Outlet malls: A cheaper shopping option - MoneySense

Outlet malls: A cheaper shopping option

Forego typical retail stores and save money on clothes by shopping at outlets


When I used to go shopping with my mom her famous words were, “Wait until there’s a sale,” whenever I picked up clothes I wanted. As a kid, it drove me crazy whenever she uttered those words but now I see it as one of the most valuable personal finance lessons she stamped into my head.

Now that I’m older and armed with my own drivers’ licence I go hunting for sales myself. When a shopping spree is in order — like when I was headed to China for the first time and needed more “Asia-friendly” clothing — I no longer think of the Eatons Centre as my first option. If there’s enough time and the loonie’s value is strong, my trip involves stopping at New York’s Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls and then stopping by Canada One Factory Outlets on the Canadian side of the border.

Here are some tips to make the most out of your shopping expedition.

Go with a group

On a long drive the more the merrier, but that also means more people to take a turn at the wheel or help pay the gas bill. It’s true that you’ll probably pay more for gas than you would shopping at a mall near you, but the savings you get can really trump those costs.

Withdraw U.S. cash in Canada

You can get better exchange rates if you withdraw money from your bank on the Canadian side before heading down. Typically debit and credit card issuers charge a foreign exchange fee per transaction which for some cards is 2.5%. If you frequently travel to the States you can hold onto U.S. cash in a U.S. account for a later date.

Start early

Malls notoriously get busy in the afternoon so if you don’t want to deal with crowds wake up bright and early. The weekdays are the best time to go, but if that’s not possible at least keep your hand away from the snooze button the weekend you plan to hit an outlet store.

Know where you’re going

When I travel to both outlet malls I have a choice between about 200 stores. Make sure to take a look at the outlet mall’s website for a list of stores and plan where you want to go. While you’re at it, take a peek for special offers and promotions that can make your purchases even cheaper. If you’re headed across the border, remember to bring your passport because it’d be a shame to drive for 2.5-hours and get rejected when you’re so close.

Check prices

When you compare the retail price to the sales price sometimes it can be jaw-dropping on how much cheaper the sweater is. Unfortunately there’s no assurance that the sweater you’re holding even had that retail value. Yes there are some great deals to be had at outlet stores, but remember to ask yourself, “Is that sweater really worth that price?”

Check your item’s quality

It’s tough to control the impulsive urge to purchase that gorgeous belt, but don’t forget to give it a thorough once over before putting money down. Always check any stitching, zippers or buttons because it sucks buying your item and then discovering it’s not the quality purchase you expected.

Don’t go over the limit

It’s easy to get caught up with all the cheap deals, but set yourself an approximate budget of how much you can afford to spend.

If you’re doing a road trip to the States make sure you keep a tally or you’ll be dinged with some unpleasant additional taxes on your way back. If you’re gone for 24 hours, you can purchase goods up to $50 per person without being taxed. If you’re gone for 48 hours, you can purchase goods up to $400, along with some alcohol and tobacco without being taxed. If you’re gone for 7 days, you can purchase goods up to $700, along with some alcohol and tobacco without being taxed. For exact amounts of how much alcohol and tobacco can be brought back, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website.