The cost of clothing has hardly budged in the past 20 years - and items can be even cheaper if you're prepared to barter.

We enlisted the help of savvy Auckland shopper Kym Nyhoff. Her mission: to outfit her family of four for less than $100.

What Nyhoff lacked in purse power, she more than compensated with her eye for fashion and the tremendous bargains, sales and discounts on offer in the shops.

Nyhoff visited Farmers, K-Mart, The Warehouse, Amazon Surf and Number One Shoes. If necessary, she thought, she'd get clothes and a pair of Jandals each.


"It was a miracle based on the sales," she said, of the end result. "It's all quite decent stuff, it's close to $180 worth of stuff."

Nyhoff's favourite purchase was her $25 pair of high-heeled wedges from The Warehouse. Even their full price of $39 would be a bargain.

"The shoes took a quarter of it. The reason for that is that, well I wanted a decent pair of shoes, but also my dress was only $12.

But she wouldn't be wearing them today had she not been bold enough to ask for a discount at another store.

Her wallet held just $35 and she still had to get footwear for herself and husband Andrew Nyhoff, a secondary school teacher. A nice pair of Jandals at Amazon Surf for Andrew was on sale from $28 down to $15, but even at that price, she'd have had to return hers.

"It was sweet-talking. I said [to Amazon], 'I've only got $10, what can you do'?" The shop knocked $5 off the sale price, and she got both pairs.

Daughter Saskia, 6, and son Luke, 3, ended up with good quality outfits.

Retailers' Association chief executive John Albertson said Nyhoff's experience reflected a hugely competitive marketplace in which retailers were shaving their profit margins. "Going back a few years ago a speciality retailer's profit would have been about 8 per cent; today it's probably about 3 per cent. There's a lot of risk for not a lot of return."

The Consumer Price Index shows the price of men's and women's clothing has hardly changed since the late 1980s.

Statistics New Zealand said prices were kept down by cuts in import tariffs for clothing and the 1992 removal of import quotas, allowing anybody to import clothing. In 1987 some clothing attracted a 65 per cent tariff; by 1991 the tariff had fallen to 40 per cent for all items, and by 1999 it was down to 19 per cent, and now clothing imported into New Zealand attracted a 10 per cent tariff.