When times are economically lean, it's not always possible to get the brands and products you want.
 Or is it?

Enter the world of closeout stores! These mini department stores (places like Marshall's, Ross, Burlington Coat Factory, Filene's Basement, T.J. Maxx, Big Lots, and more) can be meccas of savings opportunities with deeply-discounted fashions, décor, home goods and even snacks. But KCLs know that even in discount stores, adding savings strategies on top of the low prices makes the haul even sweeter. Use these tips the next time you are in a closeout store to see how much more you can save.

Know where to look

Each closeout store has its own unique organizational pattern, so if you're shopping for a specific item for yourself or as a gift, it's important to look in the right area. For instance, I was recently searching the women's pants and activewear sections at a Ross Dress for Less for some leggings. I thought I'd get some at a cheap price since they were out of season, but I came up empty handed. I was just about to give up when I asked a dressing room employee if she'd seen any come through or could tell me where to look in the store. Bingo! Not only did she grab a pair for me straight off a place-back rack, but she directed me to…the sock area! She also said some bolder colors could be found in the juniors’ section. I walked away with two pairs of discounted Anne Klein leggings for $2.50 each that I wouldn't have found if I hadn’t asked.

Look for mislabeled items

Occasionally, closeout stores really don't know what they have, and in the process of trying to price and shelve merchandise, things can get misidentified. Imagine my boyfriend's surprise when (helping me look for my coveted leggings) he spied an $18 pair of Salomon men’s trail running socks for $2! The catch? They were mistakenly labeled as women's. Same socks, same high-end brand, out-of-this-world value. My outdoorsy boyfriend was thrilled and not bothered in the least that he "appeared" to be buying a women's item. So when you shop, spend time really looking around at prices/tags in various departments to see if you, too, can find a mislabeled bargain. Note: Never, ever intentionally switch a tag when shopping to get a better price. This is a dishonest method, one KCL does not advocate in the least. Be ethical, and pay an honest price since what you pay affects manufacturer and store employee salaries.

Know when the truck comes in

Since stock and brands rotate so quickly at closeout stores, sometimes getting "first dibs" can make all the difference. Research when your store receives their warehouse shipment and when those items get stocked; all it takes is a quick question to an employee. I know this because an employee at T.J. Maxx let me in on the secret. I was looking for a specific gift item for a foodie friend (chocolate-covered espresso beans) and didn't find any, so I asked an employee (who happened to be an assistant manager) if they ever carried them. She told me yes and asked if she could put aside a pack for me! Wow, what customer service! Too bad I wasn't asking for True Religion jeans or Tory Burch ballet flats. Moral of the story: knowing the stock cycle of your store—and being kind to an employee—may just help you get first dibs on a deal.

Shop with gift cards

One easy way to make your money go further when retail shopping is to shop with a store gift card bought for less than face value. How? You could buy a previously-owned card from a site like Gift Card Granny, or you could wait for a grocery store or drugstore promotion where retail store cards are offered at a 10–20 percent discount. This is especially popular around holidays; for example, Albertsons offered a $20 Catalina with a $100 gift card purchase back in December. A promotion like this for 20 percent more "free money" for shopping at a store you plan to patronize anyway is hard to beat. Want more gift card savings tips? Read this article.

Use your couponing strategies

See a great deal in the Big Lots store ad that could be even better with a coupon? Since you can't use a manufacturer coupon at Big Lots, consider price matching at a store (like Target or Wal-Mart) where you can. You'll get the same low price as in the ad, but the additional money off through the coupon can save you more. (If you need a crash-course in price matching, check out this video). But think coupons are off limits at all closeout stores? Think again! Stein Mart offers their own printables (like these for 20 and 25 percent off sale and clearance items for Father's Day weekend). Marshalls/Home Goods is a great place to use printable Yankee Candle coupons (like this spring BOGO offer). And if you're not able to find a closeout store's coupon policy online, the best way to learn is simply to ask in store. Tip: be sure to bring your coupon with you so the employee can see it, read the fine print, and know the exact product for which you desire to use it.

Be patient

Sure, you want to score a Michael Kors tote for 80 percent off its regular retail price…or you want to find the perfect espresso leather storage ottoman to complete your living room décor. You may not find it after only one trip. Part of the fun of shopping at closeout stores is the thrill of the hunt, so you may have to buy something in the off season, before you really need it, or after making several trips to the store looking for it. But that moment when your eyes meet your coveted item on the store shelf and you see the bargain price, the feeling of incredible savings is like no other!

Have a recent closeout store shopping experience that netted an amazing purchase? Brag about it in the "Comments" section below.

How to Save More at Closeout Stores