For over 20 years Cathie Mostowyk has been giving us the inside scoop on budget shopping. What started out as a column in the Toronto Star, evolved into an annually published best-selling book – The Shoestring Shopping Guide. The website shoestringshopping.com continues to serve budget shoppers with sale updates and emails. Urban Suburban Mommy caught up with Cathie and asked her the 10 questions you know you want to know!
1. How did you become interested in bargain shopping?
Cathie Mostowyk: Frugality is basically part of my DNA, my mother instilled it in me. I grew up being very concious of prices and bargain shopping, which becomes second nature over time.
2. When did you start bargain shopping?
CM: I started bargain shopping in the early 90s when I noticed warehouse sales popping up in industrial areas. These sales weren’t advertised, and seemed to be attended by people who were “in the know.” The first warehouse sale I attended was the Ashley’s Warehouse Sale, and it still happens annually every year.
3. How and when did you begin sharing your information to the masses about your deal finds?
CM: I kept running into a friend I knew in the lineups for warehouse sales, and we started to chat one day about what a treasure these sales were. I commented that the sales appeared to be a well kept secret, as you really needed an underground info system to find out when and where the sales were happening.
I told her “Perhaps we should consider doing some kind of newsletter, or possibly a newspaper column based on our knowledge.”
Long story short, I pitched the idea to the Toronto Star, and we were a weekly column in the paper for over 20 years. We also published 14 annual books, and in 2004 moved the business to the web. At that time, the web was not well understood and most retailers did not even have point of sale systems or computers in their stores. Since then, we’ve launched five different Shoestring sites. Our most recent site launched very recently. We now send out email/newsletters to my 20,000 plus GTA subscribers so they know when and where all the great outlet, warehouse and bankruptcy sales are happening. http://www.shoestringshopping.com.
4. Are there better times of the year to shop?
CM: Not really. A savvy shopper takes advantage of deals and off-price opportunities all year long.
5. What is your single most helpful tip for saving?
CM: Make a list! It is quite amazing the difference a list can make. It means you are less likely to make an impromptu purchase, and instead keeps you focused on the items you really need to purchase.
6. Is there a difference between a sale and a clearance?
CM: I think various retailers use the terms interchangeably. A sale to one retailer is a clearance to another. Generally speaking, a clearance usually means that the retailer is clearing out existing inventory or stock to make room for new items. A sale may just be a time-limited opportunity.
7. Where is the best place to find deals?
CM: You’re asking a dedicated warehouse sale shopper? Warehouse sales of course! But realistically a warehouse sale isn’t always the answer. If you need a specific item, you’re better to shop at a retailer hopefully holding a sale, or do online shopping and check prices and shipping policies. Outlet malls often offer a number of retailers under one roof, and you’re likely to find deals there as well.
8. What are the pros and cons of attending warehouse sales?
CM: Pros – great prices and deals. Cons – awkward locations, returns can be difficult, and stock may be dated.
9. Is there an art to couponing?
CM: I’m not a great couponer so probably not the right person to ask. If I see a coupon and I know it is for a product I’ll likely buy, I will make an effort to cut it or print it. But I find the hassle isn’t worth the return. Real couponers I’m sure would disagree. I find coupons far more plentiful in the US than in Canada.
10. What is the best way to bargain shop with kids?
CM: Bargain shopping with kids is problematic. Warehouse sales often forbid strollers, and children under 12, and if you are truly bargain shopping it generally means you’re in a warehouse that may or may not be well laid out. If you can swap kids with a friend, you’re far better off to shop without children. If that isn’t possible, both you and the kids will need considerable patience! Bring water and snacks in case you end up stuck in a long line to pay.