This past year I’ve learned volumes about how to put together stylish outfits. I’ve even learned how to choose clothing that best suits my body, lifestyle and personality. But while that knowledge has made it easier for me to find clothing that works for me, I still have another constraint I must work within. Most of us have to shop for clothes, shoes and accessories within a budget. So today let’s talk about how to dress stylishly within your budget. I’ve got 10 tips, and some of them may surprise you.
By the way, this list is not exhaustive. Certainly you can find other ways to dress stylishly within a budget. In fact, feel free to share them with me and the other readers in the comment section.
#1 – Know your clothing budget and stay within it.
Do you have a clothing budget? While I can’t suggest a particular amount of money that each woman should spend on her clothing, shoes and accessories each month or year, I can offer you a general starting point. Many personal financial planning experts suggest that we should spend no more than 5% of our take-home salary on clothing annually. Keep in mind that this amount needs to cover clothing, shoes, handbags, belts, etc., for everyone in your household.
Simply multiply your total monthly take-home pay by .05. Depending on your needs (working outside the home, extensive travel, multiple seasons, etc.) that number would be a good limit for your clothing budget. Not everyone will need to spend this much, so please don’t think that I’m saying you need to spend 5% of your income on clothes.
Regardless of what percentage of your income you settle on, I do suggest you set a personal clothing budget. Decide whether it’s best for you to set a monthly clothing allowance or an annual one. Then commit to staying within that budget.
#2 – Identify your personal fashion style and stay true to it.
In this post about How to Dress for Your Lifestyle and this post about How to Dress for Your Personality, we learned that we all get to choose our own personal style. While we are wise to take into account our body shape, body proportions, personal body variations and the colors that make us shine, ultimately we want to wear clothes and accessories that reflect our preferred style.
Later, I’ll be posting a series in which I’ll discuss how to set your personal style. Your personal style could be:
or something completely different!
But here’s the key. In order to dress stylishly within a budget, you’ll be wise to settle on your personal style and stay true to it. When you identify and stay true to your personal style you’ll slowly put together a wardrobe that you love to wear. And you won’t waste money on clothing that appeals to you in the store, but doesn’t fit your aesthetic or blend in with the other pieces you’ve collected.
Until you do settle on a personal style aesthetic, it’s financially wise to invest in a “classic” wardrobe. Classic pieces will work within any other personal style aesthetic.
#3 – Don’t Buy Clothes. Do Build a Wardrobe
Once you know your personal style aesthetic and choose to shop with it in mind, you can begin to build a wardrobe.
I recommend using a wardrobe essentials checklist. With this list in hand, consider where you have holes in your closet. Then shop only to complete your wardrobe. My email subscribers have access to my Fall/Winter Wardrobe Essentials Checklist and my Spring/Summer Wardrobe Essentials Checklist in my Freebies for Subscribers page. When you shop to build a wardrobe you’ll find it easier to resist impulse buys because you’ll have a wardrobe you love wearing.
#4 – Ask Yourself the Right Questions When Shopping
When you’re in the fitting room trying on that darling dress, don’t just ask yourself if it looks good on you. Of course it does! Here are the right questions to ask with every single potential purchase:
- Is it a color that flatters me?
- Is it comfortable?
- Is it current?
- Does it fit?
- Does it complement my lifestyle?
- Does it reflect my personality?
- Do I need it?
- Does it flatter my body shape or type?
- Is it free of compromise, not too revealing?
- Does it work within my wardrobe?
- Does it work within my budget?
- Do I love it? Does it bring me joy?
#5 – Shop to Reverse Your Percentages
Many women who have closets full of clothes but complain that they have nothing to wear have built a wardrobe from which they only wear 20% of the clothes. The other 80% of their wardrobe consists of very unique pieces they can’t wear on a regular basis because they were bought only for special occasions or they only “go with” one other item.
