A Frugal Fashionista’s Recipe for Finding Cute Clothes on a Budget

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Do you often struggle with finding cute clothes on a budget? Do you feel like you never have clothing that makes you feel good in your skin? I’ve been there too. While going through rough financial patches, I traveled to the depths of the internet to find the best places to shop. If you are like me and tired of the struggle to find cute clothes on a budget, here’s my recipe to help. 

First, a Little Back Story.

When I was working at a big-box store, I got into an argument with one of the older security guards over why people steal the items they steal. He could not wrap his brain around why people would steal clothing and makeup. I told him that makeup and clothing are important for mental health and potential jobs, especially for women. We represent the brands that we work for through our appearances. Not everyone can spend between $100 and $400 a MONTH on clothing. But, there are many reasons people might need them, and he looked at me, and he said:

“Why on earth would someone spend money on something so frivolous if they clearly can’t afford it?”

I was genuinely speechless and had no idea how to answer that question. There are SO many reasons to want or need new clothing. Your outfits can utterly shift your mood. What a person wears can give them a massive boost of confidence or make you feel like a slob. You can need new clothing because you’ve lost or gained weight. Or maybe you moved to a colder climate, and you need clothing to keep you warm. Alternatively, to keep you cool during the warmer times of the year as well. 

Let’s Start With the Basic Ingredients

A good thing to note is, start with your basics. For example, maybe three pairs of bottoms (pants, jeans, skirts), five tops in neutral colors, and a dress or suit that you can dress up or down. The “little black dress” is a classic for a reason. Then you’ll want shoes, a pair of dress shoes (cute plain black flats or pumps), and some comfy shoes suitable for walking (running shoes, toms, really whatever you feel best in).

When I’m shopping, color coordination is important. I stick to a specific palette of colors I feel comfortable in and look good on me. Having all of your clothing in a similar palette makes it MUCH easier to mix and match your pieces. What works best for me is choosing neutral color palettes (black, white, beige, grey) for most of my clothing and slowly adding statement pieces. Like bold colors, fun shoes, and weird accessories. (I’m looking at you, chicken purse)

Now, Add Some Spice!

Now, to spice things up, add your statement pieces. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Jewelry: Think chunky necklace or elegant pearls.
  • Purses: Bright colors, weird patterns, or unusual shapes.
  • Socks: I like to wear weird patterned socks under some of my strappy heels in the cooler months.
  • Textures: You could wear a basic white button-up. But, if you want to elevate the look and seem more chic, wear a white mesh button-up and throw a cami underneath.
  • Pop of Color: I have several sleeveless turtlenecks in different colors that I put under a graphic tee to give it more interest. But, even wearing a different colored top or pair of bottoms from what you usually wear can completely change your look.

Where to Buy Cute Clothes on a Budget!

Some people think that investing in high-quality, sustainably made clothing is the best option for absolutely every person on Earth. News flash, it’s not. Sometimes we can’t afford to spend 90 dollars on a T-shirt, or even 20 dollars on a T-shirt. If you want to take a more eco-conscious approach to fashion, start at thrift stores. Reused and repurposed is far better than clothing ending up in a landfill. 

I typically despise clothing shopping in person and would much rather get things online. I can try things on in the comfort of my own home, and if I don’t like the items, I can mail them back. Online shopping lets me check prices and buy based on my budget without feeling like the people around me judging me for checking out the tags. 

Thredup is a fantastic option for an online thrift store if you don’t want to go out. You can also try doing clothing swaps with friends, neighbors, or family. I also like looking on Facebook marketplace and Craigslist (or Kijiji if you’re in Canada) for clothing. There’s another super cool app that another writer Chloe shared called Varage Sale! It’s basically a virtual garage sale- how neat is that?  

