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Being fashionable is a great way to express your individuality and let your personality glow. Fortunately, there’s absolutely no reason to break the bank in doing this, as you’ll easily see with these tips on how to be fashionable on a budget.

It’s perfectly fine to want to keep an eye on your spending while also keeping an eye on your looks. In fact, finding the balance between having your sense of style to shine through while taking control of your finances is a great way to ensure your money management is sustainable for the long term.

Fortunately, when money is tight or you’re just on a budget, looking great does not have to cost a lot.

In particular, using affordable fashion choices can be one of the best choices for updating your wardrobe. To see just how to do this, keep reading to learn more about how to look sophisticated on a budget.

budget sheets


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How to be fashionable on a budget

1. Use cash back apps

When buying clothes – or anything, really – there’s no reason these days why you should ever pay full price. With so many apps out there that have the goal of allowing you to save money, all you have to do is install them to help cut your fashion costs.

Ibotta is one of the best for this. This app gives you money back on your shopping at over 500,000 online and brick and mortar stores, including plenty of clothing and accessories retailers.

All you have to do is sign up with Ibotta to get started. You’ll even get a free $20 welcome bonus just for downloading the app!

Ibotta app cash back example from shopping


Free sign-up bonus: $20

Ibotta’s a completely free app that gives you cash back on what you’re buying already – groceries, medicine, clothes and more.

In fact, users make $150 per year on average – not including your free $20 welcome bonus – with over $682 million having been paid out, so you know Ibotta is definitely legit.

2. Get automatic discounts on your online shopping

There’s nothing stopping you from doubling up the savings you got with your cash back app with the advantages offered by another app. 

Honey is a great example of this. It’s an app that automatically finds the best deals for your online shopping on over 30,000 websites.

It also instantly searches for coupon codes and automatically applies them at check out with just one click. All you have to do is add the free Honey extension to your browser and you’re good to go.

3. Develop your personal style

Does this sound familiar: you’re wandering around a store, see a discounted shirt on the racks, try it on, think it’s “fine” but it’s on sale so why not, buy it and then shove it in the back of your wardrobe to barely be worn ever again?

Firstly, same.

Secondly, it should be pretty clear that this isn’t exactly a winning strategy if you’re trying to look fashionable on a budget.

outfit laid out on bed for someone to be fashionable on a budget

Enter Anuschka Rees. She’s the best selling author of The Curated Closet, which aims to have you develop your personal style so you start to shop intentionally.

This isn’t quite a capsule wardrobe (although I’ll get to that shortly). Instead, it moves you away from having an overstuffed closet with items you may or not wear. You’ll then be encouraged to move towards a leaner wardrobe with things that aren’t necessarily all the cheapest around, but that are all things you actually like – and look good in.

It’s a great strategy to help you save money while also helping you to look more expensive with pieces that actually align with your personal style.

4. Build a capsule wardrobe

If the idea of a curated closet doesn’t quite catch your interest, then what about the ever-popular concept of the capsule wardrobe?

This has really caught on in recent years, especially as people start to realize the benefits of minimalism. Not only can this be a great trick to save money, but having less stuff is a seriously good way to reduce your overall stress levels.

To help you get started with this, Wendy Mak’s book The Capsule Wardrobe shows you how to create 1,000 outfits from just 30 pieces. As you can probably tell from that alone, this can be a highly effective way to be fashionable on a budget.

5. Go thrifting

Thrift shopping is perhaps the most obvious idea if you’re trying to look cute on a budget by thrift shopping – but that’s because it works! 

When looking at thrift stores, you may be surprised at how easy it is to find big-name brands at discount prices. That said, your mileage may vary depending on where you live. Don’t forget that the general demographic of an area where the thrift store is will affect the sizes, selection and style of clothing you can find.

clothes on a rack for someone to look fancy on a budget

For example, I found a great designer-brand graphic tee that looked really new in a college town. I also, on a couple of different occasions, found some classic blazers that were barely worn, which was perfect when trying to dress professionally on a budget in my first job after college.

One great tip is to stop by your favorite thrift shop and strike up a conversation with the cashier to see if they can give you the inside scoop on when new pieces come in. More popular thrift stores will see “new” items scooped up in a matter of hours, so this can be a good way to get ahead of the crowd if you’re looking for classy clothes on a budget.

budget sheets


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6. Start thrifting online

You don’t actually have to leave your home to get the benefits of thrifting. Instead, there are now a ton of online stores selling great clothes at affordable prices, allowing you to save big on many of your favorite pieces. 

