Memorial Day weekend sets the stage for summer spending: Retailers pull out all the stops to move fresh merchandise, and if you play your cards right, you can take advantage of the best selection of the season, and promotional offers that are there for the taking. But even though it's the semi-official start of summer, you'll want to do your homework first.

After all, the first rule in Retail 101 is: Give customers the price that will induce them to make a purchase, but no lower. If you want to shop recreationally and don't care about getting the extra 20% off you could just by flashing a coupon, there's not a store in America that won't happily let you. Especially this weekend, when shopping can be fueled by the pack mentality of extended family and friends out together and we're-at-the-beach-so-all-bets-are-off impulsiveness.

Indeed, according to a recent AAA/IHS Global Insights study, shopping is the third most popular activity over Memorial Day weekend, with 43% of Americans hitting stores and outlets, topped only by dining (59%) and visiting friends and relatives (52%). For families like the Howards of Westport, Conn., that trifecta is a tradition. "We usually kick off the summer with a lobster dinner with our extended family and then hit the beach during the day and the outlets in the evening," said Michelle Howard, a mother of four.

Outlet Fever

They're not alone. Tanger Outlets (SKT) will likely see parking lots fill up this Memorial Day weekend as consumers flock to the their stores in search of discount and deals, making a meaningful contribution to the bottom lines of players with significant stakes in the the outlet business -- Old Navy, Ralph Lauren (RL), Coach (COH) and Saks (SKS).

One of the best ways to get extra value at outlets is to sign up for their VIP programs in advance. It takes two minutes to do online, costs nothing, and allows you to print a voucher to pick up a VIP book at the mall's customer service center. Simply showing your AAA card also works, and your company badge may do the trick too if you're with an area employer. I've used the little VIP books for years and am always struck by how many people ask, "Hey, where did you get that?"

Mall websites will also show additional spot-promotions you may be able to take advantage of. To illustrate, Here are some of the offers at outlets this weekend. Specific terms may vary at the more than 20 Tanger locations nationwide from Kittery, Maine, to Camarillo, Calif.:
  • Gap (GPS)-- 20% off purchase of $75 or more
  • Banana Republic -- 20% off purchase of $100 or more
  • Old Navy -- 15% off purchase of $50 or more
  • Polo Ralph Lauren -- 20% off purchase of $200 or more
  • Kate Spade -- 20% off a single item
  • Polo Ralph Lauren -- 20% off purchase of $200 or more

Even Better Discounts

Some of the steepest discounts are targeted at regular customers who have signed up for email updates from their favorite retailers. It's smart to be on those mailing lists. "Liking" or becoming a "Fan" or "Follower" of your favorite retailers on Facebook and Twitter may also give you a first-mover advantage over other shoppers who are less in the loop.

For instance, Kate Spade has just circulated a Memorial Day sale email offering 40% off your entire purchase through Monday in their outlet shops, including clearance items -- now, we're really talking. And it seems things are perpetually on sale at Ann Taylor LOFT (ANN). Their latest email boasts an extra 50% off all sale styles in-store and online. Borders, too, is showing some marketing muscle: Their promotional email links to a 20% off entire purchase coupon for in-store use only. Print it and bring it with you, or simply pull it up on your mobile device on the fly.

Major Players

Major retailers in standalone stores and traditional malls are starting to unveil their Memorial Day plans. DailyFinance will continue to update this list, so let us know if you spot or score any exceptionally good deals.

Walmart (WMT):
The everyday low price champ will stay true to its mantra -- look for compelling deals on everything from beach to barbecue gear and rock-bottom food prices.

Macy's (M): We got in touch with Macy's and they've tipped us off that there will be a series of two-day specials on luggage, blenders, men's polo shirts, women's sandals, and select bras. Standard Macy's fare.

Sears (SHLD):
Its six-day Memorial Day sale began Thursday. Watch for name-brand appliance discounts and heavy Lands End merchandising, complimented by fact that Lands End bathing suit catalogs landed in old-fashioned mailboxes this week.

Home Depot (HD):
If you're looking to get some work done around the house, they're having a Memorial Day paint sale with $5 per gallon off for paint and stain.

Hollister (ANF):
All swimwear for "dudes" and "Bettys" is 30% off. The bikinis are adorable and the men's bathing suits seem to be well-constructed enough to hold up over time.

