Capsule dressing on a budget

I suppose that everyone has a budget for their clothes, determine by how much they actually spend. So what I really mean by this title is capsule dressing on a limited budget. Finances aren’t everyone’s favorite topic, so I don’t know how often I’ll explore related issues on here but I know that limited budgets are one of the main points raised by people who believe they are unable to dress with a capsule wardrobe.

So, here’s my story. I need to maintain both a professional and casual wardrobe and a personal care routine on a budget of about $600 per year. My husband is a graduate student and that fact ties up most of our discretionary spending. It’s a choice we made so that we could dip into our savings as little as possible during this time.

I realize that $600 is a lot of money for many people. I want to tread carefully here – $600 is a very limited budget for someone in my position at my age. I would estimate that most of my peers spend significantly more than that. And that dollar amount includes shoes, winter gear and things like makeup and haircuts – all of which take up a significant portion of my spending.

First, a word on how I set aside my budget: $50 each month is earmarked for personal care/my wardrobe. I don’t always spend it monthly though – more often than not I let it build up for a while and then make purchases in spurts. If I spent my allowance each month I would probably buy more things and be hyper-focused on getting the best price for something. But here are my suggestions for making a limited budget work:

1. Ignore the fact that the most vocal capsule dressers spend significantly more than you do. Capsule dressing is definitely advocated by individuals who appear to have very comfortable lives. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but realize that there are other people (hi! me!) who make a capsule work with limited resources. Buy the best you can afford is a great principal to abide by, even if it’s tough to swallow when you hear it from someone who appears to be able to buy extremely high quality.
2. Find out what you wear frequently and spend accordingly. For me, that’s work trousers, jeans and basic tees. I try to spend as little as possible on basic tees because they always give out. However, for trousers and jeans I’ve learned that spending a bit more means they’ll last much longer.
3. Keep some clothing from pre-capsule days. I have a modest selection of clothing that I set aside during my purges. I know that much of what I own is of lower quality and will not stand the test of frequent wear. In anticipation of that, I have kept several items to replace my current capsule with when they wear out.
4. Shop consignment. Consignment stores are very different from thrift stores and my experience has been that they are focused on clothing that is at most two seasons old. I have sold the occasional dress or pair of shoes at a consignment store, and I have purchased blouses and jeans from our local consignment. The prices are much better than initial retail, and (good) consignment stores are extremely picky about quality. You’re buying something with a lot of life left in it when you go to a consignment store.
5. Plan purchases. Here is where capsule dressing really saves money. Nearly all of my purchases are planned to fill an actual hole in my closet which means that I’m not spending money on unnecessary items. With my fall capsule basically set I am evaluating my winter clothing right now and trying to determine whether there is anything I’ll need. On the same wavelength, now (end of summer) would be a great time to replace any summer basics that got worn out this year. My shorts and sandals look like they’ll be good for another year so I won’t be doing this, but I did do some fall shopping earlier this summer when things from last fall/winter were on clearance.
6. Pay attention to what doesn’t work. Old Navy is one of my favorite stores, and much of my wardrobe is currently from there. It’s not the greatest quality, and I understand that this means I will be replacing items more frequently than if I bought better clothes to begin with. But ON works in my budget, so Old Navy it is. That being said, Old Navy does not get all of my business. I have had really bad luck with light weight sweaters, shoes and swim wear from the store. So I go elsewhere for those purchases. I shop online most of the time, and occasionally an ON purchase will be much thinner than I expected. I’ll return those immediately. That’s the gamble I take shopping at a lower end store – but the key is to shop smarter and not repurchase items that consistently miss the mark.

Any other suggestions for me? I would love to hear them!

2 thoughts on “Capsule dressing on a budget

  1. lethally

    I used to spend waaaaaay more than I do now. These days, I’d be surprised if I spend $500 a year. Probably not. I recently culled my wardrobe as part of the Project 333 which I’ve started, and most of it was 3 + years old. Which is good. The problem is I don’t know when to let go of stuff. I hang on to it, for grim death!

    Looking good really isn’t about spending the money, it’s about spending wisely. I’m learning that. It’s taken me a long time to learn, but I’m getting there!

    1. Sara Post author

      I totally agree! I have always enjoyed fashion and getting dressed, so my spending used to be a lot higher than it is now. However, I’ve also found that most of the minimalist-fashion bloggers (I’d exclude P333 from this, because she’s not interested in fashion) are big spenders! They may not buy a lot of things but they are still spending a lot of money. I think that leads to the assumption that minimalist fashion is an elitist way of dressing, unfortunately. Spending wisely and choosing carefully are really the keys!


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