My Favorite Stores

  1. Shein: Shein has incredible prices, coupons on different days, free shipping on Sundays, and an AMAZING point system! Every point you get is worth a penny, which doesn’t seem like much. But, there are so many different ways to get the points. For example, they have a daily check-in, and the amount you receive is different every day. It’ll start with 1, then 3, and you can get up to 18! 
  2. H&M: H&M is awesome for basics. They have some sustainably made items, some not so much, but their basics sections are fantastic. My clothes from this store last for years and still are just as soft as when I first got them. Their selection for workwear also takes a more modern and trendy approach which I LOVE.
  3. Boohoo: It seriously seems like Boohoo has a new sale every week! When you first select a category you want to shop in, I will warn you that the prices look crazy expensive, but I will typically sort items from low to high or press the option to see clothes between $10-$30. This store is the one I go to for my more bold basics, like zebra print pants and bright-colored pieces. This store is kind of like H&M’s boujee older sister. 
  4. Uniqlo: This store is a little bit new to me. Their sale prices are phenomenal, but the store itself is slightly more on the pricey side. If you sign up for their website, you can get FREE shipping on your first order! They have super cute tote bags, and all of their shoes look ridiculously comfortable.
  5. Bershka: Bershka is a website I would go to for statement pieces. Your statement pieces in a wardrobe are more eye-catching, and this website has funky cuts and silhouettes, as well as very high-end-looking accessories.  

What’s in your closet?

If you’re resourceful, you CAN find those cute clothes on a budget. Just keep searching for pieces you love. A great way to start is just by saving 5-10 dollars every month.

Do you have any tips for building a wardrobe from scratch to share with other readers? What are the everyday essentials in your wardrobe? Do you have a favorite budget boutique? 

A Frugal Fashionista\'s Recipe for Finding Cute Clothes on a Budget

17 thoughts on “A Frugal Fashionista’s Recipe for Finding Cute Clothes on a Budget”

  1. eBay is my best friend lol. I’ve gotten Ralph Lauren blazers and sweaters for less than $10, children’s clothes for 99 cents and up and other brand name clothing for cheap. I also shop clearance racks and I buy clothing when they’re not in season and they’re less expensive. There is a website called rainbowshops.com where you can get trendy items for less than $30.

  2. Wrong conclusion. If “your outfits can utterly shift your mood”, then you need psychiatric counseling for low self esteem issues, not clothes. Go to a psychiatrist, not a retailer. Bad article.

    1. Linda, first of all, there’s no need to be rude or insulting while voicing your disagreement. If you think that wearing something that makes you feel wonderful can’t change your mood and make you feel like you can take on the world, then you’ve clearly never owned ‘that outfit.’ I think most of us ladies here know that looking good can help you to feel good.

      This site is about living a happy, fulfilling LARGE life on a small budget. And the little things can help you to do that.

      If your circumstances are too dire to take joy in finding inexpensive bargains that make you feel extra confident, perhaps you should check out the Flat Broke category. I’ve been there too but luckily, it didn’t make me a mean person who insults a young writer.

    2. I think you’ve come to the wrong conclusion. There are many things in life that can “shift one’s mood”. Things that give you a sense of accomplishment – cleaning, weeding, organizing, cooking etc. I hardly think a person needs psychiatric help when any of the aforementioned things made the person feel good.
      I am the first to admit I detest shopping for clothes but a well fitting outfit that looks good certainly mitigates the “chore” of clothes shopping.
      Good job article Rachael – lack of appropriate dress (HR verbiage) can make finding/keeping a job more difficult.

    3. That was mean and uncalled for. If you don’t agree or don’t need to shop frugally for clothes, fine, this article isn’t useful to you. I personally have great difficulty finding clothing that fits, is modest, and is within my budget. It is helpful to me to read what others have to say. I also don’t agree that one might need professional help an outfit can shift their mood. There is a lot to be said for having the proper clothes to wear to work, or any gathering. Ever shown up somewhere woefully over- or under-dressed? Ever had to wear a threadbare pair of paints to work because you can’t afford new ones? Yeah, it can make you feel like crap not because you need professional counseling for low self-esteem but because judgy people will give ya’ the once-over. Rachel, I appreciate the article and other’s suggestions for ways/places to shop. Clothing is a real issue for me!

