with an awareness to what is around you, and with the mindset that you're looking for buried treasure.
2. If you like it, buy it. Don't hesitate.
Unlike department stores, discount stores usually have a very limited number of any given item, and when they're gone, they're gone. These stores are not the place to exercise "if I still want it next week, I'll come back for it" restraint. However, the majority of them DO have decent return policies (be sure to check your particular store), so if you buy something and change your mind about it, you can bring it back. That's much better than not buying it, coming back for it later, and finding it gone.
3. If you try it and you REALLY like it, buy multiples.
Much of the merchandise you find in discount stores is discontinued, so if you buy something and absolutely love it, you may want to scurry back while whatever it is is still available and buy as many more as you can get your hands on. It is quite possible you won't have the chance again, at any price. Once upon a time, I didn't do this, with a particular variety of EO room spray. They don't make it anymore, and I have been hoarding the last quarter of the bottle I have for years. Another time, I found these great Giovanni Hand Wipes for something like $4.99/bag at Marshall's. After I took one bag home and discovered that they are the perfect wipes to keep in my car for post-thrifting clean-up, I went back and bought about a dozen more. I still have a couple of bags left, which is good, because they're hard to find other places, and when I do see them, they're at least twice and often three times as expensive.
4. Stay critical.
As much as you can find hidden treasure in discount stores, things are there, rather than at department stores, for a reason. When you're considering buying something, especially something big, try to figure out what that reason is, and if it matters to you. For example, I could care less if most things are "last year's model," but I don't want to buy anything that is or is about to be expired. You also need to keep an eye out for damage--things that are in discount stores are often "second quality," and though a lot of the time the defect that keeps an item from being sold at full price doesn't matter in the least to you, sometimes it does. Be sure to look items over carefully and check tags for clues.
5. Be aware of the non-discount price.
Not everything in a discount store is actually discounted. For example, I was recently excited to see Bob's Red Mill products at my local Big Lots, but when I compared the prices on them to the ones elsewhere, I found that they weren't significantly discounted--and some of them were actually marked with higher prices at Big Lots than they are at regular supermarkets. Stores with tags that claim an "original price" or "compare at" price are not immune from this phenomenon--sometimes the comparison prices they list are just wrong--so you have to be aware of what a given item goes for elsewhere and not assume that it's going to be cheaper just because most things in a discount store are.
6. Shop often.
Another way discount stores are like thrift stores is that their merchandise turns over fairly quickly, so the same store could have a mostly-different inventory from one month to the next. Because of this, and because of the small number of highly discounted items they sometimes get in stock, you have to hit your local discount stores fairly regularly in order to get the best deals.
7. Don't buy things you have no use for.
This is definitely do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do advice, as I have a hard, hard time with this one. But just because something is a cool/high quality/beautiful/whatever product, and is available at a highly discounted price, doesn't make that item something you actually need, or even want. Don't buy things you don't need or want. It's a financial drain, it creates a boatload of clutter, and it makes no sense. Really. I promise. I know.
8. Remain aware of the strengths and weaknesses of a given store.
All discount stores are not created equal, and there are certain items for which only a specific store will work. I rarely buy food items at any discount store besides Big Lots. Cosmetics and bath and beauty stuff is almost always best at Marshall's or TJ Maxx. For higher-end bedding, towels, and other similar housewares, Tuesday Morning is usually the best spot, and they also have fantastic plant pots. Burlington Coat Factory has the biggest selection of baby items. I don't know that these strengths are necessarily universal, however, as when we lived in Austin, Ross was wonderful for clothes and Tuesday Morning had a great stationary section and really good pet supplies, neither of which is the case here. So, it pays to be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of your specific local stores, so that if you are looking for a specific item, you know where to go.
9. Remain aware of seasonality.
Discount stores have different stock at different times of the year, and some of the things they focus on might appeal to you more than others. For example, I love going to Marshall's and TJ Maxx in the month or two before Christmas, because they carry a ton of bath and body type stuff suitable for gift giving, and I eat that stuff up. I like Tuesday Morning and Big Lots more in the spring, when they carry plant pots and gardening supplies that make good gifts for Mark or that we may need around the house. Clothes, obviously, are seasonal at all of the stores, and they tend to have the best selections in the late summer (school shopping time).
10. Only do it if you enjoy it.
Again like thrift shopping, I think discount store shopping is really only worth it for those of us for whom shopping is fun. If there is no thrill of the treasure hunt for you, then whatever cost savings you achieve may well be overshadowed by the hassle of having to make lots of stops, sift through lots of crap, and deal with stores that may be dirty and are almost certainly disorganized. I get such a kick out of it, I wish I could do it for everybody--it would save me a lot of cash and those who don't enjoy shopping a lot of headaches--but until we figure out how to make that happen, those who really hate shopping are probably better off buying fewer things and paying more for the convenience of ordering them from Amazon.
And, finally, the giveaway!
In the spirit of celebrating discounts stores, I thought it would be fun to do a discount store themed contest. And, since I've been so into curated boxes lately, I thought it would be fun to curate my own. So, this giveaway is for a special, one-of-a-kind, Grace-curated discount store box! The box may contain any type of item, the only caveats being that it was something I thought was cool enough to buy, and that it was purchased from one of the discount stores listed above. The original retail value of this box is over $200 (but don't worry, I didn't pay anywhere near that for it)! Since I didn't give you any idea what was in the boxes the last time I did a giveaway, I decided it was only fair to give a clue this time. So here's a picture of what you could win:
Here's how to enter:
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me which, if any, discount stores you frequent and what you tend to buy there.
2. Share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter and leave me a comment telling me you did.
3. Go and read another post on this blog--any post you fancy--and leave me a comment there. It has to be relevant to that post, it can't just be "hi" or "this is for a contest entry!" Then come back and leave a comment on this post telling me you did it.
So, that's THREE ways to enter. Go do it! This contest is open to international entries, so long as you're willing to wait for your prize to arrive via whatever the most economical shipping option is.
I will close the contest in one week, next Wednesday, April 4, at 9:00 AM EST.
I am in no way affiliated with any of the stores or products mentioned in this post, and this review is not compensated in any way.