With gas and food prices up and the stock market and exchange rate down, everyone is looking for places to cut back on expenses. Historically, clothing is one of the first places to “get the ax” in hard times.

But before you go “cold turkey” on your wardrobe and eliminate clothes shopping completely, remember that dressing appropriately and maintaining a good image can reap huge benefits regardless of the economy. In fact, with unemployment on the rise, honing your skills AND packaging yourself appropriately can mean the difference between a promotion — and a pink slip.

So what are some easy ways to cut back on your clothing budget yet still look great? Here are ten tips that you can use to survive the slowdown or put away a little extra something, even when times are good:

1. Get Organized and Take Inventory

Over the years, I’ve had several clients who have bought duplicate tops, coats, or shoes because their closets are such a mess they don’t know what they have. Once they clear the clutter and take inventory, they’re astounded by what they find.

If you haven’t gone through your closet or dresser drawers in a while, set aside an afternoon or a few weeknights to do it. You may be surprised by what you own. Keep what fits, mend what needs to be fixed (or get a seamstress to do it), and make a pile of things to sell or give away.

2. Wear Old Clothes in New Ways

Once you know what you want to keep, put them back in your closet with like things together (all jackets together, all skirts together, etc.) by color (all white tops, all blue pants, etc). That way, you create a mini boutique in your closet where you can find things easily. You can also mix-and-match more readily since you know at a glance what you have to work with.

Take advantage of that. Pair your old favorites with different pieces to create new ensembles. Just because you bought a certain top to go with a certain skirt doesn’t mean you can’t wear it with anything else. Get creative. See an outfit in a magazine you’d love to have? See if you can create a similar look with your EXISTING pieces. It’s easy to do when you know what’s in your closet.

3. Add Accessories

Want to give a new look to an old favorite? Go through your accessories to see what you have to work with. Add a scarf, try a different belt, revisit your dangly earrings now that your little ones are older – just a little change can make a big difference. Or, if your scraggly old handbag is bringing every outfit down, spend your money on a luxurious new one that will upgrade every ensemble. If you use it all the time, it will be money well spent.

4. Plan Your Purchases

Once you know what you have, your wardrobe holes will become obvious. Need to add more tops, bottoms, or shoes? Put them on your list and fill them in as your budget allows. Don’t be distracted by impulse buys. Yes, you may find something on sale that’s too cute to pass up, and if it fills a hole in your wardrobe, go for it. But if it doesn’t go with anything else in your closet, take a deep breath and leave it at the store. You CAN live without it. Life WILL go on.

Remember all those clothes in your closet that you weren’t wearing for whatever reason? How many of them still had the price tags on them? How many were impulse buys? More often than not, you’ll wish you HADN’T bought something instead of pine for the ones that got away.

5. Sell or Give Away Old Things

Remember that giveaway pile you made when you were cleaning your closet? Go through it again to determine which items can be donated and which should be sold. Spread out items to be donated on a bed or the floor and take a picture, then determine their fair market value by using a valuation tool like the one found here:


When you drop off the items at the charity of your choice (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.), take along your valuation estimate and ask the charity for a tax slip. They’ll either fill in the form for you or give it to you to fill out yourself. Attach the picture, valuation form, and tax slip together and put it in your tax file so you can deduct the donation on your return.

If you have high-quality items that you’d prefer to sell, put them up for auction on eBay, sell designer pieces to places like:


Or even consign them at a local consignment shop. You probably won’t get back what you paid for them, but even a little cash can help defray the cost of new purchases you need to make.

6. Don’t Shop with Your Kids

Clothes shopping with kids is a lot like grocery shopping with kids or going to Toys R Us with kids to buy a birthday present for one of their friends: a tense situation where I usually spend more than I plan and which requires an adult beverage to calm down upon my return home. It was easy when they were little and napped in their strollers as I shopped. But these days, unless I take them one at a time to buy something specific for THEM, chaos ensues. I used to wonder why my mother rarely took us shopping until we were in high school. Now I know: it’s a pain.

So shop WITHOUT your kids, if you can. It’s not always possible, but if you can, do – especially if you’re shopping for yourself. You’ll spend less and enjoy yourself more because you’ll be able to focus on YOU instead of trying to keep track of THEM. Go when they’re at school or summer camp, or trade babysitting duties with a friend or relative so you can have a little time to yourself.

My husband and I did this just last week. We both took the day off from work, dropped the kids off at summer camp, and headed to an Outlet Mall about an hour away. In four hours we replenished most of his casual summer wardrobe, bought him a new suit, dress shoes, and briefcase, and had a leisurely lunch. Fun, quality, productive one-on-one time with my husband. What a concept! You ought to try it sometime.

7. Shop Sales

Everyone likes a sale. But you can really make the most of them if you have a wardrobe plan AND you know when your favorite store is likely to put merchandise on sale, like:

  • Holidays – Stores know their traffic is slow around holidays, so they have sales to get people to come in. Upcoming: Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving.

  • End of Season – Stores need to make space for the new season of merchandise, so they’ll discount the current season to get rid of it. Upcoming: July, October, January, April.

  • Back to School – Some stores do a third of their business during the month of August when kids restock their wardrobes to go back to school. Whether you have kids in school or not, you can stock up on staples like underwear, socks, pajamas, jeans, and coats during the back to school season.

If you have a department store credit card, they’ll often send you notices of upcoming sales. Make a note if you’re in the market for a few items. Why pay full price when you don’t have to?

8. Shop Consignment

On my first job out of college, one of the girls I worked with had the most beautiful wardrobe I’d ever seen – on her $15,000 a year salary –with NO debt. How’d she do it? By shopping consignment! She’d frequent a shop in the River Oaks section of Houston and pick up the socialites’ cast offs for a fraction of their original cost. The items may have been worn once, or more frequently, not at all. The ladies who ran the shop came to know Camille well and often called when something came in that they knew she’d like (one of the many benefits of becoming a regular).

So if you have high end tastes but a low end budget, try some of the consignment stores in your area, particularly those near the ritziest section of town. You may be surprised by what you can find.

9. Buy Vintage

Like unusual, one-of-a-kind things? Want to wear something for a special occasion that will be unlike anything else in the room? Want to do it all on a teeny-tiny budget? Then vintage is the way to go. There’s a reason why you hear the word “vintage” so much on the red carpet these days: because great pieces never go out of style. They just become less popular and less expensive as time goes by. Which means you can buy really pretty things for a little bit of nothing that no one else is likely to have.

Use the Internet to take advantage of that. Locate vintage pieces online and learn about designers from different eras. Shop vintage stores. Bid on eBay. Before you know it, you can have a singularly unique wardrobe for a fraction of what your friends paid to dress like everyone else.

10. Swap Clothes

Have clothes that are in good shape that you don’t wear? Have friends or relatives that are about the same size as you? Do THEY have clothes they don’t wear? Then plan a little get-together to socialize and swap clothes.

I know – it sounds kind of weird. But it makes a lot of sense, is very eco-friendly, and can be lots of fun as well. Here’s how to organize a clothes swap:


If you don’t have friends your size or don’t feel comfortable swapping with them, here are a couple of places you can swap clothes online:



So just because the economy is struggling or you’re struggling to get a handle on your expenses is no reason to abandon dressing well or appropriately. You simply have to get more creative and resourceful. These ideas should help get you pointed in the right direction.

Need some other tips for making a little wardrobe do a lot? Download a copy of BUDGET-FRIENDLY STYLE to see how you can have a champagne wardrobe on a beer budget.


Budget-Friendly Style