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This week, Michelle asks how she can build a wardrobe from scratch on a tight budget, and I share 10 tips for saving money without sacrificing style.
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Read the full transcript below:
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Hey there! Welcome back to the Everyday Style School, the podcast that shares the lessons I’ve learned from dressing women for over 2 decades to help you create easy everyday style. I’m your host, Jennifer Mackey Mary, and today we’ve got a question from Michelle, who emailed me to ask how to start over…on a budget
Here’s what she had to say: Hi Jennifer, I love your podcast and after listening to your episode on cleaning out your closet, I was inspired. I got rid of a lot after changing jobs and being done having kids. Nothing fit, and I don’t work in an office anymore, so I need to do a lot of shopping. My budget is really small though, and I don’t know where to start. How can I build basically a whole wardrobe on a tight budget. Thanks!
Well, Michelle this is a great question, and a challenge that a lot of women face. Before I share my tips for you, I want to give you a pat on the back for starting with editing your wardrobe. Now, at least you know what you have. And I know there’s a feeling of panic when you realize Dang, I have no clothes–but you didn’t create a problem, by getting rid of all that stuff, you just uncovered it, so resist the urge to feel bad about the big purge. It needed to be done.
Also, while it’s true that a big budget makes it a heck of a lot easier to have the wardrobe of your dreams, you can have a fabulous wardrobe on a small budget. I remember one client I worked with, who told me she had $300 to spend, and pretty much needed everything. For winter. For summer, $300 for a whole wardrobe would have been simpler, but winter was tough. You know what though, we did it…including a blazer and a pair of Jeans from Nordstrom. So it can be done, it just takes a little more planning.
With that said, here are a few ways I’ve helped clients create fabulous wardrobes, no matter what their budgets.
Number 1, you need to prioritize. If you can’t buy everything at once, figure out what would make the biggest difference in your wardrobe and buy those items first. From 2 decades of dressing women, I can tell you, it’s usually bottoms. Make a list, in order of importance, and when you can, buy the next item on the list. Last week, I shared the formula of build from the inside out and the bottom up. Resist the urge to just go buy a bunch of tops so you have something to wear. I’m willing to bet that what was left in your wardrobe after the purge were tops. Make those work for now, and focus on the other wardrobe builders first.
Second, shop second hand. Sites like poshmark, tradesy, mercari, thredup and ebay are great for finding deals on clothes. Don’t just go crazy though–use the list you created to keep you on track. Remember, no matter how inexpensive things are, if you don’t need them, they’re not a good use of dollars at this point.
Third, don’t buy things you don’t love. Sometimes, when you really NEED clothes, it’s tempting to buy things that you think will fix the problem for now. The problem with that is that when you buy things that are just ok, you don’t want to wear them, and you haven’t really solved the problem. You will be back shopping for better versions of those items before you know it, and that’s super wasteful. If you’re struggling to afford one wardrobe, I’m guessing you don’t have the extra funds to buy a second one.
Fourth, and maybe I should have put this first, buy less stuff. You don’t need nearly as many clothes as you think you do. So many Lindas came to me feeling like they had to buy a ton, but when we got strategic about it, they didn’t need nearly as much. I’ve got a mini capsule guide on my site, for free, that shows you how to create 30 outfits–that’s a whole month– out of just 10 pieces. It’s about buying the right things, not just more things. If you don’t have that mini guide, head to youreverydaystyle.com and it’s the yellow bar at the top of the website, and the link is in the shownotes for this episode, too. Use it as a template for any season, any colors, any style–it just shows you how to do it.
Fifth, resist the urge to buy multiples. Different versions of the same thing don’t solve different problems. Buying multiples is a fast track to a closet full of nothing to wear. We tend to get bored of the item, and feel like we look the same all the time, and end up shopping for new, different things, which is wasteful If there’s a top you love, limit your purchases to two colors–a basic, and a non basic, whether its a fun color, or a pattern.
Sixth, speaking of color, limit yourself to a color palette. This is a capsule guide secret, but when you limit your colors, you limit what you need for everything to work together. Create a palette that includes one dark neutral, one light neutral, and 3-5 accent colors–bonus points if your accents work together too.
Seventh, don’t buy anything you can’t wear now. If you need to lose 5 pounds to be comfortable in it, don’t buy it. If the weather needs to warm up 30 degrees, don’t buy it. If you need to find a place to wear it, don’t buy it. When you’re really budget conscious, you need to spend your money on the things that will solve your what to wear tomorrow problem, not what to wear someday.
Number 8, Upgrade in the off season. Now, I’m going to contradict what I just said, but this is ONLY after you’ve got enough clothes and you’re not in a wardrobe crisis. Shoulder seasons, like the end of winter, beginning of spring, are great times to save on big ticket items like a winter coat, or good boots. At the end of summer, buying a pair of really good neutral sandals or a higher end summer handbag is a great way to save big on things you’ll want to wear year after year. Don’t stock up on low cost or trendy items, those will be plentiful next year, and probably on sale, but I saved almost 75% of my super warm winter tundra coat because I bought it in late March when people are tired of winter, and retailers want the space. And you know what? Since I’ve had it, winter has come around every year. Again, this is not a step one money saver, and only use it for bigger purchases, but it can be a great way to afford higher quality items you may not be able to normally.
Number 9- Take care of what you have. When you’re trying to save money on rebuilding your wardrobe, the last thing you want to do is rebuy things, so take care of what you own. Wash things on the coldest setting you can, and dry them on the lowest heat–as a matter of fact, wash them less often. Get a fabric shaver and keep your knits looking good–I’ll link to my favorite in the shownotes.
Finally, don’t leave money on the table. By now, we all know not to buy things that aren’t on sale at places like Loft, or banana–they’ll be on sale for a week or two. If you do need to buy something not on sale, ask about their price adjustment policy. A lot of stores will credit you back if the item goes on sale within a certain timeframe. Call customer service and ask! Also, use a service like Rakuten, which used to be ebates, to find coupon codes and get cash back from a lot of stores–I’ll link to that in the shownotes as well. A lot of the stores a lot of us shop from are on there, offering between 2 and 10% cash back, which adds up.
Don’t forget to sign up for store coupons as well, and time your shopping with store sale cycles-
-a good rule of thumb is that if there’s a holiday, retailers are going to celebrate it with a sale! That’s what we do in America.
So there you have it. 10 simple ways to rebuild your wardrobe on a budget. Prioritize, pare down, and use your dollars wisely–but don’t give up on having a style you love!
That’s it for today. Head to your favorite social media spot to continue the conversation. You can find us on facebook and instagram at Everyday Style with jen, or head to the shownotes for the link. You’ll also find links and resources from each episode there–just go to youreverydaystyle.com, click on podcast, and find the episode you’re looking for!
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to cover in Office Hours, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll see you next week! Until then, stay stylish!