Last week, I went to my local mall for the first time in many months (or was it years?). As I strolled around, taking in the sights and the bustle of our consumerist Mecca, I couldn’t help but notice all the sales I saw advertised at every major clothing retailer. JCrew and Anthropologie had multiple racks with deeply discounted items. Brooks Brothers and Macy’s had a 40% and 25% sale on every piece of clothing in the store, respectively (yes this is exactly how I shop, I take notes of discounts for future blog post that will never be written). The more I walked the more I realized that there were considerable “sales” all around me.

But the widespread nature of the sales does not mean that all clothing items were reduced or that customers were bound to walk away with discounted purchases without exerting too much effort. In fact, it was the contrary. Although stores were quick to advertise their sales in posters and entranceway signage, an actual examination of these stores revealed that there were still plenty of items priced just as high as ever. The differences between a full and half-priced item seemed to be minimal and random. In some stores, all lingerie was heavily discounted while jackets remained at full price. In others, some jackets would be surprisingly cheap while others were shockingly expensive.  The funny thing is that there’s some real science behind the arrangement of stores, from packaging, visual of placements, to eye tracking technology, even if it all seems maddening random and chaotic at times.

Of course, sometimes you come across weird gaps in thinking at certain stores. At Gap, for example, the price for a pair of blue jeans ranged from $9.99 (on sale) to $170 (full price). The two pairs of jeans at the edges of this spectrum both looked nice, both fit well, and both were labeled with relatively reputable brands. But there was a full $160 difference between the two. Pretty ridiculous. I personally wouldn’t cough up $170 for a pair of jeans – especially if a similar $10 pair could be found only several racks down. If someone frequently buys their clothes at this pacing, they’ll probably need a title loan to cover that difference.

This is all to say that the frugal shopper really has little reason to buy items at full price these days, because there’s always a “sales” around the corner or a 50% off sign somewhere, and the problem is that a good number of times, these sales signs are a mix-bag in terms of savings. The fact is, as long as you plan ahead (and are willing to buy winter clothes during the spring), willing to buy online, don’t need to own the absolute latest styles, and have some flexibility with your purchase preferences (i.e., you don’t leave for the mall thinking “I must get a red suit jacket today”), then there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to focus on the actual savings and ignore the “sales” that are meant to play with your mind.

 Relevant Reading: