When I took my first job after law school, coincidentally around the same time I decided to aggressively pay off my student loan debt, I was really stumped about how I was going to dress professionally and also live on a tight budget. There just wasn’t extra money for clothes in our budget, but I definitely needed professional clothes, i.e., not yoga pants and oversized sweaters. Finding professional clothes can be a nightmare when you are trying to live on a tight budget, so we’ve come up with a list of all the things we do to dress for work on a budget.
(1) LOOK FOR HIGH QUALITY, UNIVERSAL PIECES.
Find a few staple items that can be mixed and matched in many different options. For me, this includes at least one neutral colored dress or dress pants, neutral colored shoes, and even a neutral colored necklace (see below). I start with a base (the dress or pants) and spice up the outfit with a fun colored shirt if I’m wearing pants, a blazer, and other jewelry and accessories like tights.
One of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe is a neutral shiny necklace that I got on sale at Loft several years ago (similar one here). I wear it a couple of times per week because it literally goes with everything. It is excellent quality and has lasted me many years.
(2) SHOP OFF SEASON SALES.
It probably comes as no surprise that you can score some amazing deals at the end of the season. Look for blazers, coats, and pants at the end of winter. Hunt for skirts and dresses at the end of summer. All of the above can be worn year round with the right accessories, plus you’ll need them in the appropriate seasons anyway. Some of my personal favorite stores to shop off season sales are Gap and H&M. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen that I got a perfect long sleeved button up for work from H&M for only $2 a couple of weeks ago!!
(3) TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CASH BACK DEALS AND REBATES.
If you’ve been a long time lurker around here, you know that some of my favorite ways to score extra cash for shopping is by using Ibotta, E-bates, and Honey. Often (probably daily) there are deals on both Ibotta and E-bates that offer cash back for items that we can put towards our professional attire.
For example, I frequently earn gift cards to Macy’s (taking surveys for Swagbucks). One of my favorite ways to spend them is by buying items through E-bates and earning cash back on my purchase. E-bates often offers high cash back deals on Macy’s items (I bought something this weekend and got 11% cash back). All you have to do is login to ebates.com and then type in whatever store you are hoping to purchase from. Search and purchase from their website as you normally would, and E-bates will hook you up with cash back. It really is SIMPLE.
I also love pairing up deals at Target. For example, every now and then I’ll find a deal on clearance. I’ll pair it with a deal on the Cartwheel app (Target’s coupon app) and a cash back offer on Ibotta.
Honey is by far the easiest to use though. You just download this extension for your browser and it automatically applies the best promo codes and gives you cash back for your shopping– literally 0 effort on your part! If you want more details on how to use Ibotta, Ebates, or Honey, you can read more about them here.
(4) SHOP AT DISCOUNT AND THRIFT STORES.
Shopping at discount and thrift stores can really pay off (pun intended womp womp). A few good ones in the U.S.—Ross, Marshalls, and T.J. Maxx. If you are local to the Oklahoma area, check out the Half of Half store in Tulsa (my absolute FAVORITE. I’ve found SO many great deals on items from Loft, Banana Republic, and other expensive boutiques.) Local thrift stores are always a great option and you may surprise yourself at the treasures you can find. Look for thrift stores located near affluent neighborhoods to score some of the best finds.
(5) BE KNOWN FOR ACCEPTING USED ITEMS.
Some of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe have come as hand-me-downs from friends and family. Become the type of person who is known for accepting other people’s old stuff. The more people that know this about you, the more people will offer it to you. If you don’t want their belongings in the end, you can always sell them or donate them as well!
(6) DON’T GET HUNG UP ON SIZE.
If you have sewing skills OR a little creativity, you can dress for work on a budget by buying clothing items that are a little too big. My biggest thing is that I have short legs—its pretty rare for me to find dress/suit pants that are the right length. Luckily, Danny is a pretty good sewer, and he’ll hem them up for me. But even if you lack sewing skills like me, there are plenty of other things you can do with oversized items. For example, if you purchased a dress shirt that was too big—you can easily tuck it into a pencil skirt or form fitting suit pants or tie it up in the front or on the side.
(7) SHOP CLEARANCE RACKS
Another way you can dress for work on a budget is by shopping clearance racks at your favorite stores. I have had a good bit of luck shopping clearance racks at stores that I love like Banana Republic, Loft, and Express, among others. If you can find an outlet store, those clearance racks are usually the best. I try to beeline it straight for those clearance racks without paying attention to anything else in the store. It very frequently pays off!
With just a little effort, you can dress for work on a budget– you don’t have to break the bank trying to look like a professional. 🙂
What things do you do to save money on clothes for work? Leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you!
P.S. If you’re looking to get started paying off debt, you can grab a free copy of my Debt Payoff Starter Kit here— it will teach you exactly what we’re doing to pay off $650k of student loan debt.
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