I just had the loveliest weekend.  Not only did I get to witness the marriage of two of my dear friends, I spent the weekend with two of my roommates from university in Niagara Falls for a stateside shopping excursion.

Both girls hadn’t really shopped in the States (to the level that some of my friends do- to them it’s a sport they have mastered!)  so I thought it would be useful to share a few things you should know when crossing the border for some retail therapy.

First of all, why shop in the States?  The question is why aren’t you?!  I just returned from the GAP factory store with: 2 pairs of track pants, 1 pair of yoga pants, four pairs of shorts, two special workout tanks, 1 dressy tank, 3 camisole tanks, 1 long sleeve tee, 2 t-shirts, 1 zip up hoodie, and 2 cardigans- all for, with tax $198!  Also, it’s just cool to answer, “ya, it’s new- it’s from the states!”

So here you go:

1.  PLAN YOUR ROUTE- Before you venture out you need to plan accordingly to maximize your time and hit everywhere you want to hit.  Make sure you look at a map, not only of the area, but of the mall.  If you want to hit up Khol’s and Meyers on the way back, make sure you find out where there is one.  Also, plan out the stores you must go to.  There are so many stores at these outlet malls, you need to aim to hit the ones you want/need to- and you want to do it in order and in a way that has you end up at the car to drop off your bags/hop in a drive to the next section of the mall.  Plan to end up near an Olive Garden for dinner or the all you can eat soup, salad and breadsticks for lunch!

Going with this point- you have to have a sense of what stores you want to go in, and what you are looking for.  Otherwise, you’ll just find it overwhelming and you’ll get nothing done!  This weekend I needed summer clothes (specifically shorts), migraine meds, and undies.  I wanted to hit up the GAP, Walmart and Marhsalls for sure.  These malls are very overwhelming if you are “just looking.”

Also, plan your eating stops- there is nothing worse than a cranky shopper!

2.  BE A COUPON CLIPPER- Most of these places have a customer service counter where they give free coupons to international guests/CAA members.  Always start here because you never know who in your party may need a coupon.  Also, sign up for emails if you can.  I got a coupon this week, only available by email for the GAP and Banana Republic- 30% off sale priced items!  An occasional piece of junk in your email is worth it in the end!

3.  DIVIDE and CONQUER- So the first time I shopped in the States, I had no idea what I was doing.  I followed people around, chatted, waited for others to finish- and I wasted so much time!  There is plenty of time to discuss at lunch and afterwards (when you show off your purchases!)  Decide where you want to go and attack that store!  Plan to meet up at a store that you both share so you can browse productively while you wait for the other to join you.  Be honest and go where you want to- “Hey, I’m going to hit up Banana and Carters- why don’t I meet you at the GAP in an hour, you mentioned you wanted to go there…. ”

4. DRESS APPROPRIATELY- Must haves: a purse that goes across you (so you have two free hands), comfy clothes (for easy quick and multiple changes), and comfy shoes.  This is a marathon sport- dress the part!

5.  ONLY BUY WHAT YOU LOVE- buyer beware!  There is this thing called “overenthusiastic sale syndrome.”  That’s where you are so excited that something is so cheap, you can’t help but buy it.  “Wow- this Calvin Klein dress is only $40!”  “Really, shampoo for $1.99?!” Don’t buy something because it’s on sale, buy it because you love it.  You’ll be way happier with your purchases that way.  That being said, if you love something, pick up an extra one of them (I have a fav shampoo- which is like half the price- I’m going to pick up a few when I’m there!

6. STAY THE NIGHT- If you’re able- stay the night!  This helps you avoid paying duty and gives you a chance to hit up more than just the mall- and makes it less rushed.  Try tripadvisor.ca for hotel ratings in the area.  In Auburn Hills- there’s an awesome Holiday Express in the parking lot- and a movie theatre in the mall as well- which can make for a weekend, not just a shopping trip.  I go with the marathoners at my school and they can drop a $1000 in an evening and then still want to spend the next day and evening doing more shopping… I (and my wallet, could use a break!  Or you can hit up Khol’s and the regular malls and big boxed stores the night when you arrive and then go full out at the outlet mall the next day.

7. HIT UP MEYERS, TARGET, WALMART, and KHOL’s– these grocery/department stores are great for toilettries and sales.  I got a pack of 4 razor blades for $15, where here they would be at least $20 here.  Once you go a few times, you know what to look for.  Meyer’s has these great half tins of veggies, including chickpeas!  I was able to get meds they don’t have in Canada, my fav shampoo (for $4.99 instead of the $11.99 here!), and school supplies.  My mom’s favourite trail mix is only available at Target.  The trick is to see what is actually cheaper in the states.

You’re probably asking- well, how do I find somewhere to shop?  http://www.premiumoutlets.com  is a good place to start.

The fashion outlets in Niagara are great (and Lewiston and the Barton Inn is so close!) as is Port Huron (for the day) and Birch Run (Michigan). I also like Great Lakes Crossing – They have an outdoor theatre near by and I was able to take in a Backstreet Boys concert!  Go with someone who knows- they’ll show you how it’s done!  Also, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have little to no taxes!



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