Homeownership Guidance, Advice and Blogs

As the Director of Affiliate Relations at HomeFree-USA, I’ve always been fascinated with how people handle their money. Like everyone else, I’ve had my financial ups and downs. In fact, it took me 32 months to pay off $32,000 in credit card bills and build up a six-month emergency fund. While that was a very difficult period, I am grateful – and wiser -- for the experience.

Through my personal experiences and working at HomeFree-USA, I’ve gained a ton of insight that I feel compelled to share. You’ll find those lessons here. Feel free to take the thoughts and ideas that resonate with you most and put aside the rest for later. I look forward to sharing my journey.

How to buy clothes: Insights from boutique owners

I'm a special breed. I don't like to spend a lot, but I'm also not walking out of the house unless I'm well dressed and have my hair and nails done. I also can't seem to maintain a consistent weight, so every few years I'm buying new clothes whether I want to or not. Plus, I'm not a natural fashionista, so I'm not skilled enough to take a drab Dollar Store dress and make it runway ready with only a few key accessories.

Fortunately, I've had two key people in my life who are naturally fashionable, former boutique owners. They've been invaluable in helping me step up my game without overdoing it. Here are a few of their best suggestions:

A brand name/high price tag doesn't mean it looks good. How much you spend  or who made it, doesn't dictate whether it needs to be in your closet. Even designers get it wrong sometimes.

Dress for your shape. Everyone cannot wear everything. I love long skirts, but I'm short so only certain cuts work for me, no kitten heels for the same reason. But my taller girlfriend can rock both and look great, whereas miniskirts and sheath dresses don't look right on her for other reasons. Here's a good site to use to determine your best look.

Accessories are key. You can have the most basic dress, but boring can be turned into extraordinary with the right jewelry, shoes and bag. And even those don't have to be expensive. Unless you see yourself wearing something more than three times a week, there's really no need to spend a lot on these items. As far as shoes go, too cheap and your feet will hurt; too expensive and they're simply not worth it. If you find a designer brand you love, check out discount stores like DSW, TJMaxx, or online retailers and consignment shops.

Cost per wear. I love the Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag! I don't like wearing visible brands, but the structure, color and subtlety of the logo work for me. What I cannot justify? It costs around $1,500. Even if that was such a small amount of my net worth that it wouldn't matter, it's still a lot to spend on one bag. I'd only buy it after dividing the cost by the number of times I expect to use it, which would've been often.

There may be something that you'd love to buy, and have enough cash to do so, but haven't gone for it because of the high price tag. Do a rough estimate of the number of times you'd wear the item per week for a year, and weigh that with the quality and trendiness of the product. Note, if it's so trendy that it could be out of season next year and thus lose your interest, do NOT buy it. Save trendy purchases for the cheap stuff.

Find a good tailor. Fit is everything, and will significantly enhance the perceived price tag of an item. Find someone who can adjust clothes to suit your shape. This is especially important for men's suits. They should also be able to adjust your clothes for when you've gained or lost a lot of weight.

The only thing I'll add is the budget. Try to spend no more than 10% of your monthly take home pay on apparel. The typical adult doesn't need to buy clothes more than once a season, so save that amount each month in an interest bearing account. Then when you're ready to shop, have a list of what you're looking for, and please, go through your closet first to determine if this is really a need or a want. There's nothing worse than getting home after a day out at the mall and realizing that you already have 3 similar maxi dresses, but completely forgot to pick up the black slacks you badly need.

Because enhancing both my money and my looks are important, I'm always interested in how other well dressed women achieve balance. I have yet to meet someone who, once they're clear on the importance of the two, looks worse as a result. They only get better.

And so it is.