Build Your Capsule Wardrobe on a Budget

April 03, 2017

I can't believe we're already on part 4 of the capsule wardrobe series.  I also can't believe I've had that much to say about it so far, and I still don't feel like I'm done.  If you need a reminder - part 1 was about finding your personal style, part 2 was about purging your closet, and part 3 was about the different types of capsule wardrobes you could try.  Today, I wanted to talk about how to find those pieces you still need to complete your capsule, but on a budget.


I'm all about pulling your capsule wardrobe from what you already have and love.  But I recognize that, especially for people who just figured out their personal style and purged their wardrobe for the first time, you will need to go out and purchase a few pieces to really complete the capsule you're going for.  Maybe every outfit you pinned included black riding boots, and you don't even own a pair.  Or in the previous posts I mentioned how you shouldn't hold on to a sweater you don't love just because you don't have a replacement yet that you do love.  Here's my tips on finding that perfect replacement or new piece that will complete the capsule wardrobe puzzle.  On a budget of course.

Setting a Budget

I feel like that's a question that comes up often when trying to make a capsule wardrobe on a budget - how much do I spend on clothes?  Experts recommend the 5% rule.  5% of your take home pay (after taxes.)  If you take home $3,500 a month, that's $2,100 a year and $175 per month.  That's just a rough guideline though - if you have debt, in my opinion your clothing budget is $0.  But that's just me.  Use the 5% rule as a guideline and adjust from there.  If you feel like money is already tight, or if you have money saving goals like travel, then cut that number down.  When you have a capsule and invest in the right pieces that last multiple years, you don't need $2,100 worth of new clothes each year, I promise.  In 2016, I think I bought underwear.  That's about it.  Oh and a plaid shirt at Target for $4 on clearance.

Once you figure out that number, calculate it out by a shopping time frame that works for you.  If you want to buy something each month then put that amount aside monthly.  Some people like to splurge by season, and pick up new items as the weather changes and spending $400-$500 just a couple of times per year.  I can't tell you the best way to budget and finance your particular shopping style, but I can tell you how to stretch it to make your capsule wardrobe work for you.

Saving Money

The Basics
There are some things about saving money on clothing that might be universal knowledge, so I'll just share them quickly: shop out of season, coats are cheaper when spring hits than when temperatures first dip in the fall; coupon apps and store mailing lists will save you tons of money; befriend a salesperson if you love something, they'll alert you when it's on sale and maybe hide it for you; shop major sale days like Cyber Monday, Boxing Day, pretty much any holiday; sit on purchases for awhile to make sure it's not just an impulse buy; try thrift stores but realize the time commitment that takes; and take care of your clothes properly to ensure they last a long time.

Never Shop Without a Plan
Everyone is different and every capsule is different and I don't like to impose rules like 'always' or 'never' except (a) always wear shoes at a wedding, ya nasty, and (b) if you are on a budget and/or trying to maintain a minimal closet, never ever ever shop without a plan.  If you've previously made a habit to shop out of boredom, to feel better, or for something fun to do, we need to nip that in the bud.  Shopping is not a hobby.  Well, I should say, shopping is not a hobby if you are trying to be conscious of your budget.  Stores are designed to suck you in and make you spend, particularly on 'fast fashion' - those items that cost little and are made cheaply, and therefore fall apart quickly but you never care because they're out of style that quickly anyway.  And cycle repeats.  Great for stores, terrible for your bottom line.  You're not going to build a personal wardrobe this way, you're just filling space in a closet.  At the end of the day, in order to save the most money, you need to be very intentional with your purchases by having a vision of where your wardrobe is heading.  The good thing is, you have that vision.  You already made a plan in step 2 when you purged your closet and figured out what was left and what was missing, and you further solidified it in step 3, when you figured out what type of capsule you were going for.  Do not deviate from this list.

Start at the Back of the Store
The new, full-priced items are at the front of the store to entice you and get you to wander aisles and aisles of their clothing.  By the time to get to the back of the store, where the clearance items are, you're too tired and possibly already have your arms full.  So shop backwards and start at the back of the store, at those clearance racks.  If you can't find what you need there, then you can look at the rest of the store.  Remember though, those items will be moved to those sale racks in a matter of days, just be patient.

Spending Money

Budget Accordingly - Spend More on Classics, Less on Trends
This applies to both time and money.  Spend more money on and time finding the perfect classic pieces that you love and will last years in your capsule, and less time and money on finding trendy pieces that last just a season or two.  It's completely fine if your personal style is trendy and you like to keep up with new looks on the runways.  I don't think a capsule wardrobe can only be neutral and timeless, not in the slightest.  You can get a new trendy piece each season if you like to update your style that way!  Just don't spend the bulk of your money there, and don't waste your time hunting down that 'perfect' neon yellow mini skirt that fits just right, because it won't stand the test of time.  Classics and staples also match with more items, giving them more wear throughout your wardrobe than trendy items that can't be worn as often.  So for staples, like neutral shoes and boots, jeans, the little black dress, take your time finding something that really is the ideal piece and be willing to spend a little more to get it.

Budget Accordingly - By Season
If you live in Chicago like me, there is no reason to spend $100 on a Victoria's Secret swimsuit and $40 on a winter coat.  You have that completely backwards.  It might not be the most fun thing in the world to spend your clothing budget on outerwear but you need to be realistic about the fact that (a) you spend more time in cold weather here than warm and (b) cold weather clothing is more expensive than warm weather.  If you live in Florida, however, disregard this section.  In fact, flip it backwards.  Buy a $20 sweatshirt and instead spend your budget on shorts and flip flops.

Budget Accordingly - By Lifestyle
When I talked about my own lifestyle, I talked about splitting into work wear versus weekend wear.  If you're a stay at home mom, yours might be split into casual week day wear versus date night outfits and the clothes you wear out when the kids are home.  Keep this in mind when you're allocating your budget.  For me, work clothes just cost more.  They need to be made from nicer fabrics and have more care put into the stitching and things like that, so I need to spend the money on better brands.  My casual weekend wear doesn't need nearly that amount of attention to detail, so I can cut way back on the budget for that area of my life.  It's also less days of the week - I spend more time at work than anything else, and my clothing budget needs to reflect that.  If you're more casual, then spend your money on comfortable, well made clothing that will last, like higher end jeans or leggings that won't wear out quickly, and substantially less money on the fancy date night shoes that only get worn once a month.

Hopefully that helps you when you're shopping for those few pieces you might still need to complete your capsule.  Anything to add that helps you save money in your closet?  Final part of the capsule wardrobe series coming next week - how to maintain a capsule wardrobe and minimalism over time.

P.S. Where I shop, because I have a feeling it's going to get asked: the Loft and Venus mostly.


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