Shop Like a Ninja

Call me a freak if you must, but shopping has never been fun for me. Clothes never fit quite right, and I can never find exactly what I want. Plus, fighting crowds and waiting in line are not my cup of tea.

So when I really need something, I turn it into a game of sorts. A puzzle. A contest. And in a little while the desired item magically arrives on my doorstep.

Now, I normally subscribe to the motto

Use it Up, Wear it Out,

Make it Do, or Do Without.

or at least consider it before making a purchase. Some of my favorite bloggers have successfully instituted personal shopping bans. Click here and here for wisdom and inspiration.

But sometimes I really, really need something. Or even if I don’t need it, I’m going to get it anyway, so I might as well get a good deal. Who’s with me?

Woman on a Mission

My husband and I are making the leap this spring from car camping to backpacking. He wanted our inaugural trip to be an easy 2,659-mile jaunt… Let’s just say there was some compromise on both our parts. Maybe a little more compromise on his part.

When you’re out in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle, though, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Sun. Rain. Wind. Cold. Bears. You never know.

But walking for days or weeks with all your gear on your back makes you think long and hard about every single ounce. Do I really need that rain gear? What about that jacket? Probably not. But maybe so. And if I need it, it could make the difference between life or death.

I’m an emergency physician, so I have ample opportunity to see what happens when people make stupid decisions.

I try to not follow in their footsteps. Thus, we will be well-prepared on our trips, but it’s a lot easier to stomach the thought of carrying a jacket that I don’t plan to wear when it weighs only a few ounces instead of the typical two or three pounds.

And thus began my quest for the Ghost Whisperer, a highly rated gem of a coat that weighs in at 6.3 ounces for my size and stuffs into its own pocket.

There’s just one teensy-weensy little problem. On the brand website, it costs $386 after tax and shipping. While less per ounce than gold, it still costs four times more than silver. No way.

While this may be a reasonable price for a jacket I would wear daily for many years, it most certainly is not ideal for one that I hope to never need, and that if needed would likely be worn when I haven’t showered in several days and am hiking through the wilderness where I will snag and stain it within five minutes.

There must be a better option. Actually, there are many, but we’ll start with my top three.


Amazon.com is amazing. It has almost anything you could possibly want, and now with Prime, you can have most of it delivered to your doorstep in one or two days even on weekends. Some items even arrive within a few hours. I grew up in the pre-internet dark ages, so this still Blows. My. Mind.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t gladly take advantage of it. Plus, Amazon provides excellent suggestions for alternatives. For example, by typing “Ghost Whisperer” into the search box, it tells me that this also was a TV series about communicating with the dead that aired from 2005-2010 and is now available on DVD.

Moving on.

Searching for “ghost whisperer jacket,” Amazon’s next suggestion, leads me not only to the jacket I hoped to find, but also to a version without a hood and to several men’s versions. Often, men’s sizes small and medium are comparable to and less expensive than women’s sizes medium and large, respectively, and a boys’ large is comparable to a women’s small. Most of the time these are sturdier and (IMHO) offer better color choices. Check the size guide on the company website to decide which options will fit you best.

In addition, Amazon gave suggestions for other brands of comparable jackets, several of which were much less expensive. But they weighed quite a bit more too, so I continued on to my initial target.

While the blue one is close to the retail price, I can save $141 by choosing another color. Not bad for less than three minutes of searching. Score!

But the thought of spending  almost $250 on something I hope to never use still doesn’t feel quite right. Can I do even better?

eBay to the Rescue

If Amazon is the quick and easy home-shopping-for-beginners option, then eBay is for my DIY friends with a little time on our hands. It’s infinitely better than Craigslist or yard sales in terms of ease of search and likelihood of finding what you’re looking for, but it has quite a few more steps than Amazon.

EBay is best known for its auctions, but if you need something right now you can still make it work.

  1. Search for exactly what you want. For example, “ghost whisperer jacket” in Women’s Clothing.
  2. In the Sort box in the upper right-hand corner, choose “Price + Shipping: lowest first.”
  3. In the left-hand column, choose your desired size.
  4. Next, choose from “New with tags,” “New without tags,” and “Pre-owned” if you care.
  5. Choose “US Only” or “Within 200 miles” if you need it to arrive super-quickly.
  6. Look back at the main section of the screen, and at the top, choose “Buy It Now.”


Buy It Now

As I write this, eBay has a brand-new-with-tags hooded Ghost Whisperer in my size for a grand total of $195.99 including shipping. I can pay now and have it delivered in just a few days, for a total savings of more than $190 off retail and nearly $50 off Amazon.

Not too shabby for another five minutes of work.

eBay + Patience = $$$

If you don’t need your item right now, you can probably snag a much better deal. When I started my search, I had two months before it was warm enough for our first excursion. This allowed a strategic twist.

  • Start with first four steps listed above.
  • Instead of “Buy It Now,” choose the “All Listings” tab.
  • Scroll all the way down the left-hand column and choose “Sold listings.” This displays the range of prices this jacket has sold for over the past few months. Small hooded Ghost Whisperers ranged from $62 to $279 plus shipping.
  • Once you know what a realistic goal price is, settle in to watch and wait.

Does this mean you have to stalk eBay and search multiple times a day? Nope. eBay will do all the work, and all you have to do is check your email occasionally.

