staying stylish on a budget


I got an email recently about how we manage such a low clothing budget for our family. My clothing budget is $20/month. Eric's is the same as mine, and the kids each get $10/month. So, it's $60 between the four of us. I have to say, it feels a little tight (when we set up our first budget, Eric and I each got $80/month and it's gradually decreased over the years), but we make it work to keep our other financial goals in line. We like to buy clothes, but we'd also like to pay off our house early, so we make sacrifices.

Not sure I have anything groundbreaking to share, but in case you're curious...

For Rooney, we get a lot of hand-me-downs. My sister has three girls so we are always getting bags of stuff they've outgrown. And Roo loves hand-me-downs (she seems to prefer them, actually). She is always asking, "Did Mylie give this to me?" So those usually cover the basics, and I use her $10/month to buy trendy pieces I want for her. Rooney has plenty of clothes on this budget, even though sometimes I can't always afford something I want for her. It's easy to get carried away with all the cute stuff available! For example, right now I've got my eye on this. It's $16.99, so it will take me two months to save up for it (but it will hopefully be on sale by then!). I almost always buy things on sale.

Rooney picks out her outfits every day but is still at an age where I choose what is bought and goes in her dresser. I try to be very practical and make sure everything washes well. If I wouldn't want her to wear it to daycare, I typically don't buy it because that is where she is four days a week.

Also worth noting:

  • I've blogged about my favorite stores for kids here.
  • I usually ask for specific clothes for her birthday/Christmas if there's a more expensive item I really want for her.
  • Schoola and ThredUp are online consignment stores I've started to buy from - there are some really great deals!
  • When I get coupons in the mail from Kohl's or JCPenney for $10 off a purchase of $10 or more, I go to the store and get something cute for about $10. Check the Kohl's clearance shoes! I recently got Rooney a super cute pair of Candies boots that were originally $60 and I paid $1.79!
  • I buy diapers at Target when they have the "Buy 2 boxes, get a Target gift card" promotion, and then I use those gift cards to buy kids clothes. Sometimes it's a $5 or $10 gift card, but occasionally it will be $15 or $20 (which helps with purchasing the sweatshirt I linked to above).
  • I buy bigger sizes when they're on super sale at the end of the season.
  • After we found out Finch was a boy, I sold some of Rooney's old clothes at a local consignment shop and used the money to buy new items. I'm also hoping to get my act together soon and resell some of Rooney's stuff on Instagram.
  • I love sale sites such as Zulily, Hautelook and Gilt. It is free to join and then you have access to daily flash sales.
  • I also don't want to discount the fact that we do occasionally receive free items from brands who generously send us clothes to feature on the blog or Instagram (which is always disclosed).

For Finch, I asked on Facebook for hand-me-downs and was surprised at the number of people who were willing to just give us their old stuff! Kids outgrow things so quickly so I am definitely not above hand-me-downs! Because of this, Finch has enough pajamas for two years! Which is great because I don't want to spend his budget on pajamas! I am hoping his $10/month will be able to fill the gaps, but it's too soon to tell. We typically like to keep things even, but he may need a bigger budget than Rooney since he gets less hand-me-downs. However, when Rooney was younger, I occasionally bought boy-friendly items for her just in case we had a boy next, so now we can pass them down to him.


As for me, my job is very casual dress, so I can wear the same things during the week as I do on the weekends and don't have to have two wardrobes. If you're having trouble sticking to a clothing budget, I think first you have to figure out how to "want less." I go through spurts where this is easy and spurts when it feels hard. Again, nothing groundbreaking. I simply can't spend as much on clothes as I used to, but I think it's been a good thing for me to have limits. In addition to the $240/year I get from our personal budget, I usually ask for clothing gifts for my birthday and Christmas.

One thing that helped me was to stop shopping for 30 days. I've done that three different times, and last year I did 89 days. During those 30 days of not shopping, I chose 30 pieces of clothing I already owned and mixed and matched only those 30 items. It is very eye-opening and really helped me nail down what my wardrobe was missing. I am a much smarter shopper now and can usually look at a piece of clothing and immediately know if it is the right fit/style for me or not. I no longer feel lost or buy things that don't work for my body, style or lifestyle. When I shop for myself, it's usually at Madewell, buying pieces that I love that will last me a long time, and I fill in the gaps with cheaper basics from Old Navy. It's amazing how a $15 H&M scarf can give me a boost and make all my clothes feel new again.

Also, have you heard of capsule wardrobes? It's where you have a set number (say, 37) of items and just mix and match within those pieces for the season. That's pretty much what I do and want to do with Rooney. I wear a "uniform" most days (for example, skinny jeans, a T-shirt and a cardigan in the spring and fall), but it works so I just rinse and repeat. This means I do not buy a lot of tops that are not T-shirts. Silk tops are not a good use of my budget - I simply won't wear them. I've purged a lot of the items I didn't absolutely love or that don't fit my uniform, and it makes getting dressed so much easier. Unfancy is a great site that talks about capsule wardrobes a lot (she no longer posts, but there's still a great archive of information there).


Eric's new job has a business casual dress code, so he does have to buy different stuff for work vs. weekends and he is definitely in a building phase right now as he builds up his dress clothes. This has been hard for him to do on a budget and we have padded his funds a bit here and there, but I have to spend at least $80/year on bras that he doesn't so I don't feel too sorry for him ;-)

Every single thing you buy should increase the value of your closet. For example, if you would rate your closet at an 8, you should only buy things that are 9s or 10s. But maybe your closet is at a 5 so you can be more lenient and buy 7s and slowly turn over your wardrobe over time. It's not scientific but it has helped us avoid bad purchases in the past. Once you have a good handle on your style, I think it's great to buy higher quality items that might cost a bit more, and also to have willpower to wait for sales. I would say if you are hesitating on a purchase there is probably a reason and you don't love it enough. Leave it behind and walk away! It takes time to build a great wardrobe, but it is so worth it in the end.

P.S. A catalog of Rooney's outfits, and my outfits.