$200 jeans on a budget: a shopping philosophy

(I published this also over at Grechen’s Closet, but I don’t allow comments there, and I’m interested in what you have to say on this. Honestly, it turned out to be more of a rant than I meant for it to be, but I am SO TIRED of people thinking that because we spend money on bags or clothes, that we’re “rich” or not interested in saving money.  I shop on a very limited budget; I’ve only recently purchased a few things after months of not buying ANYTHING for myself.  And the over-use of “budget” shopper or “budget” whatever really gets me going.  I mean, “budget” is SUBJECTIVE, everyone has a budget, for some it’s a little as $50/month for clothing, for some it may be $1,000; they are BOTH budget shoppers.  Anyway, read more below, a lot more, and then chime in, I’d love to hear from those of you who disagree with me on this!!)

I will freely admit I’m not a budget shopper. At least, I’m not a budget shopper in the sense that it means searching for the cheapest price possible on everything. I DO shop using a budget, my budget, of which the clothing portion is pretty low per month. So, in that sense I am a budget shopper…but let’s get real here: I love contemporary and designer brands, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart, I only occasionally buy clothing/shoes/accessories at Target, and buy all my groceries at Whole Foods. AND, yes, I buy $200 jeans on my budget.

Let me explain:

First, I don’t shop at Wal-Mart mostly because there’s never been one near me; most of my Wal-Mart experiences were while I was out of town, visiting my grandparents. Whenever I did visit a Wal-Mart, I couldn’t wait to leave; the stores were always grimy looking, the lighting WAY too bright, and the clothing, just “cheap” looking. But when a Wal-Mart opened up near me, I totally wanted to give the Wal-Mart experience a second chance. The store was brand new, in a nice part of town…so how bad could it be? I lasted about 7 minutes in there. I think it was partly because it was so huge and unfamiliar – I know my way around every Target in the city by now, and always feel “comfortable” shopping there, but this was a totally new experience, and I was overwhelmed. The lighting was also harsh, things were just piled everywhere, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for. So I left. And I don’t think I’ll return. Call me an elitist, snob, whatever, I’m going to spend my money where I’m comfortable, and at places I like. It’s MY MONEY.

But I don’t hate Wal-Mart – in fact, I think it’s a great American success story. Yes, they have their problems, and they don’t always handle things as well as the should, but they employ millions of people in this country, they’ve given a HUGE market to many companies that wouldn’t otherwise have had access to that, and they provide low-cost items to people who need them. I can only speak about my personal experience and choices when it comes to shopping and buying, and will say that getting something for the cheapest possible price is not my final goal – I also care about who makes the clothes I buy, where they come from, and what they are made of.

But, YES, if I KNOW I can get something cheaper at a certain store, I will try to make sure and purchase it there, but the thing is, it’s not ALWAYS cheaper at a certain store. For example, the Seventh Generation dishwashing detergent I use was on sale at Whole Foods for $4.99 recently, cheaper than Target; so I bought a couple. But it’s not always cheaper there. I’m not going to drive around all over the place to buy one or two items for a couple of dollars less – in my opinion, that is environmentally and personally irresponsible. And honestly, between stores, there’s not much of a difference in price on most of the items I buy (although sometimes my Kashi cereal is a dollar more at publix than Whole Foods), and yes, I buy primarily name brand products, or for groceries, I’m comfortable buying the Whole Foods private label, which is very affordable in my opinion. And it is MORE important to me to know that I can go into Whole Foods and not worry about anything having partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in it or artificial ingredients, and that I can always find organic alternatives, than just getting the absolute cheapest price. I love my body and want it to be healthy.

I can’t speak at all to Wal-Mart clothing because I haven’t tried it, but I do hear from some people that some pieces do hold up over time. And if you’re getting down to pennies per wear, that’s all good by me. But I CAN speak to the quality of clothing at Target, I’ve bought many things from there, but most I’ve ended up giving away. Hardly anything fits me the way I like it to fit; for example, I’m wearing a cute “sweatshirt” by Merona I bought there a few weeks ago, which I wear in spite of the “off” fit: it’s too big through the shoulders, and small at the hips. It’s also a little tight across the back, but for $20, I’m willing to live with the “off” fit for now, but I probably won’t forever. And because I had to stretch it out around the hips to fit, I probably busted a few seams, which will cause it to degrade more quickly over time. And I can’t size up, because then it will be just HUGE through my shoulders…but that’s the story of my life. By now, I KNOW which brands/designers fit me well, and I tend to stick to them. For the couple of hundred dollars I’ve spent on clothing at Target that is no longer in my closet, I could have purchased 4 tees by James Perse or Splendid that WOULD still be in my closet, and continue to be in closet for years. Target clothing = high cost per wear, James Perse = low cost per wear. James Perse wins.

