Buying Designer on a Budget, and My Thoughts on Materialism

Dear Friends,

My ex husband used to tell me that I make more trash than anyone he knows. That’s because I’m always throwing away and donating stuff. In fact, in light of being forced to clean out every closet and drawer in the house over this last week, I’ve filled an entire garbage bag with my clothes and a box with my kids’ clothes. This got me to thinking about my “fashion budget” and the process by which I buy my and my boys’ clothes.

I grew up in a small town in Southeast Missouri, in a working class family. While my grandparents worked and built their home and their savings starting in the 1950’s while the economy was booming, the cost of living was still reasonable, and the average CEO only made 40% more in wages than his average employee (thank you, modern-day capitalism and corporate greed for ruining that), my parents did not.

They were married in 1981, while the economy was in turmoil, and I was born in 1985. My dad never graduated high school, but made a career doing blue-collar labor at a sawmill, where he mastered the skill of saw filing so perfectly that saw mills all over the region were employing him to train their filers. He earned a good living for himself, but it took time for him to build up to that, and he was very tight with his spending and adamant about saving all during my childhood.

My mom is a high school graduate, but never went to college, and also has earned a living as part of the working class, doing factory jobs for her entire adult life. While she, too, has built herself up to decent wage-earning, neither of my parents had much when I was young. Which means my clothes growing up came from Walmart, and when I hit my teenage years my grandma helped out by at least making sure I had stylish clothes from the mall department stores.

I never had much of a wardrobe, and always wore my clothes so much that I wore them completely out. I always envied the kids with the cookie-cutter houses and the white picket fences, and the Adidas-everything in my adolescence. But now, looking back, I’m grateful that we didn’t have a lot. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t living “comfortably”, either. And because of that I’ve grown up with respect for money, finances and budgeting, and an appreciation for the things that I have.

I also have developed personal tastes that rarely follow the mainstream. That used to make me feel like I didn’t quite fit in, but I’ve come to realize that this actually adds a great deal to my happiness. I don’t look to acquiring material things as a source of happiness, and the things I do have I LOVE because they are “me”.

I also really hate clutter and love to have things in their place. An overabundance of things stresses me out, which is probably why I’m always looking for things to weed out or get rid of. Haven’t used it in a couple of months? Then I don’t need it. Haven’t worn that sweater all winter? Time for it to go! This makes parenting especially hard for me, particularly where my youngest son is concerned, because he is a hopeless packrat. Anything he thinks he might be able to find a use for, he drags it home. And then when he forgets about it a week later, Mom sneaks it into the trash bin!

Anyhow,  back to the main topic – my fashion on a budget!

I used to have a pretty strong disliking for all things designer. When I was younger this was mostly due to envy that I couldn’t have those things. But as I got older and more aware of money, it was due more to my belief that designer goods were overpriced, and that they contributed to materialism, which I feel is a major factor in the decline of societal values. And in many ways that is probably true. But in 2014, an incident with a $25 Walmart purse changed my perspective by forcing me to realize…you get what you pay for.

I was doing my weekly shopping at Walmart (which was pretty much the only store available in my former small town), and walked by the purses on my way to the makeup aisle. I spotted a purse that I thought was cute and my current one was about worn out (I’d had it for all of about four months), so I decided to grab it. That purse lasted exactly a month before the handle came loose from the bag.

That was the point at which I stopped to consider what I was doing. I couldn’t believe there were people who would actually spend $200.00 ON A PURSE! But what was I doing? Spending $25.00 on a purse that lasted a month. If I had to buy a new purse every month for a year, that would come to $300.00 a year just for purses! So really…what was the difference? A real leather handbag would certainly last longer than a month. I did some research and discovered that, yes, they in fact last years.

So I decided to become that person and drop $200.00 on a white Michael Kors Hamilton Saffiano handbag from TJ Maxx, which was the discounted price from retail of $398.00. I had a major bout of anxiety at the checkout, just thinking of how many tops I could buy with the same amount of money I was spending on ONE item! But ya know what? That was four years ago, and I still have that handbag!!! I sure can’t say that for the $25 Walmart cheapie that I would’ve replaced 48 times over by now!

And so began my love of designer bags. Since then I’ve bought and sold (because they hold their value, so you can even sell your used bags and make back more money than you spend on a brand new department store bag) several different designer bags, until I figured out my exact preference for size and functionality. I now have three bags large enough to carry my books and magazines, plus two smaller ones for pairing with Spring and Summer outfits. I’m still on the lookout for a perfect basic black leather bag, and my collection will be complete.

