Looking great can give you an edge in interviews, help maintain a professional image at work and generally make you feel as awesome as you are. But it’s all too easy to spend tons of cash on clothes, and when you’re searching for a job that’s the last thing you want to do. Even if you’re working, shelling out your hard-earned paycheck for work clothes can be a depressing cycle.
So what’s a person to do? Get thrifty.
At your local thrift store you can probably find an interview outfit for under $20. Think that all you’ll ever find in a secondhand store is threadbare jeans? Sure, they’re there, but so are tons of name brands (I’ve picked up Nine West, White House Black Market, The Limited, Gap, Aeropostale, Apostrophe’, Ann Taylor and many, many more) – some still sporting original tags. Don’t buy it? At work today, I’m wearing a sweet tailored skirt suit from The Limited that I picked up at Goodwill for a cool $14. (See the picture below? That’s my favorite suit. It also happens to be my least expensive suit. Score.)
Some people don’t seem to be able to get past their need to buy brand new, and you may encounter people who look down their nose at your latest triumph over consumerism. I recommend dealing with those folks by loudly discussing what you plan to do with all the cash you’re saving.
For the rest of us, here are the tips I’ve learned in over a decade of bargain hunting:
Amy’s Guide to Thrifting
- Know your stores. My area has a selection of Goodwill, Salvation Army and independent local thrift stores. Each tends to carry a certain kind of merchandise, and though the surprise gems you find are all part of the thrill, knowing you can probably find a nice blouse at location X can be handy when you need something in a pinch.
- Take your time. Avoid being in a pinch. You’ll probably come across the perfect suit for $15 if you look long enough, but the night before your big interview isn’t the time to do it. Think of thrifting as a hunt (only the big game is savings and triumph, not fluffy woodland creatures). Always be on the lookout for things that will build a functional wardrobe, and you’ll have what you need, when you need it.
- Have a logical wardrobe. You probably like (and look best in) a few colors. Create a basic wardrobe of solid pieces that aren’t subject to fickle seasonal fashion trends. This pays off by saving money, closet space and time (it’s a lot easier to dress in the morning when almost everything “goes” together).
- Timing is everything. If you enjoy it (and can avoid the temptation to buy everything because it’s “such a great deal”) thrift often. Find out what day your local stores tend to put out new merchandise so you get first pick.
- Try it on. Pre-enjoyed clothes have probably been washed, dried and shrunk. The great news? You’ll never have to wonder if that new sweater is going to turn into an XS when you put it in the dryer (and if it does you’re only out $3). The downside is that you’ll want to try them on before buying. If your thrift store doesn’t have a dressing room (and several of my local ones don’t), wear something that lets you try things on in the store while staying decent. Leggings, slip-on shoes a tank top and skirt can work well for the ladies; running shorts and a t-shirt for men. Don’t worry, the other pro’s will be doing it too.
Rules to Thrift By
- Thrift karma. My best shopping bud laughs at me for this, but I’m a thrift karma believer. If you’re not using it, donate it. If everyone hoarded the good stuff “in case I need it sometime” there would be nothing awesome for you to buy. Give and ye shall receive.
- Shop with someone. It’s always helpful to have a good friend around to tell you when you really don’t need that pair of fuzzy leopard print pants.
- Know when to spend. Sometimes, you really do need or want a particular wardrobe staple. You may run across it in your thrift adventures, but if you’re a careful saver, now and again you can likely afford to buy something new. And that’s okay (spoken like a woman who has been known to suffer guilt over paying $10 for a shirt).
Good luck, fellow frugal folks! Have questions about how to make your money go farther? Ask below, I’m a champ at being cheap.