How to Dress Well Even When You’re Broke

If you are wondering how to dress well even when you’re broke, you’ve come to the right place. A few years ago, I truly considered myself to be “broke.” If we rewind 4 years ago…I had just gotten divorced, was living in a shoddy, old apartment by myself. I’m talking a ramshackle, hunk of junk, old as dirt, in disrepair apartment on the 2nd floor. There were no outlets on the kitchen counter (my Keurig and toaster oven sat on stools) and the windows had huge cracks in the glass which I didn’t notice until winter rolled around. I had a fairly expensive car payment, drove 35 minutes to my kindergarten teaching job, and had little to no furniture. I was lucky if I had food in my refrigerator. So yeah…I was broke.  I like to think that I managed to dress well, even though I didn’t have much to spend on clothes at the time.

Fast forward a few years later, and I’m doing really well for myself. I have my Master’s Degree so I’m making a bit more than I used to, I’m sharing the rent with my boyfriend, Chris, and my car is almost paid off. However, yesterday Chris dropped a big bombshell on me. The “H” word…house. We have been throwing the idea around of buying our own home here in the Philly area, but the whole concept has been mostly floating around in a cartoon thought bubble above my head. It hadn’t quite become a concrete idea until now. The truth is that renting OR owning a home in a big city can be downright expensive unless you have a roommate or two. Currently we are renting a house that we would love to own, but truthfully may not be able to afford to own at this point in our lives and current careers.

My frivolous summer spending is going to have to come to an end. Going out to eat, shopping sprees, and buying random things like those lidded wine cups with funny sayings…I’ve got to stop, or at least slow down a bit. I have to adopt better spending habits and begin saving a lot more for a down payment. Part of this plan is to stop spending as much on clothes and re-wear my clothes in different ways. In this blog post, you will read about how to save money on your clothes, how to be smarter about what you’re spending your money on, and how to use your current wardrobe in new and versatile ways.

Part 1: Ways to Save $ on Your Clothes

SHOP THE SALES

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Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

 

 

  This is pretty much a no-brainer. Don’t buy anything at full price. Be aware of your favorite store’s sales. I’m always up for shopping at Victoria’s Secret when they have their Semi-Annual sale. NOTE: You may be living under a rock if you are a blogger and have not heard anything about the Nordstrom Annual Sale. Even on sale, it’s not going to be cheap at Nordstrom though, so shop carefully!

  Some stores, like my fave New York & Company, have pretty good deals most of the time. To make sales like BOGO or BOGO 50% off worth your while, you can shop with a friend and each buy something. I’m not a huge BOGO fan, TBH. I always find that there are better deals out there most of the time. Sign up with your email at your favorite store to get email updates on the latest sales and savings, or you can also opt into text alerts if you don’t want to go online.

  I just signed up for Shop It To Me! If you don’t like going to the mall (*GASP*), Shop It To Me alerts you of sales going on at your favorite brands or stores in YOUR SIZE. You can select favorites by clicking the heart, and they will alert you if the prices drop on any of your selected items. You can receive Sale Mail as often as you would like (daily, weekly, or twice a week). This is a free service. My picks were H&M, Puma, Nine West, Free People, J. Crew, INC International, Lucky Brand, Betsey Johnson, Kate Spade, LOFT, and Madewell.

MAKE A BEELINE FOR CLEARANCE

This is one of the major ways that I saved money when I didn’t have much to spare. When I was first out of college, I wanted a professional teacher’s wardrobe, so I would head straight for the clearance section in The Limited. Their normal clothes were way too expensive for me at that point, but I found a lot of nice blouses, dress pants, and skirt by sifting through the clearance racks. The Kohl’s clearance section for shoes is one of my favorites. There are so many gems there just waiting to be discovered!  Shopping clearance for your basics makes a lot of sense to me, because your basics are typically your plainer, mostly neutral colored items.  You can shop jewelry, handbags, shoes, dress pants, shorts, jeans, tees, or camis on clearance and no one would ever know.

