How Do You Build a Decent Wardrobe with a Tight Budget?

Updated on November 20, 2013
K.B. asks from West Jordan, UT
25 answers

I was looking at my wardrobe the other day and my how I could use some new items -something w/color, pizzazz, even some new basic brown and black pants would be nice. Items that are classic and stylish at the same time. I am all for shopping the sale racks or even thrift stores. However, how do I know what looks good on me? How do I not feel guilty about buying something for myself when we have a lot to take care of financially? I always think...oh, my daughter could use a new pair of shoes or we need to buy groceries or something else always comes to mind. Yet, I see other women at work and sometimes think...either they must not think the way I do, they have a wonderful clothes budget or I guess it could be that they are Shopaholics and have credit card debt up to their eyeballs. With what I do have, I think I do a pretty good job of putting things together. However, I am obviously feeling a bit inadequate when it comes to my clothes. What have you done Mamas? How do I get out of this rutt? I need some tips and advice!

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answers from Denver on

I shop Kohls clearance racks for me and the kids. The best deals are off season, so I buy a few things for next summer at the beginning of fall. Since I have a store credit card- which gets paid off the moment it comes in the mail- I also receive coupons for up to 30 percent off that I can use on top of the clearance price.



answers from Salt Lake City on

I am just like you... thanks for the question. I have read every answer and think I will go shopping tomorrow. My husband actually wants me to go buys some clothes but I am always stressed about the money and hate trying them on. I know I need to branch out though.



answers from Denver on

I'm in the exact same situation as you, and what I try to do is buy clothes that will mix and match well.

I usually stick with solid/basic colored slacks and skirts - I'll wait until there's a really good sale, then buy a couple of the same style but different color.

Then I get patterned/bright colored tops, so most of the shirts will go with most of the pants/skirts. I find it's harder to get the shirts cheaply, so when my parents send money for christmas and my birthday, I make myself put a little of that aside for me and then buy one or two new tops (which is really hard for me to do! I want to spend it all on groceries or clothes for my boys). I also signed up for the email lists for a few of my favorite stores, and that way I'll know when there's a good sale and I only go shopping then.

It only amounts to a few new items each year, but gradually you'll get more new clothes that you can mix and match for multiple outfits.

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answers from Denver on

Try a clothes swap. My friends and I get together about twice a year, leaving the kids at home (because we all know it's easier to shop without the kids!). Everyone brings items from their closet that they are ready to part with plus a potluck dish to share, and we meet at one person's house. She will have sections set up for sizes, and when we arrive at her house, we immediately sort out our clothes into those sizes. Then we have about a half hour to "shop", looking through all the clothes, and trying on and figuring out the items that we would like. We all pick a number from a hat, and that determines the order that we get to pick. The rules are:
1. When it is your turn, pick only one item.
2. If someone ahead of you picks something you wanted, that's just the way it goes.
3. If you see someone out later in an item from clothes swap, you can't call them out in public about it.
4. Don't be upset if you see an item you brought the last time be returned to clothes swap. It just means that item served its purpose and is now ready for a new adventure.

We go through maybe 2 or 3 rounds of picking, and once we feel that people have grabbed their most desired items, we open it up to the "free for all" time, where everyone can shop and pick at once. People bring all sorts of stuff - shirts, pants, dresses, kids clothes, mens clothes, accessories, shoes, even household items. Anything not picked at the end of the night is donated to a charity. It's been a great way for me to add some new-to-me items into my wardrobe, plus weed out the things I'm not wearing anymore. And having a group of girls around also helps me decide if something looks good or not (I have a real problem doing that by myself - no self confidence in that area). The last swap my biggest score (besides the 8 shirts for me, a jacket and bathrobe for my son, and 2 shirts for my husband) was a pair of 9 West knee high boots! All for the cost of a potluck dish!

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

I'm a SAHM now but I understand your dilemma. When I was working (in the asset management world) I would always go for key classic pieces. Your basic browns, beiges, blacks, navy blues and greys (skirts/pants). I would add pizazz by accessorizing well with jewelry, scarves, cute sweaters and most importantly blouses that either had a print that I could mix and match with other pieces or a geometric design that could stand alone. I guess it depends on your taste. I had a good friend of mine that always looked hip and I realized that she dressed monochromatically with key jewelry pieces that stood out. Very simple yet clean and sharp. She also always had a great haircut. Good luck! I know its not easy these days especially.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

For styling, I check out magazines and see what styles I like there. Then I go to all kinds of stores and try things on. I look at their full length mirror and make an honest assessment of how I look.

When ever adding a new piece to my wardrobe, I always ask this question: How many other things will this match with?

The answer to this question has to be at least 5. Then it can come home with me if it fits into the budget. I keep a modest clothing budget for myself and try to work within those strict borders. My entire summer and winter wardrobe can fit into three laundry bags. I also get rid of the old things I don't wear and bring in some new things. This also helps keep the wardrobe fresh.

