Buying Clothes on a Budget

Updated on May 06, 2013
A.F. asks from Bellmore, NY
28 answers

My question is how does one go about replacing clothes on a budget? When my daughter was born four years ago, I guess I started to wear the same clothes over and over. I only gained about 30 pounds and since then lost it and gained some back. As of now, although I work full-time, my job only really pays for daycare. Money is often tight in my house and it always seems like when I need or want to buy new clothes for me, my daughter needs them first. I feel like a lot of my clothes are outdated or do not fit well. I'm in a clothing rut.
Now I know the more obvious answer to my question is to get a new, better paying job. My husband and I are discussing having a second child which for me would mean staying in my present position until the baby is born. Then staying home at least one year before looking for a different job.
As for trying to get back into my clothes, I know I need to follow a program or learn how to cut back. I tend to rejoin Weight Watchers often and never follow it very long.
With that, any advice on slowly finding ways to replace some outdated/doesn't fit well clothing? Thanks.

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So What Happened?

Thank you for your advice. I have to say I was surprised at the numerous suggestions to go to thrift stores and consignment shops. I think I know only one person who does that. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just different. As far as needing expensive or really dressy clothes for work, I do not. I am an aide to a student in a middle school. I usually shop at either Macy's or Kohl's for my clothes. And that is because I like Macy's but I have credit cards to these stores. I can also wear jeans to work too. Since I am not a teacher there, I don't need to really dress up. And because this position mainly pays for daycare with little left over, I do rely on my husband's income to support myself and daughter. I took this position for job experience again and almost two years ago to "get out of the house." I needed to meet people in my neighborhood and decide what I wanted to do. The pay is crappy but I like it for the most part. I do think about going back to teaching as I taught elementary school for many years. I don't miss the take-home work just the take-home pay! Isn't it always that way?! On another note, I am 37 years old and my husband is 42 so we are also at the stage where this year is our deciding year about having a second child. I will need to get up nights with a baby so I can't imagine going to a job too. Not until the baby sleeps through the night at least. My husband works the overnight shift and he is usually getting up to leave in the middle of the night to work. For me, I feel that starting over in education would be difficult for me if I had an infant right now. You bring home a ton of work after 3:00 and teaching has changed even more since I left in 2007. Anyway, thank you for the ideas about buying clothes on a budget.

I just want to clarify that I do not think buying in a thrift shop is bad, I just never tried it before. I am willing to try it once or twice. As for buying winter clothes for Alyssa now, I know that would be the smart thing to do. However, it is hard for me to do that when Alyssa still needs her summer wardrobe and we have things like three communions, birthdays, an extra medical bill here and there (not covered by insurance) and everything else. As far as commuting to my job, it is a breeze. My job does not rely on gas at all and infact I can drive on the gas light to work and still make it home if that was the case! One of the reasons why I accepted the low salary. I also get ten sick days and paid vacation days when the school is closed so I think for those reasons, they are perks of my job. By the way, it is quite difficult to find a teaching job these days, at least in New York. However, since Dave and I are considering a second child, I honestly stopped looking for a new job. I think it would be strange to take a brand new teaching position and then to leave in the middle of a school year (not having completed one year!). Thanks again for the ideas! Much appreciated.

Featured Answers


answers from Houston on

You shop Macy's??? I have a Masters Degree and a good job, yet I shop thrift. Girl, get with the program!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Just a quick question for you. When I had my daughter, I was working as college faculty, a job I had prepared for for over a decade. But when I did the math, I realized that my salary would cover little more than daycare. It made no sense to work just so I could pay someone else to do what I could do for free. I understand that some women really need to work outside the home, but consider this -- there are a lot of costs associated with working outside the home, and clothing is one of them. Would you be better off just staying home or finding a job you could do primarily at home? Between not needing special or fancy clothes, not having lunches out, supplies or books related to work, not paying for babysitting, not paying for dry cleaning, cooking my family's meals and working on the budget, I'm able to save the family enough money that it's a better deal than my working. And now I've started a business that I'm growing from my home.

Just a thought.

ETA: and one of the nice things I have time to do at home with the kids is search out the consignment and resale shops for clothes -- my daughter now prefers that to corporate stores because she believes in reusing and loves the eclectic and unique looks she comes up with.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

I love Thrift Stores! I go to Salvation Army, Goodwill and Value Village and I am able to find lots of clothes at a fraction of the price I would pay new. You can find lots of expensive brand name clothes that are in style when you go to thrift stores!