SHOP WITH CREDIT CARD POINTS

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Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

 

 

I used to do this ALL THE TIME. I had a credit card through my bank and would accumulate points. At the time it was really fabulous, because I would put my graduate courses on my card. Then, my school would reimburse me within 2-4 weeks before my statement would come. I would get all of these wonderful points on my credit card for barely paying anything myself, and turned them into gift cards for Kohl’s and other stores. Sometimes the cash back given to you by credit card companies is less than if you would convert them to gift cards, so it’s totally worth it to select the gift card option.

I also have New York & Company, Kohl’s, and LOFT credit cards. When you initially open them up, you of course get a percentage off of your purchase. I’m sure you’ve heard of Kohl’s Cash, and as much as I shop at Kohl’s, I need every penny of that cash. There’s also a Kohl’s rewards card, and I get emails and catalog mailings from Kohl’s with up to 30% off coupons that I use routinely. I also get Runway Rewards from New York & Company, which includes a birthday gift of $10 and a $20 coupon for every $200 I spend. With that being said, please don’t open up a million store cards.  However, I do think it makes sense if you shop in one store almost exclusively (like me and NY & Co.).

USE MATH!

Coupons and promos may sound good, but you still need to make sure you get the most bang for your buck. Some people need to work on their mental math (it’s true!), so if that’s you, just pop out your calculator on your phone and figure it out if you need to. Multiple your item by the percentage off. For example, if something is 30% off, multiply the full price by .70 (This is the price -.30, or 30%). Make sure that whatever coupon you are trying to use also works with sale or clearance items. I barely ever use New York & Company’s coupons, because they always have great deals and sales going on…I very rarely can use my coupon and the sales at the same time.

SET A MONTHLY BUDGET OR LIMIT

Back when I was really broke, I limited myself to 1 clothing purchase per month. This was really hard for me, because I love clothes so much. After awhile, I got really used to it, and it was easier to say “no” to items that I didn’t need. I also got very good at making sure that I truly loved whatever my one item was, and that it fit like a glove! (Ace Ventura, anyone? LOL) Another idea that I have done before is to put a cap on your spending, such as $50 or $100 a month on clothes. Having a monetary limit made me better at finding lots of things for less money…you get very creative when you have to!

GET A RETAIL JOB

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Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels

 

 

It’s not the most ideal situation, but if you really want clothes that much, maybe you need to work for them! I worked at Old Navy in college, and I actually liked it there. I loved that I had an employee discount on any purchases. That and I got to walk around with the price gun and marked everything when it was on clearance or sale, so I got to see all the deals before anyone else. I still saved a lot of money when I worked there part-time, and got lots of cute outfits!

Part 2: Spend Your Money Smarter

BUY THINGS THAT FIT PERFECTLY

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Don’t buy that shirt or dress that you THINK you could fit into if you only lost some weight. Don’t buy the pants that look amazing on the hanger, but squeeze your stomach a little too tight and make you feel uncomfortable. Find pieces that feel comfortable and look fantastic on you. I’ve made this mistake before with shoes especially, hoping that a half size wouldn’t make much of a difference. Bad idea. For more about this idea, see my previous blog post: “5 Ways to Feel Good in What You Wear.”

SHOP FOR BASICS AND NEUTRALS

fashion-feet-girl-5188.jpg  When I don’t have much money to spend on clothes, I will prioritize items that I actually “need.” This includes dress pants, camisoles, jackets, jeans, shorts, sneakers, handbags, or shoes for each season. I like to have a good pair of brown or tan shoes and another pair of black shoes that are appropriate for the season. This is one of my “must-haves” that I will prioritize over buying trends or anything that catches my eye. Depending on your job or lifestyle, you may have different basics that you update every year. Keeping everything in similar colors or neutrals can be helpful for mixing and matching (for me, it’s black, white, olive green, gray, and khaki). I’m a big fan of black and white together, and my wardrobe reflects that. Classic styles are perfect for pairing together, and never go out of style. I wrote a blog post series called “Timeless Fashion: 4 Classic Styles that Every Woman Should Own Vol. 1 and Vol. 2” that will give some information about what some of these classic styles are.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR LIFESTYLE

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Photo by Cara Vescio from Pexels

This photograph reminds me of every time that I have lusted over a pair of platform or stiletto high heels. My heart wants them, but my brain stops me: “Where are you going to wear those to? To school, where you’ll step on kids’ hands as you’re teaching on the rug? Walking to and from the train station? Walking to Main Street for a drink? C’mon, you can’t even walk across your living room floor with bare feet without tripping.”

