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As someone who keeps a close watch on her budget, I hate spending money on clothes. In fact, I rarely shell out more than ten bucks on any one item. But my frugal ways were put to the test on a recent trip to Chicago, when I unexpectedly needed some semiformal attire.

Wanting to travel light, I had packed as little as I could. So when the friends I was staying with invited me out for a nice dinner, I didn't have anything suitable to wear.

Armed with my knowledge of how to save money on clothes, I was determined to spend as little as possible. Here's how I went about it.

Plan Ahead

I asked my frugal Chicagoland pals and poked around Yelp to find the best thrift stores and consignment shops around. It turns out there's a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square and Wicker Park with some prime spots for scouting second-hand treasures. I mapped out four retail shops I wanted to check out.

Next, I set a budget. It's important to do this particularly when you're thrifting, because it's far too easy to go overboard with deals and one-of-a-kind finds. I decided to limit this shopping journey to $50 – more than enough for a few dresses, heels and stockings. I also budgeted for a couple of impulse buys, because you really never know what will turn up.

When you're thrifting, you may not always have access to a dressing room, so be sure to wear an outfit that you can easily try on clothes over. For instance, I usually wear a camisole, leggings and a skirt. That way if I need to try on pants, I can discreetly slip them on without offending anyone in public.

My Thrift Store Stops

First up was Family Thrift Store. I was impressed by how organized everything was. They had an excellent selection. There was even some designer garb with the tags still attached. However, it was a little out of my price range for this particular trip.

After some deliberation, however, I did splurge on a pair of black leather ankle boots ($20). I also made out with a black dress ($9.51), a shimmery green dress ($5.45) and a white camisole ($1.91). I spent a grand total of $40.20 – in other words, far more than I'm used to spending.

My second stop was Village Discount Outlet, just a few blocks down the street. This was the type of thrift store that requires searching through disorderly racks to find the true jewels. Plus, there were no dressing rooms, just a few mirrors. But the prices were amazing, with crazy deals like three-for-a-dollar items and half-priced specials!

After rummaging for about 30 minutes, I decided on a dress I found in the girls' section (at half off, $3), a pair of animal-pattern socks for a friend ($1), a halter top ($0.90, again half-priced) and some vintage brown dress shoes ($4). The grand total, with tax: $9.81.

At this point I was worn out from all the rummaging and decision making. While I did check out two more spots (Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads in Wicker Park), I didn't buy anything and decided to wrap up my thrifting adventures for the day.

All in all, while I ended up spending more than I might have liked, I did bring home a pretty good haul. Saving money on clothes doesn't have to be difficult – it just takes some planning, time and energy.


This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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