Remember mixing and matching are your friends. You are worth it. It really helps you feel better about yourself and sets a great example for the kids when you take some time and some money for yourself. The key to life is balance.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Albany on

hey K.! i feel the EXACT same way about buying myself mom was the same way too. i wear the same clothes week to week & have had them for years. my son only really wears walmart & kid-to-kid clothes (resale shop), but he has a LOT of clothes. :)
anyway, i had an interview yesterday & needed a nice interview suit. i went to burlington coat factory & scored a blazer/skirt combo for $19.99! unbelievable! while i was there, i found so many cute things and I am CHEAP (i don't have the patience for thrift stores but i'd definitely go if i did!). anyway, i bet if i spent $50 i could get 2 shirts/2 pants. i know that's not really a whole LOT, but just a couple shirts would make me feel so much better that not all of my shirts are faded & fr walmart - lol. so that's my thought & my recent discovery, burlington coat factory. i'm glad you posted this b/c i feel SO much like you girl! but, real quick to make me feel better, i'll buy him a couple more outfits & ensure he has plenty then maybe i'll be something. kinda justifies it that way i've got him taken care of and i don't feel so bad getting myself something, lol.
good luck darling. and what a good mom you are to ensure you put your baby girl's needs/wants first, i'm just saying! :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I went through my closet like they do on "what not to wear" and I would put together outfits and accessories. I would look on-line at Banana Republic or other websites to create "looks" that are in-style. Obviously not exact matches but working with what I had. Once I did this, it allowed me to figure out what was missing from my wardrobe so that I could focus my purchases on what I really needed. I bought a lot on sale so I could maximize my minimal budget.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Erie on

I shop at goodwill and the salvation army. I have to put aside extra time to do so, try on EVERYTHING, and be very picky about what i do buy. That said, I have found wonderful bargains that look brand new. No one has ever guessed I buy almost all my clothes used, and I save a ton of money shopping this way. Sometimes I go with $10, sometimes $50. I set strict limits on what I can purchase. No more than $5 for pants and shirts, no more than $2 for tank tops, etc... Shoes I usually buy at Payless, but I have found newish shoes at the used places, too, for a lot less than new. I try to hit the "bag sales" where I can buy a whole bag of clothes for, say, $5.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Spend money on key pieces - black slacks, jacket, dress. Spend cheap on trendy items.



answers from Pueblo on

I buy myself one new thing when I go shopping when I need new clothes until I have built up enough. Now mind you all my clothes come from walmart so I am not spending a lot. They have some ok stuff there in the womens section which I tend to go to for pants.


answers from Dallas on

I buy key classic pieces from Nordstrom, BeBe, sometimes a Macy's type store if the item is just right, Ann Taylor, White House Black Market, Cache, etc. I occasionally will shop a sale rack.

Remember you get what you pay for...... pay for quality that last a long time, you get quality and you are not replacing as often.

I am hard to fit, size 0-2, tiny waist, and 34DD natural boobs ( not complaing, I love my chest). Most of my clothes, including jeans are altered to fit.

When I find the "perfect" pair of pants, skirt, etc... I will go back and buy another exactly like it. I've done this with BeBe pants (great fit, classic pants) and Limited skirts and pants.

I don't have a closet full of clothes. I have basics and I utilize them well. I'm not one to enjoy shopping much so I get my basics and I am set. You are right, some of the shopaholics do have credit card debt and that is NOT the way to go.


answers from Boston on

My first go to is thrift stores. Yes, I'm thrifty, but it's also because my social life is empty and with $40, I can shop fir an hour, go home and launder the finds and then try to match them up. It's a full day of fun that I can do alone.

Next week, I'm hosting a clothing swap. Big fun.



answers from Salt Lake City on

I love Ross, especially for skirts and shirts. Sometimes you can find good deals at TJ max as well. I also Shop Old Navey's clearance rack alot (they always have a clearance rack/wall towards the back of the store) occassionally they have a sale where you take 30-50% off the lowest price. We've got tons of clothes for the whole family at these sales!



answers from San Francisco on

I have found that accessories are a great asset. Necklaces, bracelet, scarfs, shawls, pins, earings, etc. You can go to Target, ross or some cheaper stores and find some really good deals. As far as clothing, buy online. Most places have an outlet shop available and you can buy some incredible clothes for a very small price. Good luck!



answers from Fresno on

Since I am an odd size (I am 6' tall... buying pants is super fun... not), I can't really ever find anything in consignment stores. But what I do is buy off-season, online, for classic pieces at places like Banana Republic, White House Black Market, Ann Taylor, and Nordstrom. No, these places aren't cheap. But if you can buy pieces that are timeless in style, and neutral in color, then you can wear them for years and change up the look with less expensive blouses, jewelry, etc. In general I try to buy pieces in solid colors, as you can wear them nearly every day and nobody notices you've already worn it. For instance, a pair of black wool slacks looks so different with a pair of black ballet flats and a gray cashmere sweater than it does with a white blouse, statement necklace, and black blazer with heels. My (male) co-workers are always amazed that I can go on a week long business trip and only take a carry-on bag. But it's because I only have a few clothes and just wear them with different accessories!

