January 8th, 2013
Claire's Life, Fashion Bomb 101, Fashion News
Claire’s Life: How to be Fashionable and Financially Sound
By Claire

Yvonne wrote, “A long time ago, you wrote [this post] about fashion and budgeting. Now that it’s been a few years, do you have any advice or lessons learned to share with us about your money management journey? I know this isn’t directly related to fashion, but young women should try to keep in mind the danger of ruining your credit or not having any savings in the name of fashion (you’d be shocked at the stories I hear from my friends). So maybe like a paragraph or so? Thank you!”

I’ll give you more than a paragraph! Yvonne actually wrote me the above e-mail in October, but I saved this post for January 2013, as I set that date as my goal for getting rid of my credit card debt. I’m happy to report that as of today, I am 100% credit card debt free! Yessss!

Years ago, I was saddled with over $35,000 in debt, spread out over 4 cards. In my 20′s, I wasn’t making a lot of money. With a love for nice things, I bought quite a few items beyond my budget and ran up all my credit cards to the limit. I was fine paying the minimums while working my full time job in New York, but ish truly hit the fan when I moved to Paris for two years starting in 2008. With no job and little income, I had a scary moment one month when I simply couldn’t afford to pay my bills! Thankfully I was able to get on payment plans for all of them, which deducted an amount I could afford at a set time every month. After that scare, I quit using credit cards cold turkey, stopped spending above my means, started paying off my cards in huge chunks, and now, 5 years later (wow!), I am debt free and feeling fabulous! So I do have a few words of advice for fellow fashion lovers who want to save, build, and grow both their wardrobes and bank accounts.
1. Don’t buy things you can’t afford.

My YSL Tribtoo Pumps, ca 2011

If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you’d remember my tales of shopping on a budget and the Bronx pumps I broke while walking down 6th avenue.

My broken Bronx Heels ca. 2006

I was an entry level magazine staffer with champagne taste and a beer budget. Back in the day, you’d find me at Loehman’s, vintage stores, and more, because that’s all I could afford. A credit card unfortunately enabled me to buy things outside of my spend zone at the time ($300 Gucci sunglasses, anyone?), and I paid the consequences. If I could do it again, I’d have one credit card around for emergencies (and no, the Louboutin sample sale doesn’t count as an emergency!). Use a credit card if you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere and need to fly back home immediately. Don’t use it because Bloomingdales has a coupon and you found a pair of really cute shoes. After my credit card scare in 2008, I cut up all my cards, stopped using them, and have focused on paying them off. I now only use my debit card, which means that if I don’t have the money to pay for something outright, I don’t get it. Simple.

2. Search out sample sales and get those discount codes.

Women in line at the Jimmy Choo sample sale

You’ll find even the most seasoned fashion editor waiting in a long line, just like everyone else, for entry into the hottest sample sales. Luxury costs a lot of money, and lovers of fine things don’t always have the bank accounts to shoulder those costs. You’ve seen me battling the crowds at the Manolo Blahnik sale, wrangling over H&M designer collaboration coats, or popping by Helmut Lang for Friends & Family. Not in New York? Get familiar with sites like Gilt Groupe. Also, set your calendars for sale season. Wait until Black Friday to snag your coat for a deal, or join mailing lists to see when stores like Intermix, Net-a-Porter, and Bloomingdales are having promotions. Shopping online? Before you hit ‘check out,’ do a quick Google search to see if there are any discount codes for the site in question. Usually you can get a quick 10% or 20% off–any little bit helps.

3. Get familiar with vintage and consignment

Ina Consignment in Soho

I’ll be honest: I hate vintage shopping. I can’t deal with the potpourri of possibilities. When I go shopping, I prefer the boutique experience–edited selections with plenty of sizes, or department stores. I just like to know what I’m getting! That said, I still love to pop by vintage and consignment stores for the accessories. In New York, I frequent places like Ina or Fisch for the Hip, as they tend to have *great* sometimes current season designer shoes for a fraction of the retail price. Also, when you start to splurge a bit on your own, you can bring your designer duds there when you’ve tired of them, and make a little change by consigning yourself. Use the proceeds from the sale to get something else you’ve been eyeing. Call it fashion recycling.

4. Go on Ebay or sites like Fashionphile.

While Ebay is prime ground for fakes (I’ve fallen victim), there are several websites that sell authentic luxury goods for less. FashionPhile.com stands out, as they vet all their merchandise, and allow you to pay for authentic pieces over a couple of months.

