Everyone wants to look like a million bucks, but not everyone is a millionaire. Luckily, these days it’s easier than ever to look fabulous for less. Stores are getting wise to the budgetary constraints of stylish customers and are offering more and more sales to compensate. There’s also a thriving secondhand market that lets you get designer clothes for bargain prices.
Quick Tips for Shopping on a Budget
Here are a few quick and easy ways to save when building your style and wardrobe:
1. Sign Up for Newsletters From Your Favorite Stores
Whether you prefer a preppy look or a casual tee, it’s a good idea to sign up for the email blasts sent out by your favorite stores. Many stores seem to have at least one or two promotions running at all times these days. Signing up for emails means you won’t miss out.
Of course, all those store emails can become too much of a good thing. If you’re worried that you’ll find it hard to resist the siren’s call of 40 percent off, create a unique email address just for these types of communications. That way, you won’t be tempted to click and shop when you don’t need anything. Should you need to refresh your wardrobe, you can always sign in to your account and see what sales are happening.
For additional sources of great deals and discounts, see number four in the Fashion Tips for Men section of this post.
2. Time Your Purchases Right
When’s the best time to buy a winter coat? Super savvy shoppers will tell you it’s at the end of winter. If you need a bathing suit, they tend to get marked down in the middle of summer when there’s still plenty of time to go for a dip in the pool. Along with getting in the habit of buying seasonal clothes near or at the end of the season, it’s worth getting to know the sale cycles of your favorite brands.
For example, some stores offer surprise or flash sales on a fairly consistent basis, such as once a season. During a surprise sale, items may get deeply discounted (in some cases, as much as 50 to 75 percent). While there’s no way to know what will be offered at a flash sale, if you have a general list of what you need, you can go in prepared and resist the temptation to purchase things that aren’t on your list.
3. Go Secondhand
There are a lot of gently used clothes floating around for sale at online resale shops, brick-and-mortar consignment stores, and thrift stores. Although buying secondhand clothing often involves a bit more time and effort on your part compared to buying new, it can translate to a considerable amount of money saved.
4. Use Cash Rewards
Here’s another way to build your closet without busting your budget. Use a cash rewards card, such as our Founder’s Card, to pay for your clothing purchases. If you regularly use your rewards card to make $1,000 worth of purchases or to pay bills each month and that card gives you 1.5 percent cash back, you’ll have $180 after a year. That’s enough to buy several new outfits, if you’re savvy. Of course, make sure you don’t buy more than what you can pay off, or the interest you accrue could outweigh the savings.
5. Know Return Policies
Clothing you’re not going to wear shouldn’t take up space in your dresser or closet. Get in the habit of scrutinizing everything that comes home with you or that you buy online. Keep the tags on clothing until you wear them and save your receipts. If you haven’t worn an item within a couple of weeks of purchasing it, the odds are likely you never will. Return it to the store and get your money back.
Along with returning clothing you don’t end up needing or wearing, it’s important to remember to only make purchases that you can return. Some stores put significantly discounted clothes on “final sale,” meaning you can’t return them. There’s too much risk for disappointment when buying any clothing item on final sale. If you can’t return it, don’t buy it.
6. Go in With a Budget
Another way to look fabulous for less is to set a budget and stick to it. If you know that you have $150 to spend on clothing for the season, then you’ll be more likely to make smarter choices. For example, you’ll be less likely to spend your entire budget on a $150 dress you’ll wear once in the winter and more likely to purchase clothing you’ll wear more often.
Need help sticking to your budget? Try using cash instead of a card.
Build a Capsule Wardrobe
If you’re looking to revamp your entire wardrobe, there are still ways you can look fabulous for less. One way is to put together a capsule wardrobe.
What’s a capsule wardrobe? Although there are different specific definitions of the concept, the agreed-upon description is that it’s a collection of clothing that you can mix and match to create multiple outfits.
There’s some disagreement on the number of pieces that should be included, ranging from 24 to more than 30. Some capsule wardrobes include shoes and accessories, while others only consist of garments such as skirts, blouses, and pants, without shoes and accessories included in the count.
If you’re unsure of where to start, you might consider Project 333. This is a capsule wardrobe concept that lets you pick out 33 pieces of clothing, shoes, accessories, and jewelry, which you then wear for three months.
As part of Project 333, you get to rotate your core 33 pieces four times a year. That means you’re not stuck including a heavy down or wool jacket in your capsule in the summer or left with a sundress you can’t wear at all in the winter.
