How to be fashionable on a budget

Being frugal doesn’t mean you have to walk around wearing a tattered t-shirt and hand-me-down jeans. Keep reading for some tips regarding how to be fashionable on a budget.

How to be fashionable on a budget

1. Buy classic and durable apparel

Having to refresh your wardrobe constantly (either because your clothing is constantly getting worn out or becoming dated) can be quite expensive. That’s why my first tip entails buying classic apparel that’s designed to last.

“But Brandon,” you might be thinking. “Timeless, high-quality clothing costs a lot of money. I can’t afford that on a budget!”

Well, if you crunch the numbers, you might be surprised. A jacket that costs $50 yet only lasts or stays in style for one season will cost you roughly $16 per month. Meanwhile, a jacket that costs $500 yet lasts 10 years will cost you roughly $4 per month. It’s all about getting the long-term cost of ownership down. That’s how you look great without breaking the bank.

2. Buy clothes second-hand

The value of even high-end clothing tends to depreciate very quickly. That’s terrible news if you frequently buy brand new clothing. However, it’s great news if you buy clothes second-hand since you can usually find brand names at bargain prices.

My favorite part about thrift shopping, though, is that it’s a great way to find vintage clothing. So if you’d like to craft a unique personal style because you’re tired of bumping into people that buy the same new Gucci shirts as you, it’s hard to beat thrift shopping.

3. Spend on essential outfit components, save on everything else

According to Vida Fashionista, an outfit is comprised of these components:

  • one base piece
  • one interest piece
  • one connecting piece
  • accessories

Your base piece (i.e. a pair of jeans, white t-shirt, etc) is typically the most reusable portion of your outfit. You could wear it every day and people wouldn’t notice because base pieces tend to be ubiquitous. Therefore, if you’re going to splurge on any part of your outfit, I’d argue this should be it.

Meanwhile, you should save money on interest pieces as you’ll likely wear a different one every day. The same goes for connecting pieces and accessories; you’re essentially going for quantity over quality since splurging on these items and consequently having just a few of them isn’t the best approach.

4. Before buying a new piece, look at what you already own

We’ve all made the mistake of impulsively buying clothing that doesn’t have any place in our wardrobes. Do this often enough and you’ll find yourself constantly making trips back to the store to purchase clothing you actually need.

Avoid this by taking stock of what you own before going shopping. Avoid buying items you already have perfectly good versions of. Instead, look for new items that will actually add value to your wardrobe.

5. Create a category in your budget for fashion

Of course, to be fashionable on a budget, you actually need a budget. Otherwise, you’ll have no way of knowing how each potential purchase factors into your spending for the month and year ahead.

If you’re new to the concept of budgeting, check out the first three points in this article I wrote on the topic of organizing your finances. They’ll teach you all about setting sensible financial priorities and making sure you stay on track.

I’d recommend being proactive and setting up alerts in Mint (the financial tracking tool I discuss in point three of the previously linked article) for when you’re about to exceed your budget allocation for fashion.

6. Go shopping with cash or debit only

Frequently buying non-essential items (including most clothing) on credit is a bad habit.

In large part, this is because (as confirmed by research), people tend to spend more when shopping with credit as opposed to some other payment method, such as cash or debit. It’s simply too easy to justify spending more than you initially planned when you’re going in with a “buy now, pay later” mentality.

You’ll likely find it much easier to control your spending if you go clothes shopping with cash or credit. After all, the amount of money sitting in your bank account or wallet is likely much lower than your credit card’s limit. You’ll be inherently much more restrained while shopping.

7. Make a list of specific items you’re looking for and ignore everything else

Clothing stores love mindless shoppers who come ready to spend money without any particular items in mind. Such people are typically very easily persuaded by all of the retail store layout wizardry that’s designed specifically to catch impulse shoppers.

You can avoid those traps by simply having a list of items you need or want to buy rather than taking the “I’ll just go in and see what I find” approach. In the process of creating such a list, you may even realize you don’t actually need to go shopping at all.

8. Develop a personal style

Having a personal style is key for being fashionable on a budget because it will limit the range of clothing you’d want to purchase.

I mean, someone like Steve Jobs with such a clearly defined personal style would probably have a hard time splurging on clothing even if they tried. There are only so many types of black turtlenecks out there.

You don’t need to be that extreme, though. Sticking with a broader clothing genre (i.e. athletic, work casual, etc) will provide enough variety while still helping you keep your budget under control.

9. Go shopping with an accountability partner

Do you have a friend who’s not afraid to roast you for spending too much money on clothes? They’d be a great accountability partner to bring along when shopping for clothes. You might even want to let them hold your wallet and have veto power on all potential purchases.

If your spending problems stem from online shopping, consider setting up an expense tracking account and granting them view access. You can hold weekly or monthly accountability sessions during which you review those transactions together.

How to be fashionable on a budget

You don’t need loads of money to be fashionable. I hope this article has given you a few strategies to consider for looking great without breaking the bank.

For more tips on getting your spending under control, check out that section of my site here!

About the author

Brandon-Richard Austin

Brandon-Richard Austin is the founder of Rinkydoo Finance. He is an avid investor and digital marketer for startups and publicly-traded companies alike.