Claire’s Life: How to be Fashionable and Financially Sound

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. 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.


Claire Sulmers is the publisher and founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, the #43 most influential style magazine in the world.

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