5. Rent. Rent. Rent!!

Me wearing a Prabal Gurung dress from Rent the Runway

I’m no fool! With a myriad of events per week, there’s no way I can afford to buy new dresses, etc, for each engagement. So I’ll invest in shoes and handbags, and if there’s a low key event where I just need something cute to throw on, I’ll Rent the Runway. They have current season styles up to a size 16, and in New York, you can try things on in their fashion closet and take it right home with you (or get pieces courriered to you same day). Also, there’s no shame in Bag, Borrow, or Steal. Though I buy my bags now, back in the day I totally rented my designer bags for, say, Fashion Week, when I couldn’t afford to drop $2,000+ on a purse.

Me ca 2009 rocking a Louis Vuitton Vernis Tote from Bag, Borrow, or Steal

Aside from the tips above, I’d say save your money!! Though I’m not as good as I’d like to be, I automatically deduct a certain amount per month to go into a savings account that I don’t really touch. I use those funds as emergency backup first if anything happens. Now that I’m free of credit card debt, I plan to seriously focus on saving for retirement, and open one card just in case. I’ll most likely be rocking with a card that has fringe benefits–say miles on Delta in case I need a few extra on one of my international jaunts.

In conclusion: A lot of you guys have seen the site and myself grow over the past years. I wasn’t always rocking with Givenchy Nightingales, Kenzo RTW, and YSL Tribtoo pumps! When I first launched the site, I was in my Nine West heels, carrying Cole Haan bags, and professing my love for J.Crew. I still love those brands, but as I’ve grown up and gone for my goals, I now can afford to spend a little more.

Don’t try to live a lifestyle that is not authentic to who you are or what you’re doing.
Don’t try to dress just like Beyonce–she is a multi millionaire and can afford $1500 dresses.

If that’s not your reality, admire, get something similar, or save up if you really want it! If a star isn’t getting an item for free, they are buying it because they can. Rihanna is worth $53 million. So yes, she’ll be rocking a $4,000 coat or a $3,000 bikini.

Rihanna in a $3,000 bikini

It’s ok for you to rock with the $40 version. Just know, most times you get what you pay for (reference my Bronx Heels). But if it’s something you’ll only wear a few times, go ahead and get the look for less.
So in sum, if you’re wrangling with credit card debt yourself, my advice to you is: Stop using your cards, unless there’s an emergency. Buy what’s in your budget (it can be done!). And set a goal for getting rid of your debt. Mine was January 2013. And nothing compares to the feeling of not owing anyone ANYTHING. But then, there’s always Uncle Sam. Ha.
So there you have it! Nothing mind blowing, but I hope my words were helpful!
Tell me about your financial journey, your goals, and how you stay fly on a dime.

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129 Responses to “Claire’s Life: How to be Fashionable and Financially Sound”

  1. Tiffani M says:

    Great job Claire! Much respect.

  2. Anon says:

    Hands down my fave post on FBD. Im one this people with one credit card that always thought about getting another one although I dont need another. This posting put me right back in perspective. I am good at spending and buy luxury items with cash when I can. Thanks alot for this posting.

  3. Martinique_Fr says:

    BRAVO Claire! … Well said, and I totally agree.

  4. ScarLET says:

    I REALLY LOVED THIS POSTS CLAIRE. Luckly for me, my mom scared me when I was younger about using credit cards so I never use my one credit card except extreme emergencies. I love fashion but often get held back because I cant afford it. Once again wonderful post!!!

    Please remember people to act your WAGE! lol

  5. Tammy M. says:

    Already, the best post of 2013. Awesome tips @Claire, I often worry that some my friends that read this site may lust for the things that are too expensive or stay at every Zara/ASOS sale on ready, without giving a thought to their financial situation.

    This insight is much needed, job well done.

  6. J. Nicole says:

    Now these are the posts I really like to read! I also invest the most in bags & shoes, but there have been times the heel as broken on some pretty expensive shoes (bar hopping & NYC streets will eat any shoe regardless of price).
    There are so many people living above their means & celebrity obsessed who will go into debt to mimic a lifestyle they do not have. I’m a fan of not only Gilt but other flash sites like Rue La La & Haute Look etc. nack in my teens & 20′s when I went shopping I had to spend every last dime. Now, I only get what I need or truly desire. I get what fits me; physically & my lifestyle. I’m not 100% perfect but I refuse to forgo a bill just to buy something or pretend to be where I’m not financially.
    As far as clothing, certain items I’ll pick up almost anywhere (black leggings, tank tops, black mini skirts) and I can still fit into juniors sizes, which saves lots of money.

  7. NotHereForThat says:

    Excellent article!

  8. Mehita says:

    I operate on a cash/debit ONLY basis as well .. it’s not easy but the debt-free feeling is 110% worth it! :-)

    As my mom always says: Act your wage.

  9. MsNomer says:

    Excellent sound advice Claire! Thank you Yvonne for submitting the question that prompted this piece.

