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The best thing about fall is its fashion, but that retail therapy can also take a toll on your budget. Our finance expert offers tricks to avoid pitfalls while still enjoying a fashionable fall treat.

Shop for fall fashion without busting your budget.
Shop for fall fashion without busting your budget.

I was at lunch with my friend the other day, and of course we could not help but talk about the all the new fall fashion trends.

Each year top fashion magazine release what’s cool this season rather it’s whimsical colors, flare bottom jeans, or chunky collared sweaters. We as consumers are convinced that somehow we have to be cool and trendy, spending our money on these new clothing items. Not true!

For the record, as a self-declared fashionista, I love shopping. I’m weird in a sense because I love touching the fabrics, the smell of new clothes, and sifting through racks of clothing to find that unbelievable deal. The clearance rack is my favorite, of course. So I definitely understand the urge to shop until you drop on the latest trends, but I would recommend only buying one trendy piece this season. As a frugal fashionista, you do not want to get in the habit of spending a lot of money for pieces you will only wear once or twice.

When looking for these trendy pieces, it is easy to go out to an expensive retailer, but let’s start the search at Forever21, H&M, or Macy’s (as they are always having a sale). No one will know that you did not spend an arm and a leg for your piece. I often wait for the end of the season sale to pick up my statement pieces. Season end sales are deeply discounted to at least 65 percent off.

This brings me to my next point of using price points while shopping. Don’t use a sale as an excuse to splurge outside of your budget. Having a spending limit will help with this endeavor. Combining price points with spending limits will definitely ensure your bank account is happy. This real-life concept is used by home buyers when selecting a home. A good realtor will not show you a home that is more than your pre-approval amount; therefore, as a frugal shopper you should not shop outside of your budget.

My plan of attack this fall season is to find the perfect pair of thigh high, suede, high-heeled boots. However, I am only willing to spend $50 for a pair. By setting this price point, I will not get distracted by anything outside of that price range. It will not be easy, but it will be worth when I have extra money for holiday shopping or trip planning.

Trust me you can do it, changing your habits and your priorities is the start to becoming a successful saver. Price pointing and spending limits will be second nature and your bank account will remain intact. It takes patience, but don’t let retailers take you out of the saving game; instead make better decisions when it comes to shopping. This way you will win every time.

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Celebrating the holidays can add up quickly. Our new finance columnist shares some helpful spending hacks for the holiday season that’ll prevent surprise attacks to your budget this year.

Our finance columnist helps break down your budget for the holidays.
Our finance columnist helps break down your budget for the holidays.

Fall is here. Not only does that mean the leaves are the beautiful hues of yellow, orange, and red, the air is crisp, and the new perfect ensemble is now a sweater dress and riding boots, but also fall, October, specifically, marks the beginning of the Holiday Season.

Big dollars are going to be spent at grocery stores and online retailers for Halloween costumes and candies, Thanksgiving turkeys and parties, Black Friday shopping mall sales, as well as Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah gift giving. Oh and we cannot forget New Year’s Eve parties, decorations, and all the airline tickets to be with family for the Holidays.

These fall Holidays alone can disrupt anyone’s normal budget far worse than daily trips to Starbucks and your favorite lunch café. Some people spend thousands of dollars over the course of these three awesome months than in any other month of the year. I am here to give you a few spending hacks to keep your budget and your wallets happier during this time of the year. If we plan for the Holiday season throughout the year, we place ourselves in a better position. Luckily, these dates happen the same time every year, so that should eliminate the surprise a bit.

Here are my top spending hacks for the holiday season:

· Beginning with Halloween, families can save tons of money using materials around the house and a bit of creativity.
Utilizing old clothing that can be cut, glued, and dyed will eliminate wasting money on costumes that will only be worn once. If your family passes out delightful treats, candies can be purchased in bulk at Sam’s Club, Costco, or Dollar Tree (everything here is $1).

· Make Thanksgiving dinner and parties potluck style.
Family members can combine their resources to buy food; therefore, the responsibility does not fall onto one or two family members. Uncle John can bring the cranberries, while Aunt Judy brings the potato salad. Remember John and Judy did not have to cook it, but at least they can contribute by purchasing the ingredients.

