5 tips for affordable school and work wardrobes

There are clothes shoppers who only buy new, and there are shoppers who do a happy dance at the mere sound of the word “Resale.”


While the former may snag the hottest fashions of the moment, the latter group gets to enjoy the thrill of the hunt PLUS they save major amounts of money in the process.

After a year at home during which “hot fashion” meant PJs just out of the clothes dryer for many of us, you may be raring to add to your family’s wardrobe this fall. Luckily, even if money is still tight in your household there are great deals out there. The key is to think outside of the mall…er, box. Here are five tips that will help:

1. Job One: Shop your closet

The first thing to do is take an inventory of what you have in your closets right now. Be ruthless; throw away clothes are too worn, damaged or outdated to wear, and donate or sell clothes that are in good shape but don’t fit anymore. (If you’re a talented sewer or crafty, you may be able to transform these items.) Once that’s done, you know what you have to work with.

2. Have a clothes swap party

This works with kids’ or adults’ wardrobes. Have everyone go through their closets and bring items that don’t fit or haven’t been worn in the last couple of years. Set out drinks and snacks and let the trying-on fun begin. If an item works for one of the other guests or their children, they’ve scored a great deal. If not, donate what’s left—or pool your resources to sell the items on eBay or Craigslist.

3. Know your budget

Before you step out the door, determine how much money you have available to spend (don’t forget to account for shoes, coats and other accessories). If a credit card makes it too easy to overspend, only use cash to shop. If you’re shopping with your kids, using cash is a great way to show them money management in action.

4. Shop secondhand

If you’ve always thought of secondhand shopping as dingy, smelly and populated with ‘70s fashion rejects, think again. All right, well, some thrift stores fit the description, but there’s a reason these stores are so popular with broke college students—they hold some fabulous finds. Cheery children’s resale shops are balm for a parent’s wallet, given how fast kids outgrow things. And on the more upscale side, today’s consignment stores for adults are bright, clean and ultra-fussy about the condition and brands they’ll accept (a like-new Chico’s jacket for $20? Yes, they’re out there, just waiting for your search savvy).

Bonus tip:

This should be done no matter where you shop, but especially at a thrift store be sure to check clothing before you buy for rips, stains or other condition issues.)

5. Know when to shop

While there are sales galore in August, the best deals can often be had in October. And there’s nothing like an end-of-season sale to get the blood pumping and the shopping bag filled. Stores usually clear out their inventory with low prices in April and September so there’s room for the new season’s clothing.

Other ways to save include taking advantage of discounts and coupons (many secondhand shops offer them now), buying clothes through eBay and Craigslist, and avoiding the temptations of your local mall. It’s also important to have a game plan; know which stores you want to shop and what kinds of clothing and accessories you need, with a little wiggle room in case you run across a particularly irresistible deal. And whether you’re shopping for yourself or your family, treat it like a fun treasure hunt—which is exactly what shopping for affordable clothes often turns out to be.

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