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I have a confession to make: I am a bargain hunter, especially when it comes to fashion. I suspect a lot of us are, regardless of income level. And studies have shown that when shopping, we experience a release of dopamine — the “pleasure chemical” in our brains that enables us to recognize and seek out rewards — when we pay a lower price than expected for a desired item.

So where do you shop for the best dopamine rushes? I thought I would share my favorites first, in no particular order, along with a few reasons why each store or website is worth checking out. I hope you’ll comment and share a few of your faves, because not only do I love discovering new places to shop, but it will be interesting to see if we’re loving some of the same places!

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6pm (online only) – I felt like I’d stumbled upon a gold mine when I discovered ths site! It probably would not have happened had I not become completely obsessed with finding this wrap-style Vitamin A bikini top in my size at a decent price. I had actually bought it in the wrong size on eBay, then turned around and re-sold it. Then I kept looking for it, on eBay and elsewhere, but couldn’t seem to find it for less than $88.00. For a whole swimsuit that would’ve been fine, but it was way over my budget for just half a swimsuit. Then one day I googled it and decided to venture past the first couple of pages of results, and there it was, on a site called 6pm that I’d never heard of, for only $42.00 ($50 off retail!), and they had my size! I didn’t hesistate for even a split second (partly because they only had one in my size left in stock!) Then I spent the next several hours – no joke, I didn’t even sleep that night – exploring the rest of their wares, because they have so many of my favorite brands! Besides swimsuits from popular brands like Vitamin A, Roxy, and Luli Fama, they have jeans from 7 For All Mankind, Hudson, and Big Star; shoes from Steve Madden, Jessica Simpson, and Vince Camuto; and similarly impressive lists of brands covering every clothing and accessory category under the sun. The site is owned by Zappos, that cool shoe website, and is set up similarly, so you can narrow down your search fo exactly what you’re looking for (filters include brand, price range, color, material, style, and details). Another bonus? FREE shipping on everything, regardless of price!

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Nordstrom Rack (stores only — click HERE to find a store near you) – If you love designer jeans as much as I do, their selection can’t be beat. They’ve got 7 For All Mankind, MEK, Hudson, Joe’s, Big Star, and the rest of the best denim brands at 30-50% off what you’d pay elsewhere. Besides denim, they have Juicy Couture, Roxy, and Free People scattered throughout the store at similar savings. Their shoe section is a shoe lovers dream – I remember seeing these black leather studded cage-style Nine West heels in a magazine and wanted them so bad, but they were way out of my budget. Well, a few months later, I found them at “The Rack” at a price I could handle. Also, if you are looking to deck out your little one, check out their baby & children’s clothing and shoes, where you’ll find a lot of the same brands I just named at similar savings. Furthermore, they have a decent selection of high-end beauty products (like Kèrastese) at killer prices, and don’t leave without checking out their lingerie – if you want to sport Hanky Panky, DKNY, and Betsey Johnson but refuse to pay that much for a pair of panties, this is the place to go!

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Target (shop online, or click HERE to find a store near you) – I don’t think I have to take up too much space telling you why I love Tar-jay so much. Ever since I first started shopping there, they’ve always had cute clothing, shoes, and when summer rolls around, their swimsuit styles are the best around for the money (around $30 for a whole suit), and most bikinis come as separates, which I personally cannot do without. While they no longer house clothing from designer Isaac Mizrahi, they began regularly launching capsule collections from other big-name designers, such as Jason Wu and Missoni, several years ago, some of which have reportedly featured items that have sold out within hours in-store and online (cue frantically searching eBay…see below)! Also find cute jewelry and other accessories there at similar price point. Another thing I love, although they aren’t cheap for what they are, is they carry cards by the brand Papyrus – they look handmade, and for somebody special they’re definitely worth the extra couple dollars. I could go on and on, because they also have a great makeup collection – HUGE, plus, like with their clothing selection, a couple designer collaborations – a “dollar store” section, expensive-looking notecards with every design possible…if I have to go on, which probably means you’ve never been there (which means you either live in a very small town are under a rock), go, NOW!

