When the budget is tight, you need to work extra hard to stretch your precious fashion dollars as far as they’ll go. But how do you sort out the cheap thrills from pieces that are simply, well, cheap? Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Invest in your staples classic, sturdy pieces that can be worn for years and years and buy trendy pieces only at a bargain price. A classic pair of black pumps that you’ll wear for hours at a time, at least several days out of the month, for years and years to come? They’re worth the splurge, so invest in a pricier pair that will hold together and offer better cushioning for your feet. The electric yellow pumps that you might only wear a few times out of the year? Try to find a bargain pair.

The same goes for any other purchase. A classic winter coat, a crisp white shirt, the jeans that flatter you just so these are pieces that will stay in your closet for years, so buy with quality in mind. Hot pink jeans and tribal-print skirts are passing trends that might not last more than a few months, so go ahead and look for a bargain.

There are lots of bargain stores at the mall, offering clothes and shoes for less than $50 (and often far less than that). Before you buy, check the item carefully. Are the seams well-stitched, or does the garment look like it might pull apart? Are the buttons sewn on tightly? Dresses and tops might be made of thinner material, so be sure you have a camisole or slip to wear underneath. Don’t buy the wrong size just because it’s on the clearance rack; an improper fit makes any garment look cheap. And check the return policy: many stores offer strict store credit only policies, or even refuse returns. Buyer beware!

As a general rule, trendy cheap chic chains are great for trendy jewelry, scarves, handbags, and other accessories. Remember that you probably won’t find real leather here, and the leather look items can cut either way: fabulously fake or shiny and cheap. Some of the clothes are worth the money, but you’ll need a keen eye to separate a great bargain from a cheap item. They’re not the best places to find shoes, coats, or professional attire. But you can usually find cute pajamas, trendy tops, and other separates at great prices.

Save your hard earned cash for investment pieces and hit the bargain chains when you need a few trendy items (like a colorful belt or a glittery clutch) to amp up the wow factor on your staple outfits. That’s the secret to bargain style!