June 10, 2012

Five ways to make your vintage wardrobe dollars go further

There's a fantastic SLN skit in which Steve Martin and Amy Poehler are taught the secret behind effective debt and money management by actor Chris Parnell, as detailed in a booklet he hands them called Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford.

That line, of course, being the premise behind the whole philosophy, which strikes Martin and Poehler's characters as being a staggering revelation that takes them most of the whole sketch to realize. It's a brilliant skit really, and one which I often find myself being reminded of when I'm both handling my finances and out and about shopping.

What's affordable however, to one person, may be nothing more than a pipe dream for another, and we each have unique sets of financial needs and obligations that we must try and tackle each much. Few amongst us (especially since the economy took a drastic nose dive a few years ago) have the means to forget about money, and even if you do, I fully believe that you never should. Rich people, after all, will only retain their wealth if they're smart with how they invest, save, and spend it.

Over the years, like many of us, I've had definite highs and lows when it came to my finances. There have been months so lean they would have been invisible if you turned them sideways, and others were I had the privilege of being able to spend generously on my passions, interests, and hobbies. Most fell - and continue to fall - somewhere on the spectrum in between, just as they do for the majority of people these days.

As someone who, along with my husband, cleared off a substantial five figure debt load last year (only to promptly land back in debt mere days later due to the many expenses incurred with our move to B.C. earlier this year; but that was relatively smart debt that we both looked at as an important investment in our future) in a relatively short amount of time (about a year), I can tell you that there really is no price tag that you can put on efficient, realistic money management. And, in many cases, that begins with looking for ways to stretch your existing dollars as far as possible.

I think it's a misconception that being thrifty means being frugal, or worst, miserly. It absolutely doesn't have to. Unless your circumstances are exceedingly dire, chances are you still have a little bit of room in your budget (whether it's $50 or $500) each month to spend on non-essential and quasi-essential (clothing that you want, but might not technically truly need, for example) items.

I subscribe to the belief that the more one budgets and plans their finances, the more important it is to have some "mad money" for yourself each month. If you slave and work like a dog from sun up to sun down, only to cover the bills, pay off your debt, and perhaps tuck away some savings, you may feel like you're being deprived (at least in part) from the very money you're giving it your all to bring in (and this in turn can create all kinds of feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, and stress).

When creating a budget (be it personal or family), I highly urge you to set aside an allotted amount each month that is yours to do with as you please. If, for example, your budget is $100.00, you can buy a hundred $1 items or a single piece - say a gorgeous vintage dress - for $100.00, knowing that because that money was not earmarked or destined for another more pressing purpose, you can make your purchase(s) guilt-free and responsibly.

When it comes to the money you spend on yourself - especially if the rest of your budget is quite tight - you want to try and extend your buying power as far as possible. Sure, some months there might be a single item or two that you happily fork over all of your pocket money for, but other times you want to make multiple purchases or save up for a future item or shopping spree.

Whatever the case, I wanted to share five tips that have long helped me max out my budget's buying power, not my credit card, with all of you.

1.) No matter how good you think a price is, always ask yourself if you could find something even cheaper: With the exception of an item being free, in most cases it's best not to rush out and buy a good deal the absolute moment you see it (unless you've been eyeing an item for ages and conclusively know this is the best price you're likely to find it at any time soon).

There have been numerous times when shopping online over the years when I saw an item that I thought was a really good deal, only to buy said item and shortly thereafter (sometimes as soon as mere minutes later) find the same (or a very similar) piece for less.

With the possible exception of finding an eBay auction just moments before it wraps up, even when you spy a smoking hot deal, consider taking a few minutes to check out other online sellers (eBay, etsy, etc) to see if you can find the same item for even less. I've been applying this approach to my online shopping for quite some time now, and have been amazed by how often I was able to find something at an even lower price when I diligently searched for it.

2.) Leave no stone unturned: Speaking of searching diligently, if you're watching your pennies closely, you know that a few dollars can often make or break a deal, so it pays to keep hunting (within reason) until you find the item you want in a price range you're comfortable with. This is especially true of pieces that are not hard to come by (for example, vintage LBDs). If your favourite sites aren't delivering what you want, consider expanding your search both online and off.

Keep a running list of the items you're hoping to find (along with what you'd ideally like to pay for them) on your computer or a piece of paper, and routinely search for those items on Google, eBay, etsy, and from various online vintage or vintage reproduction clothing sellers.

