Ain't she a beaut? My coat shopping experience was really quite excellent, due in equal parts (I'd like to think) to serendipity and to my planning. Now, shopping is fun (or is it a sport?), but it never hurts and usually is very helpful to have a least a few goals in mind when you go shopping. Having an idea of what you want to buy is great, but the more specifics you have, the easier it will be to avoid buyer's remorse and spending fruitless hours searching through things you don't really want.
I'm going to use my coat as an example, but these goals/thinking points can apply to any other clothes, and the principles within might even help you shop smarter when you're looking for books or furniture!
Material I knew I wanted a wool coat. Anything lighter wouldn't keep me warm during the winter, and I'm not really into the shiny/slick/poofy styles. The specifics of the material might not seem as important in your everyday shopping, but the weight and appearance of a piece of clothing can really affect its appropriateness in a physical and presentational way.
Color I did not want anything black. Black is a bit of a safety color for me, as it is for many people, and I've been wearing a black peacoat for seven years. I'm done when black coats. It was tempting to look through the racks and racks of black, but I just remembered how much I envied and enjoyed the pink, green, and yellow winter coats I'd seen other students wearing on campus. (Sidenote: Paying attention to what other people are wearing can be very inspiring! Make sure you remember cute combos/ideas, and remember that an "I love that, where did you get it?" is very seldom unwelcome.)
Fit Ah, fit. That devilbeast that has doomed so many of us to curse the heavens when the piece we desperately want is either out of stock in our size or was never in it to begin with. We are often tempted (at least I am) to go with something almost right. It's just barely too small, right? (Or just barely too large, and you know you won't get it tailored.) Unfortunately, no matter how cute it is, the likelihood of you feeling comfortable wearing it out are slim when it doesn't actually fit properly (and therefore look right), which leaves it to sulk and smolder in the closet, a hateful reminder. With this coat, fit was even more nonnegotiable than ever. I would have to wear this coat over any number of other pieces, so mostly fitting wasn't going to cut it.
Style This one can be sort of a no-brainer, because yeah, duh, you want to buy something you like. But if you're moving in a direction where you're trying to create a wardrobe or a style, you might need to have other qualifications besides just liking it. As an example, though there are tons of great cuts of coats, I was fairly sure I was going to be getting a peacoat. It wasn't a hard and fast rule, but I've always found peacoats very classic and malleable style-wise, so I didn't have to worry about having a totally RAWKIN coat that wouldn't go with a more professional dress or an unltra conservative coat that I couldn't have any fun with. In this case, I ended up combining two of my favorite coats: the peacoat and the trench. Plus, I got tons of the stuff I like: studs, belt, buttons, zippers, fancy collar, hurrah!
Price Depending on your situation, the negotiability of this one will vary. However, even if you had all the money in the world, it's worthwhile to consider how much you're willing to spend on any specific piece. (Although if you had all the money in the world, you would probably be willing to spend a bit more than the average student!) As much as you might like any piece, you need to consider how much you can spend as well as how much said piece is worth. Even if I had a thousand dollars to throw around, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't buy a fifty dollar tanktop because...what? I can't imagine it being worth that to me. This sometimes means making sacrifices. In my case, I got my coat in a super post-Christmas clearance that brought it down to a quarter of the original price. If it had been half or a third of the original price, I wouldn't have bought it, even though I would have loved it just as much. I actually almost put it back on the rack entirely when I glimpsed the price tag, before I saw that it was on a rack that offered additional discounts.
My opinion probably differs from other fashion types, but to me, if the price isn't right for you, neither is the piece. Paying more than you can/want to for anything you don't have to buy will probably lead to buyer's remorse. There are definitely things in my closet that I resent somewhat because I know that I paid too much for them. I don't get nearly as much enjoyment out of them as I do from pieces that I hunted down/waited for/discovered serendipitously at just the right price range. Of course, the other side of the coin is non-buyer's remorse, another painful thing I've felt. It's a fine line, and you're the only one who knows it. And, if you've set up your goals regarding price beforehand, you can feel a little more comfortable either sticking to them or fudging them (just this once).
...obviously I get wordier as I go! I hope some of these tips will help you shop smarter, avoid buyer's remorse, and find exactly what you want! Obviously, whatever "rules" you make about what you're looking for are your rules. You can change them or break them whenever you like. But I find that having the rules/goals/guidelines in place helps me really consider if I want to break them. I buy less impulsively now, and I think that the quality of my wardrobe has improved for it.
Coat is Miss Sixty brand from Boston Store, but it doesn't appear to be in stock anymore.