That said, although you do change out your capsule several times a year, it’s very likely that you’ll find you have several pieces that stick around all year long, such as a pair of jeans or a collection of t-shirts.
Why a Capsule Wardrobe?
Why should you bother to put together a capsule wardrobe, and will doing so help improve your style without causing you to go broke? The answer is most likely yes.
There are three major reasons to create a capsule wardrobe:
- You’ll save time. One of the biggest benefits of putting together a capsule wardrobe is that it helps you save a lot of time. That time saving comes in a few different forms. First, you’re going to spend less time shopping or browsing for clothing since you have your wardrobe for the next few months all picked out. Second, having a limited selection of things to wear each day means you’re likely to spend less time in front of the mirror trying to figure out if an outfit “works” or not.
- You’re more likely to choose what you love. Another benefit of capsuling is that you’re more likely to select clothes you like to wear, rather than pieces that happen to be in your closet. Imagine getting to wear only the items you genuinely love for the next three months. That’s what happens with a capsule.
- You’ll have more space in your life. This last reason goes hand in hand with saving time. When you create a capsule and spend less time focusing on what to wear, you’ll have more room in your life to explore things that genuinely interest you. You’ll also have more space in your closet.
How to Put Together Your Capsule Wardrobe
Creating a capsule wardrobe isn’t too tricky, but it does take some time. Try putting every single accessory, piece of clothing, and pair of shoes on your bedroom floor to get started. Taking everything out all at once encourages you to tackle the project and finish it up before the end of the day.
Next, it’s time to sort through your stuff. Create four piles:
- Don’t love/donate
- Don’t love/worn out/trash
Go with your gut. If you pick up a dress and your first thought is “nope,” send it to the donate pile. But if you pick up a dress and think about how much you love it, put it in the keep pile.
The unsure pile is where things get tricky. There are a few questions you can ask yourself to figure out what to do about the items you’re not 100 percent sure about.
One question is, “Would I buy this again today?” If the answer is yes, you might as well keep it. If the answer is no, put it in the donate pile.
Another question worth asking is, “Will I have a chance to wear this in the next three months?” Remember, you’re putting together a capsule for the season. If you won’t be wearing a heavy coat in the summer, there’s no reason to overthink it today. You can safely set it aside until you put together your winter capsule, or you can cut to the chase and donate it now.
Depending on how many items ended up in the love/keep pile, you might be finished at this point. But it’s probably likely that there’s going to be more than 33 things in that pile.
First, pull out the accessories, clothes, and shoes you wear on a regular, daily basis. They’ll be right at home in your capsule since they already get the most use.
Count the number of items in the regular use pile. For example, you might have a collection of pants, shirts, shoes, and accessories that total 15 items. That means you can choose another 18 pieces for the capsule.
When picking out the rest of your items, think about how the pieces work together. For example, if you’re trying to decide between two shirts, it’s a good idea to choose the shirt that you can wear with a skirt and with a pair of jeans, rather than the top that only works with jeans.
Parting With Your Clothes
For plenty of people, a capsule wardrobe is the first step on the path toward minimalism. But you might feel a bit nervous about donating so many items of clothing or otherwise getting rid of your stuff.
If you’re hesitant about giving up so much of your closet, one thing you can try doing is putting your donate, unsure, and trash piles away in a closet or basement for the duration of your capsule. After the three months are up, take those boxes out again and look at them with fresh eyes. You might find that you’re ready to say goodbye to them, especially if you haven’t missed them during the three months.
Fashion Tips for Women on a Budget
While a capsule wardrobe can help you save money by encouraging you to buy fewer clothes, there are other savvy ways to save money while flexing your style muscles. Here’s how:
1. Swap Clothing With Friends
If you want to refresh your closet but don’t want to spend money, holding a clothing swap with your friends gives you a chance to snag a few of their cast-offs and give them some clothes you’re no longer into.
Since it’s likely you and your friends are a range of sizes, it can be helpful to invite as many women as possible to the event. Ask each friend to invite at least one other person, to ensure that there is a range of sizes available. Also, make sure anyone who attends the swap brings along at least three pieces of clothing — otherwise, there won’t be enough to trade.
2. Try a Rental Service or Subscription Box
If you’re the type of person who always needs to have new items in your wardrobe, but you’re also keeping a close eye on your budget, it can be worth trying out a fashion rental service.
