Ever since this post about Clara’s clothes, I’ve actually gotten a surprising amount of requests for a post about how I save money on my own clothes, what my staples are, and how I generally get by without spending a ton of my momdrobe – er, I mean wardrobe. And although I’m hardly a fashion plate (that idea makes me snort-laugh) I do love a deal, so here’s a rundown on how I save money when I’m shopping for myself along with some sneaky sale tricks I’ve learned along the way and a few general dressing rules that seem to work for me (slash keep me from buying stuff I’ll regret/never wear/stare angrily at in my closet). And I’d love to hear from you guys when it comes to how you score deals and try to resist buying things you don’t need/wear – so please drop in on the comments with all of your wardrobe words of wisdom!
Tip #1: Just ask. About a year ago I found a dress with no price on it at Old Navy. I asked them how much it was and they said it was an online-only return that ended up in their store, and they could sell it to me for 50% off. Just like that, a $30 dress was $15 – plus I could stack another mailer coupon I received on top of that. So worth just asking about it, right? Note: Please pardon this crazy face. I do that sometimes. Gathering all of the pics of myself for this post was beyond awkward.
Tip #2: Organize your clothing coupons. I use this method, which helps me know what I have and use them before they expire. Definitely helps me save some loot.
Tip #3: Know the rules. Many stores have special deals that run for cardholders. For example, you can get 10% off every Tuesday when you use an Old Navy, Gap, or Banana Republic card – on top of any markdowns from other coupons, discounts in the store, etc. I recently spent around $25 at Old Navy to get $65 worth of stuff. How? Well, first I used something they call Super Cash (it’s like Old Navy bucks that they give you after you buy stuff to put towards your next purchase, so I had a $20-off voucher to use if my total was over $50) but I also was shopping on a Tuesday so I got an additional 10% off, plus I was buying one item that was an online-only return, so that was 50% off plus 10% off on top of that! In the end I saved $40 just stacking discounts, shopping on the right day, and remembering to use my Super Cash voucher before it expired.
Tip #4: Figure out your favorite haunts. That’ll help you learn their store/sale policies, and it’ll also save you time since you’ll get to know:
- what sizes work for you in those stores (for faster shopping/fewer returns)
- which cut of jeans you love/wear most (and which ones you don’t so you can avoid them)
- when their end of season sales will be (and what they might have there, based on what you found the previous year, etc)
We’re also huge fans of outlet shopping, so when we go to the beach (usually around Memorial Day and Labor Day) we hit up the outlets where it’s not unusual to get things for 50-70% off. If I were forced at gunpoint to make a list of my favorite haunts, they’d be:
- Gap (great for staples like jeans)
- Old Navy (I usually love their tops)
- Banana Republic (I troll their sale rack for tops, skirts, and dresses)
- Banana Republic Outlet (this is where I grab long-term quality items, like a black trench coat)
- J Crew Outlet (I got a great pair of teal skinny jeans there for $35 thanks to tons of sales)
- DSW (nearly all of my shoes come from there)
- TJ Maxx (they’re awesome for discounted designer bags that last forever)
Tip #5: Don’t water down your wardrobe. I like to look at it as an “overall closet average.” Say I have ten outfits I love love love in my closet. I’d call them all favorites and on a scale of 1-10 I’d score them all a ten. That makes my overall closet average a ten. Then say that I see a sweater I kind of like (let’s say I’d give it a seven). And it’s on sale, so it’s tempting. The way I completely resist grabbing that sweater – which I’m guaranteed to like less than everything else in my closet – is to think of my closet average. Right now my overall closet average is a ten. If I get that sweater and it’s a seven, it’ll bring my entire closet average down, and I can just picture myself choosing other things on my hanging bar over and over again since it wasn’t something that I love love loved from the start. That helps me hold out for things I really truly love and stops me from grabbing anything I probably won’t wear or appreciate as much. Everyone loves a good closet GPA, haha – and it keeps that dreaded closet-clutter at bay (you know, when you have a bunch of stuff, but feel like you have nothing to wear).
Tip #6: Know what works. I’m a whopping 5’2″ – and I have the opposite of a long model-esque neck (it’s short like the rest of me) so I’ve learned that I look best in a v-neck. Somehow it makes me look like I have more of a neck and lengthens me in general, so I’ve learned what works for me.
