[ young today, rich tomorrow ]

High-End Duds, Low-End Prices: Look like a million bucks without spending it

By Wendi Kane on August 8th, 2011 • Clothes, Managing your money, Shopping, Life
Originally appeared in: Fall 2011

It's a typical morning. You open the closet to get dressed and scan the options. Only this time you notice the shirt that doesn't fit quite right, that scratchy sweater you avoid wearing at all costs, and the jeans that look tired and faded. When your wardrobe needs an update, the key to scoring stylish clothes without spending a bundle is knowing how to be a savvy shopper. We're here with a game plan to help you get the best duds, whatever your budget.

Stylish Strategy

Plan it out. Take it from the pros: even fashion editors at top magazines plan ahead before they shop. Take inventory of what you already own, what you can afford to spend, and make a list of needs and wants before embarking on any shopping spree. Keep the list on hand to help stay focused and avoid amassing a collection of mismatched, mediocre pieces.

Build a foundation. Stock up on quality wardrobe staples. These are the trusty go-to pieces that will outlive any trend, like jeans that can be dressed up or down; basic T-shirts; layering pieces like a cardigan, hoodie, or blazer; and a suit or "little black dress" for special occasions.

It makes sense to invest the bulk of your budget in these pieces, since they build the foundation of a wardrobe and won't go out of style anytime soon. Outlet stores, off-price discounters like T.J.Maxx and Marshalls, and superstores like Target and Kohl's, all carry foundation items at discount prices.

Add flair. Mix in accessories--like hats, belts, or colorful jewelry--to add flair to your wardrobe. It's smart to look for good deals when experimenting with trends.

Blowing your whole budget on a trendy pair of sunglasses isn't a great investment if they'll be old news in a few months.

Check out stores that sell trendy items for less, like H&M and Forever 21. Target carries of-the-moment collections by big-time designers at reasonable prices. Find gently used current styles at Buffalo Exchange and Plato's Closet. Browse eBay or etsy.com for unique vintage items, sift through thrift store racks for one-of-a-kind finds, or raid your parents' attic for cool, free pieces from the past. To really get creative, check out cutoutandkeep.net, threadbanger.com, and diyfashion.tumblr.com for accessories and embellishments you can make yourself.

Get the most for your money

Buy off-season. Keep an eye out for discounts when the weather changes. At the end of each season, retailers sell off remaining inventory by dropping prices. It may feel backwards, but buying bathing suits at the end of summer and winter jackets in early spring can result in major savings. Stash these items away until the appropriate season rolls around.

Find discounts and deals online. Track your favorite stores with social media for news about sales, coupons, and discounted items. Take advantage of discount-sharing websites like retailmenot.com and dealcatcher.com for coupons to use online or in stores. Visit fatwallet.com or upromise.com to get a percentage of cash back for online buys.

Know how to work a sale. Sales entice budget-conscious consumers, but can also prompt impulse purchases. Ask these questions before buying:

  • Is it on my list? Picking up a third pair of gladiator sandals just because they're on sale won't do much to round out your wardrobe. Save the money for list items that will have more impact.
  • Is it actually a good deal? A sale item at one store may cost more than a similar version at a discount store, even if not on sale.
  • Do I love it? Ten bucks for a pair of jeans isn't a great deal if you end up wearing them just once or twice. Only buy things you really love, even when shopping a sale. This way you won't end up with a closet full of cheap stuff you don't like.

Tune out the marketing hype. In 2010, clothing sales in the U.S. reached an estimated $158 billion. Advertising can lure us into thinking we need brand names to enhance our image, or need to chase every trend to look cool. Stay true to your style for a wardrobe that's all your own and not just what some marketing head thinks you should buy.

The Bottom Line

In 2009, U.S. consumer units (individuals or whole households) under 25 spent an average of $1,396 on apparel and services according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey from bls.gov. Plan ahead and shop smart to update your wardrobe without breaking your budget.

Sources: cutoutandkeep.net; dealcatcher.com; dealcoupon.com; diyfashion.tumblr.com; ebay.com; etsy.com; fatwallet.com; instyle.com; marieclaire.com; marketingcharts.com; realsimple.com; retailmenot.com; threadbanger.com; upromise.com; dailymail.co.uk; bls.gov

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