  10. Empress says:

    I love this post!
    I’m veryyyy frugal with my money. Like Kandi says “I ball on a budget”. Although I love clothes and shoes, I would rather spend that money and travel. For my birthday (March), instead of treating myself to a new bag or a pair of Loubs (that I will probably only wear twice) I’m taking a trip to Paris instead.

  11. dee says:

    deeGreat post!
    As someone who grew up in a well off family it was innately installed in me to want the best money could afford. I quickly learned when I was disowned by my family to live within my set means. I worked 2 jobs through undergrad, had 930,000 dollars worth of debt by age 22. I filed for bankruptcy by 23. Now I have revamped my life and proven the come back queen after grad school. Even though my money has come back, I definitely limit my splurge items to max 3 a year, I buy basic designer garments that can withstand the yearly trends, I drive the same audi I’ve had since 08 and she’ll have to die on me. Not to mention shopping sample sales and sales period (aside from makeup god sephora has sprinkle sales). All in all, even within your means now could take a drastic turn…

  12. Michelle says:

    LOVE THIS!! I’m currently working on the same thing of paying down some debt, though I don’t owe very much I just want to be able to live DEBT FREE! It’s so hard to skip the sales & great deals sometimes but in the end it will be worth it!

  13. Kim says:

    Great post! Congrats on paying off your cards. that’s my goal for this year…

  14. COTN says:

    I truly appreciate this post! Congrats on being debt free!

  15. Fa says:

    I am so happy that you did this post! It’s never cute to have a closet full of bags and clothes, but are ducking collectors. I have been credit card debt free for a couple years, and I take pride in paying the balances (in full) at the end of the month. Debt-free lives, let’s get it girls!

  16. jackie says:

    Thank you Claire for this post, it’s great that you told your story because it may help a lot of people. With instagram, facebook, blogs, and other social media it gets so overwhelming when you see all these individuals rocking some very nice things and you think to yourself I must be really behind, but what you pointed out is you just never know their story. Great advice, save your money, and stop trying to live a lifestyle that ain’t you. You will be surprised what you can do, and what you can have when your not being held back by debit and bad credit.

  17. Ashley says:

    This is an amazing post!! I love the fact that you keep it REAL and honest. I have been following you since 06 and I have seen your growth. I am definitely sharing this post. Thanks for posting this :)

  18. AD says:

    This is an AWESOME article. Thank you for this. I just paid off my student loans last year, and it was a year of sacrifice – but so worth it. This year I’m focused on paying off my credit card. Thanks for reminding me that you can be fashionable, but it doesn’t have to send you to the poor house. And CONGRATS on paying off your credit card debt. No small feat, so you have a lot to be proud of. Again, thanks for this piece.

  19. Bie says:

    Thank so much for this Claire!!!!! Debt free in 2013, Amen, I never enter the New Year with credit card debt, unfortunately school debt is out of my hands for now. I am grad student that wants to look good but it is important for me to manage for finances for the future so I can own a home and a nice car. Lets stop trying to keep up with Beyonce and Rihanna

  20. bella says:

    you’re so inspiring Claire. i love this post!

  21. Tiffany says:

    Great post and so inspiring! Thank you.

  22. jen says:

    I see all these girls with “red bottoms” etc and im dumbfounded as to how they got the money to wear that stuff. Did they spend their whole entire paycheck? Anyway, i call it “Caviar Taste, Tuna fish money”

  23. Ashlee says:

    Great timing with this post! Perfect advice for the start of the new year!

  24. simiyalala says:

    KUDOs to you Claire!

  25. Jen says:

    Best post ever! Luv it!

  26. Tawanda C. says:

    Claire this is my favorite post! Thank you! We must keep what’s most important in sight. Too many people live by the Carrie Bradshaw quote, “I like my money where I can see it, hanging in my closet.” Those really aren’t words to live by. I like my money available for emergencies, to fund my retirement, and to pay my bills on time so that I can buy a nice house and not a pair of red bottoms. PRIORITIES…I am making sure those are in the correct order in 2013! Thanks again Claire!

  27. Crystal says:

    I agree @Jackie. My tastes became more expensive once I started reading fashion blogs. I had to learn how to get creative. I can be inspired by a high end look for under $100 and get 1,000 compliments. It also helps that my husband wouldn’t know Prada from Payless.

  28. Jlynn719 says:

    I love this! A lot of people write about shopping smart but have actually never been through SERIOUS credit card debt. I am so proud that you admitted it and climbed out of it yourself. I made a resolution this year to get my money (credit card debt included) under control in 2013. This was great motivation! Thank you!!!!!

