Dressing professionally can become expensive. When you first get a new job or a promotion, you may need to get some new clothes for the position. This can sometimes be difficult, especially on a limited budget. In this post I’ll share with you my secrets and tips on how to dress professionally on a budget.
On a budget, you can’t expect to get a huge overhaul of your wardrobe or go on an extravagant shopping spree, although that would be nice. Adding a more professional look to your wardrobe will happen gradually as you continue to grow in your career or your position.
Throughout my career, I have started new jobs and received promotions. Many of the positions required different attire, and a few positions even had dress strict codes. I’ve used the information I’m about to share with you when I’ve needed to save money or have had a limited budget.
Shop at reasonably priced stores
You can’t expect, on a budget, to walk down 5th Avenue in midtown Manhattan armed with new shopping bags and a line of porters behind you carrying the rest. Maybe in my dreams, but this is real life, not a movie. (Sigh…)
- Start by shopping at moderately priced and affordable stores. The key to shopping in these stores is to have a lot of patience. You have to look through the racks, but you can find some great deals.
- Have a list of exactly what you want. Don’t stray from the list, even if you find some really cute jeans. Remember you have a limited budget, so don’t be afraid to take your time to looking for exactly what you need.
- Check out the quality of what you are purchasing; if it’s still in the store and is already starting to pull, pill, or look faded.
- There are different levels of quality items that you will need depending on the job you have. It’s definitely worth investing a little more (if you can) to buy quality basics, as they will last you a little longer. If you can’t, that’s okay, too. Do what you can now, and as you earn more money, begin to add some more professional items to your wardrobe.
- Try it on. I know sometimes the line is long or you just don’t feel like getting undressed or redressed, but this will save you the time, money, (some stores have wonky return policies where you only get a credit or only get back the sale price) and effort in the long run. If it doesn’t look good in the dressing room, it is not going to look any better when you get it home.
- Bonus tip – Remember, just because they sell it in the store doesn’t mean it looks good or is professional.
Look for deals by shopping online
Stores may offer some great discounts on clothing. Sometimes, the deals online are actually better than in the stores. A few weeks ago, I saw a deal on pants in Old Navy; all of the style pants were on sale online, but when I went into the store, only two of the pant styles were on sale. They were skinny pants, so I passed on those. (Plus it’s not really the professional look I needed). I spoke with a manager and found out that this happens frequently. So, make sure to double-check that the deals online can be better than in the store. It turns out it was cheaper to buy the pants online by using the Ebates® app. (This is a great way is to combine discounts.)
- Ebates®- Is a program where you sign up to become a member. When you shop online, use the Ebates® app or website, and when you make a purchase, you earn a percentage of your total purchase (this varies by store). Ebates® pays you by gift card or check, which is sent to you through the mail. The checks are sent several times per year. In other words, you get to make money just for shopping! How great is that?
Download apps to your phone
There are fantastic apps that provide you up-to-date information on the sales in your local stores. You can open many of these apps for discounts at the register. These are two of my favorites…
- Retail Me Not – Provides you with the in-store and online sales.
- Shopular – Provides current deals, weekly circulars, and promotions for shopping online for a variety of stores.
Shop at the outlets
They offer great deals and discounts on top of sales within the stores.
- Tanger® Outlets – The outlet center offers a coupon book for $5.00. You can usually find it in vending machines throughout the outlet. In the book, they have savings off of your total purchases. Check the coupons first, sometimes you need to spend a certain amount of money to get the discount. (This is great id you can save up for it).
- Tanger Club – Offers discounts and rewards for just recording your purchases through the app. You take a picture of your receipt and earn rewards of gifts and gift cards just for shopping.
- Discounted memberships – These entitle you to a free (yes, you read it right, free) discount book at the outlet. So, bring the cards that you have to the customer service office.
- AAA Members – This only works for you if you own a car. These days, I am out of luck, as they don’t offer discounts for those of us who take public transportation, but you can bring a friend who does drive. That’s what I do!
- Hometown Heroes – This card is for firefighters, EMT’s, and law enforcement
- College Students – Just bring your picture id.
- Military Personnel – Just bring your military id.
- AARP – Just bring your picture id.
Purchase gift cards for yourself
This may sound a little crazy, but it can really save you money. Stores sometimes offer a 10-20% discount on their gift cards. If it’s a store you know you are going to shop in, buy gift cards. This way, you have already saved the money before even begin adding in the sales, coupons, or deals.
Many stores can offer great deals, special discounts, and/ or awards programs
These stores I’ve listed either offer a rewards program, great deals and sales, or low prices throughout the year.
- Ann Taylor Loft – (not the outlet store). They offer a 15 percent discount to all teachers on your total purchase.
- Burlington Coat Factory – During the winter, you can donate a coat, and they will give you a 10 percent off coupon. So not only do you clear your closet and give a coat to someone in need, you also save some money. (This is fantastic)!
- They also have really good deals on men’s suits.
- Century 21 Department Stores – This store has some great deals year round. They have a rewards card that you can attach to your key chain. They offer rewards or the points you earn.
- The men’s section has suits that you can purchase off of the rack, and these tend to be less expensive. They also have unhemmed suits they can tailor on site or you can always purchase the suits and take them to your local dry cleaner – they have better prices for alterations.
- H & M – Has low prices daily and frequently offers sales. This store is geared toward a younger crowd, but they still have some pieces you can add into your wardrobe.
- Khol’s – They have a ton of early bird specials, weekly deals, and Khol’s Cash. For every $50 you spend, you earn $10, and sometimes even $20 (this is usually during holiday time).
- Old Navy – They offer Super Cash – For every $25 you spend, you can use $10 of your Super Cash Money. You can use it for on-line purchases too.
- For more tips on deals check out 10 Secrets You Need to Know Before Shopping Old Navy for the secrets to saving money at Old Navy.
- Portobello Men’s Store – This store often has buy one suit, get two free deals. Three suits for the price of one is not a bad deal.
- Target – They have weekly deals in the curricular, the Cartwheel app, and target coupons. Offers occasional 10 – to 20 – percent discounts on gift cards, so you can buy a target gift card and already save the percentage.
- Mark downs for women’s clothing happen on Tuesdays, and Wednesdays is the mark downs for men’s clothing.
- TJMaxx® and Marshalls® – These stores tend to have low prices year round.
- January and July are the stores’ biggest savings.
- They occasionally offer 10 – to 20 -percent discounts on gift cards.
- Check the tags for lowest prices on deals. Purple tags signify the item is right from the runway. Red tags is discounts. Yellow tags are clearance and will not be discounted any lower; they are final sale.
- The TJ Maxx® Downtown Brooklyn gets shipments daily. (You can learn a lot from the dressing room attendants). Men’s shirts and ties can be purchased for at or below $15.
- For more tips on deals check out 19 Freaking Amazing Ways to Save at TJ Maxx (I think this title says it all)!
- Good Will and the Salvation Army – (Now before you make a face, just continue reading) Both sell suits, and many of them are name brand. There are many items that till have the tags on them. (This may come from those people who didn’t try them on in the store or thought that it would better at home. They forget to return them and decide to donate them).
- Some of the Salvation Army locations have $10 per bag deals on select days. Check out your local stores for deals.
Shop at holiday and change-of-season sales throughout the year
Now that you know where to purchase a few items to add to begin building your professional wardrobe, you can start to get rid of some of those logo and concert tees (or save them for your weekends). By paying attention to sales and shopping where you know you’ll find great deals, you can save money while still creating that professional look you want in the office.
Please share any secrets or tips you may have for dressing for success on a budget!
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