You have to think about how each clothing item is going to serve you in more than one way. If you can’t think of any ways that something makes sense for your lifestyle, don’t buy it! When I first became a teacher, I had to train my mind to find things that I wouldn’t mind wearing to work AND on the weekends. That means my hemlines have to be lower for my skirts and dresses, my shoes have to be practical, and my necklines have to be higher (or I wear a camisole underneath).

In addition to that, you should think about how each new piece fits with what you currently own. If you are racking your brain and can’t figure out more than one way that you’ll wear it, maybe it’s not for you. The only exceptions to this rule are dresses. In my opinion, dresses are the ultimate “put-it-on-and-go” outfit that don’t necessarily need to be remixed the same way that tops, pants, and skirts need to be. You can add different accessories, shoes, and jackets for a new feel, but it’s not needed.

CREATE A CAPSULE WARDROBE

According to Wikipedia, capsule wardrobes is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London Boutique called “Wardrobe,” in the 1970s. A capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few classic items of clothing. Capsule wardrobes are generally in neutral colors and are very versatile, because you can wear the pieces with the latest trends of the season. You can also mix and match the items in a capsule wardrobe together, for an elegant and simplistic look. Here are my picks for a summer capsule wardrobe (from New York & Company).

Summer Capsule Wardrobe

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  1. Black Pointed-Toe Flats
  2. Crisscross-Back V-Neck Swing Dress
  3. 7th Avenue White 4-Inch Shorts
  4. Hampton Striped Cotton Split-Neck Tee
  5. Sleeveless Kate Shirt
  6. Off-the-Shoulder Bodysuit
  7. Perforated Two-Band Slide Sandals
  8. Soho Jeans Stained Glass Wash Boyfriend Bowery 4-Inch Shorts
  9. 7th Avenue Medium Blue Chambray Madison Stretch Shirt

Ways to Mix and Match the Capsule Items

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As you can see, there’s many ways to mix and match the classic items in a capsule wardrobe. Many of the pieces would look great with some trendy pieces, like paperbag-waist pants, off-the-shoulder tops, and espadrilles.

BUY WHAT FITS YOUR STYLE

 

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Photo by Loe Moshkovska from Pexels

I love retro-inspired classics, geeky t-shirts and sneakers, and soft, feminine pieces. Everyone has their own unique style. If you are not sure what yours is, Cardigan Empire is an amazing site (with blog posts, a style guide, and you-tube channel) that discusses finding your signature style (Discover Your Signature Style!). According to her website, I believe that my style may fit under the “romantic” and “traditional” categories. You should never buy something JUST because it is on clearance or on sale. It should really speak to you, and you should LOVE it! It should fit your overall aesthetic. Don’t force it just because the price is good. If you’re never going to wear it, it is a waste of money, no matter the cost!

Part 3: What’s Old is New Again

WEAR YOUR WARDROBE IN NEW WAYS

I can thank Chris for the catchphrase, “What’s Old is New Again.” I am so inspired by the whole idea of using my current wardrobe is new and unique ways that I am planning an entire month on my facebook group for Polka Dot Blonde dedicated to this very idea. So stay tuned on (follow me if you wish) if you would like to see how I re-mix some of my older clothing in different ways. If you need me to help you to do the same and you are local to Lancaster or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, please shoot me an e-mail here.  You can remix your wardrobe by simply using old items in new ways OR pairing old items with new purchases.  I was scrolling through my own photographs and noticed that I did this very thing with some of my favorite articles of clothing. Take a look.

