Don't splurge for a purse. Here's how.

Women have a tough time shopping for purses, and many will overpay for a designer brand.  But getting the right purse within your budget can be easy, of you know where to look.

For a designer purse, like the Dooney and Bourke bag seen here, check outlets of high-end department stores like Nieman Marcus, Bowsher suggests.

Sure, we may be headed over a fiscal cliff, and the unemployment news remains depressing. But ShopSmart magazine is worried about consumers – of handbags.

“Finding the perfect purse can be tricky,” they say. “According to a new national poll from ShopSmart, roughly half of women said they had a hard time shopping for a handbag.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The poll results also show…

  • Women spend an average of $148 on a “splurge” handbag purchase.
  • About one-fourth of women have bought a handbag because of its brand.
  • Women own an average of 10 handbags.
  • 10 percent of women admit to owning more than 20 handbags.

The editors of this Consumer Reports sister publication are so concerned about these poll results that they’ve devoted part of their October issue to handbag shopping wisdom.

Of course, as the owner of a bag or five, I naturally gathered their advice, expanded on it, and categorized it all for maximum use value. I also threw in shoes, because most of the best places to find designer and brand-name handbags also happen to be the best places for known-name shoes.

If selection is most important…

  • Take advantage of their sales. Shipping is always free too.
  • Shipping and returns are always free.

If price is most important…

  • Their motto? “Handbags starting at $10. All under $85.” Shipping is free if you spend $50-plus.
  • OK, OK, this isn’t a store. But listen to this: “This fashion search engine does a sweep of the Web’s biggest retailers, making it easy to find the bag of your dreams at the right price. ShopSmart found a $69 Limited shoulder bag marked down to $16 and a $1,485 Jil Sander bag reduced to $297.
  • This site was unfamiliar to me, but ShopSmart raves about it too: “ offers a huge selection of discounted high-end bags. Act fast on this site because the inventory changes fast. Hit the sale section for the deepest discounts (up to 70 percent off) on names like Marni and Marc Jacobs. ShopSmart spotted Diesel fabric and leather bags marked down to less than $100 and a $450 Moschino for $270.”

If a true designer label is most important…

  • Last Call by Neiman Marcus: This outlet store sells bags, shoes, and lots of other merchandise that was previously on sale at Neiman Marcus. That means lots of labels from big-name designers at lower prices than the department store could clearance them for.
  • Loehmann’s: This department store sells overstock. The purses are on the higher side because they’re generally true designer names, but I’ve seen shoes there for even less than DSW (below).

If shopping in a store is most important…

  • DSW Shoes and Off Broadway Shoes: These competitors are warehouse-size shoe stores with decent handbag sections. Both also have rewards programs. At Off Broadway, each receipt is also a coupon for a certain dollar amount off your next purchase. At DSW, you’ve got to sign up and spend more before you receive certificates. The only other major difference is that only DSW offers online shopping too – and I find their site has a better selection and often better sales than their stores.
  • Marshalls and T.J. Maxx: The shoe and bag sections at these sister stores may not be that big, but a little persistence and patience often yield a bottom-dollar gem that makes it worth your while to stop in and browse every so often.
  • Last Call and Loehmann’s also have stores.

I prefer to try on shoes and handle handbags before investing, so I stick to brick-and-mortar (assuming I didn’t see what I want for less online). DSW is probably my favorite. But what about you? Let us know below or on Facebook.

Karla Bowsher covers consumer, retail, and health issues for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities and around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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