In my opinion, online thrifting is by far the best way to look fancy on a budget. After all, it means you’re not limited to the range of clothes on offer in your local area. Instead, you’ve got basically the entire country as a source of great deals.

outfit laid on bed for someone to dress expensive on a budget

Most of these sites have bags, clothing, jewelry, shoes and so much more. You can also search by designer, size, clothing type or anything else.

The best site to use will depend on what you’re looking for. For example, if you’re trying to look rich without spending money (well, not too much), you probably want to go for second hand designer pieces. Poshmark is likely going to be the best site for this.

However, if you want to dress classy on a tight budget but don’t care about name brands, a site like Mercari could work better for you. 

Related: 19 Legit Companies That Send You Free Products to Review

7. Organize a clothes swap party

A fun thing to do with friends if you’re trying to be fashionable with no money and have fun doing it is to host a clothes swap party.

How it works is that you and your friends bring a bunch of clothes and other accessories that you don’t want anymore. All of these unwanted pieces are then pooled for people to then pick out new items that their friends have brought.

It’s an incredibly effective way for all of you to refresh your wardrobes without spending any money. After all, one of your friend’s trash could easily be your treasure!

(And by the way, there are other ways to get free shoes if that’s your main focus here.) 

8. Borrow clothes from friends

Sometimes you’re trying to be fashionable on a budget for a specific event rather than over the longer term. For example, if you feel like you have nothing to wear for an upcoming event but really, truly don’t want to spend money on a new outfit, talk to some of your relatives, buddies or even acquaintances if it looks like they have a comparable build. 

You never know if some of them would be open to lending a certain piece to you, especially if they’re also on board with the idea of living on a budget. They could even have something that they’re willing to give away to you entirely, which can be an even bigger money saver.

Just make sure that if they do expect the item to be returned, give it back clean and in good condition. Wine spills from that wedding you wore a borrowed dress to are a big no-no.

9. Plan outfits based on what’s in your wardrobe

One of the popular no-spend challenge ideas out there to save money involves planning meals based on what’s already in your pantry, rather than going out to buy new ingredients.

And the exact same logic can apply to what you wear. That is, really take a look in your wardrobe for what’s in there to figure out some new ways how you can make things work together.

rack with clothes on it to help someone look more expensive

You may want to start by pulling literally everything out and laying it around the room so you can see just what you have. This more than likely includes a few pieces that you’ve forgotten about and could spark a flash of inspiration for your next outfit.

Part of successfully being able to dress expensive on a budget is being able to whip out a new outfit. So imagine if that new outfit is already in your wardrobe, just waiting to be discovered!

(And if you’re looking for ideas on how to store all these great outfits, check out our article on storage ideas for small spaces on a budget.)

10. Buy classic pieces at the end of a season

It’s no surprise that clothes are generally at their cheapest as the season ends. However, the problem if you buy something ultra fashionable then is that it may not actually be in fashion when the same season rolls around next year.

However, if you combine this strategy with only buying classic pieces, you’ll be able to save a ton of money. For example, a beautifully cut blazer or perfectly fitting jeans will always be in fashion. And if you grab them as summer starts to roll around – when the weather is too warm to even consider wearing jeans – you’ll not only have the chance to save a ton but will be ready to strut your stuff once the temperature starts to drop again!

11. Plan out looks ahead of time

Ah, frivolous impulse buys, where “I need this!” turns into “what is this?” as soon as you see your bank statement. Not great when you’re trying to look rich on a poor man’s budget.

To avoid this, consider getting a solid idea of outfits or looks that you will keep in your rotation so as to allow yourself to curate the perfect wardrobe. 

Look for inspiration on blogs, passersby or magazines. Knowing how clothing pieces will overall look together can help you save money to create outfits where each one is an ensemble. Really give yourself the opportunity to define and envision your personal style.

 One great trick here is to make something like a Pinterest board. Playing around with looks online is free and is the easiest way to start implementing this. This will let you collect all of your brilliant ideas and have them available in just a few clicks once you want to start putting these looks together. 

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