Dress professionally on a budget | Couple Wealth
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When I got my first real job fresh out of college, I didn’t have much of a wardrobe. I had lived for 5 years in sweatshirts, jeans, and athletic clothing that was more comfortable than fashionable.

The few dress shirts and polos I had were outdated, boxy, and worn out. They were passable in a pinch, but I definitely needed to refresh my wardrobe. This became even more apparent as I got my first real job and needed to dress professionally every day.

The only challenge was that I wasn’t making much money and was still trying to pay down my student loan debt. Even so, I figured out a few ways to be able to dress professionally while shopping on a budget.

Here are some ways to trade out your college clothes for a professional wardrobe without breaking the bank.

1. Start with the Staples

When you are looking to upgrade your closet on a budget, you don’t have to do it all at once. Instead, start with the main staples that you will wear all the time in your professional attire. By upgrading those pieces of clothing first, you’ll make the biggest impact on your appearance.

To determine the key pieces of clothing to focus on first, you’ll need to understand what the dress code is at your job. For some, it can be business professional, requiring suits or dresses. Business causal attire can be more laid back and only need slacks and a polo or blouse. Depending on your dress code, you’ll be able to identify your staple pieces of clothing to focus on.

For women, this can be choosing a few key blouses and bottoms that can be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits. The same thing holds true for men. Invest in a few dress shirts, ties, and pants that can become your staple outfits for work.

2. Shop Online for Deals

Once you know which staples to focus on, start shopping for deals. Try to avoid department stores where it can be difficult to compare prices and truly get the best deal. Shopping online can be a great way to save money on clothing because you can quickly compare prices.

When you walk into a department store and see a shirt that you love, the tag may say that it is 50% off. However, is that really a great value? 50% off a price that is marked up 3 times is still more expensive. Unless you have done your research to compare to other stores, never settle for the first price that you see.

As you are looking for a specific article of clothing, start your search online. Narrow down the style, color, and brand that you are most interested in. Compare pricing across multiple suppliers to see if there is one that offers it at a lower price. See if there are sales or coupons available that can help to drive down the price.

3. Look for Alternative Brands

Well-known fashion brands will always be more expensive. Even though they might be trendy and chic, stay away from high-priced fashion brands while you are building your wardrobe on a budget.

Instead of buying one Giorgio Armani suit for $3,000, you could buy 10 lower-priced suits for the same amount of money. When you find the right deals and choose a different brand, it may be possible to save even more money. Yes, there will be some difference in quality, but most people won’t even notice.

When you are building your closet for work, it isn’t a fashion contest. For most jobs, the goal is to convey professionalism while completing your work, not to stand out for your fashion. It is ok to go with less-well-known brands that are more affordable. They will look just as good and save you more money.

4. Keep it Simple

As with many things, the simpler your outfit is, the easier it is to save money. You don’t have to have a unique outfit for every day of the year. It is ok to reuse pieces of your clothing to create different looks while keeping it simple.

A co-worker of mine nails this by sticking to neutral greys and black tops and bottoms. She will add in a variety of necklaces, shawls, and cardigans to give some variety. By keeping her base clothing simple, it is easier to control costs.

Instead of owning 30 different shoes, you can get by with 2 or 3 simple staples that can be adapted for the day. I have two primary pairs of dress shoes: black and brown. Depending on my pant and belt color, I rotate between those two shoes to keep it simple.

5. Buy in Bulk

There are times when you can get a better value on your clothing when you buy in bulk. There may be buy one, get one free sales that help to get double the clothing for less cost.

Stores like Costco often offer great deals on clothing that still looks professional. When you find a good deal and know you like the style and fit, try buying a few of it. I grabbed a few pairs of dress pants from Costco at a great price and now have black, blue, and grey pants.

When you are buying clothes in bulk, make sure that it is something that you will still want to use for many years. There’s nothing worse than buying multiple blouses and then realizing they don’t quite fit or you don’t like the style. Buying in bulk can help to drive down costs but make sure you are in love with the clothes.

6. Stick to Your Own Style

When you go out shopping or watch TV, you might get convinced that you have to follow the style of other people. If you try to copy the style of other people, there is a good chance you will end up over-spending. Instead of trying to keep up with other people, stick to your own style choices.

Even when comparing yourself to other people in your office, you don’t have to compete with them. Other people may be more established in their career and be able to afford more expensive clothing. That doesn’t mean that their style or clothing choice is any better than yours… it is just different.

Especially as you are starting out in your career and building your wardrobe on a budget, it is ok to create your own style. As long as you are still professional, it is ok to embrace your style preferences while sticking to your budget.

7. Offset the Cost through Side Hustles

As you try to dress professionally on a budget, you may find that you need more clothes than you have. To help offset those costs, look for ways to earn extra money to increase your budget. Earning a couple hundred dollars extra per month could go a long with towards buying more clothing.

The first place to look to earn extra money is in your existing closet. See if there are any pieces of clothing that you do no wear anymore and you would be willing to sell. Those old dresses, shoes, or outdated suits could all be sold for some extra money. Post pictures online to sell them on Craigslist, Facebook groups, or eBay. You can then use that money to fund getting new professional clothing for your career.

Besides selling clothes, there are plenty of other ways to make some extra cash. Pick a side hustle that appeals to you and start to build an extra source of income. Not only will it help to offset the cost of clothing, but you can put anything extra towards your savings and investments.

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