Wait a sec…to get this out of the way, yes, I know that paying more for something doesn’t automatically mean it’s better quality. But again, I’m speaking from experience here, and that’s all. I know the quality of the brands and stores I’ve tried, and this is a comparison based on what I have found to be true.

I have mentioned many times before how addicted I am to James Perse, but that is because I KNOW that whatever I buy, I will love the way it fits on me, I know I will wear each piece forever, and it will always keep it’s shape. My oldest James Perse tee is 5 years old, and I wore it a couple of days ago. Good as new. I also know that Goldsign jeans fit me better than any other denim brand. Again, I bought my first pair of Goldsign jeans 4.5 years ago for more than $200 (a TON of money for me at the time) and I STILL WEAR THEM. The seams are not pulling apart, there are no holes in the denim, the fit is perfect, and they still make me feel great. I do have a couple of pairs of Gap jeans that are okay, but I’ve also had a few pairs of Gap jeans that have fallen apart after a year or so. Again, for the several hundred dollars I have spent over the years on gap jeans that I no longer wear, or that have fallen apart, I could have bought one pair of FABULOUS Goldsign jeans that would stay with me forever. But this is also where I’m different from most shoppers – those who are concerned more with quantity over quality. This is why H&M, Zara, and Forever21 do so well, they sell cheap, seasonal, trendy items for people who want the latest thing, and want MORE of it. Maybe I was like this before (many years before), but now, I care more about having one or two pairs of GREAT jeans, one pair of shoes, several basic tees, a few cashmere sweaters, somes dresses/skirts and a GREAT bag, and I’m good to go. My goal is to have a minimal wardrobe – made up of quality items with longevity. Honestly I am at the point now where I don’t need anything, and will NOT need anything for a LONG time, at least through next year. And I’d still like to get rid of many things. MY goal is not to buy as many things as possible for the cheapest amount possible, so if my monthly clothing allowance is $100 (that’s close to what it is), I’m not going to go out and spend the $100 for 5-6 tops & dresses at Forever21, Zara, H&M, Express, Target, etc., I am more likely to save the $100 so I can put it towards a cashmere sweater or new bag. AND if over the years, this is your strategy, you’ll always have your basics, and won’t need to buy new things every season. This is my ultimate goal – I’m in fact, almost already there, and it feels great.

That, basically, is how you can buy $200 jeans on a budget…but to take it just a bit further, you can also buy a $600 bag on a budget, or $300 shoes, and go on a $1,000 vacation. It’s ALL ABOUT PRIORITIES, and saving money. Make a monthly clothing allowance and stick to it; if there’s some leftover or you don’t spend any of it one month, put it in an ING Orange Checking Account and watch it add up. If you have something specific you’re shopping for, start saving for it so you can whip out your Orange debit card and buy it WITH CASH. There is no better feeling in the world than paying for something with cash that you worked hard and saved up for. If you choose to sacrifice something else in your budget one month so you can put more money towards your clothing allowance, then do it. Maybe you cancel Netflix for a couple months and use that money to save up for a cashmere sweater. Or spend less on eating out for a couple of weeks so you can put that money towards a new bag. It’s all about the choices you make and your goals for life. And there’s nothing wrong with sacrificing eating out or movie delivery in favor of a classic, high quality cashmere sweater. You decide which cashmere sweater you want, how much you’re willing to pay for it, then save up to buy it. But I do also believe in buying at a discount if you can – I hardly ever buy anything online without using a discount code. I don’t buy anything offline anymore because I know I can find it cheaper online. And sometimes I wait for sales, if I have experience with a brand, or know it goes on sale often and for a great discount (Inhabit Cashmere). But I don’t buy something ONLY because it’s on sale or the price is too good to pass up; that always ends badly for me. You also need to get to know your shopping habits and adjust them accordingly – it took me a few years to rid myself of shopping at outlets and scouting sale racks; I was tired of getting rid of SO many sale items (with tags still on) that I bought because I was blinded by the price, not because I loved the item.