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Plato’s Closet (stores only — click HERE to find a store near you) – If you don’t mind buying clothing and accessories that have (mostly) been pre-loved, definitely seek out your nearest Plato’s Closet! The store works like this: they buy and sell gently used junior girls and guys clothing from the most popular name brands, and in their buying strategy, they target current trends as well. That means that not only will you find the same styles that you’re currently seeing in the “regular” stores (no kidding, not only do I often find items that still have tags on them, but I once saw a pair of Miss Me brand jeans there that were currently being sold for full price at Macy’s – same exact bedazzled pocket design!), but you’ll also pay a fraction of retail. They curate their stores so tightly that many items appear brand-new, so nobody will have a clue that you didn’t buy them new, and since their inventory varies from day-to-day, you can literally go there every day and you’ll always find something new! Also, you can buy shorts in the winter and coats in the summer, because they have stuff for all seasons. If you are looking for a little bit of cash (or store credit), they also buy stuff, but make sure whatever you are trying to sell is something you wouldn’t hesitate to buy yourself, because they are very picky.

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eBay (online only) – To me, eBay is like a huge online mall that houses every store you could imagine, including stores that don’t even exist anymore! What I mean by that is, if you are looking for something that has sold out or been discontinued, keep looking and you just might get lucky because someone out there has what you want, and they might decide to sell it sooner or later. Each auction-style listing has a starting bid, a set “Buy it Now” price, or both. Some really great deals can be had with the auctions especially, because if there aren’t very many other people out there bidding on an item with a low starting bid, you won’t have to bid very high to win the auction! Once you create a free account, you can search the site and do things like “watch” things you are not quite ready to bid on (and separate these items into lists, like “Jeans” and “Christmas Gifts”), save your favorite sellers, and even keep tabs on your favorite searches. This is especially handy because, say you have been searching for something specific, like a pair of AG Ex-Boyfriend Crop jeans in 17 Years wash in a size 27 (this is a real-world example, as I own these jeans and bought them on eBay!), you can save the search “AG ex-boyfriend jeans 17 years 28” (and less words for more results, and vice versa). Change your settings to prompt the site to email you when items fitting your search criteria have been listed, and then all you have to do is keep an eye on your inbox! Since becoming an “eBayer” 15 years ago, I have never paid full price for designer jeans and cool cases for my phone (for about 75% off the $20-$30 they go for anywhere else). Just be careful of the sellers who try to sell items for MORE than they are worth – if you aren’t sure about an item’s retail value, google it and compare the prices first. Lastly, eBay is an excellent avenue to use to peddle your own wares and make some extra cash, and the site has made it super-easy to create a listing in minutes – when I first began selling, I had to teach myself basic HTML to pretty-up my listings. Not anymore!

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TJMaxx & Marshalls (shop online, or click HERE to find a TJMaxx near you, or HERE to find your nearest Marshall’s) – Out of all the brick-and-mortars that claim to be “discount stores,” I have always found the best selection at TJMaxx and their sister store, Marshalls. It’s the first place I go for cute brand-name baby and toddler clothes that I can actually afford, and their selection can’t be beat. They always have an awesome shoe department, with brands like Jessica Simpson and Steve Madden, so every time I go there I have to take about 10 pairs out of my basket before checking out. Also check out their housewares section (or find a Homegoods, part of their family of stores, which sadly only has physical locations – find the location closest to you by clicking HERE) for everyday and unique items for your crib, and try to catch their swimsuits selection early enough in the season, so you can find suits from Hurley, Roxy, and Guess, to name a few. Oh, and I cannot NOT mention their beauty department really quickly, because they stock Philosophy, OPI, Tigi, and wait around long enough and you’re bound to find your favorite fragrance there for about half price!

…and I saved the BEST for last!

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Donna Bella Designs (online only) – If you are in the market for a new handbag that is stylish, practical, and reasonably priced, look no further than Donna Bella Designs. Hands-down, they carry the BEST selection of styles and colors, and I’m not just saying that because this happens to be their blog – I have gone to their site for my last 3 purses, and I shop everywhere (if you can’t already tell). They are a locally-owned small business, and their focus, as you will see on the site (as it is just about all they carry), is bringing their unbeatable handbag collection to the masses. They’ve conveniently categorized their purses as either part of their “Fashion” or “Leather” collections, making it super-easy if you’re looking for something animal-friendly. They are also sorted by style (shoulder, crossbody, hobo, etc.), making zeroing in on the perfect purse even easier. Most of their designs come in a wide array of colors, and have features such as multiple pockets for organization and extra shoulder straps for versatility. They have impressive sale and clearance sections as well, and are constantly adding new styles. You will never go elsewhere for your arm candy, because this site is affordable luxury at its best! One last thing: follow them on Facebook and Twitter for monthly contests, where you can enter to WIN one of their chic handbags, among other prizes!

I hope I have clued you in to at least a couple new discount shops, and would love for you to comment below to let me know what you think, and to share a couple of YOUR go-to shopping destinations!

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