Most people wear what they can afford. Often, this means giving up a preferred style in exchange for an occasion-appropriate look within budget. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to sacrifice style, money, or good credit for good fashion.

Here's how to look expensive on a budget.

Freebies. Nothing screams frugal like free stuff! If you are crafty and/or creative, you can make most anything work. I rarely decline hand-me-downs. With the right accessories, I can make it work. In fact, I receive unwanted clothing all the time. Usually, the items are in great condition -- worn out is never fashionable -- and the giver is sick of it or it no longer fits. Their loss is my gain.

Gifting is another way to increase your wardrobe as long as the gifter avoids ugly Christmas sweaters or unflattering styles. I received an infinity scarf for Christmas this year with a geometric print similar to chevron. I hate chevron prints. I decided to pair it with several potential outfits. Remember, the idea is to create looks. If you focus on individual pieces, you will have a limited wardrobe. The scarf looks great when paired with other items. Take those gifts, and see what you can do with it.

Finally, if you are the crafting sort, do-it-yourself is a frugal option. I make my own beaded jewelry. I have tried my hand at knitting to no avail. If you crochet or sew or are handy with a pair of scissors and thread, you can create pieces or accessories for less than a similar at a retailer.

Thrift Shops/Consignments/Yard Sales. Discounted items are the next best thing to free. Most of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores. Sometimes, thrift and consignment shops offer sales to move inventory. Finding a sale at a discount clothing store only sweetens the deal. If the store is independently owned, you might be able to negotiate a better deal. Negotiation is particularly useful at yard sales. No one wants to pack up remaining items. If you drop by the last hour of a yard sale, you have more room to negotiate. That's how I grabbed a new sequined Express dress with tags for fifty cents!

The key to thrift shopping is suspending all expectations. I often hear the complaint "I never find anything at a thrift store." If you concentrate on the piece and not the potential looks you can create, you will find nothing. If you arrive with specific expectations in mind (a black halter with lace down the front and beaded detailing), you will find nothing. I once watched a woman sift through a large rack of pink t-shirts and tanks at Plato's Closet. She verbally expressed her disgust every 60 seconds with "I just want a plain pink t-shirt." There were almost 50 plain pink t-shirts in the store! Needless to say, she left disgruntled and empty-handed.

Subscription boxes. I have a subscription box addiction. It started with nail polish and evolved into food boxes. I have paired down my subscriptions since. Subscriptions vary in product (food, beauty, clothing, shoes, fitness, and so on) and price. The lowest subscriptions start at $10 and can cost over $100/month. My personal favorite is the POPSUGAR Must-Have box, a lifestyle box. There is always one high-end item in the box. The cost is $39.95 plus free shipping. I have a really nice designer scarf that retails for $80. If I divide the value of the items equally over the cost of the subscription, I paid $5 for the scarf. ShoeMint offers two pairs of shoes for $39.95/month (and I have managed to avoid the temptation to subscribe despite promo codes for the first box). Subscription boxes are a great way to try beauty products without committing to the full price. You are only limited by your interests.

Retail on a budget. Sometimes, you just gotta buy retail. I have a professional job that requires professional clothing. I rarely find pants off the rack hemmed for my petite frame at thrift stores (but when I do, I bring them home). I saved $167 during my last shopping spree. Last year, I bought $504 worth of merchandise for $208 with free shipping. I am to fashion what extreme couponers are to groceries.

  •  Rewards and mailing lists. I have a rewards credit card from New York and Company. I don't recommend applying for several cards or racking up large sums of debt. I shop at NY and Co. frequently for professional clothing. I know that my size stays consistent, so I have no issues purchasing items online. In addition, I am on their mailing list. I receive freebies, rewards certificates, discounts towards purchases, etc. Rewards can be used with sale and clearance items in most cases. Some mailing lists offer great incentives like Victoria's Secret that sends a free panty voucher every three months with no purchase required.
  • Semi-annual sales. In August and January, stores will reduce prices up to 80% to move summer and winter inventory to make room for new styles.
  • Weekend sales. The weekend is the best time to shop at the mall. Retailers will hold sales to draw traffic into the store. Beware of the many non-sale items in the store.
  • Online promotions. Online promotions are often more enticing than the in-store variety. Rarely do retailers have the same promotion running both in-store and online simultaneously. Most retailers offer styles or a larger inventory online for obvious reasons. It's not difficult to find free shipping offers.
  • Promo codes. Promo codes are discounts offered to new customers. It's a great marketing tool and budget saver.
  • Combination. The $300 I saved was a combined effort. I shopped online during a semi-annual sale and BOGO promotion with my rewards card and promo codes I received in the mail and purchased enough to qualify for free shipping. There may be limits on combining items, so check the fine print.

Published by Heather Leigh Stanley