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We go shopping at the nearby outlet center twice per year.  For us, it happens to coincide with our birthday months, due to a chicken dinner at a world renowned restaurant that is given for free during the month of your birthday.

We have usually scored pretty well at the outlet mall, so I thought I'd offer up a few tips on how to save money at the outlet centers:

  1. Have a game plan – If you've not been to the outlets before, think about taking a ‘stakeout' trip where you don't shop.  If you're a seasoned veteran, you probably know your way around, but you should have a plan from parking to stores you know you want to hit, etc.
  2. Have a shopping list – Just like when you go grocery shopping, it's important to have a list of things you know you might need.  How much you stick to that is up to you.
  3. Have a budget – Know the upper limit of what you are willing to spend.  If you have no self-control, then get cash out for that amount and leave your credit / debit / ATM cards at home.  If you've got self-control, you should still have a budget number anyways.
  4. Know when to go – Outlets, just like other stores, will have better deals around certain times of the year.  We usually go around Memorial Day and Labor Day (back-to-school) so there always seem to be extra deals.  You will have to deal with larger crowds, but if you have your game plan sorted out, it's a small price to pay for some big savings.
  5. Search for coupons – If you know particular stores you want to go to, see if they have any coupons available for printout online or through the website.
  6. Sign up for deals – Many outlet stores will have sign-up sheets in the store to get you on their mailing and e-mail lists.  It might seem like junk mail, but if you're suddenly being delivered coupons for 30% off your purchase at a store you plan on shopping at anyways, it's definitely worth signing up for.
  7. Stay hydrated – Doing effective shopping most likely means you'll be doing a lot of walking.  Make sure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. Avoid too much coffee or soda as the caffeine will work against you in efforts to stay hydrated.
  8. Eat – Don't be that cranky shopper that gets that way because your stomach is growling.  Be prepared with some on-the-go snacks that you can use for a quick boost.  Granola bars, apples, carrot sticks, and crackers are easy to carry around, wont' spoil, and will give you a much needed pick-me-up.
  9. Leave unwilling participants behind – My wife and I (along with Little Boy Beagle) go twice per year.  That's my limit.  Any more than that would drive me crazy.  My wife will usually go at least one more time with her mom and sister.  If kids or spouses are going to mope, complain, drag, otherwise, either plan for a shorter trip if they must be there (back to school shopping) or have them find other arrangements.
  10. Comparison shop – Keep your eyes open for deals, even on stuff you've already bought.  You might love the pants you got at Store A for $20, but don't stop looking even if you made the purchase.  You might find a different / cheaper option at Store B, and returns are usually easy, especially if done the same day.
  11. Know return policies – Make sure that you know the return policy for every item you bought, so that you aren't surprised if you want to return something and can only get store credit or if you lose a receipt.
  12. Be patient – Outlet shopping can be overwhelming and a big task, but if you're patient and keep a cool head in the midst of other crazy shoppers, you can have a fun day filled with savings.

Happy shopping!