50 Ways to Update Your Wardrobe for Cheap
Looking to refresh your spring wardrobe? It's only natural to want a few new things as the seasons (and your tastes) change. If you're on a tight budget like me, though, you need to watch every penny. Check out these 50 money-saving tips before heading to the store. (See also: Update Your Spring Wardrobe Frugally)
1. Shop Your Closet
Take stock of what you already have hiding out in your closets. You might be surprised to find exactly what you're looking for and discover other long-forgotten items in the process.
2. Set a Budget
I actually have myself on a clothing allowance for each season. I usually choose to shop seasonally versus monthly because it keeps me from picking up too many unnecessary extras.
3. Write a List
Go to the store on a mission. It's fun to shop around for the latest styles, but if money is tight — keep it simple. Use your list to target your shopping, and you likely won't grab up costly impulse items.
4. Use Cash Only
I never use credit cards to buy clothing. And I stopped using my debit card, too, after over-spending on clothes in my 20s. Instead, I like to take out my allowance in cash and leave the dangerous plastic at home. (See also: How to Live a Cash-Only Life)
5. Start at the Back
The displays in the front and center of the store can be enticing (and expensive), so I avoid them. I like to make a beeline for the back of the store where the sale and clearance racks are located. Then I work my way forward (or not at all).
6. Shop Off Days
I also try to shop on weeknights versus heavy traffic times like weekends for two reasons. First, I can focus and take my time without so much congestion. Second, sale items are usually more plentiful than picked over mid-week.
7. Think Options
Before I buy a new shirt or pair of pants, I like to make a mental check through my closet. Would this item go with at least three to five items I already own? If the answer is no, I put it back. Pieces that don't marry well with others aren't worth the cash.
8. Mix and Match
To delve deeper into the options topic, if you are choosing to buy something new that doesn't go with what you already own, think mixing and matching with all the other items you plan to grab. I stick with a relatively neutral color palette which makes it easy to accomplish this goal.
9. Wear Last Season's Duds
I stock up at end-of-season sales almost exclusively these days. Sure, I'm not wearing the right patterns and colors a year in the future. However, the money saved is worth being a little less fashion-forward.
10. Sign Up for Store Emails
I know some people might advise you to avoid spending by turning a blind eye to merchant emails, but I like to get a heads-up for the really big sales. Sure you'll have a cluttered inbox, but sometimes it's worth it. For example, this weekend I got an email about a clearance sale at the Gap Outlet and saved big!
11. Connect Via Social Media
Along these same lines, link up with your favorite store's Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Sometimes there are special discount codes or news exclusively for followers.
12. Scrutinize Sales
However, if you do choose to keep shopping on the brain through email and social media — think critically before buying. Usually sales cycle around monthly (end of month), and there aren't always a plethora of truly amazing deals to take advantage of.
13. Check Thrift and Consignment Shops
Have you ever donated like-new clothing that just didn't fit right or strike your fancy? I think we all have. So, find treasure in someone else's trash...er, donations! You can often find designer clothing in great condition for sale at your local thrift stores. (See also: 10 Things to Look For When You Visit a Thrift Store)
14. Scout Garage Sales
I like to roam the streets to find solid deals on children's clothing at local garage sales. You can find amazingly adorable options for less than a dollar — all while helping a fellow neighbor do some spring cleaning.
15. Sell Your Stuff
While you're combing the aisles at thrift stores and checking out garage sales, think about selling your own neglected shirts and skirts. A lot of shops will offer pretty impressive compensation for newer clothing without holes, rips, or other markings.
16. Search Online for Coupons
Before you submit that order, be sure to search around online to see if there's a coupon code hiding out. Better yet, check out our Daily Deals for sales and codes at all your favorite stores. (See also: 12 Ways to Save Cash on New Clothes)
17. Think Investment Pieces
Particularly for work clothing, it's important to invest in something that will last a long time and go with a variety of basics. Usually investment pieces are items you wear multiple times a week. For example, a good suit can carry you through years if it's properly cared for and eventually prove less expensive than replacing a cheap one several times.
18. Calculate Cost-Per-Wear
If spending big bucks on a few items scares you, consider the ROI through a quick cost-per-wear analysis. Multiply the estimated number of times you'll wear something over a given time period, then divide the cost by that number for how much you'll spend per wear.
19. Avoid Trends
Love that new trendy pattern floating around on Pinterest? I suggest resisting the urge to paint your entire wardrobe in, say, chevron. Those pieces are fun, but definitely get old — and fast.
20. Shop for Yourself
I've seen lots of reviews of a popular "stylist" service with clothing delivered to your doorstep through the mail. In my opinion, the prices are way inflated for convenience versus quality. Shop for yourself. If you need some styling help, check out these tips for how to dress your body type.
21. Make Your Own
If you're crafty (or have the desire to learn), you can try your hand at sewing some unique clothes to hang in your closet. Here's a 20-minute skirt tutorial to get you started. You can find lots of inspiration by browsing Pinterest.
22. Host Clothing Swaps
My friends and I used to get together twice a year to have a fun clothing swap. We'd each bring a bag of clothing we wanted to off-load, a bottle of wine, and some music. In the end, we all had fun and got to take home new boots to, well, boot.
23. Shop Outside Your Section
One of my favorite tips for women: Scope out the men's and kid's sections of the store. You can often find similar items there, but on deeper discounts. I wear a men's small and a boy's XL, and I've found some fantastic deals and neat pieces this way.
24. Check Discount Stores
There's nothing wrong with getting designer deals at your local Marshall's or TJMaxx. Usually these clothes are just out of season or were bought in bulk and not sold elsewhere. I do a large majority of my shopping at these places.