  • Unclick “Sold listings”.
  • Then, scroll back to the top and click “Follow this search” to receive a daily email summary if there are new listings that fit your search criteria.

Eureka! Your email dings and the perfect item is available. Now what?

  • When you see an item you want at a price you’re willing to pay, click “Add to watch list.”
  • When an item you’re “watching” is a few hours from the end of the auction, eBay sends an email offering to text you 15 minutes before the auction ends. Sign up for this offer!
  • When you get the text, make a beeline to the eBay website or app and make your move.

I’ve found the bidding-ninja-sneak-attack method very effective:

I enter the maximum amount I’m willing to pay that would still make me think I got a good deal, then click “place bid” with about a minute left in the auction. I then wait until there are just three seconds left before clicking “confirm.” The actual sale price is often much lower than my max bid–cue the happy dance.

eBay NinjaSide note: If you get in a bidding war early, you’re more likely to lose the auction or end up spending more. Be a bidding ninja and the other bidders won’t know what hit ’em.

If you win, congratulations on scoring a great deal!

If you don’t win, at least you have the consolation that you didn’t overpay. Repeat these steps with a different auction.

Advanced eBay Maneuvers

Searching for exactly what you want will save you time and hassle, but there are secret tricks to save even more if you’re willing to put forth the effort.

First, try broadening your search. Instead of “ghost whisperer jacket women’s small” try just “ghost jacket” in women’s clothing. Unclick the size and location buttons in the left-hand column. This will pull in the auctions from sellers who spelled whisperer wrong or who didn’t bother to include the size in the listing title.

Sometimes sellers don’t even know what the item is called, so they use whatever information is easily visible such as the brand. I found some ghost whisperers listed under “mountain hardware down jacket” with nary a ghost nor a whisper in the listing. I recognized the style from the pictures, but if you have any doubts, contact the seller to clarify that the item is really what you want.

While time-consuming to find, these suboptimally-labeled items tend to result in better deals because other buyers can’t find them easily either.

You may also consider purchasing a gently used item if it’s something washable.

Ghost WhispererThe jacket I purchased had a very descriptive title of “Mountain Hardwear Womens Ghost Whisperer Jacket W/ Hood-Small-Blue,” but in the description options the seller had written “Small” instead of “S” so eBay didn’t recognize it for proper filtering. Any potential buyers who selected a size in the left column never saw this auction.

The bottom line: I got the exact jacket I wanted for a grand total of $62.01. Not too shabby. A little patience and persistence resulted in an 84% discount!


Finally, when you’re happy with your purchase, don’t miss the last and perhaps most important step: hover over “My eBay” in the upper right hand corner and click on “Followed searches.” Find the search term you no longer need, click on “More actions” and then “unfollow search.” 

You certainly don’t want to keep receiving emails that will encourage you to purchase unneeded items or reveal that you could have gotten the same item for fifty cents less when it’s too late to do anything about it.

In addition, you should always log out of online shopping sites and never let them save your credit card information. Yes, these actions help prevent fraud, but more importantly they protect you from yourself and the ease of one-click impulse purchases in the future. After you buy what you need, leave the store. Close the tab.

If All Else Fails

There isn’t much that Google can’t do. If Amazon and eBay don’t produce the results you hope for, give Google a go.

For this jacket, I searched “ghost whisperer women’s” and clicked the “Shopping” tab, then chose my size in the left-hand column.

Google allows sorting by price but tends to give much more relevant results when using its default mode. There’s no perfect choice.

If you stick with the default mode on a search with a lot of results, you will have to dig through several pages and may miss the best deal. If you sort by price, you’ll likely end up with page after page of totally irrelevant junk and only a few sites that sell your desired item.

I have found some great deals on lesser-known websites using Google, but the information isn’t always accurate. For example, my hiking backpack was listed at a great price with $12 shipping. When I got to checkout, though, the shipping jumped to $63 because the store wasn’t in the US, and it was no longer such a great deal.

Google may also tell you that the best deal is at a local brick and mortar store. While this means you probably can’t make your purchase at 2am and you probably should put on a bra before you go, it also has some advantages.Google

  • You can see, feel, and try on items before you commit.
  • You support your local community.
  • You get fresh air.
  • You save money on shipping.
  • You can start using your items the same day.

It never hurts to call first to make sure the item you want is in stock. They might even set it aside for you at the customer service counter so it won’t sell out before you arrive. This will also save you from the temptation to make impulse purchases as you wander the store.

What are your favorite shopping hacks? Share your tips below. And if all this talk about shopping makes you cringe, sign up for my free 5-Step Guide to Cure the Clutter!

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Comments 6

  1. Wow!! Good work on your jacket. What a savings!! I can’t wait to see where these hikes take you two. I live vicariously through you sometimes.

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      Thanks, Amy! I just wore it on our Havasupai hike– stay tuned for a post on that amazing place. Seriously, though, we all live vicariously through your rock star family!

  2. Thanks for the tips! Good quality gear is essential to backpacking. I’ll remember your advise when I’m searching for my next piece of gear. Nice blog Julie!

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  3. Good post! I try to use some of these tactics myself when it comes to buying anything.

    For other future backpacking or outdoor sports purchases, consider looking at Sierra Trading Post for heavily discounted last year models (they always have coupon codes) and Geartrade for used gear or lightly used returns from Backcountry.

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