When hunting for a great barging online, remember to get creative with your search terms (for more on that topic, be sure to see this post on that topic from last month) and think outside of the box. Many's the time I prowled the web for something (for example, "blue 1950s dress") only to come up empty handed (in terms of affordability and/or sizing), yet was able to hit a home run when I switched up my keywording to something like "navy vintage cocktail dress".

Bargains will rarely fall right in your lap, however perseverance can really pay off  if you're willing to wait a while sometimes and/or do a bit of heavy investigating to find the item you're pining for.

3.) Watch your local thrift, second hand, consignment, and vintage shops for sales: As most of us have no doubt noticed lately, vintage pieces - by and large - have shot up substantially in price in recent years. The fact that second hand sellers often know now what vintage pieces are worth, means that when we do find authentic vintage items nowadays, they're often priced accordingly, making scoring an excellent deal trickier and trickier to accomplish.

This is all the more reason to keep an eye out for sales at your local second hand, thrift, etc stores. When shopping at such places, ask the staff if they know when their next big sale is going to be. If they don't, enquire as to if you can leave your contact information with them so that they can phone or email you in advance of the next sale. Knowing a potential customer is already lined up, is usually more than enough for most merchants (especially small scale ones) to happily inform you of when a sale is coming.

One of my absolute favourite sales - though it rarely garners genuine 40s or 50s garments any more - is the triannual Value Village 50% off sale. Though these half off sale days usually bring in a hefty crowd that quickly thins out the offerings substantially, they can still be a fantastic way to find plenty of gently used (and sometimes even brand new - the last time I was at Value Village I bought a lovely pinky-red cardigan that still had its original tag on) at really budget-friendly prices.

4.) Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!: While one can easily find jewelry that runs into the thousands of dollars, at the other end of the scale, there are so many good deals out there on vintage and vintage appropriate accessories that it's not even funny. Though some costume jewelry is highly valuable (and collectable) in its own right, a lot of these kinds of pieces can be had for an absolute song. At a recent flea market I snapped up a little plastic zip-lock bag of vintage bangle bracelets for $0.75. There was seven bracelets in there, and while a couple are metal and have nickel in them and thus will be passed along to someone else, I still scored five bracelets (alas, no Bakelite, sorry) for less than a dollar.

By the same token, vintage or vintage appropriate belts, gloves, scarves, and sometimes (albeit much less often) even handbags and shoes can be found for a substantial deal while out visiting yard sales, flea markets, and second hand stores. eBay, too, can sometimes provide you with a windfall in the vintage accessory department if you're willing to sort through a chunk of listings and apply some of your saintly patience.

Aside from just being great deals, these kinds of vintage pieces can be all it takes sometimes to inject a much needed hit of variety into your wardrobe for next to nothing. Just think of your garments as blank canvases upon which you can build a stylish masterpiece each day with the help of your favourite accessories.

5.) Make due or mend - now with extra bonus points for creativity: It was one of the most oft repeated slogans during WW2, and it still rings every bit as true today. Now however, we have the luxury of not having to contend with fabric and clothing rations, which means that for a few dollars, we can buy some a little piece of cute material, some beautiful buttons, a scrap of lace, a few packs of rickrack, or any number of other sewing notions and quickly take a ho hum or somewhat worn out piece and transform it into a seemingly brand new garment in a matter of hours or even minutes.

Even those (like myself) who do not have a sewing machine, can often hand stitch or glue (with the appropriate fabric glue) embellishments, trims, and other fashionable accoutrements onto our exiting garments (embroider on a twill skirt, change out the buttons on a plain blouse, sew a line of faux pearl trim around the collar a classic cardigan - the sky and your creativity are the limit!). Any one of which will instantly make you feel like you've gained a new garment, without having to break the bank in the slightest.

Vintage April 1943 Glamour magazine cover women's fashion
{Whether during the 1940s and 50s or today, every wise shopper wants to ensure they get the most for their money, and the tips in this post can help you in doing just that. Image via clotho98 on Flickr.}

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The relationship that each of has with money is an extremely intimate and personal one, and regardless of if you're on a budget or not, I feel that these ideas are applicable to consumers everywhere. While these examples are tailored more towards us vintage loving gals, they could just as easily apply to a crafter, photography enthusiast, sports lover, holiday maker, foodie, car buff, or myriad other folks.

