Stephanie is a deal-loving diva like myself and given this common bond of Never Paying Full Price For Anything, I feel like it's time to take our show on the road and preach it.
You can find the cutest, nicest clobber for your closet (NOTHING is off limits!), but unless you want sale-shopping to rival one of Dante's rings of hell, it's usually best to have a few guidelines to keep you in-check and on-track.
Keep a Wishlist
At any given time, there are HUNDREDS of things (srsly) that I would be more than happy to bring home from the store. But obviously that's just not happening. A la The Secret, you have to put it out into The Universe in order to get it back. So, when I'm dying for a certain item, I utilize the law of large numbers and keep hunting until I find The One.
Know the Sale Cycle
Some stores like Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor LOFT have supply chains that mandate that if an item is a poor seller, it gets pulled from the floor and forced onto the sale rack. If you can wait for a week or two, you should have a good idea of whether or not your item is one of them. Unless the garment you're looking at is going to complete a part of your soul or the time/space-continuum, it's really best to sit on your hands.
With J.Crew, there's sale, final sale, discounted final sale, factory online, discounted factory online and factory online final sale. If you have the willpower/patience, all of the above are great options, depending on what you're looking for. Sometimes I use these channels to try and source a very specific item, but more often than not, I have far more luck when I'm looking for something more general.
If you're someone who tends to focus your shopping on a few "favorite" stores, it's always good to know whether or not they offer price adjustments. If they do, know what information they're going to require of you (a receipt? original tags? the same card you charged it on?), what the time frame for adjustments is, and whether or not they'll be willing to make more than one adjustment.
The reality is that sometimes it's just not going to be worth it. The store either isn't in-your-way, the timeframe for turnaround is going to be too tight, or you're going to toss a tag that you have no desire to dumpster dive for. And that's okay.
Have a Spending Threshold
I hate paying more than $30 for a sweater. I will basically buy any top that I have any sort of positive gut-reaction towards if it's under $10. Dresses under $50 always warrant a second look. $20 shoes could be wolves in sheep's clothing, but I find that's usually not the case.
Lesson: If you know how much you're comfortable spending, it will keep you focused on actually finding a bargain.
Quality over Quantity
I used to be That Girl who would bring absolutely anything home. Which was fine. Until I had a closet filled with sub-par crap that would either lose its shape in the wash or shrink in a bizarre and completely unpredictable way. If it makes you raise an eyebrow (unless it falls into the less than $10 top category), PUT IT BACK. And start walking.
If you're extremely comfortable with a store/brand, rock the final sale. I've bought more skirts/tanks/sweaters this way than even I'd care to admit. The fact of the matter is, by the time they get to this point, they're el cheapo.
If you know your size, you trust the brand's reputation for quality and there isn't any damage to the item, it's definitely time to dive-in.
If there is damage to the item, consider: Is the damage visible? Is the damage repairable? I've definitely brought home jackets, skirts, etc. that have either been missing buttons or have been plagued with crappy zippers. Both are easy fixes for those who are comfortable with a needle and thread.
Yes, it's a virtue.
In all seriousness, some days you'll walk into a store and it will seem as if the clothing Gods love you and want you to be happy. And on others, you'll enter at your own peril and be completely repulsed.
Repeat after me: There is no method to this madness.
But in the sale-game, the law of large numbers always wins. If what you're looking for is very brand-specific, don't hesitate to check out another location nearby (I learned this tactic from my girl Linds when we were shopping the Victoria's Secret Semi-Annual Sale in college). Their inventory might be completely different or might just be balanced differently (more tops than sweaters, more dresses than skirts and so on and so forth).
What are your sale shopping tips? Spill it.