I love clearance shelves—it’s like looking for hidden treasure! The great surprise is that sometimes you can find an item you really need that’s no longer on the shelf. Or, you may find the perfect gift marked down as I did yesterday: a travel size Connect 4 game marked 50% down for our family trip next month. However, there are reasons why items are placed on clearance. They could be seasonal items, soon-to-expire items, or items that have been replaced by their newer versions. Bearing that information in mind, here are six questions that you should ask yourself before you decide on purchasing a clearance item.

1. Is the item damaged?

I recently got a great deal on Vaseline Intensive Care lotion and bought several bottles. When I got the items home and started using the first container, I discovered some leaking out of the side. It turned out that upon further examination, all of the bottles had been sliced with a box cutter when the boxes were opened. That’s why they were on clearance. I had two options: return the bottles or use them. I elected to use them and just placed the lotion in an empty container. It worked great, but I don’t plan on running into the same issue in the future. Carefully inspect the product to make sure it’s sealed, intact and not leaking! If the item is damaged, is it still usable and is it worth the money you plan to spend?

2. What does the clearance sale include?

Be careful when purchasing seasonal products. I went to Rite Aid after Valentine’s Day to purchase some candy and found some great items that were advertised on clearance like coloring books and little baskets. But when I got to checkout, these items didn’t ring up as clearance. The coloring books were only 30% off and the candy 50% off. Just because items may be grouped together with large clearance signs doesn’t mean that the discount is all-inclusive.
I’ve also found products on clearance racks that weren’t even sale items. Somehow, they had ended up on the clearance shelf accidentally. Many times—if I have a question—I’ll ask the clerk to scan the item for the  correct price before I purchase it. This saves time and prevents a return.

3. What’s the expiration date? 

This is especially true for edible products. Meat is typically placed on clearance when nearing its expiration date. If you plan to immediately cook the product or freeze it, you should be safe. But fresh items nearing their expiration dates may not be safe to hold on to for several days. Discounted fruits and vegetables need to be carefully inspected for mold or softness. I bought some tortilla chips one day and was standing in line at the checkout when I just happened to see the expiration date. It was for the week before! I notified the sales clerk when I got to the register and she notified the manager. They immediately checked all of the dates on the bags and found more expired ones. These were removed and I got my new bag free!

4. Do you have a coupon to sweeten the deal?

One way to save up to 90% off of an item is to purchase it on clearance and use a valid coupon. I was recently shopping a clearance shelf on the back end cap at Rite Aid, and there were bottles of Suave shampoo. These bottles were marked down to $1.34. I had four $1 coupons, which means I got four bottles of shampoo for $.34 each. Score! If I see a clearance sale that’s great, I always check my coupons to see if there’s a coupon that will fit the sale! At Target, the deals can get even sweeter using Target coupons, Cartwheel and text deals!

5. Can the item be returned?

Clearance items are subject to a store’s policies. If I’m purchasing a significant amount of items from clearance, I ask the sales clerk at checkout about their return. Some stores offer clearance items as final sales. Others will accept returns with a proper receipt or limit the return period.

6. Is the item discounted enough for you to consider purchasing?

A great example comes from an experience at Target. I love the endcap clearance sales at Target, but a lot of times they may start out at only a 30% discount. A sale item may feature that exact price. Without a coupon, I probably wouldn’t purchase this product at a sale price or as a clearance item. I like to see an item discounted at least 50-60% to consider purchasing it. One of my best purchases ever was packs of ID gum marked down to $.30 each. I bought 35 of them!

Clearance rack locations

It’s important to learn how your particular store displays clearance deals. At my local Harris Teeter, clearance is displayed near the checkout registers. At my local Walgreens & Rite Aid, the end caps at the back of the store are the best places to find clearance items. At my CVS, the discounted items are generally on the shelf, but marked with a clearance sticker. Knowing how to shop clearance is the first step to saving tons of money on items you use and share. Automatically check the clearance racks when you visit the stores—you never know what treasure you may find!
For money-saving articles, check out:
6 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Purchasing Clearance Items