I’ve long prided myself on my bargain-hunting ability. I learned from my mother, who is the Queen of Clearance. Hunting for bargains isn’t just to save money: for us, it’s a game. When we find a fabulous deal, it feels FANTASTIC. It feels like we really earned that piece of clothing; that we won the game.
So I’ve done a pretty fair amount of cheapo clearance rack shopping in my day, and I’m pretty proud of my ability to stretch my dollars. Want to know the trade secrets? There are only two: 1.) shop in between seasons when the old stuff is getting cleared out, and 2.) don’t be afraid of secondhand stores. Follow these rules, and you’ll be golden.
For this top ten Tuesday, I have compiled some of my greatest bargain finds into outfits. All of these outfits totaled less than $40, and four are even under $30!
Disclaimer, part 1: I didn’t include foundation garments – tights, tank tops, etc – as part of my total. That would’ve been way too complicated. Disclaimer, part 2: Sometimes I remember exactly how much a piece of clothing cost. Sometimes I don’t. In that case, I estimated to the best of my memory, so you’ll have to give me a little leeway.
Prepare to be amazed at my bargain shopping prowess as I present ten outfits under $40!
shoes – Plato’s Closet – $11.20 (20% off coupon)
necklace – Chichen Itza vendor – $10 (down from $25)
TOTAL = $31.20
Allow me to elaborate. Every few months, Maurices cleans out their store and marks all the old stuff way, WAY down. That’s when I pounce. The shoes were purchased with a 20% off coupon at Plato’s Closet (you get a stamp card, and for every $10 you buy or sell, they give you a stamp. After you’ve gotten $20 stamps, you get 20% off. I’m pretty sure 18 of my 20 stamps were for selling, not buying), and I haggled that necklace (it's a silver Mayan calendar!) down from $25 to $10. That’s the beauty of street vendors: there’s always a chance for a deal!
shoes – Nordstrom Rack – $13
jeans – Plato’s Closet – $3.80 (minus $5 coupon and $5 trade-in)
scarf – Forever 21 – $10.80
TOTAL = $31.35
Most of my remarkable Goodwill finds come from the St Paul store, but this particular sweater came from the Sioux Falls Goodwill. While the St Paul Goodwill is my all-time favorite, there’s definitely something to be said for the simplicity of the Sioux Falls Goodwill: everything has a uniform price (ie, all women’s sweaters are $3.75, where in St Paul, the prices are all over the place), so you never wonder how much something is. The jeans were acquired through a truly spectacular combination of coupons and trade-ins: I had $5 in trade-in credit and a $5 coupon, so I managed to score these jeans for less than four dollars. And I have to say something about Forever 21 (where I got the scarf): I shopped there in college, and I told myself that once I was no longer 21, I was going to stop buying things there. I am now almost 26 and have yet to quit. I’m too old for a lot of their clothes, but I can score a few good accessories every now and then.
scarf – Forever 21 – $9.80
belt – JCPenney – $2
cardigan – Target – $10
sandals – Maurices – $5
TOTAL = $34.28
This dress? PAJAMAS. Yes, I bought it from the pajama section at Target and repurposed it into a dress. That black belt originally had a weird pocket thing on it, which James so kindly removed. Sans weird pocket thing, that black belt is the workhorse of my closet (and probably the best $2 I’ve ever spent).
pants – Goodwill – $2.99
shirt – Target – $5
scarf – Forever 21 – $5.80
shoes – Shoe Carnival – $12.50 (buy one get one ½ off)
belt – Charlotte Russe – FREE! (came with a shirt a bazillion years ago)
pimp watch – an auction junk box James's dad bought for one dollar and then gave to me – FREE!
pearl earrings – Helzberg – FREE! (you can't see them, but they're there!)
TOTAL = $31.30
Though I have a thing against dress pants, I really don’t mind these. And friends, I have to tell you: never underestimate the power of a plain t-shirt. I have many more where this came from. A plain t-shirt is a.) almost always really cheap, and b.) provides a nice blank slate for accessories. In this case, my accessory of choice is the shiny scarf. A word on the shoes: these were a fortunate find for a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale at Shoe Carnival: they were the LAST PAIR in this color, and they were my size! Oh, what luck. They are the loudest shoes ever (you should hear me clomping around in the library), but it’s totally worth it. Finally, the earrings. James bought my engagement ring at Helzberg Diamonds, and they’ve treated us gloriously ever since. I’ve gotten at least four totally free pieces of jewelry from them, these earrings (real pearls!) being my favorite. So if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, might I recommend Helzberg? The freebies alone make it worth it.
dress – ModCloth – $25
sandals – Goodwill – $4.99
TOTAL = $29.99
I have to admit: $25 for a dress is kind of a lot for me. But this particular dress was hard to resist, and it was marked way down from its original triple-digit (not kidding) price. I wore this for some of James’s and my engagement photos. And the shoes? We had gone shopping at the St Paul Goodwill on the morning of our engagement photo shoot, and I found those sandals. I made an executive decision to wear those instead of the shoes I brought, and presto: a cheap outfit was born.
