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Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe

I’ve always hesitated to jump into the conversation around budgeting because it’s so subjective and personal.

But when I worked with private clients, it was essential to understand what they could afford and were willing to spend.

The most challenging part of our job was getting the client everything she needed while keeping within her budget and selecting quality merchandise.

So, if you are starting to build or rebuild your wardrobe, you first need to set a budget. Consider your budget in its totality, even if, like most people, you spread out your purchases across the months.

Set a yearly budget and then break it down by season and month.

Having a framework for what you can spend will allow you to make better, more thoughtful decisions.

Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe

Where to Spend, Splurge, and Save in Your Wardrobe

A few of things to remember before we dive into today’s post.

First, understand that everyone has different resources.

Please don’t judge people on what they do or don’t spend. It’s none of our business.

Within the scope of this site, I put a tremendous amount of effort into curating a wide range of prices across all of our content so there is something for everyone.

This is by no means a “budget” blog. I’ve learned over the years that most women spend time in some places and save in others, so I make our content reflect that. 

Please keep an open mind about prices within categories. 

When I worked with clients, I often heard a resistance to spending a certain amount of money on, say, jeans. “I won’t spend more than $100 on jeans.”

But often, spending a little more gave us better fit and quality – and was still within our total budget.

It’s why you want a total budget to move things around. Spend more here; save someplace else.

Also, I would NEVER tell someone an exact number to spend per season, nor would I promote a specific percentage of your income. 

In some seasons, you might not need to buy much; in others, you may feel like you are starting from scratch.

What you need will vary from season to season, so your spending will also vary. 

Splurge

What is a splurge? 

A splurge is a rare purchase. It’s something you buy only occasionally and is not part of your regular shopping budget. It could be something you’ve saved for or received as a gift.

For years, clients would ask for guidance on a splurge. 

Typically, it was around a milestone, like a big birthday, graduation, promotion, or a single investment item they felt they “earned.” 

Even today, I get dozens of emails looking for guidance around a splurge-worthy bag, piece of jewelry, or article of clothing, and it’s so fun to hear what everyone is eyeing.

When deciding on a splurge, first and foremost, ensure it’s something you adore. 

Next, keep it timeless. Opt for something classic instead of investing in the latest “it” bag or trendy jacket.

Finally, be sure it’s something you will use every day or almost every day.

You’ll get the most out of your money (think the price per wear formula) AND elevate your look. Adding an element like a splurge in your outfit makes all the other pieces look better.

Whatever you do, don’t let your splurge sit collecting dust in your closet.

For me, a splurge is usually jewelry or an accessory, like a leather belt, bag, or wallet, simply because you can get more use out of it and are not committed to a particular size.

Maybe a splurge for you is a high end designer like Hermes, or maybe it’s Coach. The point is to be extra thoughtful with this category so you get the most out of your “investment.”

Spend

Your spend category differs from your splurge category.

While a splurge might be a considered purchase, your spend pieces will focus on your specific wardrobe building basics. 

These pieces will be different for everyone.

The best way to determine where to spend is to think of two things:  frequency of use, and fit needs.

Frequency of Use

What are those pieces you incorporate in many or all of your outfits?

What do you live in?

If you’re in an office everyday you might need a high quality pair of trousers.

Maybe you are home-based and work out everyday – then you may want more expensive yoga pants.

The more you wear something, the more you need to care for it, and better quality should hold up for a longer amount of time. (Again, not always the case, but generally speaking.)

If an item is in your regular rotation, buy the best you can afford.

For me, I’ll spend on sneakers, certain shoes, a good coat, knits (like cashmere and wool), and a quality bag or two. I’ll also spend on undergarments because, I find, they fit better and last longer.

Fit Needs

Next, where do you have the greatest fit challenges?

If you find something that fits well, that’s out of your comfort zone, think about your total budget, and consider spending a bit more to get the better fit. (If in fact the high priced option fits better.)

You’ll also want to allocate a bit of your budget to alterations.  I’ve found that setting aside 10% of your budget covers basic alterations.

“Spending” means you allocate more of your budget to your core pieces.

Below are some categories you might spend more on:

  1. Bras in “your nude,” sports bras and underwear.  
  2. Denim (if you wear frequently).
  3. Swimwear.
  4. Classic shoes like boots and pumps in neutral colors.
  5. Core pieces including sheath dresses, pants, or skirts.
  6. Outerwear in a timeless cut in quality fabric.

Save

Spend the least amount of money on the pieces you either won’t wear frequently or will be used as a layer.

Below are some categories to save:

  1. Special occasion and evening dresses and separates. Buy on sale or use Rent the Runway.
  2. Tanks, tees and basic tops. There is no reason to spend hundreds of dollars here, there is rarely a difference in quality.
  3. Going out tops. It’s easy to find fun tops on sale or on Amazon.
  4. Sweats, hoodies and loungewear. 
  5. Synthetic fabrics.
  6. Printed or bold pieces, including blouses, shells, skirts.
  7. Trends.

