Extreme Savings, Women + Finances

High Maintenance on a Budget: How to Get the Clothes You Want For $200 A Year

This is the second installment of the High Maintenance on a Budget series. The series uncovers how to  look good, feel good and live well while working towards financial freedom. The first article was about how to save $4,000 a year on makeup and beauty. 


On average, Americans spend $1,786.00 per year on clothing and accessories. If you peaked in my closet, it would look like my spending is average too. Although my closet isn’t overflowing, the clothing I do own feels pretty luxurious.

My dresser drawer boasts Victoria’s Secret swimwear in various forms and my pant collection consists of Jessica Simpson brand and Zara exclusively. On most days, I wear a Michael Kors watch on my wrist. Often, I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury, but the truth is I spent a grand total of $200 on clothes, shoes and accessories last year, and about the same to decorate an entire apartment.* In other words, I’m saving $1,586 more than average consumer…and that’s on clothing alone. After 10 years, I’ll be $15,860 richer than the typical shopper.

Living good and looking good doesn’t have to cost a fortune.** In fact, it shouldn’t. Even though I live on 50% of my (less than average) salary, I never feel deprived. And you shouldn’t either.


1. Sales are Completely Useless (Until You Learn How to Beat Them)

For the most part, sales are awesome but useless. The majority of “Sales Events” are designed to lure you to spend money on items that you don’t want or need. We’ve all been there (I distinctly remember the time I purchased 5 identical t-shirts because they were 75% off. Spoiler: I never wore them)

To avoid the allure of impulse purchases, wait it out. Most stores begin a sale, see what items sell and then lower the prices again. In some cases, this cycle can occur multiple times in the course of two weeks. Ensure that you purchase on the final days by scouting out sales and then revisiting the store in a few days time. For most big retailers, the largest sales of the year occur during January and February and then again during July and August.

 Rocking my $5 cardigan from H&M

Rocking my $5 cardigan from H&M

One of my best Victoria’s Secret purchases occurred during their semi-annual sale. The store is on my walk home from work and I noticed the neon pink sale signs (I had also seen it plastered all over friend’s Instagram accounts). The $70.00 bra I had been waiting for a year to buy was reduced to less than $40.I almost caved and bought it on the spot but resisted.

Strategically stopping by a few days later, I saw that the entire sale selection had been reduced by an additional 50%. My $70.00 bra now rang in at a glorious $21.00 before tax. Although the bra wasn’t the exact same one I had seen a few days earlier, it was the same style, same fit and even better deal. I’ve had similar experiences at Zara where $60.00 jeans were reduced to $15.00 and H&M where a $35.00 cardigan was priced at $5.00. Don’t just shop sales, own the crap out of them and strategize your purchases.


2. Discount Stores = Your BFF

Stores like Ross and T.J. Maxx are known for their treasure hunt like experiences. Often, the buyer is required to sift through racks or scour low-level shelves to find the perfect item. Fortunately, this type of shopping experience has been known to intimidate the faint hearted or weak-willed.

This is good news for financial freedom beasts (like you).

By embarking on a quest in a discount store, you are guaranteed to find gorgeous designer items that are severely reduced in price. My recent purchases include $10.00 heart shaped Betsey Johnson earrings and $20.00 Steve Madden wedges I had been scouting for months. Mind blown.

 $15 dress from Ross + $20 Steve Madden wedges = Vegas done right

$15 dress from Ross + $20 Steve Madden wedges = Vegas done right

But don’t stop there. Be sure to shop the sales within the discount store. Yep, that’s right—discount stores have more sales on already discounted merchandise. My greatest bargain to date occurred during a sale at Ross. A Nine West bag that retailed for $80.00 was already a steal at $20.00. But on sale, I bought it for the shocking price of $8.00. To this day, I get compliments on the purse and I can’t help but smile as I remember the $8.00 I happily spent.

As for strategy, try to frequent discount stores in affluent neighborhoods. Rich neighbors often overlook or opt out of discount stores entirely. As a result, the best items are left for you to find.

3) Splurge…But Do It Wisely

Some things are worth the money. Determining the splurge-worthy items can be difficult though. For starters, it should be timeless item that you plan to wear or use at least three times a week for the next two or three years. Anything less than three times a week (and two or three years), and the item is merely an accessory for your closet and not worth the cash.

Next, determine the impact the item will have on your wardrobe. Thirdly, research if you can purchase a knockoff.

 My Michael Kors watch...worth the splurge!

My Michael Kors watch…worth the splurge!

For me, designer shoes aren’t worth the splurge. Not only can I buy mid-level designer shoes at discount stores, but I am also perfectly content to adorn my feet with knockoff heels and boots. But watches and sunglasses are another matter. Watches are always visible and often serve as a focal point in my outfit. Whether I’m going to the office in a $10.00 off-brand skirt or out for drinks in a and-me-down tank top, my $200 Michael Kors watch upgrades my outfit and creates the illusion of expense, no matter what I’m wearing.

Similarly, I splurge on $150 Ray Bans sunglasses.  Sunglasses are daily accessories in sunny Southern California. Even beyond that, they are noticeable items that sit on the center of one’s face. In other words: worth the splurge. Determine your must-have designer items and spend on one or two of them without guilt. With proper care, they should last for 3-5 years. In fact, I’ve worn my Ray Bans 2-3 times per week for the past 6 years. You’ll be getting more than your money’s worth.


4) Ignore Ads (aka: Shopping Won’t Fix Your Problems)

One of the easiest ways to save money is to ignore advertising. In the past, this was a easier to accomplish. You could turn off the TV or avoid the mall. In the age of the Internet, advertising is everywhere. It’s on the sidebars of your favorite websites and flooding your Instagram feed in the form of “sponsored posts.”

If you want to get serious about cutting your clothing expenses, then you need to learn to tune ads out. The easiest way to do this is to take breaks from the Internet. Set aside time where you are able to unplug and focus on yourself. Also, feel free to unfollow and unsubscribe from the worst offenders. Your headspace is precious. Don’t give it away for free. Your wallet (and brain) will thank you.

Secondly, learn the power of saying “no” and ignore the lure of more crap. For every pair of Steve Madden wedges I buy from Ross (which is a grand total of 1) there are 100’s of items I don’t purchase.

We all know this, but it’s worth repeating: buying items won’t make you happy. Similarly, it won’t make you a better or more interesting person. The hard questions in life about happiness, success and fulfillment can’t be answered by swiping a credit card at the store.



*Sometimes a particularly expensive purchase (like running shoes—never go cheap on those!) will increase my clothing expenses for a particular year. Some years are higher or lower than others depending on my “big items” (or lack thereof) but my average for each during the past 5 years has been $200.

**For most people (myself included), “looking good” is an elusive goal that is largely defined by how we feel about ourselves. These are the stores and items that help me feel attractive and capable as I face the world. (If yours are different, or don’t include shopping at all, that’s awesome!) But ultimately, knowing that I’m saving large amounts of money while living a life I love is the biggest benefit of all.



How much do you spend on clothing each year? Any tips for saving money?

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