Paying Myself First: On Beauty and Fashion

Why write about fashion and beauty in such a usually-serious blog? After two years of compulsive budgeting in order to pay off heavy debt, I began to feel a little bit depressed that all my paychecks were being used to pay lenders and debt collectors. It was my debt, and I was set on paying it rather than taking the easier way out through bankruptcy. I was lucky to have a stable job that allowed me to pay off my debt, but I also neglected myself a bit along the way. I finally decided to dedicate a bit of time, effort and money to something I enjoyed that wouldn’t be so time consuming or “heavy” in nature. I like art and beauty products.

Why did I decide to start rebuilding my closet? I am not usually into fashion, but I had to rebuild a wardrobe after getting on a dieting plan that helped me lose over 30lbs and go down 3 sizes. I also had two kids within a three-years span, was overweight, was experiencing some health concerns, and just was not feeling like myself overall. I also wanted a fun hobby that was light and fun. I am by no means a beauty and fashion expert, but I can honestly say that it did not cost me much to rebuild an entire closet of beautiful pieces of clothing for work and play. I spent some money, but it was a relatively small amount compared to what some friends may think. When I say I rebuilt my closet, I mean that I boxed up everything that no longer fit me and either sold or donated it. Over the months, I developed a few hacks on rebuilding a closet around a tight budget. I also would like to clarify that I am not a sponsor where companies will basically pay me to have their products. I have no time for a second job as a full-time couponer or fashion sponsor (or whatever!). The list below are personal tips, and based on services I have used / things I have done that worked well.

The tips I will share are good for someone with a workable budget that can be organized to explore brands, personal styles, beauty products, and make good purchasing decisions. Some money is expected to be spent, but these tips will help you cut big corners.

