Clothes are fun, expressive, and… expensive. If your closet is bursting at the seams but your wallet is feeling empty, here are 25 ways you can save money when you’re shopping for new clothes and make the most of what you already own.
1. Buy generic basics
If you’re buying layering pieces that you mostly wear under other things — like tank tops or plain tees — don’t bother shelling out for a brand name. No one’s going to see it, and it’s probably not going to last long — part of an undershirt’s job is keeping sweat off your nice button-down, right? Stick to stuff like Hanes and Fruit of the Loom, and save the labels for stuff you actually show off.
2. Shop out of season
We know, it’s exciting to buy things pre-season. When it’s icy outside, that lightweight sundress makes you feel like spring is right around the corner. But if you’re buying in anticipation of what’s next, you’re paying the maximum retail price. If you shop for what’s not happening, you’ll get a much better price. Sure, it might feel weird to buy a sweater when it’s nearly triple digits outside, but it’ll save you some cool cash.
3. Buy one really great swimsuit
When you’re gearing up for a vacation, it’s tempting to load up on fun, inexpensive swimwear. Here’s the thing though — all of that cheap stuff is going to wind up costing you more in the long run. Not only are you buying more of it to begin with, but it’s going to be sagging, stretching, or sheer before you know it. Instead, invest in one really great, well-made swimsuit, and make it last. After you wear it, rinse it out or soak it in cold tap water to remove lotion, sunscreen, and other oils, which can damage and fade the fabric. Then let it air dry. With good care — and a good suit — you can get three years of use out of it. Can’t think of a swimsuit you’d be willing to wear for three years? It’s hard to go wrong with a basic black bikini or maillot from a made-to-last name like Land’s End.
4. Skip the factory outlets
“But I can save 50% off retail price!” you say. Well, can you? Outlet stores are usually a mix of items from last season that didn’t sell (usually for a reason, like an unflattering color, poor fit, or a short-lived trend) and items that were made just for the outlet. With the latter, that price that’s 50% off the suggested retail price is pretty much made up — the outlet is the only place it’s ever been sold, and that “sale” price is the real price. Items made just for outlets are generally not as high quality, so all you’re really paying for is the label.
5. Go easy on trends
Fashion trends all have their moments, whether it’s ikat-print everything or oxford-style lace-ups. Once that moment’s over though, it’s either sitting in your closet, headed for charity, or saying loudly to all around you, “Hey, I bought this in 2012!” Even though stores like H&M and Forever 21 try to get you to buy ultra-trendy items because they’re so cheap, think about it — if you’re constantly buying the latest trends and then not wearing them for long, are they really that cheap? Instead of falling for fast fashion, only buy trendy items that you genuinely like and that fit with your style. Who knows, other people’s fashion moment might become one of your wardrobe staples.
6. Expand your options with accessories
Make your basic wardrobe feel more exciting with inexpensive accessories — think necklaces, bracelets, belts, and scarves that you can mix with outfits you already own. Especially if your work wardrobe has to stay in the business casual doldrums, a little accessorizing can make your basics feel fun and special. This isn’t just for the ladies, either: Guys can switch it up with differently patterned or colorful socks and ties. Either way, you can get away with spending a lot less to make a new outfit.
7. Don’t be afraid of a little DIY
No, we’re not saying you have to make your own clothes — that’s harder than it sounds, and it already sounds really hard. Instead, just learn some sewing basics. Hand-sewing a button is actually super-easy, and you can replace a popped button instead of getting a new shirt. Bored of a cardigan? Give it some new life by replacing the buttons. If you own or have access to a sewing machine, learn to do a simple hem. You can save on hemming your own pants and jeans, and those perfectly tailored trousers you ruined when you walked through a puddle? You can hem ’em into a perfect pair of shorts.
8. Use coupon apps to score a better deal
There’s an app for everything, and unsurprisingly, there are tons of great coupon apps that can help you save money. Yowza is a free, location-based app for Android and iOS that lets you search for coupons at stores near you (both chains and local merchants). Coupon Sherpa is another great app, which lets you search for coupons for retailers, restaurants, and more. You can set it up to remember your favorite stores, letting you track when they have special offers.
9. Befriend a salesperson
Have one spot you always love shopping? It’s worthwhile to get to know one of the salespeople. Not only will you get better service (which never hurts), it’ll also give you an inside line on upcoming sales and deals. If there’s an item you love but the price is a little too steep, you can ask your in-store BFF to hold it a few days for you, then scoop it up on sale.
10. Beware the dry-clean only tag
You know how car ads talk about the price to own a vehicle, not just what it costs to buy? The same goes for clothes. If you’re buying items that need to be dry-cleaned, you’re going to keep paying for them long after you get home from the store. Depending on how often they need cleaning, you could be tacking on an extra $10 to the cost of the item every few wears. It adds up fast. Instead of dry-clean only, try to find clothes that have a fancy look and feel, but can be tossed in your washer. Home dry-cleaning kits are another option. Have something that’s absolutely got to go to the cleaner? Extend the time between visits by spot cleaning as needed.
11. Only buy what you can actually pay for
If you can’t afford it, you’ve got to skip it. One way to put yourself on a major spending diet is to only buy clothes with cash; handing over actual dollars makes the money you’re spending feel much more real than throwing down the plastic, even if it’s the same amount of dough. If you’re using a card, make sure you can pay off the entire balance when it comes due. Paying interest on your clothes means you’re paying more for them.
12. Store your clothes with care
Extend the life of the clothes you do have by taking decent care of them. That means actually folding items like sweaters and tees, not overstuffing your drawers, and taking off those plastic dry-cleaning bags before you hang stuff up (oh yeah, you’ve got to hang stuff up, too!). For hanging items, invest in those fuzzy “huggable” hangers. It’s pricier than buying basic plastic hangers, but they won’t warp your tops’ shoulders.