sweater – Gap outlet – $7
jeans – TurnStyle – $2.50 (75% off)
octopus necklace – Hobby Lobby – $3 (half off day)
sneakers – Converse Outlet – $12.50 (buy one get one)
green ring – Plato’s Closet – $2
TOTAL = $27
I bought both this sweater and these jeans during two stunningly cheap weekends in the Twin Cities. The sweater came from the Albertville outlet mall (not for the weak of heart), and the jeans (which are Express brand) came from a consignment store in Plymouth called Turnstyle. They were clearing out items that had been there a while, so these jeans were 75% off. Score. The shoes were part of a buy-one-get-one-half-off promotion at the Las Vegas outlet mall (also not for the weak of heart), so my sister and I took advantage of a good deal when we saw one. Finally, the octopus necklace. It’s just a charm from Hobby Lobby on a chain (and who knows where that came from). You can find all sorts of cool charms in the jewelry aisles of Hobby Lobby and Michael’s, and they’re usually on a 50% off promotion. If they’re not, you can ALWAYS find a “40% off one full-priced item” coupon on their websites.
shoes – Payless – $7
owl necklace – Grandma’s house – $0 (gift)
Remember what I said about Maurices cleaning out their store? This dress was another fantastic score: they were having a 50% off the lowest marked price sale, PLUS buy one clearance thing, get another clearance thing free. So I got two dresses for about $14, hence the averaged price of $7. Even though I’ve told you time and again how much I loathe tights, I have to tell you that these are my absolute favorite pair. I ripped a big hole in them the first time I wore them, but I keep on wearing them… but only with skirts long enough to cover said big hole. Finally, I must talk about the necklace: I tried not to include gifts on my list, as I don’t know how much they cost and could therefore not accurately figure them into my outfit total. I made an exception for this necklace because a.) Grandma Lorraine didn’t buy it FOR me: it was gifted to me from her own collection and therefore makes it more heirloom than anything, and b.) how cute is it? And it’s actually vintage, not just vintage-inspired! Owl necklaces are everywhere nowadays, but my grandma was wearing them sixty years ago. How’s that for a trendsetter?
|Sadly, this was the best picture we could get. One of those days.|
pants – Target – $12.48
sweater – Turnstyle – $2.25 (75% off)
combat boots – Target – $10.48
TOTAL = $25.21
The Target clearance racks are my favorite clearance racks of all. I was a little nervous to test out the colored jean trend, but it’s a lot easier with the pants are army green (therefore easy to work with) and reasonably priced. The bird sweater was from the same 75% off day as those Express jeans. The black boots, though listed with a price of $10.48, were actually free. I got a $20 Target gift card just for creating a bridal registry through them, so of course I bought myself some combat boots. Clearly, I am a Target badass.
dress – H&M – $14.96
bracelet – American Eagle – $3.33
necklace – Hobby Lobby – $7-ish
TOTAL = $35.79
H&M and I have a hit or miss relationship. Either I find nothing at all, or I find TONS. The last time I went to H&M, I came away with this dress. We had to strip it off the mannequin to get the right size, but dammit, that dress would be mine. H&M’s prices and I have a hit or miss relationship, as well – some of their clothes (if you ask me) are spectacularly overpriced, but some of them make you do a double-take at the price tag and wonder if it really is that cheap. Such was the case was this dress, AND I got a surprise 25% off. The bracelet was part of a “three for ten dollars” deal, so I bought two other little jewelry things, gave them away as presents, and kept the leather cuff. Everyone was happy. When I first tried on these shoes, I had to ask James if they were really ugly or really awesome. He voted “awesome,” so here they are! Lastly, James and I TOTALLY made this necklace (mostly James). Go ahead, be impressed.
cardigan – Rue 21 – $10
jeans – Maurices – $20
shoes – Y’s Buys – $3
necklace – Hobby Lobby – $.50
belt – Rue 21 – $.33
TOTAL = $33.83
You may have noticed a lack of non-skinny jeans in this article, and you’d be right. While good secondhand skinny jeans are fairly easy to find, I have a tough time locating a decent pair of secondhand bootcut jeans. Therefore, most of my bootcut jeans are (sadly) not as dirt cheap as the rest of the items in my closet. However, I manage to find a denim deal here and there without compromising too much for quality. Case in point: these Maurices jeans. I had located the last pair in my size, but there was some weird stitching. Since I had the last pair, I got a 10% weird stitching discount PLUS a coupon for 25% off PLUS another coupon for $10 off (I had finally filled up a Maurices punch card likely dating back to junior high), so the pants were way cheap. You may be wondering how on earth I managed to score a thirty-three cent belt. Allow me to explain. I bought this belt in February, which is the BEST time to go shopping. Stores are getting rid of winter stock and making room for spring, so prices are rock-bottom. This belt came as a set of three, and the whole thing cost one dollar. Sure, they’re two sizes too big, but that’s where creative belt-looping comes in. The sweater was cleverly acquired through the use of a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale PLUS a coupon for $10 off of $20 or more (so James got a super cheap sweater that day, too). The necklace? I totally made it with my metal stamping kit. The stamping kit was a gift, so the only cost for me was the cost of the stamping blanks (the chain was "repurposed" from another necklace). Hooray for me attempting to be crafty, right?
I did my best to include cheap clothes from a variety of stores, and I think I did pretty well: 23 different places (thirteen clothing/shoe stores, four consignment/thrift stores, one giant retailer, one craft store, one jewelry store, one vendor in Mexico, one Cokato auction, and one grandma's house), and I can think of at least seven other stores whose bargain finds didn’t make it onto my outfit list (plenty of material for a part II!). So next time you want to find a whole bunch of clothes for not much money, bring me along: I’m a pro!