It seems that savings accounts and fashion just do not go together. Anyone who takes an interest in style, follows designer trends, and puts time into his or her daily outfits knows it is nearly impossible to walk into a store, any store, and leave empty-handed. Those who don’t love style and shopping as much just don’t understand. They say “can’t you just, oh, I don’t know, not buy those chunky wedge ankle booties? I mean, you’ve got shoes, you don’t need those, can’t you just put them down and walk out of the store?” And to them, I say “can’t you just not eat today? I mean, you’ve eaten before, probably just yesterday, so you should be good for a while. Can’t you just put the fork down and leave?”
In fact, a diet is the perfect example for how we can shop smart. When we want to lose weight and get healthy, we don’t just stop eating. We eat better. We eat more moderate portions, we take in less calories. If you’re trying to save money, but you consider fashion and style up there in your list of passions, there’s no reason you have to stop shopping. Just shop smart, and you can have both that savings account and a great wardrobe. All it takes is a bit more organization. Try to move away from the thought of shopping as being such a spontaneous activity. Sorry, but just like you can’t finish the pint of Ben & Jerry’s, you can’t just frolic from store to store on a buying spree.
1. Take inventory of your pre-existing wardrobe. I know, it sounds really boring, but there are some perks. As in, you’ll probably rediscover some things you forgot you had, and that’s like getting something new – that’s why they call it “shopping your closet!” So, write down everything you own, in categories: pants, jeans, sweaters, tanks, blazers, blouses, skirts, sundresses, cocktail dresses – you get the idea. Now remember this list. Laminate and wear it around your neck if you must, sort of like a medical bracelet – then when you’re shopping other people can see it and intervene: “Hey! Put that black baby doll dress down, it says right there you already have one!” Even if you don’t go to that extreme, just keep this list somewhere accessible. So much of the money you spend shopping ends up being on items that you already have quite similar versions of – what a waste!
2. Look to designers for inspiration, not purchases. It’s okay to splurge every now and then on a Marc by Marc Jacobs cardigan, because, let’s face it. The quality is a bit better than average retail brands. But that cheat should be made about as often as your cheesecake cheat on your diet. You should budget your splurges. Your actual M.O. should be looking at designer lines – the runway shows, the Vogue editorials, their own websites – for inspiration. Learn to be able to pull trend ideas from these high end lines. I promise you, if a high end designer puts out a great piece, lower priced brands will be producing very similar pieces in no time. You just have to translate the designer look. For example, Balenciaga’s Spring 2009 runway saw models in knee-high, tough gladiator sandals. The cost of those shoes was astronomical. But it gave a new surge to the gladiator trend, and women were able to snag gladiators for costs as low as $30.00 and $40.00 from other brands – so, still trendy, but not poverty-stricken after the purchase.
Have fun browsing your favorite luxury brands, and then you can challenge yourself by finding those looks at more affordable stores. See how your spending goes for a few months. If you’re doing really, really well, you can splurge. Shoot for two splurges a year. It will give you something to look forward to, but will allow you to still save. Just remember to buy more timeless pieces when you splurge. Don’t buy something super trendy, because it will go out of style, and then you’ll have something you spent a lot of money on that you can’t wear. When you want something that’s sort of a fad, look to more affordable, fashion forward stores like H&M. When you want to splurge, opt for things like handbags, classic pumps or boots, cashmere sweaters, or Little Black Dresses – you get the idea.
3. Make a list of the things you want each season. I’ve been doing this for a few seasons now, and I cannot tell you how much it helps. For example, I made a list for this spring, 2010. It has items like a trench coat, a great floral dress, a chiffon draped skirt, a white cropped boucle jacket, and open-toed booties. Your next step is to search for these items, which is most easily done online. Find out how cheap you can find these items. I did some research, looked at about ten different sites, and concluded I could get a beautiful trench coat for as low as $50.00. Now, when you find these prices online, you don’t necessarily have to buy the item from that site. But the list does two things to help you save: it is a reminder of the things you want, so before you spontaneously drop a large sum on an impulse buy, remember that you had budgeted money aside for things you truly want, and if you buy this impulse piece, you’re going to have to cross something off the list. The list also helps remind you of the low prices you can find the items for. So, now that I know I can find the trench coat for $50.00, if I see it somewhere for $75.00, I’m not going to buy it because I know I can do better.
4. This one’s obvious: shop sales and shop around. What’s not obvious, though, is how well you can do. This is where online shopping really trumps in-person shopping for saving money. When you see something you really want, make sure you can’t find it anywhere else first. I was doing a lot of shopping on a Certain Site, where the dresses were in the $80.00 to $150.00 range. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a site selling the same exact dresses – same brand, everything – for less than half the prices. It’s so important to research your buys.
As far as sales, the way to really save is join some private/sample sale websites. The best are ShopItToMe.com, GiltGroupe.com, RueLaLa.com, Ideeli.com, and HauteLook.com. On these sites, you don’t have to wait until what you want is last season. I won’t mention brands, but I once passed up some amazing – new – items in a department store because of the price tag. The very next week, ShopItToMe sent me my twice-weekly report of all my favorite designer items on sale that day, and there were the items that were sitting in the department store for full price – and on this site, they were half off. A word of caution, don’t join too many of these sites, or else you will have things to spend on daily!
5. Shop vintage. Especially now, vintage is so hot. Maybe it’s the economic spirit that has people thrifting and recycling, maybe it’s just fashionistas paying homage to the beautiful silhouettes, textures, and trends of decades past, but the best thing you can do for your fashion street cred is shop vintage, and the best part is that it’s (usually) cheaper. You will get one of a kind, quality, conversation-starting pieces for lower than those designer items. Check your local consignment shops, and for online shopping, look to eBay and Etsy.
And, of course, just be sensible. Make sure you shop your own style. Really think before you buy. Don’t buy something just because it’s pretty, even if it’s just darling. It has to be something you’re going to really wear. I see gorgeous boho dresses all the time, but you know what? I live in New York and wear black daily. Do you see me coming down the street in a gauzy peasant dress? No, so I’m not going to waste my money. If you stick to your lists and your style, and you shop around, you’ll be able to have an amazing wardrobe and still make rent.