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How to Save Money at Department Stores

Bargains abound, if you can find them

spinner image mobile phone showing a woman riding an elevator at a department store surrounded by icons of discounts and sales

Because of the internet, the pandemic and many other factors, the number of department store businesses in the U.S. has dropped by more than half in the past 10 years, according to IBIS World. (Rest in peace, Lord & Taylor and Sears. I miss you!)

Despite the industry’s struggles, department stores are still a great place to shop and save. But unlike warehouse and big-box stores, which advertise everyday low prices, department stores make you work the angles. And there are lots! 

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Here are my favorite tools for shopping at the country’s largest department stores. Note that I’m not including store credit cards. The perks may be good if you don’t carry a balance, but with their high interest rates, just one missed payment can wipe out all your savings.


  • Star Rewards program. It gives you access to discounts and the store’s Star Money credits (good for 30 days), which you can spend both in stores and online.
  • Macy’s sale days. Special markdown events happen frequently throughout the year, including Friends and Family, One Day Sales and Lowest Prices of the Season events with markdowns of up to 60 percent. Also, don’t miss Star Money Bonus Days, when loyalty program members can rack up points faster toward Star Money. To keep track of the retailer’s many sales and special offers, visit the Macy’s deal section on its website, where you can also sign up for email or text alerts.
  • Macy’s Backstage. Many locations offer this T.J. Maxx–like discount department. And don’t miss Last Act clearances.
  • The app. Once it’s on your phone, you can access your rewards account, Star Money, coupons and more.


Like other department stores, Kohl’s has dozens of sales and special store events, including ­clearance and Friends & Family sales, which happen multiple times a year. It also has item-specific sales, including semiannual bra and shoe sales. Last year, it offered Dashing Deal Days in November along with the usual Black Friday and other holiday sales. You can keep on top of the action by downloading the store’s app to your phone or by visiting Under Shop by Category, click on Sale + Must-Have Prices or Clearance & Closeouts.

  • Kohl’s Wallet on the app. You can access all of your rewards and coupons there. You can even use the Wallet to load gift cards and paper coupons. The app also gives you free shipping, plus alerts about sales and expiring coupons.
  • Kohl’s Cash. For every $50 you spend during special sales events, you get $10 in credit, which can be used during redemption dates marked on the cash.
  • Kohl’s Rewards. You get $5 Kohl’s Cash for every $100 worth of purchases, plus extra coupons.
  • Senior discounts. People 60 and older get 15 percent off on Wednesdays at Kohl’s stores. Be sure to bring ID!
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  • Nordstrom Rack. The vast majority of Nordstrom’s more than 350 locations are Nordstrom Racks, which are like giant clearance sections. As is the case with outlet chains, much of the merchandise is manufactured specifically for the discounter; look for the Nordstrom Rack tag.
  • The Nordy Club. With a free membership, you can collect points toward Nordstrom Notes to spend in stores and online. Plus, you get free basic alterations on clothing purchased at Nordstrom and access to invitation-only events, such as makeup workshops. You can redeem points faster by downloading the app.
  • Special sales. Wait for the Half-Yearly sales, held in early winter and late spring, and the Anniversary sale, held in summer, which offer free shipping and returns. Nordstrom Rack doesn’t participate in these annual events, but you can return sale items to the discount store’s locations.


  • Sales and coupons in the weekly ad. JCPenney has sales throughout the year. Before you hit the store, scan the weekly ad online at (On the website’s desktop version, find it by moving your cursor over the store location.)
  • JCPenney Rewards. You get 30 percent off when you sign up for this loyalty program. Plus, you can rack up points for $10 certificates when you shop and during bonus events.
  • The app. You can use it to get deal alerts and find coupons.

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