Knowing that helps, because when I see some high-necked sweater or a boat necked t-shirts, I save myself the time of trying them on (and hating them) and I save myself from any temptation to buy something because it’s a pretty color/print/fabric or has a certain alluring designer name (or seductive sale price) since I know I’ll completely regret the purchase if it doesn’t actually flatter my body type. Heck, even my favorite swim suit has a deep V.
And we can’t forget my purchased-48-hours-before-the-big-day wedding dress.
Tip #7: Think about what you can pair things with. This is sort of like decorating. I try not to grab something that won’t go with anything in my closet, because much like buying something that matches nothing in my house, it would necessitate buying lots of other things to go with it. One great trick I have is to remember a few of my favorite outfits or pairings. For example: a denim pencil skirt + black t-shirt + leopard heels. If I see a pretty red pencil skirt when I’m out, immediately in my head I can think about the black shirt & those leopard shoes and know that it could be subbed in for the denim skirt for a different look with a similar silhouette (which I know I already love).
I try not to be as boring as buying the same things in a bunch of different colors, but I also go back to tip #3 (know what works) and remember that I tend to love a few silhouettes since they’re easy for me to wear and work well with my body type (ex: pencil skirts that aren’t too long for my short legs, skinny jeans, v-neck shirts, etc). Here’s another example of how I might grab something that can work with a variety of things in my closet. Take this coral tank top, that I have under this brown jacket…
Here it is under a black blazer at Haven (thanks for the pic Rhoda!). Little staples like colored tank tops seem to be inexpensive and easy to layer, so they might be less specific than a big patterned sweater or something.
Here’s another one in dark plum. For a girl who wears a ton of black, colorful tanks are a nice low-cost way to add some color in without breaking out in hives. Ooh plum, look at me. I’m a rebel.
Tip #8. Pick quality for things you’ll wear all the time. It adds up to longevity. For example, I’m extremely cheap. But in the purse category, I usually buy one and wear it for 2-3 years. Sometimes even longer. So I’m happy to splurge if it means something will be better made and will last that whole time without looking all murky and disheveled. When I say splurge, I don’t mean $500, I mean something in the $120-180 range. I know, it probably sounds super high to some folks, but I actually think if you figure out your cost per wear on a cheap purse, it might surprise you.
For example, say over three years you buy/wear four $30 purses from Target. That actually works out to the exact same cost as getting one great Michael Kors or Cole Haan bag from TJ Maxx for $120 and wearing that for three solid years (something I’ve done for over a decade now, without any issue of things getting worn out or me getting sick of them- you just have to hold out for something you’re truly obsessed with and that love goes on and on). So I guess it goes back to my whole “don’t water things down” theory (tip #5). I just like to buy one great purse that I’m enamored with and wear the heck outta it. It usually takes me about a year to find “the bag” though, so I don’t rush into anything (a few years is a long enough commitment that I take it super seriously and refuse to settle). And then I take a cell phone pic of it and text it to my BFFs to celebrate my purse victory. Dork for life.
Another example of how I try to go for quality would be with coats. I got this trench for $80 at the Banana Republic Outlet (marked down from $150+) a few years ago, and have worn it like crazy. Spring and fall for at least two years now, and it’s still going strong (no ripped lining, buttons popping off, etc). I used to try getting cheaper jackets at places like Target & Old Navy, but learned that they didn’t last as long, which ended up being more money in the long run, so for things like bags and coats I try to go for quality (but I look for that item in an outlet or discount store like TJ Maxx to try to keep costs down).
Tip #9: Spice things up with accessories. Most of my formative learning-my-style years were spent in NYC (I lived there for six years, through college and those first-job years afterwards) so I definitely have an affinity for the “New York look” (lots of black, a big handbag, long lean jeans, blazers, black sunglasses) but I also have always loved to spice things up in two areas: jewelry and shoes. One of my first pair of fancy pointy toed shoes were a pair of pink Nine West heels that I loved with all of my heart. And I’d pair them with a black blazer and jeans for a little dash of color without feeling too matchy-matchy (which might happen if I paired them with a pink sweater of the exact same color). I also had a pair of lime green Roberto Cavalli sandals that I scored for cheap at Century 21 (an awesome outlet-ish store in downtown Manhattan with a ton of clothes & shoes that are marked waaay down). Still to this day I love wearing a navy or black top with jeans and bright red peep toe heels…
I also love bright earrings, so it’s not unusual to see me in a black shirt, jeans, and some big coral or emerald colored earrings. John got me these guys for Christmas and I love them.