· Black Friday is only for deals on electronics.
The best sale for retailers such as department stores, is the week before Black Friday. Simple.

· For Holiday gift giving, create an additional savings account where you contribute $50 every week to Holiday spending. If you start Week 1, by Week 47 (the week before Black Friday), you would have saved $2,350.

Those are a few spending hacks that should keep you on the right track with your budget. Remember it is important to be in charge of your budget and spending at all times of the year. Seasonal events can be less of a burden is planning throughout the year is a priority. Happy savings!

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September is National Literacy Month, so our new finance columnist explains how to celebrate the magic of a good book while saving a few bucks!

Cincy Chic's new finance columnist Emerald Athena Tucker. Photo: Lawrence Tucker
Cincy Chic’s new finance columnist Emerald Athena Sparks. Photo: Lawrence Tucker

With September being National Literacy Month, it is hard not to talk about books. For more than 50 years, book lovers have come together to share their passion of reading. The month has turned into a global movement to end illiteracy and expand learning opportunities for children and adults all over the world.

In true budget-friendly fashion, let’s explore how to buy that new found bestseller or “gotta have it” novel for the fraction of the cost. Below are some tips to buying books for a lower price.

If you are an avid library card holder, you know that the local branch may or may not have every book that hits Amazon’s Best Seller or Best Books of the Year So Far listing; therefore, the library is not always a dollar saver, but is a good place to start. Check out your neighborhood library and its reservation system. This is a huge database containing many, many books for free.

If a library is not close, there are online retailers. Usually, Amazon offers four formats to purchase a novel, Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, and Audible. More than likely, the Kindle version is your cheapest choice, even beating the Used book price plus shipping charges. Additionally, don’t forget to peruse through the Today’s Deals section of Amazon, you could score a book for $0.99.

Also, Alibris.com and Thriftbooks.com are both great sites for scoring top name books for $0.99. Each site offers coupons and flash deals to further rack up the savings on your beloved novels. At Thriftbooks.com, teachers and educators receive a 15% discount.

As an alternative to the great online retailers, avid readers can opt into playing it closer to home. A great way to expand your reading list is to swap books with friends. Our friends are often an untapped resource. Friends belong to book clubs, get exclusive offers through their network, and work at really great places with awesome perks. Your friend could have access to that book you have been dying to read. Just ask around and treat your friends like the library. Trading books with one another is a great way to save money on book purchases.

If all else fails, check out secondhand booksellers and give yourself a budget. Start with a spending limit of $25 and spend no more than that in a given month for books. If it would help, bring a friend to keep you accountable. Sticking to spending limits can be difficult if you are not accustomed to the behavior. Having a trusty accountability partner can help until the natural willpower kicks in.

From library cards to secondhand bookstores, celebrating National Literacy Month can still be fun and friendly to your bank account!

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Throughout our lives and various circumstances, most of us will receive larger chunks of cash than the usual deposit from our pay checks. Before you stop reading, think about it. I’m not talking about receiving a huge inheritance from a long lost relative – although that circumstance would count. Most commonly, we receive annual bonuses at work and/or tax refunds.

 

For many of us, these funds are used to pay off debt or build our emergency fund, but what should we do if we want to invest the money? If our new “wealth” is sitting in a savings account, we may feel as though we are missing an opportunity to put that money to work. However, we may be a bit leery, if not completely terrified, of investing a lump of cash all at once. First, we shouldn’t rush. It’s perfectly fine to be afraid. Take a deep breath.

 

If we don’t already have one, we should consider opening and moving the funds into our bank’s highest-yielding savings or money market account. A brief discussion with a bank representative should solve the problem. This way, our money continues to earn interest while we have bought ourselves some breathing room.

 

Now that the initial panic is over, there is a way to invest our money that won’t keep us up at night or checking the market every hour. There is an investment concept called dollar-cost averaging (DCA). With DCA, we invest our money in smaller, equal chunks on a regular basis – such as once a month – into a diversified group of investments.

 

For example, if we have $6000 to invest, we can invest $500 per month until it’s gone, which will take one year. The money awaiting future investment isn’t hiding in the mattress. We will keep it in our high-yield money market or savings account so it can earn a bit of interest while awaiting its turn.

