How to Dress for Winter on a Budget

When the temperatures drop, you’ll want to bundle up with these money-saving tips.

Woman smiling in winter jacket with hood
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When temperatures drop, make sure you're outfitted for winter without ruining your budget. What you'll need depends on what's already in your closet, its condition and the activities you're planning.

"Take into consideration your lifestyle," says Katherine Limon, owner of My Signature Look, a Washington, D.C., personal shopper. The best way to stay warm is to consider how cold it is, how long you'll be outdoors and how much you're likely to exert yourself. Will you be standing, walking, hiking or running?

"Know your environment and protect yourself with the proper equipment," says Ryan Isbert, manager of Eastern Mountain Sports, Arlington, Va. "You're going to want to insulate your extremities."

If you need to replace or add items, think in terms of the basics first. January is the ideal time to outfit yourself for winter or add an item or two because you can take advantage of the winter sales. Most outdoor outfitters are in the midst of their annual or semi-annual winter sales as are other retailers, whether you shop online or in the stores.

Before you start, check your closet to see what you already have. "Determine what's working and what's not," says Alison Lukes, president of Alison Lukes et Cie, a Washington, D.C., wardrobe stylist company. "List the pieces that do work and fill in the missing pieces from there." Is it time to replace a coat or boots or do you just need to add some bright accessories? Or, does your winter wardrobe need a complete overhaul? Decide what you must have for winter and how much you're willing to spend to get it. Draw up your list and estimate what each item will cost. Figure the total and begin researching what's on the market, comparing prices and how to get the most for your money.

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Consider each of the following categories when making up your budget:

Layers. If you rely on layers, you can use the pieces in different combinations to stay warm and dry. "You're building layers so you can add and subtract as needed," Isbert says. Consider the different materials you'll need and the appropriate thicknesses of each. In addition, find an outer layer that is wind and waterproof to wear on top of other warm layers you've selected. Depending on the typical temperatures in your area and your activity level a variety of layers may be better than one heavy coat. "Heavier coats are for people who are not active," he says.

Gloves and mittens. The options for keeping your hands warm are varied and depend on whether you'll be texting outdoors, driving or carrying items in your hands. Gloves generally give you more flexibility but mittens tend to keep your hands warmer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another choice is the combination glove and mitten where the mitten covers your fingers but detaches to leave your fingers free to text because the glove is fingerless.

Socks and legwear. What you wear under your shoes or boots can make the difference between cold and comfortable. For winter, you may want to leave a little extra space in the shoes or boots you buy so you have room for a slightly thicker sock or tights. For example, if a man wears leather shoes to work but pairs them with cotton socks, he's likely to have cold feet and wonder why. Choose thin 70 to 80 percent wool (and synthetic) blend socks, Isbert says. "Stay away from cotton socks," he says. "Synthetic or wool fibers keep the blood flowing and your feet warm." Women who wear tights or leggings should opt for thicker versions.

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Footwear. Find boots that keep your feet both warm and dry such as shearling-lined or fleece-lined styles. Make sure they are waterproof leather or synthetic or choose stylish high rubber boots that women can wear with liners or wool socks, Limon says. "If you're wearing boots, wear an extra pair of socks over tights," she adds.

Hats, earmuffs and scarves. It's a myth that you lose body heat just through your head, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. There's nothing particular about your head. Rather, you'll lose body heat from any part that's exposed so it's a good idea to wear a hat and cover every other part of your body. Joseph A. Motto, a Chattanooga, Tenn., otolaryngologist, does just that when he skis in Park City, Utah. He wears goggles and says the only part of him that is exposed is the tip of his nose. The amount of heat you can lose through your head depends on a number of factors including how thick your hair is and how much energy you expend, says the University of Rochester Medical Center. Children proportionally lose more heat through their heads so hoods and hats are more important for them.