  29. Lioness says:

    Great article! I have very little debt but I do spend alot on clothes and home furnishings. Almost never full price and I put alot away in my 401k. Ebay has always been good to me (buying and selling), I’ve never had an issue with buying fake items from there, you just have to do your research. Malleries is also good for discounted luxury items. I think cities like NYC are really difficult because we have tons of Sample Sales (YSL, DVF, JCrew oh myyy!) but its about staying focused on your future and what you want.

  30. Dom says:

    Thanks for the words of advice Claire. This is def one of the best posts I’ve seen on any blog, ever!

  31. Jen says:

    I love me some Fashion Bomb Daily. You ladies are the bomb.com. I so needed to read this story. I am going to forward this article to all of my friends now. Thank you.

  32. HarlemsVanity says:

    Love it! Goes hand in hand with what me and my uncle spoke about over brunch on Sunday ; )

  33. Enigma says:

    Perfect timing. I will be printing to remind myself of my goals to become debt free and stop spending and start saving.

  34. Taj says:

    This is such a thoughtful, honest, and necessary post. Claire I applaud you because you are not selling people a dream and this post has excellent advice that we should follow not only with respects to fashion but for us to be economically responsible by making sound financial decisions.

  35. Mads says:

    It’s been said (plenty of times) but this is one of the best posts ever on FBD! My mum also scared me about credit cards and often said your ‘flexible friend’ is really your worst enemy. I only have a credit card for emergencies (broken roof etc) and try and save up for big ticket items. Most brands make their money on accessories (shoes/bags/sunglasses etc) as there are so few people who will really spend £5,000 on a dress (hello 1%). I am not a label whore, I’ve friends who work in fashion technology who have trained my eye to look for quality, regardless of what the label says.

  36. Nikki says:

    Awesome post, very salient statements.

    I’d like to see more posts like this, not necessarily fashion on a budget but the team imparting some non-celeb centered wisdom.

  37. Andrea says:

    Excellent advice Claire. Wouldn’t expect anything else from you. Thanks for sharing your story. I recently became credit card debt free and it’s SUCH a relief. I no longer put things on my card and the sale Helmut Lang pants don’t appeal to me anymore. It’s all about saving. Open an IRA and max it out yearly if nothing else.

  38. …good post…i remember your nine west heels…am so happy for you…lol i buy my designer shoes when they are on sale….i scored a balenciaga for 175bucks on yoox.com…what i do is help people search for designer shoes they want to buy thats more than half the original price….if anyone needs help email me at pieceslyboutique@gmail.com

  39. Aynai Sy says:

    Great post, The fashionbomb is one of the best ,cheers to you Claire !!

  40. Cam says:

    Great post, Claire. I’m at the beginning of my financial freedom, and although I’m nowhere near the $35,000 credit card debt you faced, it’s still a daunting task. I can only imagine how freeing it must be to have absolutely no credit card debt! I wanna be like you when I grow up lol.

  41. Q says:

    Great article Claire!! This really needs to be published in as many mags as possible. Many ladies of the younger generation (and some 30+ alike) really need to read this. 2 thumbs up!

  42. Claire- THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for this. I love your transparency and your honesty. I love nice things as well but alas cannot afford them. I love labels (well I love quality) and cannot always afford it and I love these ideas you have offered. Please do more Claire’s life posts! I only come on for those now as the rest is so Kim K and Beyonce saturated. Thank you again for this!

  43. Reta says:

    This was an excellent post Claire! I just paid off my credit cards in Novemeber last year so I definately know the feeling. I only use my credit card now for online shopping and travel and I pay it off every month. I will never have that type of debt again! This article is so powerful for women of all ages!!!

  44. Great post, Claire! It’s great to hear your story. I’ve been reading this blog since 07/08 and I’ve definitely witnessed your taste in fashion and the blog grow. I’m glad that you were able to let women know that there is a way to look great without spending money you don’t have.

  45. Savage says:

    This was well needed, back when I was a commercial banker (I’m an investment banker now, yay!) I would deal with so many young sisters living beyond thier means. I know in this economy its hard to pay your bills, save, shop, and play all @ the same time but you must prioritize. Don’t try to dress like the celebs. I was on a date with this guy and I told him about my shoe addicition. He asked me did I own any “Red Bottoms”. I told him there is no way I would buy those shoes if I didn’t own property. And he was in shock. I go by what my Dad always told me. “Don’t go broke trying to look good. Buy the best YOUR money can afford”. So I don’t buy LV I buy MK lol Great post!

  46. Nadege says:

    Great post Claire! thank you for your honesty and fashion tips.

  47. Seun O says:

    Really great post Claire! It’s clear you really took time to write this.
    Congrats on clearing your debt!

  48. Great article. Thanks for the excellent tips.

  49. Kitty B. says:

    AMAZING POST!!! I to recently paid off my credi card debit (amazing to see all that extra money in my account) but, I’m currently still Sallie Mae’s biotch and will be for a while….

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