Here’s more dangly earring evidence (this shot is from back in NYC when we first started dating).
And here’s Exhibit C, with even more earring action going on. It’s just a quick way to add some “I’m-trying-a-little” to my usually questionable mom uniform. Haha.
It might not be a perfect equation for everyone (big bold earrings + basic black shirt + skinny jeans + some sort of shoe that works for being a momma but still doesn’t look too frumpy & is occasionally a bright color or print) but that seems to be the sweet spot for me.
Tip #10: Don’t try to make everything the star. I think this is sort of a sister tip to the one above, and it’s also one of those tips that rings true for how we decorate our house. Much like you don’t want every item of furniture and accessory competing for attention (you want some to fall back while others are free to be the focal point), you probably don’t want everything on your body to be vying for attention. It’s why I love slipping on my favorite pair of skinny jeans and a plain black top, just so my big crazy earrings or bright shoes can be the stars.
Another way to interpret this could be that if you have an awesome printed dress, a nude shoe could be a nice way to play it up. And we’ve all heard the “you shouldn’t wear a big statement necklace with big statement earrings” rule, which definitely seems to ring true for me. The way this tip saves me money is if I have an event in mind and I know what dress I’ll be wearing and I’m searching for shoes or jewelry, I can pin down whether the dress will be the star, and if it will I’ll get shoes and jewelry that won’t compete (instead of coming home and trying everything on together and hating the outcome).
Tip #11: Do your own thang. Don’t follow any of my tips word for word since goodness knows I’ve read tons and tons of clothing advice that might ring true for someone else, but is laughably terrible advice for someone like me with my body type. So while I know it’s incredibly clichéd to tell you to embrace who you are and just wear what you like, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of the best advice of all.
And now since someone will ask for it, here’s a pic of me with my hair down. I do it sometimes, but not often, just because I’m a ponytail girl. It helps me keep the paint and the peanut butter and jelly outta my hair. Haha.
Now it’s your turn. Shower me with your tips and tricks when it comes to stocking your closet on the cheap. Where do you save and splurge? I’m sure it’s different for everyone, so I’d love to hear what works for you guys!
One of the most common questions on instagram/Facebook/Twitter when we share a photo isn’t “what paint color is that?” or “who makes that lamp?” – it’s “where did you get that shirt/dress/skirt?” – and they’re not talking about me (or John)… they’re talking about Clara. Yes, there have been a bunch of requests for a post about how we score deals/save money in the kid clothing department along with where we get her clothes. So whoop, here it is. And thanks to all of those aforementioned instagram photos that we’ve shared, we have a whole bunch of shots to use throughout this rundown.
Admittedly it’s kinda weird to analyze your kid’s clothing in so much detail (she’s two! we just buy things we think are cute and try to save money when we can) but I realized when I was writing this up that we’ve actually learned a decent amount over the last two years of dressing a tiny person. And there are definitely things we wish we had known in the beginning, which would have saved us money and time – so maybe they’ll help someone else out there. So without further ado, the story of Clara’s clothes, as told by our instagram feed…
Most of Clara’s clothing comes from these four places:
- Hand me downs from her sweet cousin Elsa (or the three year old who lives next door)
- Old Navy (usually on the clearance rack or purchased with a coupon)
- Target (always on the clearance rack)
- H&M (they have the cutest stuff, especially summery dresses)
Of course she also occasionally gets things as gifts or we get gift cards to a place like The Gap for our birthdays (and spend the money in their kids department instead of on ourselves). And we’ve also ducked into other stores from time to time, like the Carter’s Outlet near John’s parents’ beach house. But I’d definitely say the majority of her stuff comes from the four sources above. Like the dress in the picture above (from the clearance rack at Target) for example.
