Fashion

How To Navigate 99-Cent Stores: An Insider Tells All

Michael Musto


As someone who spends a large portion of my life trolling the aisles of Jack's 99-cent stores and is even willing to admit it, I've come to realize that there's an art to low-end shopping just like there is to buying luxury.While I have no idea how to work the room at Bergdorf's, I can definitely give you tips on how to get the most bang for your buck at the bargain store. And I do mean your buck! My tips are written from the perspective of the fabulous Jack's at 16 E. 40th Street, which is basically my second home, but they apply to all value emporiums the world over.

*Don't forget to bring your coupon.

We all get Jack's coupons in the mail as part of those wonderful ValPacks, which regularly arrive from the gods. Keep yours in a safe place and take it with you when you shop, and you get a dollar off after spending 10 bucks. A free can of peas is nothing to scoff at!

*Leave your shame at home.

There is no embarrassment at going to a 99-cent store -- or at least there shouldn't be. I've even seen some very wealthy people lurking in the shadows there. The reality is, they carry a bevy of household items—food, cleaners, paper clips, etc.—and the quality is quite good, so why pay three times as much in a more legit store? I go to Jack's with pride and hold my head up high as I fill my bag -- and life -- with inexpensive practicality.

*As you shop, carefully look at the price of each item.

The name "99-cents store" has become wishful thinking because a lot of the items there happen to cost $1.29 or more. If something isn't labeled, make sure to ask the cashier how much it costs before you spring for it. A lot of the things are well worth more than 99-cents, mind you -- I'm just advising you to know the price before sealing the deal.

*Look for new arrivals.

Don't assume they carry the same stuff they had last week. The inventory keeps changing in subtle ways and you have to scour the aisles to see what's new and exciting. I recently got a can of stuffed grape leaves at Jack's for $1.99 and was delighted to go home, try it, and find that it rocked. I immediately went back and got a whole bunch more because when novelty items turn up, you never know how long they'll keep offering them.

*If it's a seasonal item -- like woolen caps -- get a lot of them

99-cent store seasons are weird and they might suddenly discontinue them without warning, even though it's still freezing outside.

*Take time to scour the frozen shelves.

I used to grab my milk from there and keep walking, but if you pause to examine the fridge closet's contents, you'll find a treasure trove of waffles, sausages, burgers, Mexican meals, cheese, and other goodies. Making that stop changed my life.

*When you stand on one of the various lines for the cashiers, don't jump another line when a cashier becomes available.

The people there go crazy and start screaming. Even the rich people lurking in the shadows.

*As you leave, put on your dark glasses or just look down while heading toward the exit.

Not out of shame, but because, if you look around as you walk, you will undoubtedly spot some other affordable gems and feel the need to scoop some of them up and run back to the register. You might never leave!

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