4 Tips for Buying Brand-Name Clothes on a Budget

Advertising Disclosure: When you buy something by clicking links on our site, we may earn a small commission, but it never affects the products or services we recommend.

Image Not Available

My mother has always been frugal, but I didn’t learn to pinch pennies till I was in college. Even then, there were a couple of luxuries I refused to give up – like an ever-growing shoe collection and trips to Macy’s.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to sacrifice those wants in order to afford my needs. Perhaps more than any other category of purchases, it’s quite realistic to never pay full price for clothing and shoes, and I take that mentality with me every time I hit the mall.

When I last went clothing shopping, it helped me bring home two pairs of shorts, four pairs of shoes, and nine tops – most of which were name-brand – for less than $300. If I had paid retail price for everything, it would have cost me about $550.

Here are a few tips for maintaining a brand-name wardrobe on a college student’s budget…

Image Not Available
$550 in clothing and shoes bought for less than $300

1) Plan ahead. I plan mall trips with the same level of detail that I plot out road trips. Most savvy shoppers know to check the Internet for coupons before leaving the house, but don’t forget to also visit the websites of the stores you plan to visit and even nearby stores that you aren’t planning to buy from. This is the best way to find out about the latest sales right from the source.

2) Think outfits. To get the most use out of new clothes, think in terms of outfits instead of single articles of clothing when you shop. Don’t worry: This doesn’t mean you have to purchase an entire outfit every time you buy an article of clothing. It just means that before you buy a new article, you should think about the ones you already own or that you intend to also buy that day. In other words, make sure the new article can be paired with pieces you already own or that you don’t mind buying too. No matter how cheap it may be, a red blouse is useless unless you already own bottoms that it would match or unless you don’t mind spending further money to be able to wear the blouse.

3) Keep a “want” list. No item of clothing is ever really a need. Sure, you might want some new tops, but it’s not like you own zero shirts and therefore must go shopping for tops today. So for all the items you want but don’t urgently need, make a list.

That’s how I scored red Aerosoles wedge sandals for less than half the retail price. I loved them the moment I first saw them and could find something in my closet to wear them with, but it’s not like I own any outfits that wouldn’t and couldn’t be complete without that pair of shoes. So, I put it on my want list and waited. When I got to Kohl’s the other week, it paid off. I went there only to buy one pair of shorts, but when I realized I could have the shoes for $30 instead of $70, I couldn’t pass up the deal. This is also how I bought a $175 Bulova watch for just $72.

4) Know where the designers hide. If you’re really hung up on designer labels, learn where to find them for less money than any mall store sells them for. Take Burlington Coat Factory, for example. I can’t stand their stores and think their clothing section is a disorganized mess that I don’t have the patience to wade through for an hour just to find one steal. But I will browse their handbag section – I know of no where else that sells bags by names like Nine West and Guess for less money.

I wander designer shoe warehouses like DSW and Off Broadway often enough to concern my boyfriend, but these aren’t the only places you’ll find high-end brands at affordable prices. It usually pays off to try the shoe sections of stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls too. I seldom buy clothing there because I don’t have the patience for it either, but I can usually walk out with a great name-brand pair of shoes for a steal. You’ll also find the same deals on clothing there – like a pair of Nautica shorts for $20 – if you’re willing to dig.

And these days, some designers are exclusive to certain lower-end department stores. In 2008, Dana Buchman gave up designing ultra expensive pieces that you would only find in stores like Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus in order to make pieces that still reflect her style but are affordable – and only Kohl’s carries them. I never cared for her style, but I love how her shorts and pants fit me, and the price is hard to beat and the quality is as good as a pair from Macy’s. Vera Wang even designs a line for Kohl’s.

To stay current on bargains, check back every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for my deals posts. I get the latest direct from hundreds of stores, brands, and manufacturers in order to bring you the best deals in one place.

And if you like the pieces I bought last week, note that the Aerosoles wedge sandals are still on sale at Kohl’s and, as I mentioned in yesterday’s deals post, Express is having an even bigger sale than the one I shopped a couple of weeks ago.

Finally, here’s a breakdown of my shopping trip…

Nautica black shorts (from T.J. Maxx):
$34.50 list price
$19.99 T.J. Maxx price
Dana Buchman denim shorts (from Kohl’s):
$40.00 list price
$28.00 sale price
$23.80 price after coupon
Aerosoles red wedges (from Kohl’s):
$69.00 list price
$59.99 Koh’s price
$35.99 sale price
$30.59 price after coupon
Liz Claiborne black sandals (from T.J. Maxx):
$40.00 estimated list price
$24.99 T.J. Maxx price
leather red flats (from Off Broadway Shoes):
$69.00 estimated list price
$39.90 Off Broadway Shoes price
$29.90 sale price
$27.40 price after coupon
leather black heels (from Off Broadway Shoes):
$89.00 estimated list price
$49.90 Off Broadway Shoes price
$39.90 sale price
$37.40 price after coupon
Style & Co. print blouse (from Macy’s):
$19.98 list price
Gap black tank top (from Gap):
$22.50 list price
$13.50 sale price
Loft turquoise tank top, Loft purple tank top (from Loft, an Ann Taylor brand):
$14.50 list price
$9.05 sale price
Loft brown tee (from Loft):
$19.61 list price
$13.39 sale price
Express blue V-neck tee, Express purple V-neck tee (from Express):
$19.90 list price
$11.94 sale price
Express gray cardigan (from Express):
$34.90 list price
$19.99 sale price
Express purple chiffon blouse (from Express):
$39.99 list price
$20.94 sale price
$547.28 total list price
$293.95 total paid
$253.33 total savings (46 percent off list price)

Get smarter with your money!

Want the best money-news and tips to help you make more and spend less? Then sign up for the free Money Talks Newsletter to receive daily updates of personal finance news and advice, delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our free newsletter today.