It was actually a birthday gift for her from John’s sister Emily, but we love that she knows one of our favorite Clara-clothing spots (I think it was around $6). It’s a size 2T, which should last Clara at least a year (we can add jeggings underneath to carry it into colder temps or to cover things up if it gets shorter as she grows). And it might seem obvious, but we’ve finally realized that dresses are often the most bang for our buck in the clothing department since they’re just one piece (so instead of finding a cheap t-shirt for $4 with cheap shorts for $4, that dress is an entire outfit for $6).
Here is a dress from H&M, which was $12. Initially I thought that was expensive (I’m cheap, so I like things in the single digits – anything over ten makes me flinch, haha) but Clara has worn the heck out of it. Probably at least once a week for the entire summer so far. So by the end of its life I’d guess the cost per wear will probably be around fifty cents. And if we hand it down to a future kiddo it could be even less.
Unlike a Beverly Hills housewife, Clara wears her outfits a whole bunch of times. You might see her petting goats in something one week…
… and playing with Barbies in the same outfit a week or two later.
This is a clearance skirt from The Gap and a white top from Old Navy. I think this outfit total was around $7 ($4 for the skirt and $3 for the top). Basically the top + bottom equation with her is usually: colorful blousey top + basic jeggings/dark jeans OR colorful skirt or pink/yellow jeans + basic top (like this white ruffled tank top). Something sort of classic with something else that’s bright and fun. That way it’s not too boring or too crazy, it’s a little bit of each. And when it comes to trying to “make” outfits from random items that she has in her drawers like a pair of jeggings or a cute t-shirt, I can now make pairings pretty much on autopilot with that general equation. So as weird as it is to have a “Clara clothing formula” it saves us time (and money spent on things that wouldn’t fit in as easily). And she seems to really like her clothes (last night while going to visit her grandparents she said she couldn’t wait to show them her “pretty pretty dress”).
Another great example of that equation would be one of my favorite Clara outfits ever. See how the basic printed t-shirt (featuring a Burger lookalike from the J Crew Outlet) + a girly ruffled soft pink skirt (a hand-me-down from the girl next door) can add up to something playful and sweet at the same time? Especially when paired with a RAD tattoo. Haha.
Another example of this would be one of my favorite shirts (from Old Navy for around $8), which you can see in this picture. It’s blousy and flowy and Clara LOVES it. Everything from the big sleeves with the scalloped trim on the bottom to the colorful flowers float her boat. So we pair it with basic jeggings or jeans most of the time. Just because it’s an easy foolproof outfit. And it keeps me from having to buy more specific bottoms that “match” it (ex: purple pants, orange capris) since we have enough classic items like jeans/jeggings in our drawers that already work with it.
Here’s yet another example of girly/bold/patterned bottoms with something basic on top. This is an outfit I found at the Carter Outlets in Delaware when we stopped there over Memorial Day. I think it was under $10 total for both pieces (total) and Clara has easily worn this at least eight times since then.
When it comes down to numbers, Clara usually has 10-12 “good outfits” in rotation, which is just a number that seems to work well for us since we do laundry once a week and she has some other “messy outfits” that we’ll put her in before doing anything crazy like painting or running around in the mud. So it’s not like she changes clothes three times a day and needs 30 good dresses and pants and tops. I’d say 95% of the time, she wears one outfit all day long. So since 10-12 outfits isn’t really that many, we try not to go for quantity, but for quality. Not by spending a ton of money on the item itself (goodness knows kids get things dirty and grow out of things all the time) but by trying to stay “focused” on things that work well for us (especially Clara) – so she doesn’t end up with dresser stuffed full of mismatched deals with no real pairings or purpose.
We didn’t always follow this technique. When she was smaller we used to go for quantity, so if Old Navy was having a t-shirt sale I’d get three for eight bucks instead of one dress for eight bucks on the sale rack. But as Clara grew we realized that a bunch of clothes that you don’t love (and that you didn’t necessarily buy as an “outfit”) aren’t as easy to use or love as trying to keep your focus and only buying things that you’ll end up reaching for them again and again. One easy question I ask myself before I buy something for her is “will this be something I put in our ‘favorite outfits’ drawer, or will it end up in the middle drawer with a bunch of on-sale mismatched items that she never wears?”
This is a tee we got on clearance from Old Navy with a red skirt from The Gap that Clara got as a gift… wait for it… over a year ago.
