Growing Your Wardrobe on a Limited Budget


As a freelance writer I have a limited wardrobe. In the summer I live in shorts and t-shirts and in the winter I have a few favorite sweat suits that almost never come off.  However, in my life before writing I worked at a hospital as an Outreach Coordinator. Essentially I interfaced with other hospitals in the State and coordinated interactions with our medical specialists.

It was a pediatric hospital.

I had a blast at that job. It was my favorite place to work. My immediate boss was the hospital CEO. He had a sign on his desk he expected me to obey . . . “Proceed until apprehended!”

I proceeded and thankfully was never apprehended. 🙂  At the time we had two small children and the third had just arrived.  Money was flowing out faster in day care expenses than I could bring it in. At that point I began learning a few tricks to building a wardrobe for work on a budget.

Where before I could walk into a store and grab what I wanted from the rack without looking at the price tag, I realized it was time to stop indulging my shopping habits and learn new ones.  Life was going to be different  . . .


I was a totally different size after having had my third baby and hoping to lose more weight. But, with a tighter budget, buying a new wardrobe for this body and another one later was completely out of the question. It was time to learn new skills.

Step One: Create a budgetoct6keepitsimple

We had a budget. Well, to be honest it was a loose budget that neither one of us had adhered to before. However, the extra money that had always carried us through was going to paying day care for child number three.

So, I sat down and put together a reasonable budget that gave us some freedom but wouldn’t put us in debt. My ex was not interested in helping or in even hearing about it. As long as he could eat out for lunch every day, he didn’t care.

Unfortunately, his daily lunch habit cut drastically into my clothes budget. Sigh.

Step Two: Pull Out the Clothes Money Each Month

Every month I pulled the money out of our account and saved it to start my wardrobe. In the meantime, I worked on my early pregnancy clothing. By using some loose belts and altering them I found I could use them as I was in that in between body stage without looking like I was still pregnant.

Step Three: Cut My Expenses

If my ex wouldn’t cut his expenses, I could cut mine. Anything I saved went toward clothing for work and play. I didn’t eat out more than once a week and canceled the gym membership my ex kept swearing he would use. Instead, I committed to use my outdoor bike more frequently and bought new running shoes.

Step Four: Choose Quality Over Quantity

Great clothes last longer than cheap ones. I’ll bet you knew that! But, when faced with a limited number of choices in your closet, you might be tempted to buy 3 thin shirts instead of one classic.

Choose the one classic quality-made shirt that can be paired with slacks, skirt or suit. You’ll be glad you did and most people won’t recognize the same shirt in different outfits. Good quality doesn’t necessarily mean high price – and high price doesn’t necessarily mean good quality.

Take your time to feel the fabric, check the care instructions and look closely at the seams. If the fabric feels like it will last, it probably will. But if you can see through the fabric because it’s so thin, or the seams are already pulling, it probably is not a good choice.

Step Five: Buy the Essentials

Essentials: black and white colors with accent pieces, well-structured purse, classic necklaces and earrings and the type of clothing expected at your place of business.  If skirts and shirts are the basic format for work wardrobe, then be sure you have a basic black skirt and several colorful tops to match.

Step Six: Pick Your Shopping Stops

Steer clear of brand name clothing that charges more for the name than they do for the actual piece you’re buying.  Would it be nice to have Jimmy Choo shoes?  Probably  . . . do they fit the budget? Probably not.

Look for clothing that looks good on YOU and not a brand name you want. You can find quality clothing at a decent price when that’s what you’re shopping for. This means taking time to shop and not rushing in, grabbing and running out. It also means spending only what you’ve saved to spend and making that money go as far as possible.

Consider secondhand shops located in high end neighborhoods. I’ve always had great luck finding high quality clothes at prices I could afford in shops just like this.

Never buy something you don’t love.  If you try to convince yourself you’ll wear it because it’s the right price, the right color or the right SOMETHING but you don’t absolutely love it in the store, you won’t wear it at home and your money will have just done a swirly down the drain.

Strongly consider simplifying your color palette.  My youngest daughter has done that instinctively. Everything she wears is black or grey. She pulls out a shirt and pants and they all match. Everything matches, always. At work, all black or grey with bold colored accessories makes an incredible wardrobe that is simple to develop.

If hours of shopping at stores for great deals is not your thing, consider spending that time at home, in front of your computer. You can surf for great deals online while you’re watching a movie or listening to music in the comfort of your home. Just be sure you know the return policies and your sizes. My sister loves shopping online at Shoe Buy for shoes. They have an amazing return policy and she can usually find sales.

Step Six: YOU are the Palette

oct6shoppingRemember that the clothes you wear are only a small part of how you look.  The clothes are draped over your body and below your hair and makeup. Take time to perfect your cosmetic and beauty routines – you’ll be very glad you did.

Your clothes also look better on your body when you are satisfied with your body. It won’t matter how much you weigh or how far out of shape you are, when you are satisfied with HOW you look you will always look better.

Many people easily pick up on nonverbal cues. When you’re uncomfortable you’ll show it and others will see it. Be comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing and the body you’re in – and if you’re not, then start to change it.

TIP: If you love the clothing but it doesn’t fit directly off the rack, consider finding a good tailor. Not many people can wear clothes off the rack and look the way the manufacturer intended. Sometimes a tuck here and nip there is all it takes to look like a million.


It’s easy to say “change your body” and much harder to actually get it done. After years of stress eating chocolate and ice cream during an exceedingly unhappy marriage, I had 35 pounds to lose and an amazing amount of muscle to regain. I’m still on that journey but I am making progress – and making progress is incredibly motivating.

Being healthy is the ultimate goal and next week you’ll discover the triad of anti-aging strategies I’m using to lose weight, feel energized and protect my skin.


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