Deals

Finally, there are deals to be found everywhere. It’s why I publish Sunday Sales every week.

Keep in mind that you are at the mercy of the inventory. So there won’t always be the best selection of sizes, etc.

If a deal is either already on my list, or it’s just a great find that I can use, I buy it. I don’t depend on them to fill my closet.

There are a few stores we love and regurarly feature that have incredible prices for better quality, great fitting items. Try Gap Factory, Banana Republic Factory, Everlane and Quince for knits and basics.

Where to Splurge, Spend and Save in Your Wardrobe
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MEET THE AUTHOR

Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

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Friday 2nd of February 2024

I had such a limited wardrobe jeans hoodie and I had no idea how to put together anything , then I found your website and now I get compliments on my clothes . At 60 I didn’t want to dress old and frumpy so your site has been a valuable resource thank you so much ! It proves your never too old to start looking your best again thank you

Laua Short

Wednesday 31st of January 2024

Please make sure I'm subscribed to your email list. Thank you

Megan

Wednesday 31st of January 2024

Many years ago, I splurged on a Mackage Nori coat (via Trunk Club... RIP). I live in Michigan where we can get below 0 temps in the winter, plus I run cold, so I wanted something really warm, but still in a classic style (as in, not a puffer). The double layer of wool on the upper half really makes a difference. I have worn that coat every day of every winter since, and it's just now reaching the point where the zipper needs to be replaced. It's one of the best lessons I've learned about a) splurging strategically, b) cost per wear, and c) the value of buying the best quality you can afford.

Becky

Wednesday 31st of January 2024

Really great column Megan! Well done!!!

Megan Kristel

Wednesday 31st of January 2024

Thanks!

Abbie

Monday 16th of January 2023

Hi, Megan. Thank you for all your posts—I am in the current challenge, and it has really helped me zero in on my style. My question is, what do you recommend spending on if my size seems to be changing regularly. The past few years, I feel like I am constantly losing and gaining back 10 pounds or so—enough to change my clothing size. I hesitate to spend much on clothes bc I don’t know whether it will fit the next year. Thanks!

Kristin

Friday 4th of October 2019

Thank you for this great post, so helpful as I start shopping for fall! I told myself this was the year I would purchase a pair of beautiful loafers, had my eye on classic Gucci’s. Then I found a lovely pair by Sam Edelman—perfect fit, quality leather—at a fraction of the cost. What a lucky break. Now I can veer up market on a blazer—good shopping karma is the best!

Karen Metzger

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

I love all your blog posts, but this one is PACKED to the brim with great information! Thanks for what you do! ❤️

Darlene

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

I’ve been lucky to be able to save for and purchase the splurge items I want. I currently have nothing on the list, but that could change tomorrow. I save on tees and other casual tops and anything that is a trendy color, pattern, or cut. I spend on jeans and blazers and cashmere sweaters because I concentrate on fit and quality for these. I almost never pay full price for clothes, shoes, and accessories. This is a spending philosophy for me. I don’t have a ‘have to have’ mentality for a particular brand and item of clothing. If my size and preferred color sell out before it goes on sale, I just look for another comparable one. This may take extra time, but it’s worth it to me.

Christine

Thursday 3rd of October 2019

I just had a splurge that I thought I would share. I keep going out in the evenings and found I didn't have a great black small bag. I have a gorgeous red one, a yellow one and a gold one, but a basic black bag that works for dinners out (not a formal bag for a gala) was a missing item. I just bought a very functional, but classic Stella McCartney bag with a black chain. It will be used like crazy, I love it and I can't wait to use it this weekend. The price seems hefty, but her bags are great, eco-friendly, and in black something that will be used over and over. Bonus is that it is slim so I can easily pack it for business trips.

Mrs Jackie Rowley

Thursday 17th of January 2019

Hi Megan What a wonderful site . I have posted a comment before but I think this is the area of interest for me. Please can you help , what clothes/outfits should I keep for nice dresses and seperates for evenings out and weekends away.I need to keep a seperate section because if I wear these all the time I will wear them out and have nothing to wear for nice resteraunts and dinner parties. So the save section here is of interest I just dont know how many items or what items are need to keep in this not worn frequently area.thank you Megan and congratulations on the birth of your lovely new baby warm wishes Jackie

Megan Kristel

Thursday 17th of January 2019

Hi Jackie, it's hard to answer such a specific question because I don't know your wardrobe or individual needs. I would recommend you work through our Four Weeks to a Better Wardrobe. It will give you some action steps to edit your wardrobe, and figure out what you should keep based on your unique needs.