Ana Veciana-Suarez: Nothing like the thrill of the (bargain) hunt

That red and black wrap-around dress in my closet? Paid $9.01, taxes included, a victory of timing, perseverance and the clever matching of coupon to clearance sale. Original price: $79.99. Gotta love it.

And the black pumps I’m wearing today? A steal at $21. These shoes had so many sticky red price tags on them that I’m not sure what they originally went for, only that it was plenty more than I would’ve paid.

Rifle through my closet — or the closets of my women friends — and you’re likely to find most items were bought on sale, off season or snapped from the clearance bin.

I’m proud of that. Very proud. Why hand over my hard-earned money so easily when I know delayed gratification will work in my favor? Paying full price tastes like the Scott’s Emulsion cod liver oil my mother used to force on me as a girl.

Few things match the rush of scoring a good deal. Some say this is a female sport, but the best bargain hunters may actually be men — Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham, Carl Icahn, investors extraordinaire.

It does appear true, however, that women have an eye for the detail of retail. I can’t think of a single man who would flaunt his sale savvy by wearing an outfit with the price tag still attached, as I have for a select audience of like-minded shoppers.

I’m not alone. A friend showed off a pair of shoes she bought for a penny — yes, a penny! — so we, her gym friends, could join the celebration. She regaled us with the labyrinthine tale of how a pair of fine heels ended up costing less than a stick of gum.

The most astute shopper I know often phones me in the middle of the day to gloat about a purchase. She knows all the pricing tricks, the discount days, the out-of-the-way shelving where castoffs are remaindered.

Her discipline is admirable. In January, when the rest of us take a well-earned respite from the consumer transactions of the holidays, she begins her Christmas shopping in earnest. And I’m not referring to half-off wrapping paper and tree ornaments. She buys beautiful slippers, handsome sweaters and elegant scarves for a pittance.

Another friend spends many of her lunch hours scouring the discount shops within walking distance of her workplace. The habit began years ago, when she tried sticking to her diet by browsing the pretty downtown store displays. It worked. The bargains she’s landed!

Just the other day, The Hubby and I were discussing the firing of Ron Johnson, the retail guru who failed to turn around JC Penney. TV talking heads listed all the reasons why his restructuring didn’t work. He failed to grow online sales. Didn’t close enough stores. Spent too much money on TV ads. They underplayed the obvious: He stopped offering sales, preferring instead a consistent pricing strategy.

What was he thinking? Any school-of-hard-knocks retail analyst would have taken the guru to task. You ignore the buzz of the bargain hunt at your own peril. Just ask any woman whose heart pounds at the sight of a bright red CLEARANCE sign.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.

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