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Rochester on

Consignment shops. That's one of my favorite places to shop for the kids and myself.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


If your job is not doing anything for the family other than paying day care? Quit. If there is no money left over after gas and day care - it's not worth your time to work. Really.

If you are discussing a second child - why not go get that better paying job NOW? Do you think you'll get pregnant the first time you try? Yes. Some do. But in the mean time? Go improve yourself! :) Get the job you WANT. Get the pay you deserve! YOU CAN DO IT!!

As to purchasing clothes on a budget?
* Thrift Stores
* Consignment Shops - if you lived in the DC area, I would tell you to come to my girlfriend's shop! She has a LOT of great clothes at GREAT prices!!
* Good Will
* Salvation Army

All of these places have GREAT deals on clothes. There are times when you will run into a pair of designer label pants or even a dress with the tag still on it!

Try every piece on. If you are NOT in love with it or truly like it? DO NOT buy it. It will be wasted money and just sit in your closet. So LOVE or REALLY like what you buy!!

Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I was going to respond, but Wild Woman said it perfectly.

I can only add: Garage sales in rich parts of town. They can afford the best clothes and buy new stuff after they get bored with what they bought. I heard one lady tell a friend she just can't stand to wear something past three times.

Good luck to you and yours.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Oh my gosh THIS IS your job. Being a great mommy is the best. I am sure this is no secret, but Goodwill, St. Vincent's et. and garage sales are wonderful and sometimes have things still with original price tags on where you can buy up to the minute clothes and still feel great. I love to shop in those places-addicted I must say...and I work in a job where I need a different outfit everyday, look decent and clean and no one has ever said, "Oh do you go to second hand shops?" just enjoy your babies and someday when they grow up you can get a new job and buy whatever you want. The only thing I am snobby about is buying myself new socks, shoes, underwear, etc. although once in awhile something really catches your eye. Enjoy being a mommy and don't worry things all work out.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I shop thrift stores and only buy new retail if it's on clearance.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I shop clearance, so you should be buying your winter clothes for next year RIGHT NOW. I do this with my kids too, so I can pick up Gap or Gymboree shirts and pants for 3-6 bucks, and dresses for 6-9. When I was 4 months pregnant, I actually bought my baby tons of clothing on clearance --since I had given away all my girl baby clothes. It worked out great.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

I'll add my opinion to the others saying you should really consider your employment situation before anything else. If your job only pays for daycare what about the gas, food and other expenses associated with working outside the home? You may be losing money by working and certainly just breaking even is a very depressing prospect at best.

See if there's a way to stay home with your child until school age. Maybe take in other working mom's kids for a little extra each month. Cook every meal, do anything around the house yourself that you may be paying others to do now, including the awesome job of taking care of your own child!

As to the clothes situation, where are you buying your daughter's clothes. Can you trim anything off that cost? Try thrift stores, clearance racks, close-out stores and sales for both of you. I find Old Navy and Target will practically give kids clothes away when they hit the clearance rack. I could've dress my four year old's for the season for about $20 just from Old Navy alone. They have cute, inexpensive clothes for Mommas too. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Albuquerque on

Thrift stores and clearance sales. Even if you buy one nice peice at a time it'll add up.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

I love going to a high end part of town (I drive to Santa Fe to the nice section) and go look regularly in thrift stores. I don't always find something nice but plenty of times I do. It's fun - like a treasure hunt. And it's a great way to save money.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

I go to resale shops. I find some really nice things. I know I have donated nice things simply because I changes sizes or got tired of it (even if there was nothing wrong with it).

It is a good way to get your basic/classic clothes. You may not find "trendy' things, unless you go to a more upscale resale shop, but I am not a very trendy person to begin with! LOL I like to update the look with my jewelry or accessories anyway.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

One peice a month is the best way in my opinion.

Find out what you need:
Black Pants, White Blouse, Colored Blouse (3), Sweater for layering, Black Skirt, Dark Wash Jeans, Medium Wash Jeans, Polo Shirt

Those are some classic example items you could pick up. Then you need to find out where to buy them - the pants could easily be purchased at a store called New York & Co. (assuming you are less than size 18) they often have a promotion buy 1 get 1 with their pants (two for $50). Macy's has TONS of sales and great sales/clearance racks you can get the tops at. Denim - Old Navy has great prices on their denim all the time and many cuts/styles to choose from as well.

My best suggestion is one item per month, keep the items classic and get trendy accessories like chunky necklaces, scarves, shoes (payless) earrings and use your hair as an accessory too!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I would sit down and re-think your entire situation.

