I remember moving out on my own a few (cough) years ago and my father sitting down with me to teach me monthly budgeting. His list involved scribbling down all the necessities to stay alive and a lot of math. Bless his heart, he meant well. I was young, though, and paid almost no attention until he wrote down "clothing."
The only math I ever truly learned was how to make all those other pesky columns (electricity, gas, phone, rent, food) less so I could punch up the clothing budget.
I learned a lot back then by trial and error. Yard sales, sewing, second-hand stores, careful bartering and sale-watching kept me covered well enough to splurge once in a while on something at full-price. Money was tight for sure back then, but this recession has given fresh meaning to "too broke."
There's a world of difference between 18 and 40-mumble. Children's needs come first. Actually, everything seems to come first and it's easy to find yourself at the tail-end of the budget list. Comes with the territory.
The bottom line is you have ten dollars, maybe twenty, and you've got to be resourceful. I've scoured the internet and found hundreds of sites dedicated to saving money on clothes during These Dark Times. Most of them told me what I already knew, and the rest of them were intent on appeasing my need for $400 designer handbags by catching one on sale for $200. Those folks are in serious denial, but they won't be for long.
This is going to hurt, but I must give it to you straight: You can't have the handbag. You can't even want the $400 handbag, because no act of God or mercy is going to make that handbag cost $20. You don't need it. Let it go.
The one thing you must never do is go to some discount store and buy cheap, nasty clothes just because you can. No need uglying up your closet with crap. Hit the yard sales first and Ebay second.
Yard sale buying doesn't mean you have to park your dignity at the curb. Scout out the yard sale section in the local newspaper (which has probably gone online-only now) and look for sales in the good neighborhoods. Map it out so you're not burning up too much gas. Better yet, invite a few friends and carpool. Make it a lark. Laugh a lot and carry coffee cups with lids and gossip deliciously. At each stop, be sure to hit the accessories as well as the clothing. Look for nice labels and fresh dry cleaning tags. Barter sweetly. The important thing is to arrive with $20 in your pocket and spend only that.
Ebay is a maze you must traverse carefully, but a good place to find what you want at a steal. Ever hear the one about the $140 J. Jill skirt I found for $2 and free shipping? Oh, the stories I could tell. It's all about how you set up your searches. Narrow them for specific brands, sizes, and even colors. Always be sure to check the measurements for each item, though. There's no use in buying a Jones of New York blouse just to find it won't, um, button.
Both of these methods take time, but they're fun. Isn't that a nice bonus? If you're simply too exhausted from working three jobs and creating fabulous dinners, I suggest a fashion shortcut. Buy a nice necklace. Your co-workers may still be able to tell what day of the week it is by which outfit you're wearing, but they'll be momentarily dazzled by a new set of beads. My grandmother once told me that if you walk really fast and with purpose, no one will know your pearls aren't real.
Fabulous words to live by.