13. Don’t do flash sales
Just don’t. Flash sales lead to crazy, adrenaline-fueled purchases – you’re not stopping to really think through whether you need those purple python stilettos, you’re just thinking that it’s a great deal and there are only a few of them and oh my gosh I only have a few more minutes to lock this in! The sites lure you in by telling you you’re getting deep discounts on designer goods — and yes, it’s a big price drop — but in the heat of a flash sale you’re not likely to make wise decisions. Plus, as with the designer stuff at outlets — there’s a reason this stuff wound up on a sale site.
14. Be willing to hunt
Stores tend to put the priciest items right in the middle of the sales floor, and especially at higher-end boutiques, they aren’t excited to showcase the clearance rack. Walk around the edges of the shop, and keep your eyes peeled for deals. Stores are carefully laid out to try to encourage you to spend money, so the most discounted items may be the hardest to find.
15. Keep your zippers zipped
A weird tip, but it’s another way to keep your clothes lasting longer: Before you do your laundry, make sure anything that has a zipper (like pants and hoodies) is zipped up. That way, the zipper’s teeth aren’t getting tumbled around in your washer or dryer — and aren’t ripping or pulling the other garments you’ve got in there.
16. Swap for special occasions
“Just get a little black dress, you’ll wear it for everything.” Easier said than done, right? Especially when you’ve got a bunch of weddings to go to, and one’s in the daytime in a vineyard, and another involves a beach weekend. If you’ve got a special occasion coming up and a friend who’s a similar size, shop her closet for something new to wear. When she’s got an event coming up, you can return the favor — and you both get a better ROI on your formalwear.
17. Hit the thrift shops
If you’re determined to get a bargain, you can’t find clothing much less expensive than in a thrift shop — and if it’s one that supports a charity, you’re even doing good with your purchase. That said, thrifting isn’t always for the faint of heart: You’re going to do a lot of digging. Some major thrift retailers like Goodwill have actually started pulling out their designer and major-label pieces and putting them on special racks, making the search a little less daunting. If an item isn’t your size, you’re out of luck — but if it is, you’re not going to find a less expensive score.
18. Trawl eBay for investment pieces
If you’re a shopping pro, you can actually turn to eBay if there’s a certain designer piece you totally can’t live without — if it’s more than a year old, there’s a decent likelihood you’ll find it, and often at a reasonable price. Be extremely cautious though: You can’t see or try anything on before you buy it, and eBay is full of counterfeit and knockoff goods that are not worth your money (if it seems to good to be true, it definitely is — and remember, you usually can’t return items or get your money back on eBay). Don’t be afraid to ask sellers questions, check out the other items they’re selling (large numbers of the same item can be a red flag, while different items from the same designer can be a good sign), and be sure to read their reviews. Other eBayers will usually let you know if a seller is legit.
19. Remember that cheap isn’t free
Sometimes, you’re so excited to get a deal, you feel like you absolutely have to get this item. You’re such a smart shopper, and think of all the people you’ll tell about it! But do you actually need it? Take a moment to make sure you actually want the item — don’t be blinded by the price.
20. Keep track of major sales
Big department stores (like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s) and some mall stores (notably Victoria’s Secret) have giant annual or semi-annual sales where they offer their best discounts of the year. These usually fall at lulls in the shopping calendar — neither before nor right after big holidays — so you have to keep an eye out for them. If you’re really committed to not missing one, sign up for that store’s emails; though if the emails are leading you to spend too much time browsing their sites, click unsubscribe.
21. Shop for the life you have now
If you start telling yourself a story when you pick up a piece of clothing — like how amazing it would be to wear if you were at your summer home in Tuscany — you should probably put it down (well, unless you own a summer house in Tuscany). Shopping for the life you want will get expensive fast, and isn’t likely to get you items that will work with your current routine. Same goes for other kinds of aspirational shopping, too — don’t tell yourself how great those jeans are going to look once you go on a diet. If you actually need jeans, buy a pair that fits you now. You can keep dreaming about tomorrow, just don’t spend your cash on it today.
22. Take their surveys
Most major retailers include a bunch of print at the bottom of their receipts, and in addition to the return policy and their web address and stuff like that, lots of them ask you to take a survey about your shopping experience. If it’s somewhere you shop often, do it! It’ll take you less than five minutes, and it turns your receipt into a little coupon (usually 5-10% off) for your next shopping trip.
23. Fix the clothes you own
Sure, it might feel easier to get rid of it or give it to charity and just buy new stuff. But if you really love an item, and you plunked down a decent amount of dough for it, make it last. That shirt that’s not fitting quite right? Take it to a tailor. The boots you’ve worn so much the heels are nearly gone? Bring them to a cobbler. The repairs won’t be free, but you’ll spend less than you would replacing the items – and when you get them back, they’ll feel fresh and new.
24. Count to three before you buy
If you’re thinking about buying something — a new purse, a new shirt, whatever — before you hand over your charge card, challenge yourself to make a quick list of three reasons to buy it. (It can’t be because I want it, I want it, and I want it.) Come up with at least three other items in your closet you can wear the new piece with, or think of three upcoming occasions when you can wear it. If you’re coming up short, you probably don’t need it.
25. Use the one in, one out rule
Really want to rein in your spending? Use this simple rule: For every new piece of clothing (or pair of shoes, or accessory) you buy, you have to give one to charity. Yep, to get anything new, you have to give something up. It’s intense, but it can be the difference between a perfectly adequate wardrobe and a healthy bank balance, and an overflowing closet and a maxed out . Which are you going to choose?
Featured photo credit: Ed Ivanushkin via flickr.com