Designer Michael Kors suggests a 70/30 “meat and potatoes” rule. He maintains 70% of your wardrobe should be meat and potatoes, or the main items you return to over and over. That leaves 30% for the “dessert” or sparkle. If you shop with this percentage in mind, you won’t buy as many frivolous items even if you absolutely love them. And in the end you’ll find that a working wardrobe is really a lot more fun than a fun wardrobe that doesn’t work!
#6 – Buy Less and Spend More.
I told you some of these tips would surprise you. Yes, you read that correctly. I actually suggest you spend more on your individual pieces of clothing and buy fewer of them. We don’t need three closets full of clothes. We need one closet with a working wardrobe consisting of interchangeable pieces that look beautiful together.
I’m not suggesting a capsule wardrobe, although that is an option that works well for some women. But I am suggesting that we shop carefully and buy only pieces we love, even if we have to spend a little more than if we bought cheaper renditions, so that we have a wardrobe of clothing we enjoy wearing. Then wear it! A lot!
A study in the Journal of Marketing Research indicated that most shoppers do not actually regret splurging on the occasional expensive high quality purchase. Especially if it’s something they really love. What most consumers regret is buying the cheaper version, the knock-off.
I still remember the first time I put a sweater on lay-away with my own hard-earned money as a teenager. I have no idea now what it cost, but it was enough for me to have to pay it out over three paychecks. I loved that sweater. And I love the memory of it now. No regrets.
#7 – Focus on Quality and Qualities.
First, I do suggest usually purchasing pieces of good quality, especially when adding pieces to your wardrobe essentials list. You certainly don’t have to select the most expensive clothing. But if these are classic pieces you will wear frequently and for at least several years, then you want to choose clothing and accessories that are made to fit well and that are crafted from reasonably good materials.
When considering quality, I suggest you calculate the CPW – Cost Per Wear. If you’re going to be wearing that pair of jeans two times a week for even half the year, then paying $89 for quality denim comes to a CPW of just $1.75. And remember, I suggest you begin to buy less and pay more. So I’m not suggesting you have seven pairs of jeans, but maybe only two or three.
But I also suggest you shop for selections with nice qualities. Look for clothing with qualities like functional pockets, nice seams that feel good against your skin, lining when it’s appropriate, beautiful detailing, pleasing colors, unique buttons, etc. In other words, choose clothing you are drawn to. Once again, these do not have to be expensive pieces of clothing. But they do bring you joy because they have beautiful qualities.
#8 – Be a Loyal Shopper.
I recommend you choose four stores which fit your style aesthetic, your budget and your body, and shop those four retailers almost exclusively. Hold onto your hat and I’ll explain.
I would choose one to two department stores that work for your budget and two to three boutique retailers that “get you.” For instance, if you’re a classic gal like me, you might enjoy shopping at Ann Taylor and Talbots. But if you’re more of a relaxed/casual woman, you might prefer shopping at L.L. Bean and J.Jill. Then again, if you’re the creative/bold gal, you’ll want to check out Chico’s and Soft Surroundings.
Make sure the stores you select also carry clothing that fits your body. Every brand uses a different model formula or two for creating their clothing. That’s right, they actually design and tailor their clothing to fit specific measurements. That’s why clothing at some stores fits your body better than others. And those same stores may or may not work for your girlfriends or sisters. For instance, as much as I love J. Jill clothes, they just don’t fit me. So I don’t shop there much. And honestly when I do, I tend to make purchases I later regret.
But why do I suggest you be a loyal shopper at only three to four stores? Because that’s when you’ll really tap into the available savings. Most stores have some sort of loyal shopper program whereby you can earn points toward purchases, have access to special shopping days, get birthday bonuses and more. When I shop with my store credit cards and narrow my shopping down to those couple of stores, I’ll accumulate those points faster and actually earn rewards. But if I’m shopping ten different stores I’ll likely never earn much of anything at any of them.
