Steal these shopping tricks

Follow these smart tips whether you're off to the mall or flipping through catalogs.

Finding the right clothes doesn't have to be a hassle―or cost a fortune―if you plan it out.

1. Save time and money shopping online

Check shipping costs. Order everything at once and opt for ground delivery, the least expensive method.

Protect private information. All reputable sites should post a privacy policy that explains what is done with customer information. Take a few minutes to review it. If the policy doesn't sound good, don't shop at the site.

Stick to a budget. Instead of using your credit card, try PayPal. It's especially good for auction sites such as eBay. It transfers money from your bank account into your PayPal account, so you'll only spend what you can afford.

2. Avoid mistakes when ordering from catalogs

Consider the fit. Check the sizing chart before ordering from a catalog. You'll be amazed how sizes vary between brands.

Be realistic. Don't buy something just because the picture makes it look enticing. Ask yourself if you'll really wear the item.

Know the return and refund policies. Be certain of how to return unwanted merchandise and the number of days you have to get a full refund.

3. Try these mall strategies

Wait for sales. Stores mark down clothes very quickly in order to stay current. Check on full-price items again a week or two after you first see them.

Work the sale season. The biggest discount on clothes comes after Christmas. Also check outlet stores in early spring, when stores slash prices on winter merchandise.

Go with necessity. Often when you shop for something you really need, like a new winter coat, you get distracted by clothes you don't need. Stay on task and if you see something you like, make sure you don't have a similar item -- and do a mental scan of your closet to find at least three things you'll wear with it.