I think your hard and fast rule has to be that you have to LOVE IT in order to buy it, and also it has to fit perfectly (or you have to take it straight from the store to the seamstress so it can be altered to fit you perfectly). Never, ever buy clothes that you have to diet into, or are "almost" perfect, or are not quite the color you like. I don't care if it's on sale, if you won't wear it all the time, don't buy it. If you find a piece you LOVE and it's higher than you'd normally spend, ask yourself if you'll still be wearing it in 2 years. If so, then it's worth it! Like my mom says, you shouldn't look like an older, poorer version of your kids. No point in dressing the kids in Ralph Lauren and yourself in Target, right? The kids can wear Target, they don't know any better, and plus they're going to grow out of it in a month. YOU, on the other hand, will wear good clothing for years!



answers from Denver on

I tend to stick to basic things. Lately I've been shopping clearance at Target and Nordstrom Rack and getting pretty good deals on the cute dresses. Have yet to not get a compliment. They're pretty flexible. Look good for something more professional, yet cute and comfy for running around. Hide a lot, too, which I need.

As far as feeling guilty about it, we have a budget, and if it's in the budget, we don't have to feel guilty about it. The only things you need to feel guilty about is purchases not in the budget. It's really nice to be able to go spend $10 or $15 on something that I really need without feeling guilty. Granted, we're on a really tight budget, so the last few times the clothing budget has gone to underwear and other things like that, so I'm wearing my kiss stained khaki pants still, but it's okay. I know the money will be there shortly. GL!



answers from Portland on

Hi K.,

I've had great luck lately at JC Penny's. They have had some good sales!

Good Luck

R. Magby



answers from Provo on

I feel your pain. My wardrobe right now consists of $5.00 tanks from wal-mart, a few T-shirts, jeans, and work clothes. Oh, I do have one dress I bought for my brother's wedding...and 2 pairs of shoes. lol. I am saving up a "change jar" that will get me started on a new style for New Years. I put all my change in it, and on weeks when I have that little (and I do mean little) bit extra I will put random $1.00 and $5.00 bills... so far I have saved up about $150! It's not much when shopping for clothes, but should be enough to get me started. :)


answers from Pocatello on

The answer for me was 2nd hand stores. I love Plato's Closet. I generally find tank tops for about $2, shirts for $3-5, dresses for $8-15. They carry coats, jeans, purses etc. You have to really dig through the clothes and try a lot on, but everything I find there is unique and really cute. You can really get a lot for your money. I also found 4 way cute skirts for my girls at Deseret Industries thrift store this week that look new, for $10.00.



answers from Colorado Springs on

I shop the thrift stores, particularly the ones located in the higher income parts of town. A few weeks ago I went in and spent $40, but ended up with almost $300 in clothes - several pieces that were brand new with the tags still on them from higher end stores that I normally would not be able to afford to shop in. I recently went back to work part time after being a SAHM for a few years and needed a few pieces that fit. It can be a very time consuming process, I won't lie to you about that, since you do pretty much have to try everything on and really hunt for the items in the racks, but if you have the patience and time it can be well worth it. Good luck!



answers from Pittsburgh on

I LOVE LOVE LOVE Ross! It is so cheap and great stuff. I once bought a BCBG jacket originally $150 for only fifteen bucks! You can buy yourself lots of brand new clothes and not spend very much at all.



answers from Boise on

I am like you, but probably a lot less stylish. I am post partum, so have even less clothes that fit. I wear the same thing every week, just switch the days. Even when I go back to my normal clothes, it is mainly jeans and t-shirts (my office is casual), and if I am at a client, I rotate 2 pants and a handful of shirts. I constantly buy my kids clothes, but not myself. Most of my clothes are YEARS old. Randomly, I will buy something on sale, or something that I like/need, but it is a piece here or there. I found a 50% off nursing top a couple weeks ago in a beautiful green. It is the one colorful thing, but I keep watching that site to see if another goes on sale. My "plan", that has never worked, is to work a clothes allowance into the budget, but other things always seem more important.



answers from Salt Lake City on

Set an amount that you can comfortably spend per month on yourself. Use that amount to by items for your wardrobe.

You do need to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. I think all Mom's forget that.



answers from Chicago on

I've been in your spot, in fact, I am now! It's easy to justify spending on your child that has outgrown something but hard to spend on yourself.

I agree with the other poster about sticking to classics and neutrals. When I was working I spent money on nice pants that fit me well. I liked Express and The Limited. If you shop the sales and wait for coupons (the 40% off) you can get some nice neutral pants in black, beige, gray, etc. Cheap pants just don't hang right! Then I'd get less expensive tops at Walmart, Target and the clearance racks. It's funny how a less expensive top looks so nice with a well-fitted pair of pants, but can look cheap with ill-fitting pants.

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