So another one of our learned-along-the-way tips would be to ignore the size on the labels when it comes to retiring items of clothing and just go by how they fit. This skirt actually says 12 months in the label, but it still fits her comfortably (and although it’s a little short it has built-in bloomers for toddler modesty, haha). So instead of just stashing it in the tupperware bins in our attic (where we store all of the clothes she has outgrown – more on that here) I’m cool with her wearing it as long as it comfortably fits. We’ve gotten at least one “bonus year” of wear from it already, so I’m psyched. Saves us from buying another one until she truly outgrows it.
Here’s the opposite application of that last tip. If something is too big, you’ll get more wear out of it by figuring out how to get your kiddo into it sooner if at all possible (two summers of use from a dress instead of one = added value). So when I slipped this $8 Target dress onto Clara and it was way too big (the straps were so stretchy the neckline slipped down below her chest), I tried turning it so one of the arm straps went around her neck like a halter. The other strap got tucked into the elastic back of the dress, which doesn’t seem to bother Clara at all, and now she can wear this dress now, and hopefully next year too with her arms where they’re meant to go.
This is another dress from H&M (it was $11). It’s hard to tell from this photo, but it has a pretty eyelet detail on the bottom and it’s a soft blue seersucker material. One thing to notice from the picture is that Clara has a favorite pair of shoes, and it’s her pink Crocs. So those are what she wears 95% of the time.
It has saved us a ton of money to recognize that the girl has a favorite pair of shoes (we used to buy her a bunch of different kinds and she always requested the same ones, to the point that she’d outgrow perfectly pristine shoes without ever wearing them since she favors her Crocs so much). But now we’ve realized that they’re her shoe of choice and we’re ok with pairing them with almost any outfit. Sure, navy shoes might be cuter with this blue dress, but pink crocs send out that “these are the shoes I like” vibe, which we’re cool with.
This dress is from Old Navy. It was $6 on clearance and after stacking additional coupons on top it was $4 at the register. Woot. I always keep Old Navy coupons in a little file folder in my purse (more on that here) so I basically never buy anything there without using a coupon since they pop up in the mail all the time.
In general our theory on dressing Clara is that we want her to be comfortable and cute. We could always spend more, and definitely could spend less, but after two years we think the $6-12 per outfit range is the sweet spot for us. We’ve also finally figured out the stores we like and how things fit her (ex: 3T jeans and PJs at Old Navy fit her like a dream, 2T dresses are better for her from almost everywhere, etc). This is helpful because it saves us money and time (had we invested in three more pairs of 2T pjs without knowing that 3T fits her better, she would have outgrown them faster and we’d be back at the store buying more).
This outfit is all Old Navy. The top was $4 and the jeggings were 2/$7 (so it was $3.50 for this pair). I’d say Clara’s “summer uniform” has been sundresses and the occasional skirt and top, but for the spring, fall, and winter, jeggings and dark denim jeans (along with a few pairs of colorful jeans – in pink & yellow) have been awesome.
And in case you’re wondering, Clara totally goes shopping with us. Her favorite spot ever = the fake family at the front of our Old Navy. She literally runs towards them and says “I see the children and the dog!” and even lifts up the girl’s shirt to look for her belly button.
This is one of my favorite instagram photos ever, and Clara’s wearing a hand-me-down shirt from the girl who lives next door. I thought the checkers on her shirt looked so cute with John’s checked shirt while they were lying in bed, and I’m so glad I grabbed this shot. Makes me melt. And even though you can’t see the rest of this outfit, since Clara’s hair has yet to grow in and she sometimes gets mistaken for a boy, her pink crocs help to add some girl power. Not because we’re weird about gender stuff and covering her in pink, just because we like to throw strangers a bone so they don’t blush profusely after calling her a boy. And Clara actually says “pink and yellow” when you ask her what her favorite colors are. So those definitely get worked in a fair amount when it comes to her clothes.
So that ends our little Clara clothing rundown. I hope our weird analysis of why/what we buy and how many we get/how much we spend somehow helped folks out there who were wondering! What are your favorite kid clothing stores? Do you have any money-saving tips? Or do you have a magic number of “good outfits” that carry you through the week without making you feel overwhelmed (or making your drawers feel overstuffed)?
Psst – I’m obsessed with this beach house. How pretty is it?! Thanks to the sweet reader who suggested the link. I’ve had the page open for days.