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.
Smootches!

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129 comments

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

  1. Jen says:

    Great advice. I especially love the Rent the Runway promo. I often have engagements so this tidbit is greatly appreciated. My goal is to also be completely debt free by June 2013. But of course there will always be those dang student loans! LOL
    #OperationCutCards

  2. stylengrace says:

    Claire, this post was so helpful and a lot of things you spoke about is so me. I’m working on it in this new year so help me god. You inspire me in many ways, it isn’t even funny. I love you baby girl, keep being you. xoxoxo

  3. ugk says:

    THANK YOU CLAIRE!!!!

  4. Miss Sadiddy says:

    As everyone else has mentioned this is an awesome post. As a reader of your blog since it’s beginning it is great to read your personal story, and its also uplifting to read about a successful woman reaching out to help and give advice other women.

  5. Lil says:

    Very helpful post. Loved it!

  6. florida love says:

    This is so true… Sometimes, you have to live in your bracket. There is enough clothing out there to fit every woman of every income.

  7. Cliche says:

    I loved every word of this, Claire. It was firmly rooted in reality, and very much inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Tiffany says:

    Bravo Claire! I think this was much needed and an important article for you to post. We often get caught in the glamour of celebs/fashionistas on Youtube and blogs that we forget that reality of financial freedom! I am working on that this year and saving more! Keep up the good work!

  9. you are an inspiration! i am also paying down my debt and i only have one credit card. i stay “fly on a dime” by only shopping sales and thrift stores. i reconstruct my vintage pieces when i want to emulate a designer look. the key to shopping thrift stores is to only buy unique pieces, such as a great wool coat or a beautifully constructed dress :-)

  10. Liz says:

    wait…in your 20s??? aren’t you still in your 20s..hot dang, i thought u were 26ish. next post do a “how to look like your in your 20s and your not”

  11. s says:

    Thanks so much Claire for this post. I agree with an earlier commenter, these are the types of posts I would like to read more often. You give a “real world” perspective for navigating the fine line between one’s taste and one’s means. My husband and I have also had dealt with credit card debt in past years and we are now “practically” credit card debt free…only one card payment away. We’ve also got a great head start on our retirement as well. So Claire, I feel you. It’s a Wonderful feeling to be on this side of credit card debt. Also, like you we have also gone to consignment stores, as well as put things on consignment. I find if you have “an eye” for quality items, you can navigate those stores quite nicely and often find a “hidden treasure” every now and again. Again great post and I would love to see more like it in the future. *SMILES*

  12. Claire says:

    Hey Y’all thanks for your kind words! This post has been cooking in drafts since October, so I’m glad I could finally hit ‘publish’!
    LOL @Liz Since I keep it 100 with y’all, I’ll disclose I’m 31, turning 32 on Saturday #OW Capricorns, stand up!!!! So I’m not far from my 20′s, but ya know…started The Fashion Bomb at age 26, 6 years later, voila!
    At any rate, keep sharing your stories, you inspire me as much as I hope my story inspires you. X

  13. Toyabelle says:

    Dope post!! This is definitely the type of post that so many of us (myself included) need to read. Thanks for being so honest and sharing. Happy New Year!

  14. jeda says:

    Congrats on being debt free Claire….my debts come from all this schooling I’m paying for. But I’ve always been very frugal with my shopping. I know that one day I’ll be able to afford the things I really want. And yes, I only have one credit card that is maxed out! That’s only because I was using it to pay bills while I was unemployed. But Praise The LORD, I’m doing better now,

    Blessings

  15. Og dear, this was me last year. Lovely tips Claire. You’re the bomb.

  16. Oh dear, this was me last year. Lovely tips Claire. You’re the bomb. xx

  17. ChiHou says:

    Thank you Claire for this post. I needed it! This will be a post I will surely revisit.

  18. M says:

    This was a really amazing article. May I ask what company you used to pay your cards off. I have a friend with this exact problem and I would love to pass along the sound information.