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Top left: Denim vest, denim cropped pants, tan studded heels, coin necklace (Blog post here) Middle: Denim vest, black/white printed shorts, black gladiator sandals, coin necklace (Blog post here) Bottom right: Denim vest, red shorts, metallic choker

 

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Top left: Olive green dress, olive green/black bomber jacket, tan knee-high boots, gold disc earrings (Blog post here) Middle: Olive green dress, long steampunk necklace Bottom Right: Olive green dress, military jacket, white belt, Pumas
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Top Left: Black button-front shirt, sunglasses, red midi skirt Middle: Black one-shoulder top, red midi skirt, black block-heel sandals (Blog Post Here) Bottom Right: Red striped top, red midi skirt, black sneakers

As you can tell, it becomes much easier to mix and match when you have clothing in the same color schemes, or when you own neutral pieces like black, white, olive green, and tan. I would even consider chambray and denim to be neutral in color that you can pair with many different outfits.

ACCESSORIES WILL MAKE IT POP

Not only can you switch up your tops or bottoms for your old outfits, but you can also swap out different accessories such as sunglasses, scarves, shoes, jewelry, handbags. Even changing your hairstyle or makeup will make your outfit feel brand-new. Many of the blog posts I’ve read discuss how accessories are where you should invest the bulk of your money. I can’t say that I follow this advice very well, but I can understand how a good quality purse, necklace, or pair of shoes will last you a very, very long time. Here are some examples of how I change up accessories to make an old outfit feel special.

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Left: Black/white striped top, black beanie, red lipstick, and black Mary Jane pumps (Blog post here) Right: Black/white striped top, black cropped pants, pink floral heels, multi-colored gem necklace, black/tan floppy hat (Blog post here)
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Left: Black/white striped pencil skirt, white tee, black hooded denim jacket, Pumas, faux-hawk Right: Black/white striped pencil skirt, teal floral shirt, black open-toe booties (Blog post here)
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Left: Pink skirt, pink sweater, long multi-strand necklace, vintage Cloche hat Right: Pink skirt, black button-front shirt, two-tone ankle-strap pumps

Of course, in all of these outfits, I did also change the tops or bottoms. However, hopefully you can see how much the accessories lend themselves to the overall feel of an outfit. You can dress down an outfit by adding a denim jacket or sneakers (or a faux-hawk if you’ve got a pixie like me). On the other hand, you can dress up an outfit by adding accessories with some glamour to them, like the Cloche hat, floppy hat, pumps, long necklaces, glitzy jewelry (or red lips, naturally!). If you’re like me, and never know which shoes to wear with your outfit, here is the most fabulous pin I have ever saved on Pinterest. It blew my mind…seriously.

FIND YOURSELF A PERSONAL STYLIST

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I’m not talking a REAL personal stylist. I’m talking about having a close friend, family member, or significant other whose fashion sense you trust. Pick out 10 of your favorite items, or items that you always seem to wear in the same way every time. See if they can help you to pair your clothes in different way. That seems like it would be so much fun, right??

In conclusion, if you are broke but still want to look good, make sure that you follow these 3 guidelines.

  1. Find Ways to Save $ On Your Clothes
  2. Spend Your Money in Smarter Ways
  3. Make What’s Old New Again

It’s not easy…in fact it can be downright difficult to control the urge to shop. With these tips, however, you should be able to look stylish and save!

Until next time…

Melissa

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92 thoughts on “How to Dress Well Even When You’re Broke

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  1. I try to do these things myself. I love New York & Co myself, everything feels so good to wear and I feel confident. Something I’ve recently started doing is going to the local thrift store. I live in a fairly wealthy part of town so I have found name brand clothes that still have tags. I love my Kohl’s credit card, I’d be lost without it, I use my credit card points to pay for it too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think that I’ve found a thrift store that I really truly love yet, but I agree that this can be a fantastic way to save money on clothes. You can get a good haul from thrift stores!

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  2. Thank you for sharing! I’m terrible about spending money on clothes, looks like I just need to buy some accessories to change up my wardrobe!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It *is* exciting to think about buying a house! Glad you’re smart and preparing wisely! These are really great tips to keep in mind. I love getting points on my card!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great tips! I need to update my wardrobe add in more classic pieces. Since I work from home, I tend to not buy a ton of business casual clothes (until the moment I need them and it becomes a headache). Thanks for sharing these tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so great to have them on hand, especially because they can mix and match well with trendier pieces. My favorite update to a casual outfit is a blazer, although it’s too hot right now for all that.

