Shopping Hack: Shop the Wrong Department to Get the Right Price

The very act of shopping makes me feel like a sucker. Here I am at the mercy of a retailer, a helpless consumer who needs to buy things I can’t or won’t make. At the same time, I’m really glad I don’t have to spend my days shearing sheep, carding wool, spinning yarn, weaving cloth, and sewing clothing. That would suck. I hate sewing on buttons.

If we need something out of the ordinary, we wait to see if we can make do without it or fix what we already have. Next, we exhaust options like freebies, gifts cards, hand-me-downs, Craigslist, garage sales, or eBay (depending on the item).

But if I have to go the typical retail route, I avoid paying full price if at all possible. One strategy that has saved me a lot is shopping in the wrong department. This works particularly well for certain sizes of clothing and shoes, but also for some specialty items. Just think about it: you are in the clothing section, held captive to these awful prices because you need a bathing suit.

Here are some examples of discount finds I’ve made by shopping the wrong section.

  • Kids XL bathing suit bottoms instead of women’s Small: $8 instead of $22. Same brand.
  • Kids tennis shoes: $20 instead of $60. Same brand.
  • Juniors undergarments instead of women’s: one quarter of the price. Same brand.
  • Toddler clothes instead of little boys (for sizes 4-5T): $4 instead of $8. Same brand.
  • Boys undershirts instead of girls’ camisoles: $1.50 each instead of $2.50 each. Same brand.
  • Sunhat in gardening instead of fashion accessories: $10 instead of $20. Same brand.
  • Baby Advil & sunscreen: in medication/personal care instead of baby: half-price generics available.
  • Travel mugs: in dishes instead of travel or lunch box section: $8 instead of $20.
  •  Kids-size fishing pole in fishing section vs. one in toy aisle : $8 instead of $16 & way more durable.
  • Pretty blank cards in stationary, instead of individual greeting cards: a box of 20 or even 50 can cost the same as a single greeting card.

A few tips:

  • Look outside of specialty areas. If you are in a specialty section, you might pay more for the same item. If it’s an item only sold there, you’re out of luck. But if you can think of another area where it might fit, check it out. It might be half the price.
  • I realize not everyone can fit children’s clothes, but if you or your children can span two departments, the smaller size section will usually be cheaper. Toddlers overlaps two sizes with kids. Babies overlap one size with toddlers. Kids’ shoes overlaps several sizes with adults’.
  • Steer clear of end caps and seasonal displays. There are often less expensive, sometimes better quality options in the larger departments.
  • When shopping secondhand, small women’s items are sometimes misplaced in the girls’ section. I don’t go digging through the entire thrift store aisle of kids’ clothes, but sometimes just walking by will notice an item that looks too grown up. Scored my last pair of shorts this way (J. Crew, $5), as well as a couple sweaters. Maybe this happens with boys’ clothing too?

If this sounds time-consuming, it isn’t. Glance through two departments and compare prices. If you live simply, avoid clutter, automate errands, and don’t shop as a hobby, these expeditions for non-routine items should be few and far between.

I hate feeling like consumer sucker. Don’t you? Brainstorming alternatives is second-nature to those pretending to be poor. It’s not extra effort. It’s only natural. We enjoy it. Seeking creative alternatives and solutions is fun!

Have you ever found a great deal by shopping in the “wrong” department? Tell us about it! What are your other thrifty shopping tips?


23 Responses to “Shopping Hack: Shop the Wrong Department to Get the Right Price”

  1. Megan Smalley says :

    This shopping hack is excellent! I have the world’s smallest feet and have benefitted multiple times purchasing kid’s shoes as opposed to women’s. Last summer I found a pair of nice combat boots in kid’s size 4 at target for $4. Fun fact: a girl’s size four shoe is the same as a women’s six. So technically if you purchase a girl’s six it’s a women’s 8, so a good number of women could definitely try this hack!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, I wear women’s 6.5 and can wear 4.5 in girls, or 4 in boys. That’s great you’ve found such good deals that way! Now that I have kids I will also check the shoes at the kids’ secondhand stores, because they often buy high-quality brands.

    • kim domingue says :

      Yep. I wear a woman’s 7 or 7 1/2. A kid’s size 5, 5 1/2 to 6 will fit depending on brand and style. Also a youth size 5 to 5 1/2 in a sporting goods store for various kinds of sneakers. I’m still not sure what the difference is between a youth’s and a kid’s (except that youth’s don’t come in the smaller sizes) but often a youth’s athletic shoe fits better than a kid’s, at least for me.

  2. Amanda says :

    My winter coat was found in the girls section of the consignment store – it is name brand and cost me less than $10, compared to $30+ in the women’s section. And I do the same as Megan mentioned – I’m women’s size 6 shoe, but fit into girls size 4.