  19. Claire says:

    @M Don’t use a debt consolidation company. I repeat. Do not use a debt consolidation company. I considered doing that when I felt things were gong over my head. Debt consolidation companies basically charge you money to do something you can do yourself.
    Call all your credit card companies and discuss setting up a payment plan. Most credit card companies I dealt with (Bank of America for one) had some sort of hardship program you can enroll in. I was paying what I could afford every month; I had to do that for 2 years before I got back on my feet. Then, once I could, I paid it off. It’s intimidating, but everyone I spoke to seemed very willing to help. Just don’t let your bills go unpaid for long. As soon as you know you’ll have a problem/won’t be able to make a payment, call them up and see what can be worked out.
    Good luck!

  20. Livi says:

    Great question with a very thorough answer. Thanks, Claire for being humble enough to share your experience.

  21. AzizMom says:

    Thanks for the post Claire and congratulations! For the younger ladies (I’m over 35) I caution you to not rack up debt, save and invest while you have little to no responsibilities. I opened a mutual fund in my early 20s, by my late 20s I was able to use that to put down on a house. Pay off your car. Clothes, bags, shoes and these other trinkets are worthless – investments are lasting, can be resold and you can pass on to your children or family members. Don’t get sucked in to what the t.v., videos, magazines and even some blogs are doing – be the millionaire next door!

  22. More Depth Needed says:

    I think to take this article to the next level..may be do a piece about why people feel the “need” to rent, charge or wear things that they can not afford?
    What has happened to people that they are willing to pay 1k and up for shoes?

  23. DIVA says:

    finally a dose of reality

  24. LaTasha says:

    This was excellent Claire. And kudos for paying off your credit card debt and being debt free. I’m on my way to being debt free. I paid off all of my credit cards and my car about 3 years ago but I’m still working on my student loans. I should have one loan paid off by october. You have given me some sound advice that can really help me.

  25. Fashion Newbie says:

    Thanks Claire. This article is definitely helpful. As I’ve been wrestling with this subject I’m glad to have these resources.

  26. mellow. says:

    oh.em.gee. Thank you for bringing this finance thing back into perspective for me! I too was scared by my fam early on, so I’ve avoided credit card debt but the lack of ability to fashion splurge can truly be heartbreaking, so thank you for the reminder that Madewell is a perfectly acceptable jumping off point! :)

  27. binks says:

    Great tips Claire! I can’t stress the last one enough people need to stop imitating the life of the rich and famous especially when they get most of their stuff for free while we are penny pinching trying to keep up. Furthermore stop chasing trends! If you must do a trend try stores like forever 21 or something so once the trens is finally over it won’t feel like you wasted big $ on it. I need to get my college debt down sick of being sally mae’s trick…lol

  28. MsClassic says:

    I really needed to hear this thank you so much Claire!!!

  29. Jen says:

    Great post Claire.

  30. Sandra says:

    @ Claire Fantastic post. People need to learn and hear that you should never, never live above your needs. Celebrities loan clothes, and get them for free when they don’t buy them. Don’t try to compete with friends, colleagues or the hot chick in school. Stay true to yourself and you will be able to sleep well at night.

    If you want something work for it and save every penny for it. I live my life by these standards and that is why I have no credit card debts.

    Make sure that you have friends/family around you that will encourage you to save and be careful with your money. Sometimes it is the company you keep that has bad influence on your spending. If it is the case, get rid of these so called friends.

    Last if you owe money, don’t act like they will disappear on their own, call your debitor, try to set up a payment plan, and stick to it. Don’t use any third party. Do it yourself, it will save you money in the long run. Remember, if you cannot afford it, it is not worth it.

  31. Mona L says:

    This was an awesome post!! And thank you to the young lady who had the courage to ask about such a sensitive topic!!!

  32. CC says:

    My biggest fear is making out. I am close to $4,000 in credit card debt and I am BEYOND stressed about paying it back considering I have no stable job right now. But reading this post really put things into perspective for me. I can pay it off in a few months once I land a decent paying job so that makes me feel a little more content (and I’m optimistic things will change soon!) and my fear of maxing out definitely prevents me from spending more on those cards. I’m no where near maxing out but I definitely know the dangers I could place myself in and my mother has schooled me on what can happen so I’m glad I’ve realized my bad habit early on. I have so many more important things I want, like a car and to move out on my own and not have to rely on my mother, so that’s driving me to be more responsible. Thank you, Claire for this awesome and insightful post :) may God continue to bless you and your loved ones!