 

The idea behind DCA is that it allows us to ease into investments instead of jumping in all at once. If the price of the investment drops after some of our initial purchases, we can buy some later at a lower price (buying low). If we dump the entire lump into the investment all at once and then the bottom falls out, we’ll be kicking ourselves for not waiting. The flip side of DCA is that when our investment increases in value, we may wish we had invested faster.

 

Another drawback to DCA is that we may get nervous as we continue to deposit money into an investment that’s dropping in value. The upside in this situation is that we have not invested all of our money at once. So, we have the option of bailing out of what may feel like a sinking ship.

 

If DCA is our chosen investment method, we should make the deposits automatic so that we are less likely to chicken out should the investment fall after our initial purchases. Most investment firms provide automatic deposit options.

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I always believed that once I graduated from college, I would never have to worry about report cards and grades again. How wrong I was. As adults, we have the ultimate report card that follows us through every career choice we make and every town we move to. It even follows us into our personal relationships. It’s our credit report. How many times have you been told to check your credit report? Have you ever wondered what that report means, the best place to get it, what to do if there are errors in your report and how to improve your credit score?

 

Let’s take those questions one at a time…

 

What does my credit report include? What does my credit score mean?
Your credit report contains four categories of information:
1. Personal identifying information: your name, address, Social Security number and so on
2. Record of credit accounts: A list of all of your accounts and details about when each account was opened, the latest balance, your payment history and so on
3. Bankruptcy filings: Indicates is you’ve filed for bankruptcy in recent years
4. Inquiries: A list of every entity that has pulled your credit report because you’ve applied for credit

 

Your credit score is different than your credit report. Your credit score is a three digit score determined by the information in your credit report. Lenders use your score as an indicator of your likelihood of defaulting on a loan. Your score will range between 300 and 850. Like your grades in school, higher numbers are better. Credit scores below 620 are not good, and lenders consider these loans risky. With some types of loans (such as home equity loans), you may need a score of 760-780 in order to receive the best rates.

 

Where do I get my credit score?
As was the case for your report card when you were a student, you are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report once per year from each of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and FICO). If you visit www.annualcreditreport.com, you can view and print copies of your report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. For FICO, you will need to visit www.myfico.com.

 

How do I get errors in my credit report corrected?
If you find an error in your credit report, DO NOT assume the information is correct!
If the creditor is completely foreign to you: Often times, personal credit problems are a result of someone else’s negative information landing on your credit report. If the bad information is completely foreign to you, tell the credit bureau and explain that you need more information because you don’t recognize the creditor. If the creditor made a mistake: You need to call the creditor to get them to make a correction with the credit bureau.

 

When making these calls, take good notes. Ask for names, extensions, don’t be afraid to follow up and don’t be afraid to ask for a department manager if you aren’t getting results. By law, bureaus are required to respond to a request to fix a credit error within 30 days – make sure they do!

 

How do I improve my credit report and score?
• Get all three of your credit reports and check them twice. Correct errors and especially be sure to get accounts removed if they aren’t yours.
• If your report includes late or missed payments that are yours but are more than 7 years old, ask to have them removed. This also holds true for bankruptcies more than 10 years old.
• Pay all your bills on time.
• Be loyal. The older the age of a credit account, the better your credit rating. Closing old accounts and opening a bunch of new ones generally lowers your credit score. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to move balances from a high interest rate card to a lower interest rate card, and don’t be afraid to refinance if it makes sense for you.
• Limit your consumer debt. The more loans, especially consumer loans, that you hold and the higher the balances, the lower your credit score will be.
• Pay down credit card debt.

 

I hope you get straight A’s this year!

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Vacation season has come to a close and, I don’t know about you, but my stress level has gone through the roof. In an effort to decrease my stress level, I did a little research to find a few coping mechanisms and stress management tips. While on my search for the illusive “silver bullet”, I discovered some interesting statistics.

 

First, women are more stressed than men. Second, the number one source of stress is money, followed by work, and then the economy, according to the 2011 Stress in America survey conducted by The American Psychological Association.

 

75% of respondents in the survey said that money is a stressor in their lives.

 

We have plenty to stress about. We are working; caring for partners, family and friends; and trying to look cute and balance our budgets while doing it. But it doesn’t mean we have to live these statistics as our truth. It doesn’t mean that starting today, we can’t make concrete changes—or even tweaks—that will ease the stress in our lives.

