Money & Career

Eight tips to stretch your beauty and wardrobe budget

Expert advice on how to look like a million bucks without spending it


You’re gorgeous, dahling. But how much money did you spend to get that way? As it turns out, for many of us the answer is “quite a lot.” According to Health Canada, Canadians pony up more than $5 billion every year for cosmetics, including make-up, skin cream and nail polish. Clothes and shoes also take a mighty bite out of our budget, with the average Canadian household spending over $2,800 annually.

What can you do to look like a million bucks without spending a million bucks? We spoke to a couple of image experts to get the scoop on great ways to update a wardrobe for less (or even for free!) and save on beauty products.

1. Shop your closet: “Just spend a couple of hours in your closet and pair things together. You’ll be amazed by how many new outfits you can create,” advises Christie Ressel, an image consultant in Burlington, Ont. She maintains that after spending just two hours digging around her Toronto-area clients’ closets and dressers, she’s been known to come up with 30 new looks. Amy E. Goodman, author of Wear This, Toss That!: Hundreds of Fashion and Beauty Swaps That Save Your Looks, Save Your Budget, and Save You Time, agrees. “We all have secret things lurking in corners that we don’t even know exist,” she says.

2. Accessorize: Can’t afford a new dress, but don’t want to look like you’re wearing the same old frock to a client meeting? Opt for some inexpensive statement jewellery or a scarf instead. Retailers like H&M, RW & Co. and Smart Set all sell sparkly things that won’t break the bank.

3. Grab your list: Sometimes a new necklace or swingy pair of earrings just won’t cut it — you’ve got to replenish your stock of clothing and fill a few holes in your wardrobe. So treat clothes shopping like grocery shopping and bring a list of what you need. Otherwise, a table of cute t-shirts you want, but don’t need, might lure you in. Once you buy what’s on your list, leave the store.

4. Know the sale game: Time for a new dress for date night? Hit the shops on Tuesdays, says Goodman. That’s when dresses are given the greatest markdowns. Deal hunters are also most likely to find new sale items on Wednesdays and Thursdays on all other clothes, when retail staff are out with price guns. 

5. Play with colour: Brightly hued clothes are sashaying down runways this year, but that doesn’t mean you need to spring for a mango-coloured sheath dress to stay on trend, says Goodman. She advises buying a colourful watch or pair of reasonably-priced, yet flashy, shoes instead.

6. Ask for help: We’ve all left the make-up aisle with a tube of foundation, only to discover that the shade make us look like we fell asleep in a tanning bed. What a waste of cash! If you’re unsure which make-up shade looks best on you, don’t be afraid to walk up to a cosmetics counter and ask. Even drugstores have cosmeticians on staff today. Just be sure you don’t get suckered into buying products you don’t need or you could spend more than you bargained for.

7. Be deal smart: Even if that fabulous skirt is marked down 75 percent, that doesn’t give you permission to buy it if you’re never going to wear it. Weird cuts and nasty colours are never in style, so save your cash. “Because even if you only paid $5, that’s $5 you could have put towards something you absolutely adored,” says Goodman. “And that’s money better spent.”

8. Save up for seasons: Considering what we spend, it makes sense to treat clothes shopping like any other large yearly expenditure. So be proactive and save up for it. Open a high-interest savings account and start a clothing fund. Throwing just $50 a month into the account will pay for your family’s new summer wardrobe next year, no credit-card hangover required.

Kira Vermond is a freelance writer and author of Chatelaine’s own Earn, Spend, Save: The savvy guide to a richer, smarter, debt-free life (Wiley, 2010). You can also listen to her career and money advice on CBC Radio weekday mornings across Canada.