The first rule in good buying is to know standard quality in your intended purchase, for then you need not be dependent upon the salesman. The second is to know your own needs, that you may not be beguiled by the clever advertisement in the daily paper, or the well-displayed bargain, and will not need to ask the salesman's advice about quantity. Keep lists of articles needed in the card file, and make your shopping lists from these. The third rule is to apportion your purchases to your income and the divisions of your budget.
Patronize reliable firms. There are in any community shops of different grades, and you will not find the best return for your money always at those houses where there is the greatest parade of cut prices and bargains. In the end the reliable places are the cheapest. Sometimes a firm trades on its reputation and a degree of fashion it has attained, but on the whole it is true that if one house has goods uniformly cheaper than another, it is because the quality is inferior.
One fact that a good shopper learns is this - that certain articles may be purchased to greater advantage at one place than another. One firm excels in silks, another in household linen, another in coffee, and so on.
Almost every community now has a "white list" and a branch of the Consumers' League, the significance of which was explained in "Shelter and Clothing," p. 202.
Know the shops you patronize, first by personal inspection, unless, of course, you are ordering from a distance.
Mail orders and the telephone are helps to the buyer. These should not entirely take the place of personal visits to the shops, but, if well used, save many weary hours. The parcel post makes possible buying by mail even perishable articles direct from the producer. Many country dwellers do a large part of their shopping even for clothing and furniture by mail, and there are reputable firms who cater largely to this trade, and send out well-illustrated price lists as guides. However, this method should be used very cautiously, and it may be unsatisfactory for articles where the aesthetic element is important, as well as the quality.
Here the buyer matches her wit against the wiles of the seller. Bargain sales may be made up of sweat shop goods. Many women ignorant of textile production, flock to the sales of materials and garments, helping the storekeeper to dispose of silk which is rotting on his shelves, or garments which have been poorly or cheaply constructed and which go to pieces the first time laundered. Remnants are often cut from materials on the regular shelves, and sometimes are offered at an advance in price at the so-called bargain sales. In reliable shops one can sometimes find bargains during clearance sales. It pays to wait and buy out of season, as much can be saved in this way. A "best" hat in January, or a white dress in August, may often be purchased to advantage. In order to do this, one must plan the wardrobe systematically.
Remember that nothing is given away, and that you pay for everything that you receive. It is well to deal with a firm that sells standard goods at standard prices. A discount is sometimes allowed for cash.
Methods of payment are discussed in Chapter XX (System In Management). The installment plan is important to consider, since it is so common for people of small means. How tempting for a young couple, who have no savings, to furnish the new home in this way? It is a "gambling on futures," however, as much as are some methods in the Stock Exchange. If the income stops, because the position is lost, or if sickness comes, and the installments cannot be paid, the whole outfit may be lost. There have been real household tragedies of this kind. The better way is to save until a small amount of simple furniture can be purchased outright. The installment method is also used by established firms of sound reputation to tempt one to buy the latest encyclopaedia, or the new musical instrument, or some other much-desired possession. This is safe if one is absolutely sure of a fixed future income; but here again it is better to save first and buy outright. You may say that the installment plan gives the use of the encyclopaedia at once, and this is true. But if you have the saving habit, there will already be a fund on which to draw.
There is no greater test of good breeding and kindness than the tour of a crowded shop; and sometimes the silken thread is strained to the snapping point. Remember that tired human beings are at the counter.
Time your shopping that you may not help to crowd business at the closing hour. If the shop closes at five, leave several minutes before the hour. As a matter of fact it is only to the shopper that the shop closes at the stated hour ; some of the hardest work of the day comes after hours. Avoid shopping at the luncheon hour, and on Saturday afternoon at the time of the week when the salespeople are most tired. This is also a hard time for delivery men and boys. Consult here the pamphlets of the Consumers' League.
In times of stress, the shopkeeper asks you to carry small bundles home with you, and this you should cheerfully do. Some women carry the C.O.D. privilege to an extreme, ordering in this way with the intention of sending certain articles back, thus creating much unnecessary labor.