 

Do Women Have It Tougher When It Comes to Money?
“Women have been disenfranchised,” says Dr. Kate Levinson, psychotherapist and author of Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money. “Society doesn’t empower us. We’ve been acculturated to stay dumb about money – legally, and culturally for generations. It is so new for women to have so much access to and control over money.”

 

But we can’t “stay dumb” about money, insists Dr. Levinson. “It limits our options in the world, not to mention feelings of self-worth and competency.” I would venture to say, this concept is directly related to the stress we’re feeling.

 

What Can Women Do About Their Stress?
When it comes to your finances, it’s important to take an account of what your current picture looks like, and educate yourself on what the options are. “Being ignorant or sticking our heads in the sand only makes matters worse,” says Dr. Levinson. “We can’t afford to be ignorant about our finances. Engage with the real situation.”

 

Maybe you feel bad about your debt, and that leads to inaction. Instead, put denial aside and shed honest light on the issue. If it’s too hard to do this alone, reach out for help. Talk to a friend or family member who’s an expert, or with financial planner who will guide you through what’s holding you back.

 

When it comes to finances, Dr. Levinson agrees: “It’s important to talk with others, to not let the shame of the situation or the self-criticism stop you from getting support. Talking with others not only helps us to problem-solve, but also to feel not so alone and isolated in handling the situation.”

 

Get your partner involved, a friend or a money buddy. Basically, don’t go it alone.

 

If money is about numbers, and we know what we need to be doing, why is it so stressful? Why does it make us cry, do crazy things and keep us up at night? (And it’s not just about how much you have; the wealthy also feel stressed.)

 

The 2013 Women, Money and Power Study by Allianz Life Insurance Company described this as “an irrational fear that extends to women across the spectrum of life and affluence”.

 

This affliction affected more than half the women surveyed, with nearly a third earning` more than $2 million a year.

 

What’s even more concerning is that 46% of “women of influence” shared this fear.

 

The survey describes these particular women as well-educated, earning higher than average incomes and either having their own business or likely to have achieved a senior position at work.

 

“Money is not just numbers on a page,” says Dr. Levinson. “We’re taught that we’re just supposed to be rational about money when in fact our feelings and experiences greatly influence how we relate to money. Women have lots of feelings about money that they’ve been taught to push aside. We’re further impaired when we push our feelings aside.”

 

“Our relationship to money is more complex than just about any other psychological aspect of our lives,” says Dr. Levinson. “You need to understand where your feelings about it come from, and include your feelings in any of the financial equations or solutions that you come up with.”

 

At the end of the day, recognize that money is a major source of stress for all of us. Like dealing with any stress, we must be willing to make a change.

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The Power of the Written Word
How many books have been bought, articles read and motivational talks heard on the importance of writing down your goals? This has been drilled into my head over the last decade in every professional position I’ve held. It is a process I do instinctually when starting a new project with a team. It is something we all do on a day in and day out basis with our “to do” lists. But how many of us have taken the time to write down our goals for our personal lives?

 

Over the past month I have been on a personal journey to discover and document my personal purpose, priorities, goals and vision statement. During the last 15 years, I have read a small library of personal and professional development books. As expected, only about 10% of them are worth finishing and only five are worth multiple reads. To be clear, that’s five books, not 5% of the books I’ve read. One of the five is Dr. Jason Selk’s book, Executive Toughness. In his book, Dr. Selk delivers a much more digestible version of some of the same concepts that are delivered in Napoleon Hill’s famous, Think and Grow Rich, specifically, the importance of and a process for gaining clarity around goals and vision.

 

Many motivational speakers reference a Harvard study on the effectiveness of having written goals. The study showed that 3% of Harvard’s graduating MBA class made more than the remaining 97% combined, due to the fact that they wrote down their goals. Unfortunately, this study has never actually been found. But, a clinical psychologist at Dominican University wanted to answer the question around the impact that written goals can have on outcome. Dr. Gail Matthews conducted a study and documented the results. Dr. Matthews’ study showed that those who wrote their goals accomplished 50% more than those without written goals. (http://cdn.sidsavara.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/researchsummary2.pdf) While these results are not as impactful as the findings of the alleged Harvard study, it is empirical evidence that cannot be ignored.

