YOU WANT to get the biggest bang for your buck, so what do you do?
As 45-year-old Peggy Jordan of Randallstown sees it, you eye, you wait and then you buy.
Like many women, Jordan is a bargain hunter -- and proud of it.
"I shop all the time," said Jordan, a nursing teacher at the Community College of Baltimore. "Every other day I am at the mall."
Big department stores and small boutiques alike are now taking inventory of spring- and summerwear -- as well as leftover winter items -- to make room for incoming fall clothes. What this means for the budget-conscious is a chance for good deals and best buys, especially with the slew of Independence Day sales and sidewalk sales to follow.
Jordan's shopping trips don't just stop at the malls. She regularly browses discount stores such as Annie Sez, T.J. Maxx and Value City for the best bargains. Her treasured finds include a pair of lined wool and gabardine Evan Picone pants, which she coupled with a silk blouse for an impressive price of $50.
"To be a bargain hunter, you have to shop often," she said. "You just have to do it."
And you have to do it at the right time, and no better time than the present.
"This is a good time of the year to look for sales," said Karen McGlothern, a self-pronounced bargain hunter who gleaned the Esprit rack at Macy's in Owings Mills.
"I know the markup is incredibly high, so I feel cheated if I pay full price for anything," said McGlothern, who works for Social Security Administration. She carefully continued to sift through shirts and shorts.
Prices for summer items get slashed as the season draws on, but waiting until bitter end to invade the shops invariably reduces choices and sizes. Hard-core bargain hunters know this, but that's not stopping them from finding good deals.
The true thrifty shoppers, like Marsha Lollar, an elementary school teacher from Lochearn, save up all summer long for the best bargains at the end of the season.
"Most people who are shopping now are spending too much money on some items," she said. "The best time of the sales is the latter part of July and early August. That's when I buy the summer clothes to go back to work and for next year."
She concedes that the clothes by that time are picked over, but she says she still gets a good selection by arriving at the stores early the morning to hunt.
Lollar, however, was drawn to the mall earlier than usual this year to fetch a blazer with black trims (at $31.99, down from $39.99 at Macy's) and matching coordinating linen shorts (at $16.99, down from $24.99 at Hecht's) for a wedding in Atlanta.
"These items I'm purchasing now will probably be much cheaper later this summer," she said. "If I weren't going anywhere, I wouldn't purchase them."
Bargain hunting isn't all fun and games, what with women standing shoulder to shoulder picking through racks of clearance items and others tugging and eyeing the same piece. Even die-hard bargain hunters have found themselves to be wearied and worn out at the end of a shopping day.
Bringing a friend helps. Karen Parrotti, 19, of Woodlawn, and Kristal Chase, 18, of Reisterstown, struck up a friendship and struck it rich as bargain buddies. The two became acquaintances through work at the Bank of Baltimore and then )) quickly became friends through after-work shopping trips.
"We work to shop," said Parrotti, picking out a red-and-white polka-dotted skirt on sale for 40 percent off the $29 price tag -- already down from $44.
"The way the economy is, you have to bargain shop to survive," she said.
Items to look for during this time of year include dressy dresses, lingerie, sports coordinates, summer shoes and bathing suits.
"The hint is to keep your eyes open and keep coming back," said Donna Sokolwski, assistant manager at Casual Corner in Marley Station mall.
Also to look for is that one funky, trendy item you wouldn't be caught dead buying -- unless it was on sale and at a good price, of course.
"It's a good time to buy something a bit unusual," said Beverly Matthai, owner of Femme clothing store on Charles Street.
She described a one-of-a-kind shirt that one customer recently fetched from her store: a long-sleeved, black rayon shirt with silk and button trim that went for $109 -- down from $155.
On a less grand scale, those stretchy Lycra pants covered with flowers and retro-'60s designs are on sale everywhere. At Paul Harris, they've been reduced from $29 to $9 and at Merry-Go-Round, from $19.99 to $9.98.
And just in time for Independence Day are reduced-price flag pins and red-white-blue clothing. Once hot items during the Persian Gulf War, patriotic memorabilia have finished their heyday.
"During the war, the stuff sold pretty well, but after the war, it just stopped," said Christine Conway, a salesclerk at Accessory Place at Harborplace where patriotic earrings and necklaces are on sale for $2.99 or less.