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Swimsuits: Where the bargains are

Looking to outfit the family in bathing suits before you hit the beach or pool? Here's where to look -- and when to buy for the deepest discount.

By May 10, 2013 10:50AM
This post comes from Louis DeNicola at partner site

It's just about time for swimming pools, water slides, and beach days and that means cheap swimwear for men and the kids are must-have items. If the youngsters have outgrown last year's swimsuit and your guy's trunks are now too big (or too small), check out any or all of the retailers noted below as you search for budget-friendly replacements.

Poster proclaiming Sale up to 50% off and shoppers silhouetted in foreground © Michele Constantini/PhotoAlto Agency RF/Getty ImagesTaking a not-so-scientific approach to finding cheap swimwear, we scoped out the cost of bathing suits for men, boys and junior-size girls offered through the online shops of six major retailers. (Check here for tips on where to find cheap women's swimsuits.) After estimating average costs at Gap, J.C. Penney, Macy's, Old Navy, Target and Wal-Mart, we found that men's and boys' swimwear or a junior girl's one-piece swimsuit or two-piece bikini are readily available for less than $25.

In several cases we found a cheap bathing suit priced below $10, although in limited styles and colors. At the high end, notably in the junior girl's bathing suits category, we spotted a few models at Macy's tagged at more than $100; most, however, settled in the $20-to-$30 range. Junior-size swimsuits for girls are often cheaper than adult sizes for women, while men's and boys' trunks more often bear nearly equal prices. Brand names generally add to the cost but don't necessarily improve the quality.

Style options for men
Men and boys can find the largest selection of cheap swimwear in the categories of swimming trunks and board shorts. The two styles are similar in function, but board shorts (aka boardies or baggies) are slightly longer and are held up by Velcro and a string tie instead of elastic. They are "hipper," and the patterns are generally more stylish. Pockets are an additional useful feature on board shorts and may have a Velcro closure to keep belongings secure. Younger boys may prefer swimming trunks decorated with their favorite video game or television characters, like the superhero-themed trunks at Gap. We noted that some items listed as swimming trunks actually look more like board shorts with their drawstring waist, pockets, and knee-skimming length. 

Choices for women, girls
Junior-size girls have several options when selecting cheap swimwear: one-piece, two- piece, or two-piece mix-and-match. Prices depend more on style and design than on suit type. J.C. Penney posts an affordable $5 section where top and bottom pieces each carry a $5 price tag and there are eight colors and designs to choose among. Wal-Mart also sells two-piece sets for less than $10 but doesn't offer top and bottom pieces separately -- nor do Old Navy and Gap. In our modest sample the average cost of a single-piece suit was slightly higher than a two-piece swimsuit set.

Time the purchase
It goes without saying for all frugal shoppers that timing is everything. For anyone who can resist jumping in a pool until the end of May, or at least using last season's swimsuit for the time being, Memorial Day sales may be the best chance to snag a bargain. But with prices hovering around $20, give or take a few, it may not be worth the wait. Keep an eye out for in-store coupons and online deals and you'll catch already cheap swimwear at even greater discounts. If you're buying several suits for the family and want to keep a lid on costs, you may find coupons that can be stacked on top of clearance sales for extra savings.

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