Think about it... you spend your check on daycare, lunch, gas, wear/.tear on your car. How much does that really add up to? Is it worth it for you to continue working?

Can you live on your husband's salary? Does he have a stable job? Are you disciplined financially -- delayed gratification?

You speak of getting pregnant again and from what I read, you are having struggles with the situation you have now. Can you leave your job and be a SAHM with your children... think about the money you save by leaving your job and think about the extra money required for another child.

As for buying clothes for yourself, you NEED to do something for you, even if it is a small item monthly. When you take care of yourself, you are a better wife and mom.

I don't know what to suggest for buying quality clothes on a budget. I buy quality classic clothes and wear them for years. I still wear a pair of jeans I paid $165 for 12 yrs ago... so I have my money's worth out of them. I realize it is hard to justify in your head in the beginning about a chuck of money like that but if you do wear them for years, you come out ahead.

Maybe shop some yard sales and consignment shops for deals?

Good luck to you!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You say you only KNOW one person who goes to thrift shops. I'm sure there are a lot of people that do this that you don't know about because they won't admit it!

Thrift shops can get a bad rep because you think of dirty, seedy places with secondhand clothing that has rips in it. Yes, some of them are like that but not all!

Around us we have the seedy thrift shops and the Goodwill stores, but we also have some great secondhand stores that are very upscale. I've found brand new things with the tags still on! I shop for both myself and my daughter at these secondhand stores. She goes through clothes quickly, as all kids do, so buying them secondhand is great. Jeans that look pretty much new are about $5-7 for a child, and maybe $8-10 for adult. We love going through the racks and finding gems!

Shopping the clearance racks in stores is great if you are the kind of person that fits in the leftover sizes. Usually there are only XL and XS left! You can get some great basic pieces and dress them up with jewelry and accessories.

We also have Discovery around here, and they have very trendy pieces for cheap. It's mostly teen stuff, but you can find some great basic tees and tanks.

For my daughter, we also shop ThredUP online and ebay. I've gotten great "lots" of kids' clothes for cheap on ebay!

I say, start getting your daughter secondhand stuff for sure. There are a lot of great kids' things and they are usually in great shape. Then use the leftover money for new/secondhand stuff for yourself.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Milwaukee on

Maybe quit your job now. If you have to buy "work clothes" that just adds to your loss of income. Since you just work for day care now your also spending your money on gas, lunch out, and clothes. When I was having to buy work clothes on top of my home clothes it was really a lot of time and money trying to get clothes. Now that we switched to wearing scrubs at work (thank goodness) I only have to buy home clothes. The other day I stopped at the Gap and bought a bunch of their active tops. They were 11.99 plus 25% off. Super great deal imo. I can mix and match them with a few pairs of yoga pants and I have a lot to wear outside of work.

Plus, if your not working you can hit yard sales on Thursday mornings (when most moms are selling their clothes). You can get lots of cute, brand name items for a buck or two. My kids dress really nice and a lot of their clothes are from rummage sales.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Williamsport on

Would you have insurance for second child birth if you quit your job? If not, then disregard the rest of this post. I'm only bringing this up because you say you may stay home a while when second is born so it doesnt' sound impossible:

I'm at home right now because any job I would get would literally pay for daycare (and not even for several kids). And when I worked, I didn't have health insurance through my job anyway. So why do it? Believe me, I cut our budget down to bare bones in order to survive on one income, and that means I shop on a budget FOR SURE, I have one tiny closet and only a few outfits I switch around every day-but who cares? No one sees me every day. A few nice staples is all you need when you don't work. I'm also able to stay in shape more easily with cheap gym membership with daycare. And that's aside from all the benefits of raising small kids before going back to work one day. Working is expensive between the gas and the meals and the clothes and the vending machines and the extras and the daycare etc. It's hard to keep weight in check with the stress and lack of time. It's only worth it for a big enough salary that it's making your life better if you have a two income home. You can budget much more effectively from home. If you cut TV services for Netflix live streaming and ditch pricy cell phones and cut some expensive splurges, do debt consolidation with some credit cards, you may end up with MORE money by not working. I've actually put aside a nice little stash from last year just by cutting cutting cutting costs. When I was working, I was always month to month and that was without kids.

If your job is TRULY only paying for daycare, then you will save money by not needing to be office-ready every day.

If you actually do contribute a bit financially to monthly bills or maintain insurance with work and CANNOT stop working, then deals can be found at Outlet malls, TJ Maxx. Target. Zappos. Our department stores here always have deep discount racks going on. It's hard to recommend without knowing your style, but has super cheap basic knit tops of all types.