 

So, what does writing down your goals have to do with financial planning? Everything.

 

It’s easy to talk about dreams of taking expensive vacations, going on shopping sprees on 5th Avenue and retiring at 60 with as much or more income as we have now. But, without a plan, these dreams will never be realized. The problem isn’t that we won’t have the time, but that we won’t have the money. Please hear me when I say that 98% of Americans will retire and have less than $40,000 of annual income. While our dreams may not specifically revolve around money, most of them do require it.

 

This is where dreaming turns into planning. The first step is to go shopping. (How many financial planners have ever told you to go shopping?) You need to spend some time actually visualizing the reality of your dream and determining how much it will actually cost. So, run some internet searches and price shop for the things it will take to make your dream become a reality. Once you know how much money you need to save, make a plan to set aside a specific amount every month. When setting your monthly “save”, remember that if it doesn’t sting a little, it’s not enough. If this seems overwhelming, start with something small. Save for a vacation before you save for a car or before you save for a house. Once you get used to the process, you will be able to apply it to larger and larger dreams.

 

If you can dream for it, you can plan for it and you can have it! So, write down your goals and go shopping.

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In an article Richard Branson recently posted on LinkedIn, he said, “It’s nice when people agree, but if everyone thought along the same lines all the time, nothing would ever change.” Mr. Branson goes on to explain the need for a balance of “yes men” and mavericks.

 

After reading the article, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Do we look for ‘yes men’ in our financial planning?”

 

There are two sides to every financial decision we make – the analytical and the emotional. The analytical side is easy. Our planner shows us the numbers and the numbers don’t lie. Unfortunately, the emotional side of the decision is not clear. Our previous experiences, current concerns and the ever-present, and sometimes uninvited, advice from our friends and family play their respective roles in the decisions we make.

 

Financial planning is an extremely personal matter, and it is natural to seek out comfort and familiarity when it comes to areas that are near and dear. This is why we look for advisors with whom we have some connection. We want someone who is interested in building an enduring relationship because we know this person will advise us through every major change in our lives – marriage, children, the start of a business, the end of a career, the death of a loved one, retirement, etc. Over the years, this person becomes a friend and someone we truly trust.

 

Unfortunately, even the best of friends do not always agree. As mature adults in mature relationships, we appreciate and value our friend’s opinions. We actually want our friends to provide the occasionally needed reality check. How many times have you asked your dearest friend, “Am I being a ‘witch’?” And, how many times have they said, “Yes.” It’s tough to hear, but we are thankful for their honesty. We are most thankful for their continued support and lack of judgment about our behavior.

 

The advice of your financial advisor will not always be what you want to hear. The discussion with them will not always be one we want to have. But our planners have our best interest and the best interest of our families at heart. They know their words are not easy to hear, but because they care, they muscle up the courage to say them anyway. And because they know we are human, they say them without judgment.

 

What may surprise some of you is that I have my own financial planner. Despite the fact that enabling intentional financial success for my clients is my passion, I need someone else to help me move past the emotional part of my own financial decision making. No, their thoughts are not easy to hear, but I trust them and know they are looking at my situation objectively and with my best interest in mind. The funny thing is that if disaster strikes, my financial advisor will be one of the first five people I call.

 

If you don’t have an advisor, I encourage you to find one, and don’t let money stop you. Many financial professionals provide services without hourly rates and don’t have minimum asset requirements.

 

If you do have an advisor but don’t have this type of relationship with them, I beg you to find someone else. This person should be someone you want to be involved in every major change in your life. So, find someone you trust, someone you feel comfortable with and someone who is not afraid to challenge you. After all, “It’s nice when people agree, but if everyone thought along the same lines all the time, nothing would ever change.”

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I was having lunch with a friend last week, and as usual, we were downloading the activities of our lives. As we expressed frustration with a lack of time, the subject shifted to the frustration with the rising cost of life in general and a shared disappointment in ourselves over our respective families spending habits.

 

Both of us share a lower middle class background where the cost of any extracurricular activity was a sacrifice and owning designer clothes was out of the question. As young adults, leaving college and earning our first “big” paycheck, we thought we would never spend it all. However, the truth is that we do. So, there we sat, pondering how this happened, but more importantly, how to make sure we are saving enough.