25. Buy Only Clearance
And even when I'm already shopping a sale or a discount store, I scope out what's on clearance first. I used to think clearance was just a bunch of ugly, discarded clothing. Now? Nearly daily I wear a pair of $5 dark wash jeans I found last year.
26. Keep Basics Basic
No need to spend tons of money on underwear, t-shirts, and other basic wearables. Stock up on these guys at your local Target or Walmart. Even better? Try to take advantage of seasonal or holiday sales for these simple items. August (back to school) is a particularly smart time to shop.
27. Skip Fussy Pieces
With the exception of a few investment pieces, I try to pass over clothes that require special cleaning. Instead, I stick with mostly wash-and-go stuff that can be tossed together in the washing machine and dried on medium. When choosing dry clean only or similar items, remember to add up in your head all those times you'll need to clean it to the overall cost.
28. Buy Just One
I'm really bad at this next tip, which is why I thought I'd mention it. When I find a shirt or sweater I really like, I tend to want to buy it in several colors. Thing is, I usually end up wearing one more than the other. Consider buying just one and being done. (Unless it's on a mega-sale.)
29. Wear Again
I never quite understand why some of my friends seem to shop for each and every event they attend. I have a black dress I bought over nine years ago that I often wear to special gatherings. Otherwise, I have a couple more formal things in my collection and try to avoid buying for a single wear.
30. Walk Away
If you're feeling a bit up-in-the-air about some decisions, before pulling out your pocketbook, ask the associate at the checkout to hold your items for you. Take a walk around the mall or store for 10 minutes and think about your purchases before you take the plunge.
31. Ask Around
My 77-year-old grandmother is quite a fashionista. Her tip? Become friends with a sales associate to get the low-down on any upcoming sales or promotions.
32. Have Patience
If you see something you absolutely can't live without, give it time. At many of the stores where I shop, in a few weeks I see that exact need-to-have blouse for less. Even if it isn't much more than 10%, at least it's some savings.
33. Return and Repurchase
My grandmother's other key tip? Keep tags on your clothes for a couple weeks. If you see something that has gone on sale after you've purchased it, you can sometimes return and repurchase it at the lower price. (Works at many stores in my experience, so long as you pay attention to their return policies.)
34. Abstain Entirely
If you spend more money on clothing than you'd like, consider calling it quits. Really. Likely you already have quite a collection and can — instead — benefit from trying to remix your wardrobe.
35. Set Shopping Periods
If you can't see yourself stopping entirely, think about shopping seasonally like I do. That way, you aren't as tempted to pick up every stray skirt you find.
36. Check Online and Store Prices
Occasionally you'll see an item online for less money than it is in the store. And vice versa. I don't know exactly why it works that way, but it sometimes does. Before you pay full price, it's worth a check to cross-compare.
37. Save Gift Cards
Whenever I get a gift card, I usually let it burn through my pocket. I'm trying to get in the habit of saving it for clothing I need versus clothing I want. That way, I can use it almost like a coupon to get those higher ticket items.
38. Ban Duplicates
Ever wonder if you have jeans like the ones in your hand at home? You likely do. Before purchasing something over again, go home and check your closet. Or at very least, keep your receipt and tags intact.
39. Try All Items On
Take 10 minutes to try on your picks before purchasing. You will fine-tune the fit this way and also get to see how things really look when they're on. I've saved lots of money this way. What something looks like on the hanger versus body is often a huge difference.
40. Buy the Right Size
And by trying items on, you can see if that tried-and-true size eight really fits in that specific cut. Store sizing varies greatly (check out this handy guide), so it's in your best interest to take the time to put stuff on.
41. Know Your Vices
Do you gravitate toward a certain something? Before you pick up yet another pair of leopard print heels, considering either trying something new or saving your money.
42. Favor Accessories
A great way to spice up your wardrobe on the cheap is with inexpensive accessories. Colorful scarves, dangly earrings, bold necklaces — these are all high-impact items when combined with a more neutral base. (See also: Where to Find Affordable Accessories)
43. Remember Function
What do you do in your everyday life? Think about this question foremost when picking out clothing. If you work from home like me, you likely don't need lots of dressy duds. If you're at the office, you'll need more business casual or even formal attire.
44. Learn to Mend
We've fallen away from the days of patching clothing and into the toss away culture. Pick up an inexpensive mending kit at your local store and learn to sew on those buttons or even add knee or elbow patches. (See also: 8 Ways to Help Your Clothes Last Longer)
45. Embrace Minimalism
I've become quite intrigued by capsule wardrobes, which are simply closets consisting of a few classic items that won't fade from style. If this idea interests you too, check out this quick how-to guide.
46. Borrow and Lend
So, maybe you don't want to wear that same black dress yet again to an important event. Ask a friend if you could shop her closet for a one-time wear. But be sure to avoid red wine spills and snags. Oh, and also return the favor!
47. Find Your Own Style
The mannequins are surely a good place to turn for the hottest looks of the season, but you need not purchase exactly what they're wearing to be stylish. Instead, look at the general concepts (a skinny pant with a flowing tunic, a voluminous skirt with a fitted top) versus the specifics.
48. Scan eBay
I've also had some success searching for designer items via eBay. Some tips: Read all the listing's (and seller's) fine print, check the seller's reviews and star-rating, and wait to bid on items until the very end versus getting engaged in a bidding war.
49. Alter What You've Got
In the summer, cutoff shorts are my thing. Buying them made that way seems ridiculous to me, so I make my own. If you have an item you're thinking of culling from your collection, look into its potential before tossing. Here are some creative ideas for modifying basic T-shirts.
50. Shop Alone
When I shop for clothes, it's fun to be with friends. If I need to save money? I shop alone. Blame it on the good vibes or peer pressure, but I'm much more likely to indulge if I'm making shopping a social event versus a simple mission.
What are your tips to save on clothing? We'd love to hear them in the comments!