Also, your daughter doesn't need many clothes. I barely spend anything on the kids clothes knowing they outgrow everything. I'll get a couple of sale basics off-season at Target or Old Navy sale racks or Osh Kosh website (lots of super cheap deals always) to prepare bare minimum for the next season, but at this point in time, if you work, YOUR clothes are more important than hers. Second hand stores, friend's hand-me downs and cutting back on clothes in general is the way to go for kids since nothing lasts.

SO if it's a choice between a nice, sophisticated pair of expensive work slacks (on sale) and some flattering tops for you or several new outfits for your daughter: Get the work clothes. You need to feel good with your days. As we get older, cheap clothes don't really cut it anymore for work and kids don't need a million outfits. The daycare won't hold it against your daughter if she often wears the same things. She only needs one or two nice "dresses" and those can be found for $17 at TJ MAxx or Target online and little church shoes (ONE PAIR) at Target or Wal Mart for under $10.

But nice clothes will last longer and look better for you.

Go through your family's monthly budget with a fine tooth comb and find some money for work clothes. Or quit working so you don't need any! If you're at the library in the kids section all the time, you don't need to look corporate :) Good luck, it's a struggle.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You've received great advice on everything so the only thing I'll add is: if you can find a thrift store that benefits a hospital you'll find higher end clothing there. I have found this consistently. I went in to one "just to look" and came out with 2 sweaters, tops, a skirt and some pants for $18, all high end. I've been back many times and in chatting with the people working there found that the doctors and their families who work in the hospital donate their clothing and household items, and it's great stuff.

They also lower prices when the merchandise has been there awhile, about a month, they like to rotate as much new stuff in as possible, so the savings are even more. I've found almost brand new items, for myself and my grandkids, things I could never have afforded.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

couple of things that came to mind some others have alluded too but didn't flat out say.

First look for other ways to save money, if you don't cut any coupons start with that, just use them on the stuff you already buy. there are couponing blogs for free that can help if you decide you like that. or at the very least pay attention to sale cycles and stock up when things you use all the time like toilet paper and toothpaste are cheap.

There are generally more and more mainstream consignement stores for kids. plus i would take the advice of others and just get dd the basics since kids grow so fast, Basicaly don't invest too much in her wardrobe. I enjoy for my area. The super super nice stuff my dd never wore i sell to consignment stores, but the more worn but still ok stuff i offer on Freecycle and pass on to others. and I have gotten some clothes, toys, books etc the same way myself. Its sort of like craigslist but it is free, --the idea of being less wasteful and keeping stuff out of landfills.

now to your real question. Ok so I would start by thinking of what your ideal wardrobe would be ( ok ok realistic ideal wardrobe because wouldn't it be great to have a closet like a rockstar,)

I would say if you had 2 pairs of dark wash nice fitting jeans,
1 pair of kakhi's
1 pair of black pants/trousers

for tops in your line of work you could probably get by with just rotating plain T shirts maybe white, black, and 2 or 3 solid colors.
for winter longsleeve t shirts
a pretty scarf or cardigan could help you stretch your wardrobe.

so pick neutrals and one or two updated accent colors that go with any of the neutrals, so like your neutral is maybe a pair of chocolate brown pants, and your accent colors are a dark pink t or a tourquois t both t's can be worn with jeans, or your kakhi pants so you have a few separates that give you several outfits. I'm not a fashonista but maybe with that idea in mind you can find some blogs or books that explain it better.

to be completely honest, while i like the idea of consignments shops, I don't think they would be the best for you right now, I just don't think you find basic basics, because mostly people keep good basics until they wear out, it's the fun trendy stuff that people switch out often. and Consignments/ thrift stores can be very fun if you have alot of time, and if you know what looks good on you, and if you can stay focused and not get distracted and make poor choices spending your money on stuff that isn't really waht you need.

Kohls is hit or miss with me, sometimes i can find good things and sometimes it just doesn't work. I hate dealing wtih the Kohls cash stuff too but i guess if you work it right you can get some great deals.

Buying off season a Macy's is a good idea too.

