How to Build a Smart Wardrobe on a Budget

Start with essentials, even if they cost more.


There are many great ways to save a good amount of cash when it comes to your clothes. Now as people go, I’m not exactly a clothes horse. I tend to buy clothes when I need them rather than when I want them. I may also be a bit fortunate here because I work from home and thus, I normally don’t need to worry about picking out smart clothes to attain a professional look; I can wear whatever I like! Nevertheless, I do enjoy a great bargain when I see it, and buying clothes on a dime is something I continue to do.

Here are some frugal tips I follow to dress for less and to create a smart wardrobe on a budget:

[Slideshow: 10 Ways to Save on Big-Ticket Items]

I buy the essentials. Take heed of this rule-of-thumb when stocking your closet or armoire. Pick up clothing essentials, which are very often made available through bulk deals in your local department stores. Take t-shirts for example. They're often offered on discount for great prices. Just recently, my local Old Navy store was selling five t-shirts for $5 each, marked down from $12 each. They’re cheap and serve as a nice foundation for my summer wardrobe.

Better yet, stick to basic colors that you can mix and match with plenty of other outfits you already have. For additional savings, you should also consider visiting cash back deal sites that help you earn a little extra when you go shopping online. Some of my favorites? I use BigCrumbs and Ebates to earn cash rewards online on a regular basis.

I buy items for a flexible wardrobe. My next point is about "buying smart". I'm referring here to how you would make use of your clothing items. For instance, making wise color picks will help you build a more flexible wardrobe, one where each piece can be easily used to complete various looks. While I could have purchased pink, orange and purple t-shirts on my latest shopping trip, I refrained from doing so. These colors do not flatter my appearance and are difficult to wear with more than one outfit. So it's a simple choice for me to avoid them.

Instead, I opted to buy the basic colors: black, white and pastel colors. I know my wardrobe well enough to feel confident that these options would complement my other clothes pretty well. If your closet is filled with clothes but you find yourself having nothing to wear, then it's quite likely that you're stuck with a disorganized wardrobe.

Assess your wardrobe and determine how many clothing combinations you can create from the separate pieces you own. The more complete looks you can come up with, the more value you are getting out of your clothing. Mixing and matching your clothes will allow frequent use, and will offer you the best value.

[See When Layaway Makes the Most Financial Sense]

I check out consignment stores. I have no qualms about visiting consignment stores when it comes to finding clothes. I don’t necessarily purchase full ensembles from there but every now and then, I’ll find something that is an absolute bargain that I know I’ll wear again and again. You'll be surprised by some of the treasures you can pick up at a second hand establishment.

I invest in signature items. Here's a tip that may strike you as unusual: how about spending more on a signature clothing item? When you buy shoes and jackets, you want them to last. So it often pays to spend more money on a few choice things. One example is a pair of leather shoes. I actually pony up more money for genuine leather shoes since they typically last several times longer than those made from fake leather. Plus they’re much more comfortable! This “investment” pays off in the end as an item that provides more value than cheaper alternatives. So why not find your signature item on sale?

As you can see, there are many shopping strategies you can try to keep your clothing budget under control. It only takes just a little bit of resourcefulness and thought to fashion a wardrobe that can last you a while.

Silicon Valley Blogger is a full time blogger and online entrepreneur who writes for The Digerati Life and The Smarter Wallet sites that cover general personal finance topics ranging from investing and saving to credit and debt management.