Unless you are hyper vigilant about your spending habits or living on a tight budget you’ve probably had the experience of buying something you didn’t expect to buy simply because you found it on sale. Now, there are many good reasons for doing so.

If something happens to fit your wardrobe and your figure and is just what you have been looking for, you can just consider it a great coup.

But too many times that “can’t live without,” or “not going to be there tomorrow” item remains unused and taking space in your closet. Within a year or so it ends up in the donation pile.

The Truth About Sales and Outlets

The original price you see on most clothing is marked up 2.5 times the cost of manufacturing. That offers the retailer the option for a first, second, and third markdown. So, when you see something on sale you will know that the retailer is still making something off it, even if it’s marked way down.

And then there is outlet shopping – those malls filled with high-end and mid-level chain and department stores carrying their leftover merchandise. The prices can be pretty alluring, but be forewarned.

Many of the items they carry are not really discounted regular merchandise at all but are of a lower quality and are specifically manufactured to sell at a lower price. When you see that “original” price you can bet it’s fake.

Yes, you can find a few gems that were, in fact, originally in the stores, but it takes effort to find them among the weeds.

When to Buy Something on Sale

There are certain times of the year when bargain shopping makes total sense. The key is simply to shop for those items that are just about to be out of season.

In practical life that means looking for things like swimwear in July and August, outerwear in December (when they are making room for spring items) and then again in April (when the season is ending), jeans and denim in October when school shopping is over.

If you love thrift and consignment stores, April and May are great times to check them out as that is when many women do their spring cleaning and clear out their closets.

Pippa Williams and Jen Meneely, the Houston-based duo behind Too Cheap Blondes, only shop at thrift stores and never pay more than 5% of the original price for couture-name items.

If you feel compelled to buy a pricier item that is on sale always apply the cost-per-wear formula. Being as honest as you can be, figure out how many times you might actually wear the item and divide the price by that number.

If you can live with the per-wear number, then you’re not likely to regret buying it. If you need something for a formal occasion – even if you know you won’t wear it much – that’s always a good reason to buy on sale.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait Too Long for Something to Go on Sale

If you really love something that isn’t on sale, buy it now because it’s likely other people will like it too. Well-made classic pieces that withstand the test of time are not going to remain on the racks very long. These days, retailers expect a fast turnaround.

There was a time when retail merchandisers offered a Fall/Winter collection, and a Spring/Summer one to reflect the couture collections. But today, some of the so-called “fast fashion” names like Zara and H&M stock new items every month or two.

In that segment of the market, newness is what drives sales. A lot of younger people want the newest and the latest things.

How to Decide if It’s Really Worth Buying

If you tend to shop on impulse, do a little shopping in your own closet before you head out to the mall or your favorite boutique. Spend a little time creating outfits with what you already have. That will put everything else you see at the mall in perspective.

You will start weeding out what no longer suits your body, your lifestyle or is hopelessly outdated. And you will see gaps in what you need to replace or what can be brought together – say, a skirt and jacket – into a complete outfit.

Finally, when you shop for anything, but particularly sale items, let your body be your guide. If something makes your heart beat faster because it’s a terrific bargain and was already on your “want list” by all means, buy it. But if it makes you tense up and feel conflicted, take a deep breath and step away.

Ask the sales person to hold it for you or put it in your shopping cart and cover it with something else for a while so you won’t think about it.

If you get to the checkout counter and feel delighted when you “suddenly” find it again, buy it. But then when you get it home, don’t save it for a special occasion. Wear it!

What have you bought that you regretted purchasing? Do you shop the sales and then find you never wear the bargain you purchased? Please share your shopping habits and how you feel about them!

Andrea PflaumerAndrea Pflaumer is the author of “Shopping for the Real You: Ten Essential Steps to a Better Wardrobe for Every Women – Fashionistas, Fashion-phobes and the Over Fifty”, and “She’s Got Good Jeans.” She writes about fashion, style and the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Please visit her blog Shopping for the Real You.

Let's Have a Conversation!