L.L. Bean:
Offering 70% off select footwear including trendy and sporty sandals for a limited time.

Target (TGT): We spoke with Target and they have revealed their weekly circular is featuring a Slushy Maker for $16 and -- much to this mother's chagrin -- NERF Super Soakers for $14. They also have a ton of melamine plates and tumblers for $1.99 and folding chairs for $9. Their "Weekly Wow" promotion is on bottles and cans of Pepsi.
Lowe's (LOW): The hardware giant is offering free delivery on mowers, grills and patio furniture of $249 or more. They've also got a 3-foot-by-5-foot United States flag for $7.
J.C. Penney (JCP): Their sales are all about timing and seem focused on getting customers on the front end of the weekend with "door buster" deals on Friday beginning at 3 p.m. through Saturday at 1 p.m. Be sure to bring this coupon.
Gap: Their website is incredibly sale-centric. Enter the promo code: GAPSAVE to get an extra 30% off some existing sale prices. They also tend to have surprise in-store sales, and have posted an invite on Facebook for 40% off.
Old Navy: They're touting clothes starting at $6 online and in-store, and "flip flop fever" with certain styles as low as $2.50.


Seasonal Shops Set the Sights on Summer

While the larger retailers attempt to work their marketing magic, seasonal shops are praying to the sun gods for good weather and big beach crowds. According to that AAA/IHS study, 36% of Americans will be hitting the beach, a recreation not without related -- often impulsive -- spending. When asked how he thought people could avoid impulse shopping on vacation and long weekends, Jeff Walden, the longtime owner of Ocean Outfitters in Wildwood Crest, N.J., had two words: "They can't."

He should know. Having run a successful seasonal business for 14 years, he expects beach chairs, flip flops and apparel to be top sellers this holiday weekend.

Brothers Ryan and Tyler McGill who are expanding their surf shop, Summer Sessions, in Rye Beach, N.H., hope to tap into that irresistible lure and capture the first real retail wave of the season. "It's an important weekend for us, because there's a lot of pent up demand coming out of winter and spring and it's our first real shot at starting to recoup up-front costs," says Tyler.

While the margins on surfboard sales are slight (about $150), the customers are loyal. When someone springs for a surfboard, they tend to become a "lifer" shopping multiple times for other related items at the store. Walden guarantees his surfboard sales and says he's never had a return.

The real cash cow for surf shops is surf lessons, which seem to be relatively recession-proof, with instructional surf camps filling up quickly. "It's about building memories and parents would rather spend money on that than another video game," contends Tyler McGill. Many of those same parents will throw in a few extra dollars for hoodies and other memorabilia -- T-shirts, stickers, etc. In the end, charismatic and enterprising surf shop owners can pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars in a short window of time, often freeing up their winters to -- you guessed it -- surf.

Tips for Curbing Impulse Shopping


I think sometimes we're just so relieved to be out of the confines of our day-to-day routine that we throw caution to to the winds when it comes to spending time and money while we're on vacation. Sure, many of the items we see while shopping on vacation are for sale at the stores back home (often for less), but they feel more special if we pick them up while we're away. So, how can you curb impulse shopping this long weekend? Consider these three methods:

1. The HALT Method:
This spending prevention plan is based on recognizing the underlying emotions behind retail therapy and encourages consciously considering feelings of Hunger, Anger, Loneliness or Tiredness (HALT) before buying something in an attempt to fill one or many of those needs. It's the reason you shouldn't go to the grocery store when you're hungry, and it's why a new pair of shoes seems like a necessity the day you get dumped.

2. The Stranger Test: This is a terrific means for reminding yourself that a dollar is a dollar is a dollar. Picture a stranger offering you the cash value of the item you're considering buying, or the item itself. Would you take the cash or the item? If you're dying for a $3 cup of coffee, you may stick with the plan. If you're eying a $600 handbag, then realize if a stranger handed you $600, it's a couple of car payments, you might think twice about splurging on the purse.

3. The $100 Rule: It's a simple idea: The higher the price of an item, the more you should think before buying it. Specifically, take the potential expenditure and divide it by $100 to get the total number of days you should think it over. For example, a $300 grill would be contemplated for three days, but you'd give a couple of weeks thought to it before buying a $1,400 laptop.



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