8 Ways to Find Style on a Budget

It’s easy to look glamorous and put together when you have a mega budget and a personal stylist. But since most of us aren’t A-listers, are there any tricks to doing it on a budget?

YES! Unfortunately, like most things in life, time is money. If you have time, you can save money. If you don’t have time, it may actually be a better investment to have someone do the searching/shopping/styling for you.

Before we begin our tour of how to find style on a budget, first I would ask that you really, truly evaluate what’s important to you. Are you looking for a closet full of the latest styles that you got at bargain prices? Or are you perhaps interested in investing in fewer pieces of higher quality that you wear over a longer period? They are both cases of style for less.

Probably just as important is how much time you have to seek out the clothes that will fit, flatter and suit your lifestyle as well as your budget. Sure, you can find great prices on clothing, but this will often take a fair bit of time. If you just head out to the shops without a plan and/or an app, you’re not likely to be getting the best deal. And since time is money . . .

For most of us, we’re just looking to maintain our wardrobe basics and perhaps add a few key pieces each season. We’re not trolling the fashion magazines for up to the minute styles, nor are we shopping for high end designer clothing seen on the runways. We’ve probably found the stores and labels that suit us the best and where we are likely to find things that work without too much fuss.

Here’s how to crack the code on getting more for less from our favorite retailers:

Sign Up for Their Emails

The trick to this one is to set up an email address just for shopping so you don’t clutter up your inbox. Periodically check through it to see who has what on sale, and whether there are any patterns to sales that work for you. This is also a great way to take advantage of sales when you have unplanned purchases, like when you discover that last year’s pants don’t actually fit.

Check retailmenot.com

This one has saved me a fair bit over the years. Every time I make a purchase online I check whether the retailer has any online coupons I can use. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s always a nice bonus to find free shipping or 20% off when I wasn’t expecting to.

Plan Ahead to Shop on Holidays

And not just on Thanksgiving! I can’t tell how many times I’ve stumbled across a deeply discounted sale for items I needed to buy and hadn’t really considered whether there was a sale happening. Bonus! Nearly every major holiday has a sale at most major retailers (think Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day). If you’ve set up your shopping account and are checking for sale emails they will no longer come as surprises.

Enroll in a Program Like Ebates

I haven’t personally tried this one, but it seems like a good idea if you primarily shop online. Essentially any purchase you make through the site with one of their partner retailers rewards you with cash back. What’s not to like? At the moment I’m more focused on collecting airmiles, so I’m feeling that conflict between saving money and finding the purchases where I can earn 3x or 5x airmiles instead.

Discount Retailers

If you’re interested in style on a budget I’m sure you’re already aware of the discount retailers like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and Burlington Coat Factory. They go by different names in different parts of the world, but they are everywhere.

 Of course I’m also sure you’re aware that these stores require the most time to find the deals. Sure, they’re out there. But you need to have the time to check the racks regularly and you need to be pretty sharp at spotting the bargains for your wardrobe. Remember, just because it’s a good price doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to buy it!

Same goes for outlet stores. Hopefully you’re aware that the goods in outlet stores at every vacation destination are produced specifically for sale at those outlets and are often not the same quality as the main brand label. It’s fun to shop on holiday, but keep this in mind when you get overly excited about the price tags.

Off Season Shopping

If you’re really into saving money you can always plan to purchase at the end of the season, especially for bigger ticket items you know you need. While I will confess to finding it difficult to think about a new winter coat when it’s May and the temperatures are already decidedly summer-like, if you know you need one for the following year this can be a great way to score pretty big savings.

Higher End Consignment

This one is not for everyone. Like discount retailers, you need to be pretty good at spotting a good deal and to actually enjoy ‘the hunt’, AND you need to be comfortable with second-hand items. But, you can score amazing deals on top quality pieces if you put in the time.

I have a good friend who enjoys ‘thrifting’ at the higher end consignment stores in NW DC. Never on the weekend of course, but she has found beautiful designer labels for outrageous prices. Another friend swears by The Real Real, the online version of a consignment shop. I’ve found some beautiful things on this site too, but you need to be supremely confident in what fits and flatters and to have a good idea of what you are looking for before you begin.

Consider Partner Shopping Portals

Many organizations offer retail discounts as part of their membership benefits. They aren’t always style related, but it’s still worth understanding what’s available as the deals can often be significant. I’ve found great deals through professional associations I’ve belonged to, AAA, my credit card (there is an entire online shopping portal that is often discounted and in my case, provides airline miles that I have used to save money on ticket purchases.) Again, depending on what your ultimate goal is, spending a little time to understand what’s available can save you some pretty decent money in the end.

Is a Stylist an Easier Way to Save?

Now if you’re heart has been sinking at the thought of all this work just to find deals, there is an alternative that on the face of it sounds more expensive. However, if how you put yourself out there is important to you and you really don’t have the time/inclination/skill to hunt down bargains, it may actually make sense to work with a stylist. Someone who assesses your wardrobe (have you shopped your own closet lately?), identifies the quality pieces that would make it work even more stylishly, and actually does the shopping for you might be well worth the investment.

Most of the higher end department stores also have personal shopping services, but that does rather restrict you to what’s available in their stores. The online stylists like Stitch Fix, Front Door Fashion etc. reviewed in this post might also be options as they have access to vast selections that you just don’t.

But to truly get the best return on your style investment, I’d work with a personal stylist who gets to know you and may even know where to find bargains on the types of things that will work best in your wardrobe. Plus, a stylish should also be able to help you make what you already have work in ways you hadn’t considered. Huh. That might even save time and money!