8 ways to shop smarter at T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls and more

Happy hunting!
by Sarah Bracy Penn /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Who doesn't love finding a great deal?

The problem is, even in discount stores, it's not as easy as it should be. It's often overwhelming to sort through thousands of styles (often in a haphazard, disorganized display), and identifying the trash from treasure is another challenge.

According to Business Insider, stores in the T.J. Maxx family (including Marshalls and HomeGoods), and those like Nordstrom Rack and Neiman Marcus Last Call, which sell high-end items at 30 to 70 percent off, are growing faster than full-priced stores. That means there are more deals to shop than ever before, so we asked TODAY financial editor and author Jean Chatzky for her tips to save and shop smarter at some of your favorite discount stores.

1. Labels are more than meets the eye.

Did you know that many designer-brand items found in discount stores are actually manufactured specifically for the off-price market? While some designer merchandise is brought in from department stores' overstock and marked down, many of your favorite brands create merchandise specifically to sell to retailers like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Chatzky's tip? Be careful and make sure to check the quality of the fabric and fit before making a purchase.

2. Don't stick to your list — or your aisles.

In bargain shops, customers often snatch up an item, put it in their shopping cart and later remove it and place it on a totally different aisle from where they found it. That means there are hidden treasures everywhere. You might find a great kitchen item in the shoe department or a picture frame tucked somewhere on the bedding shelf!

3. Hack the clearance rack.

Don't turn your nose up at the clearance rack, no matter how messy it may be. Pro tip: Look at the tags. At T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods, a red tag means clearance, a yellow marker on top of red means final clearance. At Nordstrom Rack, red tags are the ticket. At DSW, the yellow dot gives you an additional 80 percent off the sale price. And keep your eyes open for "clear the rack" sales that give you an additional 25 percent off sale prices.

4. Go early (in two ways).

These stores often get several shipments per week, usually delivered overnight. That means the early bird gets the worm — so start shopping in the morning, or at least before the lunch rush hits. In another sense, start shopping a few months early for holidays. Pop in for Halloween goodies in August, for Christmas decor around October and for Easter gear in February.

5. Make friends.

Chatzky recommends getting to know the staff at your local discount stores, as they often know when items are due for a markdown. She says it's smart to ask if your favorite items are eligible for markdowns, as the store team knows what has been sitting on the shelf for awhile and what is fresh off the delivery truck. Sometimes, if the item can't be marked down on the spot, a staff member will tell you when the next round of markdowns is scheduled so you can be sure to shop when the sale hits.

6. Buy and return.

Generally, you have 30 days to return unworn or unused merchandise as long as you present the receipt. Because inventory at these stores is often random, it's smart to buy items, think about whether it fits in your home or closet, and then return it if it doesn't work out.

7. Shop all the departments.

You might walk into a store searching for an item of clothing or a home good, but you often leave with food, beauty supplies and gadgets. Many items in these stores make great gifts, so stock up while you can. In addition, these big-box discount stores often carry high-end beauty products; you just have to be willing to dig through tons of merchandise to find the good stuff.

8. Keep an open mind.

These stores don't have guaranteed inventory, so if you're searching from something specific (hello, little black dress), chances are they won't have exactly what you're looking for. If you go in with an open mind, you might just find something perfect that you didn't even know you needed.

Want to start shopping right away? Here are a few of our favorite finds from a slew of discount stores.

Zadig and Voltaire Victor Diamond One-Button Blazer, $61 (compare to $428), Neiman Marcus Last Call

TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, TODAY does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.

Paired with jeans or slacks, this navy blazer could be your new fall staple.

JanSport Superbreak Backpack, $36, Nordstrom Rack

This classic backpack stands the test of time, and is insanely durable.

KitchenAid 6-Quart Bowl Lift Stand Mixer and Attachments, $250 (compare at $350), T.J. Maxx

It's finally time to invest in a KitchenAid mixer! Nab this one at $100 off the usual price.

Dolce Vita Sassy Booties, $30, Nordstrom Rack

We love the fall colors, and the fact that they go with skirts and pants and everything in between.

Lodis Leather Halina Drawstring Bag, $90 (compare at $160), T.J. Maxx

At just about half off, this berry-colored bucket bag is a sharp and stylish addition to your fall handbag rotation.

Hudson Jeans Released Hem Skinny Jeans, $25, Nordstrom Rack

Here's a chic hue for fall at a great price.

Hurley Legion Fleece Jogger, $24, Nordstrom Rack

They're warm and comfortable, so what more do you need?

Canaan Made in USA Swirl Pattern Pillow, $20 (compare at $20), T.J. Maxx

It's easy to give your space a little love with prices like these. Grab a few colorful throw pillows and your living room will be updated instantly!

7 For All Mankind Short-Sleeve Roll-Cuff Shirt, $19, Nordstrom Rack

This shirt pairs great with jeans or shorts.

Raj Embroidered Short-Sleeve Peasant Blouse, $39, Neiman Marcus Last Call

This top is easy to wear and perfect for school drop-off.

BCBGeneration Ruffle-Trimmed A-Line Dress, $32, Neiman Marcus Last Call

The golden hue keeps the summer vibes alive.

Gucci Round Metal Crystal-Trim Sunglasses, $220, Neiman Marcus Last Call

Splurge on one of today's hottest brands with these specs, which retail for $830.

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