A couple of years after beginning my designer bag collection (which I now buy exclusively from EBay because they are usually about half the price of retail), someone asked me if I’ve ever used ThredUp. Thred…what?? I’d never heard of it! She said it was an online consignment site with an app you could download. Pshhh consignment? What on earth do I want with someone else’s used junk?!

But since I tend to be of the “don’t knock it ’til you try it” variety, I decided to download the app and see what she was talking about. And my clothes buying method, and the contents of my closet, changed forever.

ThredUp is consignment, so it is someone else’s used stuff. But the developer of this business is a fashion genius. They sort through all of the clothes they receive via the cleanout bags that people send in, and they keep only the best quality, practically new stuff that is still the current style. My first thought was, “how on earth are there people out there who have so much stuff that they actually get rid of these things because they don’t wear them?!” But my next thought was, “who cares, their shopping problem works to my benefit!”

You can also set your sizes, so all you have to do is swipe a button and it narrows down the results based on your sizes. You can also save your brands and narrow your search that way as well. It took several months of shopping and trial and error, but I finally figured out which brands I love the most. The short list: J.Crew, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Joe’s Jeans, Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, Calvin Klein, Cythia Rowley, Diane Von Furstenburg…there are just SO many. And these are all brands I never would’ve worn in the past, because I could never afford the retail prices!

Over the last two years I’ve placed 25 orders, both for me and my kids, because they have children’s clothing too. And in that time I’ve slowly filtered out my wardrobe. I’ve gotten rid of my old, worn out department store clothes as I’ve replaced them with designer items that are high quality and will last for years before needing replaced.

I’ve also made sure to take extra-special care of them, especially the wool sweaters and cardigans. I wash on gentle in cold water, hang dry, and then toss in the dryer for a few minutes to de-wrinkle. And since I have a petite, slender build, I’ve also learned another trick – buy my pants based on the waist size, then use the sewing machine to take them in myself. One of the benefits to growing up in a working class family? I became proficient at using the sewing machine! No alteration costs, I can DIY it!

That’s the other thing I love about ThredUp. Ladies, we all know how women’s sizing works. A size small might be a small, medium, or large depending on the brand and on the items within each brand. Well ThredUp actually lists detailed sizing. For instance, that dress might be a small, but it also tells you what the circumference of the chest is, as well as the length. Their pants will tell you the waist size, rise, and inseam. So you will know before you buy it if it is actually your size, which means the only reason you have for returning is if you flat-out don’t like how it looks on you.

So I work $85.00 a month into my budget for purchasing wardrobe pieces, and this almost exclusively comes from ThredUp. On the rare occasion I might hit up TJ Maxx or Target for an item or two. But that’s it. And if I need a new handbag? Just use two months of my budget and buy one from EBay! ThredUp also has shoes, and this month I just ordered my very first pair of Manolo Blahnik’s…a $395 pair of black heels for $64.00!

Since ThredUp doesn’t offer men’s clothing, and my boys are starting to outgrow “kids” stuff, I had to find another option for shopping for them. Up until now I’ve been purchasing their stuff from ThredUp too. I’ve had a $1,500.00 per year budget for their clothes, since they’re still growing and outgrowing things every year. So I would spend $250.00 each on them for summer clothes, and $500.00 each on them for back to school, including their backpacks, shoes and school supplies.

Well, they’re finally starting to slow down on their growing and have reached a point where they can wear the same shorts and shirts, and maybe some pants depending on the length, for a couple of years, therefore cutting back on how much I need to buy them. However, that also means that I’ve needed to start shopping for small men’s sizes rather than large kids’ sizes. And ThredUp just doesn’t have that available.

So I did a search and found a list of the top consignment sites, which led me to Swap.com. They have men’s clothes, slightly higher in price than ThredUp, but still totally affordable. I just completed their summer wardrobes with new shirts and a few new pair of shorts for a total of about $400.00. And a survey of all of their clothes, which are currently all hanging up in the basement, has led me to the realization that they are more than sufficiently stocked for the next school year, so all I will need to buy them this summer are shoes, backpacks and school supplies for back to school!

So there you have it! An annual budget for my kids’ wardrobes of $1,500.00 for the pair (which will likely be much less now that they’re not needing a full wardrobe replacement each year), and a budget of $85.00 a month for me, all for designer, quality clothes that will last, by shopping online consignment at ThredUp and Swap.com!

Love,
Loren

Olivia
Photo Cred: coveteur.com

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