With a store credit card you could potentially receive free shipping and earn even more points that turn into shopping credits. But even without the credit card, make sure you sign up for their emails and paper catalogs. That’s where you get hefty coupons and notices about special shopping days. (By the way, I always pay off my credit cards every month and never carry a balance. In fact, I often pay for items with my credit card and then turn right around and pay the balance on the card with cash while I’m still in the store. I simply use the card as a shopping tool.)
I also suggest you get to know the salespeople at your favorite stores. At retailers such as Talbots, Ann Taylor, Chico’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, you can even make complimentary appointments to shop with a personal shopper. That may sound like just a luxury, but it’s really more about smart shopping. These sales associates can help you look for and find items that fill your wardrobe holes. And if you share your budget with them, they’ll help you stay within it.
#9 – Learn to Shop Online.
Yes, there’s actually a lot to learn about shopping online wisely, and it’s worth the investment of your time. I find that when I shop online instead of always going to the brick and mortar store, I’m more thoughtful about my purchases. Often I put items in my online “cart,” sign out and walk away, and then return the next day to delete several items before making my final purchase. I have more time to think when I shop online.
Here are a few tips for shopping online so that you can dress stylishly within your budget:
- Open an online account so you can later check on your order’s status.
- Sign up for the store’s emails. Usually you’ll get an initial discount when you sign up. Then you’ll get notifications about exclusive online sales.
- Focus on your favorite retailers (see #8). You know what size and cuts you wear at those stores.
- Look for free shipping and free shipping on returns wherever possible. That loyal shopper credit card can help in this, too.
- Read the item reviews. This is a perk you get when you shop online that you don’t have access to in the store. The reviews will tell you if the item runs large, small or true to size. They will also enlighten you to so many other things about the item, such as whether the zipper irritates or the sequins fall off or the neckline plunges too low.
- Ask questions. Many store websites actually have places where you can ask questions about the individual items you’re looking at. Or they have live chat features so you can ask and get an immediate answer.
- Fill your cart and walk away. Often, if you’ll leave your filled shopping cart for 24 hours or less, you’ll receive an extra incentive email enticing you to return and purchase. You could get free shipping or an extra percentage off.
#10 – Shop at the Right Times.
If you have a few stores to which you are loyal, you’ll be able to learn the sale patterns of those stores. Mark those sales in your calendar and refer back to them next year. Most stores stay pretty predictable. You’ll also receive extra incentives during your birthday month.
Also, if you’re shopping to fill holes on your wardrobe essentials lists, plan to buy winter staples in January and summer essentials in August.
Do you have other tips?
Like I said, this is not an exhaustive list. I know I didn’t even hit on shopping discount stores such as Marshalls, Nordstrom Rack, Steinmart and Ross. Nor did I talk about thrift shops and online thrift opportunities such as ThredUp. But hopefully I’ve given you a basic plan for how to set a clothing budget and stay within it while still dressing stylishly. And while some of the ten tips may be a little surprising, I think you’ll find that ultimately they help you build a beautiful wardrobe within your price range – one you can enjoy and feel good about.
Do you have other tips for shopping frugally to build a beautiful wardrobe? Or maybe you’d like to tell me which of these tips surprised you the most, resonated with you or challenged you? I’d love to hear from you today!
Blessed for My Day
When I was a little girl I would often wonder into my mother’s room and sneak a spray of my mom’s favorite perfume. Of course she would know when I’d been into her bottle of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. I’d smell just like her!
But then I learned of another way to carry my mother’s fragrance. I discovered that if I spent time cuddled up close to my mom on the sofa, I’d pick up her scent, too. When we spend time with Jesus, we begin to “smell” like Him, too. We begin to think like Him, talk like Him, respond like Him and prioritize like Him. Oh, to carry the scent of Christ with us into our days!
There’s no better way to become more like Christ than to spend time in His presence. When we prioritize the reading of His Word and communication with Him through prayer, we pick up His scent and carry it into the world. Let’s ask the Lord to help us carry His love wherever we go today.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. ~ Ephesians 5:1-2