 

One question I always ask clients is, “What is the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever been given?” This question came to mind as our discussion continued. So, I posed it to my friend. Her answer came without hesitation. “Pay yourself first,” she said. I erupted with laughter because we had found something else to add to our list of things we have in common.

 

“Pay yourself first” is a simple lesson that I keep learning and teaching over and over. It is so simple and often overlooked, but it works every time. If you think of your monthly contribution to your savings as a bill and include it in your outgoing payments, you won’t miss the money.

 

When my husband and I got married and developed our savings plan, we realized we could be saving a lot more with our combined income and households than we had as individuals. However, as we began to think through the impact the additional savings would have on our monthly “fun” money, we began to second guess the original dollar figure. In the end, we decided to try it, knowing we could always reduce our monthly savings contribution. So, I set up an automatic payment through our online banking.

 

A month or two went by and an amazing thing happened. My husband asked me if we had started the additional monthly payments. He hadn’t even noticed that the amount of “fun” money had changed. So, once again I learned to pay myself first.

 

After the initial adjustment is made to the “fun” budget, and the automatic payments are established, you won’t think about the additional payment. It will just become another monthly bill. The difference is this is the only bill that pays you.

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Ladies, it is a rare opportunity when the latest fashion trends allow us to be stylish and save money. But I am delighted to say that, after reviewing the fall runways, that is exactly the opportunity we have!

 

According to Vogue, “Fall 2013 is a season of duality, of opposites attracting. For every beaded, bejeweled rocker chick shimmying in an extravagant fur and short skirt, there’s a minimalist sporting a sober dress that gives maximum coverage. For every over-the-top fur scarf, there’s a discreet, long-closet-life purse. For every menswear-inspired tweed, there’s gleaming velvet. The humble coat has suddenly ramped up the action, roaring down the runways from New York to Paris in versions beaded, zippered, embellished, and richly plush. There’s also been a gender swap as Savile Row tweeds morph into Hitchcock heroine–worthy clothes that echo the mystery and glamour of the forties, fifties, and early sixties.” In short, just about anything goes. So, select your personal style, invite your girlfriends over, shake the martinis and build your fall wardrobe from pieces you already own.

 

To offer some further guidance, I compiled a top ten trend list. After reviewing many of the published “Top Ten Trends of Fall 2013” lists, from The Fashion Spot (www.thefashionspot.com), Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, In Style and others, I have boiled down the overlaps to the following short list.

 

1. Dark Neutrals
2. Touches of Fur
3. Modern Plaid
4. Leather
5. White Tops/Black Bottoms
6. Quilting
7. Cinched/Statement Outerwear
8. Distinctive and Repetitive Patterns
9. Deep, Rich Greens
10. Winter White

 

If carefully chosen, you can hit enough of the top ten to be on trend without spending a dime. Who doesn’t have a couple of white blouses and tops to pair with black skirts and pants? If you look carefully through your closet, you will probably find a statement belt to use around a boxy coat. If you’re lucky, your coat might be quilted. For the modern plaid trend, the key will be careful mixing of multiple plaid items you already own. This is where the help of girlfriends may be required. Take advantage of the dark neutral trend and feel free to wear out your grey and camel pieces.

 

Use the inspiration on Vogue.com to create pairings that are fresh, creative and on trend. If you simply must indulge in one or two of the season’s must have items, try stores like H&M and Forever 21. Sure, it’s not Chanel, but let’s face it, are you going to wear a leather, peplum top more than 10 times?

 

In an interview, Issac Mizrahi said, “The key to dressing well on a budget is to temper your expectations. If you think you’re going to buy lots of expensive clothes and stay on fashion, it’s not going to happen. What good is, is relative. If you like something, regardless of the price, it’s good. If your pantyhose cost more than your skirt it works well because that’s what makes you feel good.” And, as we all know, the key to being stylish is feeling good about how you look in the clothes you wear and yourself.

 

So don’t blow your budget on clothes that are on trend but don’t suit your shape, your style or your personality. At the end of the season, when you aren’t tossing the unworn, price tag bearing, “must have” items from your closet, you will be proud, guilt free and that much closer to your financial goals.