We are bombarded 24/7 with ads (on TV, in magazines and newspapers, online, and even subtly through product placement in movies and songs) that want us to part with our cold hard cash, but that doesn't mean we have to give in to those spending siren calls - especially if you've already tapped out your budget for a given month. These five tips are handy and practical, but - masked in humour as it may be - perhaps the best piece of advice when it comes to spending wisely really is the message in that classic SNL skit, don't buy stuff you can't afford.

Stick with what your wallet can safely swing and you'll likely not only avoid consumer debt, but also save yourself a great deal of stress that comes from routinely making financial decisions you regret within in minutes.

This summer, with garage sale season in full swing, you better believe I'll be leaning heavily on these tips myself, and would love to hear about some of your own favourite ways of ensuring your vintage wardrobe dollars go as far as they can.


  1. This is an excellent post! We are on a tight budget as we try to be completely debt free. We utilize thrift stores often. Need a new dress shirt? Found a new one, in package at the thrift store for $2.50. Need/want some new dresses? Found two, nicer than I could afford Anne Taylor dresses for $5 each at the thrift store. Streeethccch that dollar and make it count. I agree wholeheartedly!

  2. What good tips! One thing I do sometimes (especially if I have something online that I want to buy) is wait till the end of the month to let myself buy it. Then all month I have that item to think of when I spy something else that I want. It really helps me thing objectively about what I'm spending my money on and resist those impulse buys. Somehow, it never seems to work if I've already bought that special thing.

  3. Hello, I found your blog via another vintage-themed blog, looks great! I love your suggestions in this post, especially about costume jewelry- earrings are my weakness, and eBay is amazing, I normally find mine for about $5, and it's rare I ever pay more than 10! Such a great pick-me-up, and you can transform outfits with a new set of jewelry!

    TFG x

  4. I think the last point is most important. There are so many perfectly good items each of us throws out that could be fixed up.
    I also suggest trying to host a clothing swap (I have instructions on my blog) b/c you and your friends can help each other out without any cost.

  5. I can relate to your No 1 Tip as in the past I have sometimes been an impulse buyer. Nowadays I research an item online and have often been very surprised how much money can be saved by that handy tip :o)

  6. Lots of sensible advice in there:) My mum was always saying things like 'cut your coat according to your cloth' and 'if you can't afford it then do without until you can'. I've always said the same things to my children though my daughter took a long time to see the wisdom in the words:) You're right too that a little fun money is a good thing even if your budget is so tight that it will only run to a bar of chocolate.

  7. I take the accessorizing aspect of vintage wear to heart. Since I'm a plus size lady, I have a very hard time finding vintage clothing. Besides I rather make the clothes I'm wearing. It makes it easier to adjust things to fit and flatter your body type better. I do think twice about buying vintage at antique stores. They're always so over-priced. I've found great items at thrift stores.

  8. i looove shopping but now im keeping a wishlist

    1. This is such a good call! Half the time I "need" something I don't really...if it's still on the list in six months I prob'ly actually do.

    2. These are great tips for the vintage hunt but also, taken more broadly, the principles at work apply to most moneyspending ventures. I'm currently doing all right in the spare-cash department, but won't be for long (heading back into the university system in a few months!), so I'm trying to marshal my money-saving wits in advance--this post came at a great time.

      Thanks for your kind comments about my skirt, also--I'm mostly crabby about it because I'm frustrated with the issues I had sewing it up. I'm sure that after it's had a week or two to "cool off" in my closet I'll be more appreciative!

  9. Great advice! I'll have to keep these in mind the next time I get the urge to shop, thanks for sharing!

  10. Great post and fantastic advice. Thank you. :) x

  11. What a wonderful post! My husband and I budget everything very carefully (also being newly married and starting out we're not exactly wealthy.) and we always put aside something to spend for fun every month. It makes everything so much more livable. When most of your money goes to bills, student loans, savings, and just living, I think it's so important to treat yourself and make sure your don't get bogged down in how much you MUST spend to live. I always enjoy saving up\planning my next treat to myself :) I also agree so much with not buying things you can't afford. We don't have credit cards and it completely keeps the temptation away, also we don't incur new debt! Again, such a great post!


  12. An excellent post. My budget is tight like most people's but I do like the odd treat especially if it;s a vintage bargain.xx