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All those signs, emails and website banners screaming “sale!” are oh-so-very tempting, but before you get out your wallet and start shopping, read these rules for getting the most wearable, high-quality items at a discount.

Know your budget

Decide how much you have to spend and stick to your budget. And remember, just because you’re shopping discounted items, it doesn’t mean that you’re saving money. You save money by not shopping at all.

Shop early

If you want to get the best items in your size, you have to shop as soon as the sale starts. So sign up for your favourite stores’ email newsletters and be ready to hop on your laptop or hit the mall as soon as the sale starts. On the other hand, if you’re really looking for a bargain, you can wait it out. The first round of sales will be discounted less than at the very end of the season. You’ll get better prices but fewer sizes and choices the longer you wait.

Think about what you could actually use in your wardrobe

Before shopping, take a look through your closet and decide what you could get rid of and what you need more of. Purging your wardrobe before shopping is a great way to weed out what’s taking up space (but not getting worn) while making room for new stuff. It will also help you figure out what you wear and what you don’t, so you won’t buy three more striped tops that look better on the hanger than they do on you.

Buy only what you love

Look at the original price of the item you’re considering and think “would I buy this at the original price?” If not, it may not be worth buying.

Buy only what you’ll wear

Before buying something, think of three ways you could wear it with clothes you already have. Don’t depend on buying something to go with a new item, in order to wear it. If a new item doesn’t fit with your current style, don’t try to force it.

Be open to different sizes

Sometimes an item is on sale because it didn’t sell very well. This could be because it’s ugly, or it could be because the sizing was off or the fit wasn’t flattering. You can take advantage of this by taking multiple sizes with you into the dressing room. If you’re usually a medium, take a small, medium and large with you. Maybe in your usual size the top isn’t flattering, but perhaps it would look better a bit more snug or even a little oversized.

Of course, this rule only makes sense if the clothing actually fits. NEVER buy shoes that are too small or too big with plans of stretching or adding insoles. That never works and you’ll have the blisters to prove it. Similarly, don’t buy clothes that are too small with plans to lose weight. That’s a losing battle for both your wallet and your self esteem.

Shop by size online

When it comes to shopping online, don’t mess around with sizing. You don’t have the chance to try the garment on, so you can’t decide that it might look better in a bigger size. Use the site’s fit guide to determine what size you are. Try to stick with stores you’ve shopped in person so you already have an idea of what size you should be buying. If the site allows, filter the options by size. There’s no point falling in love with an item only to discover, once you’ve clicked on it, that they don’t carry your size.

Look for season-less items

Unless you have a tropical vacation planned this fall, don’t buy strictly-summer pieces. While that Hawaiian-print jersey sundress might be adorable, you won’t be wearing it in a month, so even on sale, it’s not a smart buy.

T-shirts, tank tops and sleeveless blouses can all be worn year-round by layering with sweaters and cardigans. The same goes with skirts and dresses. You may even want to bring a pair of nylons or opaque tights with you to determine how fall-appropriate a cute dress might be.

Look at the tags

And we don’t just mean the price tag. Take a look at the fabric content and care tags inside the garment. A cheap polyester top isn’t exactly a steal, even at $5. While polyester has become more refined, it’s still unnatural and fairly cheap to produce so it shouldn’t cost the same as say, silk or even 100 per cent cotton, depending on the style. A fabric mix is often a good choice. Polyester and cotton together will mean a more durable, stain-resistant piece but all cotton, all the time may be better for those who sweat when wearing unnatural fibres.

Also, pay attention to the washing instructions. Do you often dry clean your clothes? Can you afford to add another garment to your dry cleaning bill? Make sure that this new top or dress won’t cost you more at the dry cleaner than it will at the store. And if you’re not good at separating delicates from the rest of your laundry, skip items that are hand-wash only.

Finally, pay close attention to that price tag and don’t get drawn in by the discount percentage. A $1,000 item that’s 50 per cent off is still $500. Remember your budget and shop within it.