  1. Sell your things: This is a good place to start: by cleaning out and building a workable budget. You will be surprised at the things people buy. Trust me, there’s a buyer for almost anything. If you have not used it in 12 months, you probably will not use it. Make some money before it gets damaged or collects dust and odors. Some time around November, I grabbed all the things in my home that my kids and I hadn’t used in over a year and posted them online. I made a few hundred bucks doing this and it started a workable budget to start rebuilding my closet. Here are some suggestions where you can sell your goods:
    1. eBay: Great for independent vendors. I sold kids clothes, party decorations and other random things. Don’t post things that are heavy and expensive to ship.
    2. Amazon: Not great for independent vendors unless you have an established online presence. It is great for selling used books. I sold a few textbooks that were collecting dust and made a few hundred bucks.
    3. ThredUp*: This is a great quality used-clothing online store. You can both sell your clothes to them (though they pay very little) and purchase lightly used designer clothing. I purchased basic work pants and a few pairs of shoes. When you first sign up, they will send you coupon codes to use. Their online platform is also great, as you can search by style, size, category, colors, and so on.
    4. Craigslist: I use this site to sell things that are difficult to ship, such as strollers, furniture, bags of baby clothing, and so on. I sold over $100 in kids clothing using Craigslist–I literally just divided them by size, posted various pictures and had interested locals come and get them. This site is very public, so it’s important to use safety protocol (i.e., meet in public places, verify buyers by speaking to them by phone only, and have friends present if possible).
  2. Coupons: This is an obvious tip. Let me just say that I will never be one of those extreme couponers whose closets look like Walmart. I can’t do it, I won’t do it. I find it a bit compulsive, but to each their own. With that said, it’s still great to know exactly where to find the best coupons for additional discounts.
    1. Mail-in coupons: Those annoying coupons you get sent in the mail…just clip the ones you may use and clean them out every week.
    2. Phone applications: Most stores have free mobile apps with sections for coupons if you register your e-mail. Trust me, you can save quite a bit during your shopping trips. It all adds up.
  3. Monthly subscriptions: These subscription services are not “new,” but I don’t know many people who use them. Basically, you pay a monthly fee and receive a box of sample (and sometimes full size) goods to try out and keep. It’s awesome if you’re rediscovering your tastes and interests. Most of them allow you to cancel any time you need to take a break. I tried all the following, but only kept a few after testing them out.
    1. Birchbox*: A $10 a month subscription service that allows you to sample 5-6 beauty and lifestyle products. When you review the products, you earn points and cash to shop. My daily beauty ritual is low-key, so little samples here and there keep my stash full. I don’t normally commit to full-size products anyway, but there’s always that one “unicorn” product you are thankful you found.
    2. Stitchfix: I’m not a huge fan, but I tried it out for 4 months at $20 per box (1 box per month) because people rave about it and I wanted to give them an honest try. This styling service subscription sends you 5 pieces of clothing and accessories per month. You keep what you want and send the rest back in a pre-paid envelope. The $20 styling fee is deducted from any item(s) you purchase. I found the clothing to be very overpriced, but it was worth trying out because I got to test new styles that I normally wouldn’t. It helped me define my style from the comfort of my home. I only bought one necklace that I was classic and my style. This service won’t save you money (items are very overpriced), but it will be a fun experience to try out.
  4. Rent the fashion: This is my favorite hack. If you don’t want to commit to fashion pieces, think about renting them. The plus is that it is a way to “reuse” and share clothing– kind of like sharing a closet with a friend. Some people argue that you’re throwing the money away, because your’re not keeping the clothes. If you’re someone who sticks to classics always, then this may not be for you. However, if you like to keep a few short-lived fashion pieces in your closet, why not keep them on rotation?
    1. LeTote*: This company allows you to rent 5-6 pieces of clothing per month for a fixed monthly fee. They also have maternity. You can purchase the items you love for a discounted price and return what you are done using. When you’re tote is ready to be styled, you are notified via email, you enter your account and select the items you want to be sent to you from your virtual closet. Most totes ship out the same day and you’ll have your tote within 2 days. What I loved, I purchased.
    2. Rocksbox: This company allows you to rent designer jewelry for $19 per month and you receive a $10 credit towards any purchase you may make. You wear your set, keep/pay for what you love, and return what you don’t want to keep. The next box is ready within days again.
  5. Shopping Applications: These are different than store apps. Shopping apps advertise to you various products and usually give you some type of reward for being an active user of the app. Basically, they reward you to allow them to advertise products to you.
    1. Shopkick*: This shopping app gives you points (“kicks”) for entering selected stores, scanning items, making purchases and referring friends. You can convert points into gift cards of various amounts. You’ll need a smart phone to effectively use this app and it’s most appropriate for those who like to physically go to stores. I have received over $100 in Sephora giftcards.
    2. Ebates*: This app / website gives you cash back when you make online purchases. Many popular stores are available through this site and each store have different cash back % rates. You also get cash when a referral makes their first purchase. Every 3 months, they’ll disburse your money by mailing you a check or making a deposit to your Paypal account.
  6. Return eligible things: I hesitated to include this point, because I find compulsive returning to be in poor taste. However, there are times when we buy things on a whim, put them away and never use them. If you have such forgotten items that qualify for returns, get them back to the store and get some credit to use. The other day, I found a beauty product that I bought a few months back; I had never used it, and just stuck it in the drawer with its receipt. I took it back to the store and traded it in for something that I actually needed. It was still my money, but I put that money to better use.
  7. Buy Second Hand: I like buying second hand for the same reason that I like renting. I find it to be less wasteful than shopping new. Also, you save a ton on high quality brands.
    1. Thrift stores
    2. Vintage shops
    3. Craigslist
    5. Garage sales
  8. Trade with Friends: I have started to make conversations about fashion and beauty a part of my regular conversation with friends of similar interests. I always thought that swapping was just something nerds like myself did only with books, but just the other day my friend mentioned that she needed warm clothes for a trip to New Jersey. I told her I had a ton of winter clothes in her size. I actually offered to lend / give them to her, but she suggested to buy them from me or do a trade for one of the handbags she sells. I was like…sure! I think we both got a steal!
  9. Use Flex Dollars: If you’re employer offers flex dollars (WageWorks) for medical things, I cannot emphasize how useful they are to save money. Basically, a flex account allows an employee to request a certain amount of their wage to be available to them at the beginning of the year pre-tax. If you use glasses, this is a great way to save money on nice, fashionable eye glasses.
  10. Create your own fashion: If you have a crafty skill, put it to good use. I do not sew and truly wish I would so that I can cut corners with hemming my own pants and making some unique fashion pieces. I knit and crochet and make neckwarmers every year. I wear what I make and sometimes even sell them right off my neck. I make extra cash with my own fashionable creations.

*The services that I strongly enjoy and believe it include a referral link. The referral link takes you directly to the site, but most likely gives both of us some kind of credit, points, or other incentive. Nevertheless, this blog or post is not sponsored by any of these sites/ companies and all opinions here are my own.

If there is anything I have learned in the past 6 months of rebuilding a closet is that:

  1. Fashion changes very quickly. This is why I am particularly fond of investing in good rental companies that allow me to keep fashionable pieces on a rotational basis. I have found it more wasteful to buy fashionable pieces that I will not like in a few months.
  2. Investing in basics (jeans, work pants, basic tops,  and so on) can be done affordably through consignment stores and a high quality online store (I love* the most).
  3. Referrals pay off big time. In the same way I have shared with you guys my referral links of my favorite services, share them with your friends. Companies reward you with shopping credit every time you bring a successful referral. Don’t be compulsive in giving referrals to just anything; try out various services and only refer the ones you most believe in. If the services you share are of good value, most friends will be glad you shared it with them.
  4. Thifty does not have to be tacky. In the time I have spent rebuilding my closet, I have not turned to any bad habits or abusing shopping practices. I think I got a little obnoxious with my referrals to Shopkick, but I had a big goal (which I reach today, by the way, of getting my favorite perfume all on Sephora giftcards). Other than that, it’s been important to me to keep it smart and fun, but classy.

I am 6-months new to this, so I am sure there are a ton of other hacks and tips for rebuilding a closet and one’s beauty stash. I would love to learn more to anyone reading who may want to share.