  33. Tricia says:

    A lot of us don`t like to share our personal financial situations with each other; so, thanks Claire for sharing with us! Congratulations on paying down that debt. I can relate to racking up debt in my 20`s. It felt like such a relief when I pay it off by my 30th birthday. This is a post I would have loved to read when I was in my twenties. I guess we live (in my case shop) and learn!

  34. Glinnesa says:

    Congratulations on paying down debt! That is an awesome accomplishment! You forgot the trusted ebates where you get cash back for your online purchasing. That with a coupon gives you HUGE savings! I am also a Coach girl. They have an invite only section where their one year old or older purses are for sale. Coach I find is timeless so it doesn’t matter to me if the style is a year old. I get my purses on average for $100.00.

  35. Fab. says:

    This is what makes your blog >>>

  36. bebe says:

    Great advice Claire, especially for a student like myself!

  37. tasha says:

    This is a great piece Claire. Big time Kudos and congrats to you. I plan on having my student loans paid off in with years. It takes the big time step of cutting back on shopping. I guess I have always been good a thrift and vintage shopping so it wont bother me that much.

  38. Marthe says:

    fantastic post!

  39. yonaton says:

    great article!

  40. Michelle says:

    I love this Claire! It’s great to see a young black woman taking charge of her finances. I am all about maintaining good credit and watching how much I spend out of my bank account. I love the clearance rack and I know when sales are and what kind of discount they will offer even if I don’t participate lol. Clearance racks always carry the trend and style I’m looking for and I don’t have to worry about spending an arm and a leg. I shop online at my favorite department stores because I know they will carry my size and I can get free shipping because I carry a credit card and I am a preferred shopper. I am really looking forward to improving both my wardrobe and credit score in 2013!

  41. Frenchie says:

    Hi Claire,

    This was a great post. i am actually interested in finding out how to find out about sample sales. Is there a listserv or site?

  42. kory conover says:

    Unfortuneately, I’m guilty of breaking every last one of these rules. But 2013 is my year to get it right!

  43. Natasha says:

    Congrats on being debt-free. You’re financially and physically healthy: a blessing to hold on to! Glad to see so many responses to an important post. By the way, I only know a few vintage shops online and none of them are CHEAP unless they have sales…which is when I pounce :lol:

  44. Siyam says:

    Wow Claire! Thank you times a million for this post. I really do like shopping for fashionable finds and can appreciate this little bit of yourself that you’ve shared. I am currently paying off my credit cards and two of my student loans because I graduate this fall and want to be ahead of the curve. I do love a lot of the things you wear but also realize a lot of it comes from you working your way up the ladder. I will be credit card debt free by the end of this month and focusing on paying off my car.
    As far as my way to stay stylish on a budget, I re-read and analyze all three of Nina Garcia’s books from The Little Black Book of Style and the Style Strategy because she really makes you pick investment pieces and tells you where you can splurge and where it’s best to save. I also edit my closet ruthlessly three times a year to consign or donate things that don’t fit or haven’t been worn in 6 months. I recommend her books to EVERYONE because it makes me re-think my purchases. Thank you again for talking about finance and fashion :)

  45. natu afia says:

    Claire u dont know how proud u make me ! And am only 17

  46. Brenda says:

    These are the kind of posts we all need to read to start the year. All the fashion is great, but we need to know how to get it for less. Letting us know how to save on fashion is a great start to the New Year. I live in LA and discovered fashionphile a couple of years ago, a great source to save on luxury items. How about skin care posts this year? Claire, you are the best!!!!

  47. Miss j says:

    Best post Claire and congrats on being debt free

  48. V says:

    CLAIRE IM SO TOUCHED BY THIS ARTICLE. THANK U FOR SHARING YOUR TIPS AND YOUR JOURNEY ON THIS IMPORTANT MATTER! FASHION LOVERS LIKE US DEFINITELY NEED TO KNOW THESE THINGS! THANK U SOOO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS!!

  49. A says:

    Well put Claire!

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