There's something that happens when many of us get near a clearance rack: Money concerns and complaints about overcrowded closets seem to evaporate -- along with the ability to make rational decisions.

That shirt, skirt or scarf you buy on sale can become a wardrobe workhorse as well as a brag-worthy bargain. But the vast majority of shopping mistakes are made within the confines of the clearance zone. During the post-holiday sale season, the lure of a bargain can be strong, so strong that it can muddle the minds of otherwise savvy shoppers. Because sales can be final, it's important to think before you buy. Consider this before you settle on a deal:

• Try to identify why the item in question appeals to you. Is it the color? The cut? The fabric? The fit? Or is it just that it's a designer name at a discount? Taking a few minutes to examine why you like something can help you decide if you truly like it or if you're being swayed by the pricetag.

• If it's a piece of clothing, try to envision at least three outfits you can create with this garment. The sale item doesn't have to be something you'll wear every day, but any garment that doesn't fit with your wardrobe or your style will quickly become a closet orphan.

• Sometimes we decide a piece of clothing is perfect because it's familiar. You may gravitate toward plain black cardigans on the sale racks because you adore plain black cardigans -- and own three or four of them already. Make sure you're not purchasing a duplicate.

• When you find an item that you feel compelled to buy, ask yourself, "What will happen if I don't buy this? Will I remember that I wanted it in two weeks?" If the answer is no, walk away.