I’m not saying that you have to spend a lot of money on things either. If YOU’RE happy spending less money AND you know it may be of lesser quality than a more expensive brand, then you accept the trade-off; you’re just deciding that you’d rather spend money on other things. Which is fine. I personally would rather have a few, excellent quality sweaters, tees, jeans, shoes & bags than a lot, and I’m willing to sacrifice certain other things to have them (I use the same razorblades FOREVER because I hate paying $8 for refills!). So the idea that if you’re a “budget” shopper, you cannot possibly afford $200 jeans, is bogus. If you think $200 jeans are worth it, then you CAN afford them if you save your money to buy them. But you may not think that ANY jeans are worth $200, or shun people who would spend more than $100 for a handbag. Like I keep saying, it’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to pay for something, but don’t judge the people who disagree with you, or who WOULD spend way more than $100 for a handbag. I cringe at the thought of paying $8 for razor blade refills, but can easily spend upwards of $500 (in cash) on a bag that I love. You have to assign priorities to nearly everything in your life and there are always trade offs to any decision you make. The key is to make EVERY decision consciously – with your FULL attention – so you are aware of what you’re getting, AND of what you’re giving up.

What do you think? do you have a “shopping philosophy”? What’s important to  you when considering buying something?  Let us know!!  (especially if you disagree with me)


  1. annNo Gravatar December 17, 2008 / 8:26 pm

    great post. i agree completely, and wished my friends and family would stop making comments about how much i spend on clothes/shoes/bags and actually look to see that i wear my items for years.

    • grechenNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 12:23 pm

      @ann – you’re totally right, it’s all about the long term. you get more VALUE out of things you pay more money for, but that last longer.

  2. eye4styleNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 11:25 am

    grechen, great post, i could NOT agree more!

    Whenever I buy a cheap fix from a store like H&M, Target, etc, I wind up super disappointed after a few wears – in the fit, shape, color fading, what have you. I inevitably wind up tossing it into the giveaway pile and think about what a waste it was to buy!

    eye4style’s last blog post..Holiday Deals at Prescriptives!

    • grechenNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 11:58 am

      exactly! i’ve given away so many things i purchased on sale, or just “cheap fixes” as you say, that i decided i didn’t want to do it anymore! my sister was happy with the giveaways LOL, but i was tired of wasting so much money…

  3. lisaNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 3:42 pm

    i could not agree more… i spent years buying items that were inexpensive just because i could by a bunch of them… i ended up giving them all away or wearing them once… money down the drain.. now my friends wait in line for my closet clean outs .. and those are few and far between b/c i buy quality items that i dont want to give up – and yes they cost plenty… i also only buy online now.. because of sites like this that have amazing up-to-date coupons for shops with my fav brands.. now i can buy twice as much! thanks grechen!

    • grechenNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 3:45 pm

      thanks for your feedback lisa 🙂 i only buy online also, i hate looking at something in the store and KNOWING that i can get it cheaper online…

  4. MorgansDeadNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 4:22 pm

    Love the post! I don’t spend insane amounts of money on clothes, shoes, or bags, but I do have a philosophy for shopping. If I know that it is a piece I’m going to wear a lot, I’m going to spend a lil more, such as a good pair of jeans that aren’t too long in the leg and actually completely cover my rear (still haven’t found these) and can handle my wear & tear on clothes. I don’t spend a lot on dress shoes because I don’t wear them, so I feel justified buying Payless shoes that mimic the designers since I will wear them only a few times but will hold on to them for years. I will spend a lil more on bags but it has to be a very special bag that can handle my rough nature (usually backpacks, which is sad, lol). But most of all my secret is to check out garage sales & thrift stores since clothes were made better just a few years ago. I just wish I could find clothes that fit right.

