Fashion is one thing, but budget fashion is quite another. It’s both a skill and a lifestyle choice/necessity to live stylishly without dropping a ton of cash. And while we regularly talk trends and show off “budget fashion” picks, it’s been awhile since I’ve taken a step back and delved into the broader shopping strategies of a budget fashionista.
First, let’s sum up what budget fashion is not. It’s not the cheapest stuff on the rack. It’s not garments so flimsy you can’t put them in the dryer. And it’s not adding sequins or a wild pattern to every outfit.
A true budget fashionista is strategic about the pieces she wears. She’s confident and put together. She doesn’t dress for comments or compliments — she dresses for herself. And she does it without a closet full of labels.
Sound like you? Awesome. So, here goes: a little budget shopping refresher to kick off the holiday season.
10 Rules of Budget Shopping
1. Shop with cash or a dedicated card.
Many moons ago, I used to say: shop only with cash. It’s the best way to ensure you don’t overspend. But these days, I don’t like telling you to head out with a wad of cash in your purse.
A close alternative is to dedicate one reloadable VISA gift card to your clothing purchases. Whatever your monthly clothing budget is, that’s what you load on that card monthly. When the money runs out, you stop shopping.
You can also use a dedicated credit card. Set up your bill pay to send your monthly budget amount to the card each month. If you overspend, you’ll eventually see your budget eaten away by interest charges.
2. Know what looks good on you.
We’ve covered this topic before. Knowing the silhouettes that flatter your shape makes for a more enjoyable and reliable shopping experience — particularly when you’re shopping online. Try these resources to help:
- How to dress for your boy shaped body
- Dressing for your body type — top 3 tips
- Dress for your shape: pear
- Dresses for those big on top and small on bottom
3. Chat up the sales associates.
Sales associates should be your best friends in the store. They know best how to save in that store. Ask about discounts, upcoming sales and loyalty programs — often you can get them to scan a coupon you don’t have or ring you up in multiple transactions so you can use more than one coupon.
4. Join the loyalty program.
If a store’s loyalty program is free, join it. You’ll often get birthday or holiday discounts, plus early access to sales.
5. Try on aggressively, but buy conservatively.
I can’t tell you how many times I have tried on pieces that I wasn’t sure about, only to end up loving them and taking them home. Don’t be too particular about what you try on, especially if you’re digging through clearance racks.
You should be particular about what you end up buying though. Some questions to ask before you take it to the register:
- Can I wear this with pieces I already have at home? (Don’t buy something that requires you to spend another $100 bucks to complete the look.)
- How often will I wear this? (Always think in terms of cost per wear!)
- Will I feel silly wearing this next year or next season? (Ultra trendy pieces can be fun, but also short-lived.)
6. Find a good tailor.
Garments that are off in terms of fit can often end up on the clearance rack or the thrift store. But a little nip and tuck can take that piece from frumpy to fabulous. Just remember to consider the cost of the tailor when you’re thinking about cost per wear.
7. Remember the 70/30 rule.
Fashionistas with limited budgets should follow the 70/30 rule: 70% of your closet should be classic pieces, 30% trendy pieces. Go as cheap as possible on trendy items because they have a short closet lifespan. Try these stores:
Go designer on classic pieces like black suits (Tahari, Donna Karan), coats (Burberry, MaxMara), evening wear (Armani, Tim and Linda Platt, Carmen Marc Valvo) and purses (Coach, Longchamp, Marc Jacobs).
8. Try in store, buy online.
Just this week, I purchased a long, cream-colored, v-neck sweater, which is a fabulous, versatile addition to my winter rotation. After I checked out, my fellow fashionista Hillary tells me she bought the same sweater at Century 21 for $10 less. And $10 is $10, right? Lesson learned: when you find a piece you like, take a few minutes to search online for a lower price.
9. Swap clothes with your friends.
I get the shopping bug mostly when I’m bored with my options. Delay that next big shopping trip by trading clothes with friends. Gather up the stuff you don’t wear much anymore and ask your friends to do the same. Pick up a few bottles of wine, get everyone together and start trading!
10. Give yourself time and space to shop.
Never go shopping when you’re in a hurry. If you’ve done this before, you know the outcome. You grab something off the rack that later turns out to be too small or too big or too expensive or too bold or too timid.
Budget shopping takes time, because you’re not looking for the cheapest thing and you’re not looking for biggest discount. You’re looking for quality pieces you love so much you’ll wear them all the time. Oh, and the price has to be right. This is no small venture. Give yourself time and enjoy the shopping journey.