    I never thought to look at the dishes section for travel mugs! Thanks!

    • Kalie says :

      That’s awesome that you got a nice coat so inexpensively this way. Yes, I have purchased quite a few girls shoes in 4.5 instead of my women’s size 6.5. It’s a great hack! I check the boys shoes sometimes too, especially for athletic.

  3. Cindy Brick says :

    This works for shopping in the men’s department, too — polo shirts and t-shirts, especially. I’ve found some nice sweaters this way, too. Granted, I like my clothes a little loose…

    However, it doesn’t work the opposite way. I found a beautiful leather jacket at the thrift shop that I thought was a men’s large — Husband tried it on, and the sleeves were too short, plus the shoulders too tight. (“It also buttons on the wrong side,” he announced.) Darn.

    • kim domingue says :

      Lol! I’ve done the same thing to m hubs! I was so excited over my find that I never stopped to check the button thing! It was too tight across his shoulders. We have the opposite problem with sleeve lengths though. The hubs and I are both on the small side but I’m long through the limbs while he’s short limbed but long through the torso. Sleeves are always too long for him and in Women’s or Junior’s are usually a little short for me. I shop in the Young Men’s department for long sleeve, button up shirts that are a slender cut (like a Van Heusen) in the sale section after school has started and find some excellent deals that way. T-shirts and other types of shirts are often a more slender cut in the Young Men’s department than in Men’s. I am very small in the bosom but broader through the shoulders so something in Young Men’s with no bosom darts and more width through the shoulders fits better. I shop for sweats in the boy’s department instead of women’s. I buy pants and jeans for the hubs in a boy’s 20 instead of a small size in Men’s. Half the price if not more in the same brands such as Levis and they’re a bit shorter in the length and the rise fitting him better.

      I also find that, depending on the cut, fabric and style, I can very often wear a woman’s large or extra large as a tunic, with a belt and sometimes without. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on outfits that I’ve put together that way. And the tops, as a rule, are something I’ve picked up at the thrift store.

      There are some disadvantages to being outside of the adult norm in size. But, if you can find alternative departments to shop in, the savings in clothing costs can make it (almost, lol!) okay!

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, depending on your size, you might succeed in kids or mens’. Kids is much cheaper, and sometimes men’s is less expensive and/or better quality. Too bad about the leather jacket.

  4. Brian says :

    Our kids are too big for this hack now. We did do a fair share of clothes swapping with friends and neighbors over the years that saved us tons of money.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, hand-me-downs or trades are usually my first line of defense for now while they’re small, though I’m sure that’ll change as they get older.

  5. Our Frugal Escapades says :

    These are all great shopping tips! I find the best time to shop is after the season is over. If I pair up 20% or more coupons at the department store, and match it up to 75% to 80% clearance sales, I tend to score some awesome deals.

    • Kalie says :

      Yes, post-season is a great way to shop. Right now I tend not to buy my kids much this way, since it’s hard to predict what size they’ll wear when. I imagine as they get older it could be a little more predictable, and it’s a great way for adults shop.

  6. Harmony says :

    Great hack! Years ago (before the shopping ban), I really wanted a jersey for our local NFL team. Yes, I’m one of those girls who enjoys drinking a beer and watching football. The jerseys are just really expensive. I ended up wandering into the boys section of the store and found something similar to a jersey for a great price. There is no name or number on it, so I’ve been able to wear it for years. So glad I shopped outside the box.

    LOL, I actually can’t remember the last time that I was in the mall!! And, I’m pretty proud of that fact 🙂

    • Kalie says :

      Great find, Harmony! And that’s awesome you’ve avoided the mall, that is something to be proud of especially if you used to be a shopper.

  7. Amanda says :

    I frequently shop in the men’s clothing section when it comes to things like pajamas, sweat pants, and tank tops. I’ve even bought men’s pants for work because they have pockets and for whatever reason most women’s pants don’t (!?). Honestly, no one even notices unless you tell them. I think it’s a great idea!!

    • Kalie says :

      I hate the pocketless women’s pants! I know many ladies who are able to find good deals this way. I wonder if the average men’s clothing items are made to last a bit longer than the flash fashion items that are so popular in the women’s section.

  8. Vee says :

    I use this trick for my husband’s clothes! He likes the fit better and its almost always cheaper. Win win.

  9. Mike says :

    Great advice. I’m a dad with a 31″ waist and I got an Arcade Adventure child’s belt for less than $20 while the adult one was $30. Same brand. The child’s belt is even better for me because I fully max it out so there is no annoying extra tongue slack!

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