Rental programs typically charge you a monthly fee, such as $50 or $100. Some let you pick out the clothing and accessories you rent. Others send you a selection of items based on style preferences you list.
You receive the clothes in the mail, wear them around as much as you want, then return them when you get tired of them. A few services give you the option of purchasing pieces if you love them and might offer you a slightly discounted price for the clothing.
Along with rental services, there are also stylist-in-a-box programs. These programs send you a box of clothing, chosen based on your style preferences. You have time to try each piece on and decide if you want to keep it. If you do, you get charged for the items. If not, you send them back.
A stylist-in-a-box service might not save you money on clothing, but it can help to save you time and hassle when it comes to figuring out what to buy and wear.
3. Sell Your Clothes
Odds are, the clothes you’re tired of probably have plenty of life left in them. While you can donate them to a good cause, another option is to sell them and use the money you get from the sale the next time you need to refresh your wardrobe.
You have a lot of options when it comes to selling your clothing. Online resale sites might be the easiest way to go, but they tend to pay the least, and there’s a risk that they won’t buy anything you send them.
You might get a bit more from a local consignment shop, but there’s also the risk your items won’t sell or that the sales associate will reject them outright.
The option that will net you the most money is listing your clothing yourself on a site like eBay or Poshmark. Such places do take a cut of the sale price, but you have the freedom of choosing how much you sell each item for.
4. Find Your Signature Style
When you’re trying to look fabulous for less, it’s important to remember you can be stylish without buying into the latest trends, which you then discard a year or so later.
One way to get style without breaking the bank is to find your signature look. For some women, it’s a bold lip color. For others, it’s a piece of jewelry they wear every day. Your signature doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be something that people come to associate with you and only you.
5. Invest in Underpinnings
The drawback of buying inexpensive clothing is that they often look inexpensive. Skirts and dresses that aren’t lined tend to cling awkwardly or show the shadows of your legs. One affordable way to make inexpensive clothes look expensive is to purchase the right underpinnings.
Don’t underestimate the power of a slip to turn a $5 skirt into one that looks like it came off of the designer rack.
Fashion Tips for Men on a Budget
Don’t worry, fellas. We have a few tips to help you look great without going broke, too.
1. Find a Tailor
Part of looking stylish means finding clothing that fits. That can be tricky if you have limited options due to budget constraints, but it’s not impossible.
Whether you find a few shirts at a tailor or on the rack at an inexpensive store, you can bring them to a tailor for relatively affordable alterations. Turning a shirt that’s too big into one that fits you perfectly can instantly elevate your style, without breaking the bank.
2. Discover an Item’s Potential
Certain things, such as shoes, can be repaired relatively inexpensively. When you’re shopping at a thrift store, keep an eye out for the diamonds in the rough. You might find a pair of worn out leather shoes that you can easily take to a cobbler for a new set of soles. The same is true of a leather bag that looks worn out — with a bit of leather conditioner, it’s likely it could look like new again.
3. Don’t Fear the Dressing Room
When you’re shopping, you most likely want to get in there, find what you need, and get out. But spending a bit more time on the clothes-buying process can save you hassle and money in the long run.
Take the time to try on things before you buy them. That way, you can see if you’re buying the right size and fit. You are also less likely to have to deal with the hassle of returning an item if you know that it works for you before you buy it.
4. Know Where to Go for Coupons and Discounts
There are plenty of sites and apps out there that are dedicated to giving you coupon and discount codes. Some apps will give you cash back when you click through the link on their site, rather than going directly to the retailer. Before you make any purchase online, make sure to check out these sites. You could get a pretty sweet deal:
- Ebates® (also gives cash back on purchases)
- Ibotta® (offers cash back)
- Honey (Chrome extension that automatically finds deals/discount codes for you)
Great style doesn’t have to come at a high price. You can get inexpensive clothing and accessories from thrift stores, resale shops, or your close friends. If you do want to set aside some cash just for fashion, remember that you’ll get at least 1.5 percent cash back* with our Founder’s Card. Using the card for your everyday purchases can help you build up a little nest egg to use to boost your style.
*You can earn 1.5% cash rewards on purchases. You can earn 2% cash rewards on purchases if you maintain a PSECU checking account and qualifying monthly direct deposit(s) of at least $500. See the Visa® Founder’s Card and Visa® Alumni Rewards Card Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for full details.