I like Ann Taylor outlets but hate paying for it but really i think that is what you need to do.
I sort of get the impression that you might not like this suggestion, but i find that the Basic Edition brand of T's at Kmart fit my full bust well and are flattering. there are different "cuts'' and the modern fit really rocks on me. They hold up alot better after washings than t's i have gotten at Jc penney or at old navy.

so there is my 2 cents. think outside your normal bounds.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I do it in various ways. My sister will give me her clothes. I will shop certain thrift stores and buy things there, especially on their sales days. I will go at the end of the season and buy clothes for myself. I will find deals online and combine them with free or low shipping. Make it a game and be patient. There are deals to be had. Maybe not rock bottom all the time, but I recently got jeans for $18 at Kohl's and they also often have Jumping Beans on sale for DD, too. I've gotten her clothes for a buck or two, giving me more slack for myself. You might also keep an eye on Freecycle (many active groups are still on Yahoo Groups, not the Freecycle site) and keep an eye out for yard sales, especially if they are for an entire community or a church. If there is a Once Upon A Child, consider shopping there for the kid (you can turn in her old clothes for credit).

As for thrift stores, know your area. There are some that are better than others, some are consignment and some are not. Go in knowing that you may not find a deal but if you find a pair of jeans in a size or brand you know fits, you might really luck out. I don't buy things like undergarments or shoes, but you can still buy a suit, a jacket, a nice messenger bag, accessories, etc. I get a lot of my basic shoes at Payless. If you have a phone that accepts texts, sign up for their rewards and get regular coupons. I saved 20% yesterday from a coupon like that.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

I am a clearance rack shopper. I find nice clothing at better prices than the thrift shops and consignment shops. The Goodwill stores around me are a lot more pricy than clearance racks at Penney's and Kohl's.

Take a friend and go shopping buy a few peices to keep as 'good' clothes. Only wear them for outings and family events. At the end of the season go shopping again, look for clothes for next summer.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Consignment and exchange shops. Definitely. You can get clothes for pennies (or dimes) on the dollar.

I found a local consignment shop where shirts are $5 or so, and designer jeans for $8-15. They also have some great looking bags and shoes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I buy thrift.

I work at thrift.

I get my thrift 50% off.

Friday I bought two skirts that were almost brand new, three tops and a toy for my youngest and with my discount, I only spent 15 bucks.

Second hand is awesome. Second hand helps out other's in need. Second hand ensures that we are only throwing away things we can no longer really use.

I dont ever buy brand new. Period. absolutely.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I'm a little late responding, but I just thought I'd let you know what I am wearing today...
Old Navy khakis (retail around $25)
Banana Repulic t-shirt (per their website, $22.50)
Birkenstocks ($79.99 per their website)

I paid:
4 dollars for the khakis at Goodwill
4 dollars for the t-shirt at Goodwill
50 cents for the Birkenstocks at a yard sale.

I hate to shop but with persistence, I can find great bargains. And I only have to shop about 2 times a year which works great for me because...did I mention I hate to shop!:)
Take the time to sort through the cheap stuff at your local thrift store to find the quality items. Well-dressed and/or wealthy people give their stuff to secondhand stores all the time.
Good luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

This is what I have done:
-thrift stores!
-Walmart clearance racks (lots of comfy tees, capris etc)
-clothing swap w/friends
-Target sale racks

You can get clothes for both you and your daughter this way.

Buy things you can interchange w/clothes you already have to make new


answers from Boise on

As the others have said, buy one or two things here or there. Buy from thrift and consignment stores. Pick things that can mix and match.



answers from Kalamazoo on

I like Outlet stores. I sign up for promotional emails from the places I like, then stock up for myself and my kids. For example, Osh Kosh B'Gosh has clearance racks that are 50-70% off, and then I use the coupon and get 20% off my entire purchase. I do the same thing at J.Crew and Banana Republic Outlets for myself. I also get a lot of staples from Old Navy (print off the coupon from their website, first). Also, I found that a pair of black pants that fit well could be worn a couple of times each week, with different, seasonal tops. Reducing what I thought I needed helped me save money.

Have you considered staying home with your daughter, instead? If work is only covering your daycare, what about the work costs: clothes, professional hair, shoes, commuting, occasional lunches out with coworkers? A summer of Old Navy shorts and t-shirts, a pair of sandals and a bottle of sunblock is cheap and fun. ;) Of course, if you get 401K or health benefits from working, those are really strong reasons to keep at it.

As for the baby weight - I worked to get mine off, too. What really helped me was reading one of Jillian Michael's books (from the library)- it changed how I thought about food- and a cheap pedometer. I bet you can find one at a thrift shop or drug store. Mine wasn't fancy, but it sure motivated me to get moving. Aim for 10,000 steps a day. I also bought a used tricycle with a handle on the back on Craigslist for my toddler, strapped my infant in a front carrier and "went on daily adventures/ treasure hunts/ scavenger hunts" (whatever made a "walk" sound interesting).

I like that you are taking care of yourself. You deserve it!

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