  3. Although Kohl’s isn’t what it used to be, I’ve found some great deals on their clearance racks (the only place I shop.). When combined with Kohl’s Cash and a coupon that comes to my email, I’ve walked out of that store with an entire bag full of work attire for $30. Everyone at the office always comments on how well put together I am and thinks I spend a fortune on clothes. I say thank you and smile to myself over my thrifty little secret.

  4. Lucy in the Sky with Cubic Zirconias

    This article is great! I find that sometimes my love of fashion and my love of saving money clash. You’ve given me some great new resources that I’ve never heard of before. I can’t wait to try them out when building my fall wardrobe. I hardly bought anything last year because I worked at home, and getting dressed up again is one of the best things about going back to the office.

  5. Nice article. I enjoyed reading it.
    My secret when I was a professional is that everything coordinated ie. grey wool suit/blue and grey wool suit all interchangeable. With 3-4 blouses, I could make this last all week. My spring and summer wardrobe was pretty much the same in lighter fabrics. I bought good quality shoes in a neutral color which lasted years with proper care. Never wear good shoes outside in rain or snow; wear an old pair outside. I bought a good quality leather purse to carry all year. Yes, I saved for these items and paid good prices. But they lasted for years! At home, I changed immediately into casual clothing. I kept a couple of nice slacks with two sweaters and two sweatpants outfits. Jewelry was my wedding band/earrings/necklaces/a watch.
    I had one party dress which I wore to corporate affairs and it looked smashing on me.
    Now while retired, I have a couple of good church outfits for each season, 4 pair of jeans/slacks in black, tan, and regular stone wash, 5 tops for each season, 3 pair of good shoes, and various coats/jackets/ sweats.
    I expect to never have to buy clothes again unless I ruin something or the house burns down.
    We are not what we wear, but I agree that what we wear can make our day!
    PS. Can you guess I am a minimalist?

  6. I live on a fixed income but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look cute and stylish. I shop my favorite store online in the clearance section in general. I may be a season behind or half a season behind, but I try to go for classic styles, not trendy. My top amount is $20 for a dress, $15 for pants/leggings, and around $10 for tops. I have some very nice-looking clothes and get compliments. Agree that a nice outfit can make us feel good about ourselves, and nothing is ever wrong with that.

  7. I liked this article. I DO like shopping for clothes; nothing worse than feeling out of sorts and then your outfit makes you look old/ugly/worn out/destitute. My go to for cheap but good, and sometimes expensive, clothing is thrift stores or resale shops. The American Cancer Society has their Discover Shops. I’ve purchased $300 dresses for $9-the tags are still on the dress!! You can only chose from what resellers have out, but I have found that their selections, labels, and fabrics are all over the top for very little money. The other answer is to start sewing. You don’t even have to buy NEW material as most thrift stores have piles of unused fabric, patterns, thread, zippers, etc. If you are talented, you can rework a previously discarded item. I have a friend who is an incredible knitter. She buys sweaters of good quality, washes them, and then unravels them. They then get reknitted into a new garment. She has done with cashmere. A lot of men discard old golf sweaters made out of cashmere. Use your skills and have some fun saving money. And Linda must be the new Karen. Sheesh!

  8. Some of my cutest and most unique clothes came from ThredUp. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt and you have to jump on adding things to your cart b4 someone beats you to it but that’s part of the fun!

  9. Great article! Clothing definitely is a mood lifter. I enjoy buying and selling gently used and new things on Poshmark. Also, Mercari is very reasonable gently used clothing and accessories. eBay is also a good resource.

  10. I do have to admit I did enjoy going to Filene’s Basement when visiting Boston (decades ago). Great deals for any age. Didn’t miss the “glitz” of a department store (of which there are so few these days) when shopping there. And it was a nice time with a buddy who truly loved to shop and had a great eye for what looked good no matter what the budget.

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