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  5. I love that idea of a capsule wardrobe! I am, in fact, de-cluttering and like if I end up with just a few good pieces, I am golden! Thanks for inspiring me to be more thoughtful about my wardrobe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. These are really helpful tips. I’ve always been a big fan of the capsule wardrobe. Knowing yourself well is a great way to help save money. When I try on clothes, I almost instantly know if I’ll wear it often. However, I did buy a pair of “not me” capris a few years ago because I was going to a conference. Now they are one of my favorite pairs of pants.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s good that the capris have grown on you! Our styles can change little by little too. It evolves just as we do in other ways!

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  7. Such a great post full of smart tips! I completely agree and follow the rule about buying basics on the clearance rack. For basic tees and tanks I usually will shop Target when they have them on sale for like $4-$6. By the way I love your hair!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loving these tips! I head straight to the clearance racks when I shop! I love how you said to shop smarter as well. I’ve stopped buying things simply because they were on sale or a great deal and asked myself, will I wear this more than once? If I can’t think of at least 5 outfits off the top of my head or places to wear it, I don’t buy it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Girl, as a broke college student, I NEEDED this post! I’m trying to save as much money as I can for post-grad, so I try to spend little to nothing on clothes. However, being a blogger, I need to have at least /some/ good outfits for pictures. This kicked my butt into gear to figure out how to better wear some pieces I already have. Thanks so much for the post!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome! Glad I could help! I need to set some limits on spending for myself. It will be easier when school starts up again (I’m a teacher). There will be less time to spend money! Lol

      Like

  10. I have the tiniest wardrobe because I hate spending money on clothes, but I’m always so envious of those who have such cute clothes! I definitely need to start using these tips to build a better wardrobe while still keeping on track of my budget. Thanks so much for the great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great Post! I love my LOFT card beause I’m always getting the rewards but I totally know what you mean being on a budget. We just bought our first home and cutting my spending was a huge step for me…I still struggle some days not being able to spend like before

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so big about not shopping when I don’t need to. I’ve been moving toward a more minimalist lifestyle, and I have to say t has helped a ton with shopping and dressing well because I don’t buy things I don’t need, and I invest in the few things I l ow will last for years! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I definitely buy different things during summertime (teacher on vacation here haha) but during the school year, it’s almost always stuff that is appropriate for teaching and the weekend.

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  13. I love hearing tips for saving money on clothes from someone who really loves clothes! You have some super awesome outfits! I’m going to use these tips to refresh my wardrobe after my baby is born.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. This is perfect! I so needed this. My wardrobe is atrocious and I feel I have no style as a mother. I guess I feel like my style needs are not important when it comes to budget. But you have given me hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve been loving the idea of the capsule wardrobe lately, and one of my favorite tools for filling in the gaps has actually been ThredUp! It’s a used clothing site, but it gives you a lot of filtering options, so I’ve been able to find “like new” J. Crew pieces for $15!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s awesome I may need to do that. My biggest problem with thrift stores is how long it takes to go through things!

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  16. These are great tips. I am all for re-purposing the wardrobe you already have! And though I’m not into shopping for clothes (gasp, I know), my weakness is Lululemon. But I find them kind of pricey so I love their clearance section. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  17. First let me say, I LOVE saving money! You have offered some great tips, many that I use myself! I really like your “buying things that fit” tip! I know I’ve fallen on a sale and bought something I hoped to fit into. Usually it doesn’t work and I have an item sitting in my closet for the next two years! Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I love using ThredUp to help shop deals secondhand. I love that I can sort it by brands I love and quickly find things in my style at a great price. These are excellent tips.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh yes a few other people mentioned that. Thank you, I will check it out! I really don’t like digging through racks in thrift stores, so this is perfect!

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  19. This post was so thorough! I’m in love with capsule wardrobes and enjoy seeing all the different combinations that can be made out of a limited number of pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Fun! Fun! Fun! My daughter is more into fashion that I am. I guess I have never been a fashionista because I have never had the money to do and I’m not that creative when it comes to putting outfits together. But, after reading this, I realize it’s not that difficult. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Believe me, I’ve only now been having the money to really buy a lot of clothes. I’m usually just really good at finding a bargain haha. Thanks for commenting!

      Like

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