Budgeting for the College Student: How to Spend and Save on Fashion

When I first moved to New York and I was totally broke, sometimes I bought Vogue instead of dinner. I found it fed me more. -Carrie Bradshaw

We’re in college, and most of us are on budgets–the degree of which varies from person to person of course. Money is a touchy subject to cover, so I’m going to attempt this in the broadest way I possibly can. I intern at CollegeFashion, a website target towards students which has provided me with inspiration and helped develop a vision for what myself and the Oklahoma Daily set out to accomplish with this site. A year or two ago, CollegeFashion invited a semi-successful fashion blogger to write a series on spending and saving tips from the perspective of a college freshman who just moved to New York City for school. This article received a lot of backlash when the author pitched a series about budgeting yet tries to justify spending $500 (presumably of her parent’s money) on two Hermes scarves.

Yeah, the article was a little insensitive and a bit obnoxious, but in reading the comments I learned something valuable: money really is a relative number. A $50 coat could be cheap for one girl, and a splurge for another. My parents would beat me with a belt if I charged $500 to their credit card for two scarves, but that much is considered pocket change for some lucky families. I’m sharing this with you to point out that everyone’s perspective on money is different. This post will focus on the type of items to spend and save on, rather than their monetary price.

Splurging: Get the Most Bang for your Buck

With the holidays ending, many of us were blessed with major cash inflow. Before heading to the mall, consider the following:

  1. Quality Counts. Price and quality don’t necessarily correlate, as I’m sure you know. Rather than concerning yourself with the label of an item, check for the fabric quality, drape, weight, lining, and stitching on a piece to evaluate it’s quality. A heavy peacoat that’s thick, lined, sturdy, and warm is a wonderful investment because it will do it’s job better than a cheaply made coat.
  2. Cost-per-Wear. You’ve found a great quality item that won’t fall apart anytime soon. Next, consider how often you will wear it. I splurged on a pair of Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses a few years ago. They were about $120. I’ve worn them at least twice a week for the last 3 years. 2 x 52 = 104 times a year, 104 x 3 years = 312 times that I’ve worn them. $120/312 = $0.38 cents every time I’ve worn them. That makes a splurge like this WAY more affordable than say, a $10 top bought from Forever 21 that you only wear twice, or a $300 prom dress that only sees the light of day one time.
  3. Focus on Classic Items. I’ve splurged on ballet flats, jeans, leather purses, a menswear watch, and black pumps. These items are basic, classic, and will never go out of style. Spend money on pieces that aren’t too flashy, things that can be worn several times a week, and that will last forever.
  4. Plan Ahead. Mindlessly wandering the mall is a great way to blow cash. I keep an ongoing list of pieces that I need (see my Christmas list post) and look for those things when I shop. This way, you buy items you need and will use often rather than coming home with a pile of clothes that caught your eye.
  5. Take Care of Your Splurges. Spend the extra $10 to resole expensive shoes, get designer jeans altered, dry clean a jacket, or treat leather purses and shoes. They’ll look better and last even longer.
  6. Yourself and Your Health Come First. Eating Ramen Noodles for a month straight after blowing cash on a new dress isn’t cool or cute. I HATED Confessions of a Shopaholic and that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie can’t afford her apartment because they both glamorize irresponsibility. In real life, your friends won’t lend you cash for rent if you’re dressed better than they are.

Saving: When it’s Okay to Be Cheap

  1. Buy trendy pieces at a low price. Forever 21 carries runway inspired pieces and has a crazy fast turnover rate. Test out trendy like harem pants, sequined shorts, fur vests, and cropped tops by buying inexpensive items. Since they won’t be in style long, the quality doesn’t need to be top notch.
  2. Use Your Head. Spending a lot of money on things like graphic tees, leggings, sandals, panties, and pajamas is not the most prudent way to budget your cash.
  3. Figure Out Where to Trim the Fat. Manicures, tanning, and expensive face cream are thing that I can do without. If you can’t live without Urban Decay makeup, decide what areas of your beauty regiment you can cut back on.
  4. Watch Out for Great Deals. Old Navy has great sales on a weekly basis, and Victoria’s Secret semi annual sale always has incredible buys. Go to In The Raw an hour or two earlier and catch their half priced rolls. Study up on drink specials at your favorite establishments (or shove longnecks into your purse at home before going to seven47…wait did I just say that?)
  5. Take a Free Ride. Free movies play in Meacham in the Union every Friday night. Girls drink beer for free at Eve every Thursday. Bum a trip to the Caf from a freshman friend. Fun things happen all over Norman every weekend, take time to read the OU Daily or Boyd Street to find out what’s going on!

Now, I want to know your thoughts. How do you stick to a budget? Do you work, or do your parents still give you an allowance? Do you feel like you have enough money to meet your needs? What things do you spend on vs save on? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

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