    MorgansDead’s last blog post..MorgansDead: @SquishyCute They’re coming in from our warehouse. I’m not really worried about them unless the boss sets traps

  5. mNo Gravatar December 18, 2008 / 10:41 pm

    Girl, why do you need to justify not shopping at Target or Walmart — and I completely agree about the Target buyer’s remorse.

    But you know, I think that the “judging” consumption — which I do sometimes and have done to me too — is about not knowing what the difference is between the 50 dollar t-shirt and the 5 dollar one. As my own taste has become more informed, I have been willing to spend more on apparel.

    Luckily I’m too big to spend too much on clothes, until Nanette Lepore and Leifsdottir make larger sizes!

  6. TomNo Gravatar December 19, 2008 / 6:53 am

    I don’t understand how people can pay that much for a pair of jeans. I never would. The thing that bothers me is what a rip-off it is.

    I wouldn’t call myself cheap and people should make money but the mark up from things like these are just insane.

    Some guy I knew showed me a box of real name brand designer jeans that fell off a truck or something like that. These weren’t knock-offs, these were straight from the european factory that produced them.

    He wasn’t trying to sell me any but he showed me the shipping document that was in the box for a laugh.

    These jeans that were selling for more than $200 in places like Nordstroms cost less than $20 from the factory.

    Design, marketting, etc is probably how they justify rest of the price but then you’re really not buying a $200 pair of jeans, you’re buying a $200 sales pitch.

    These fake wear patterns that have been popular on some of these expensive jeans is just silly too.

    Seeing a woman in her favorite pair of jeans that she wears often and has genuine wear patterns can be sexy because it tells the story of how she moves.

    And you women know you like seeing a guy in a pair of his favorite jeans that are worn in all the right places. Not just the obvious package area or even around the wallet 🙂 but the indications that show this guy is active.

    Jeans used to tell you a lot about a person. What does it say when someone else sandblasted them at the factory?

    Didn’t we learn our lesson from acid wash?

  7. JJNo Gravatar December 19, 2008 / 11:44 am

    I’m not sure what brand name jeans was in the box that ‘fell of the truck’ but none of my designer jeans come from European factories. Citizens, Sevens, R&R, J Brand all Made in the USA!!! YAY!!!! Same goes for James Perse, Ella Moss, Steven Alan….

    Honestly, that is what drew me to purchase my very first pair 3 years ago. I was so sick of spending my money on crap made in China. It is also another reason I buy vintage. There is nothing better than seeing that Union label (and who doesn’t love a one of a kind secretary blouse!).

    And you need not spend $200 on these jeans…shop smart. I got 3 pairs of designer jeans for $100 at a boutique sidewalk sale. All three of which have held up better than any pair of Gap or Old Navy jeans I’ve ever owned (and they look better too). Shop online sales, use codes, buy at consignment stores.

    Believe me I know a price tag does not always indicate quality. With 3 kids of course I have a buget and of course I still buy from GapKids and Target. But I do know made in China usually means disposable.

    Do what you can to keep jobs here and help our economy!

  8. mamartinezNo Gravatar December 19, 2008 / 3:00 pm

    Hi. I just wanted to say that I don’t shop often and I do not have the money to spend on clothing that’s temporarily trendy, doesn’t fit perfectly, or that I can even momentarily imagine myself tossing after a few wears. I think my tight budget (non-profit legal work in nyc) is what’s made me very particular when it comes to wardrobe, and while it was hard for me at first and remains a bit of a pain for others that might want to shop for me, my rigid dress guidelines have grown on me. I go out of my way to buy items I know came from factories that offer living wages and have respectable human rights records, and it tends to be that these items last me years and years. My boyfriend laughs at me out loud when I lament the passing of a piece of clothing I’ve had for 15 years.

    I think
    – working with your budget,
    – knowing what you like,
    – having high standards when it comes to cut/style/means, location, and modes of production,
    – taking meticulous care of the few items you do elect to buy,
    – and not settling, ever,
    is a recipe for a solid wardrobe that lasts and lasts, and one you can be proud of for a number of reasons.

    • grechenNo Gravatar December 19, 2008 / 3:14 pm

      @mamartinez – i totally agree with you! i really love your final points:

      – working with your budget,
      – knowing what you like,
      – having high standards when it comes to cut/style/means, location, and modes of production,
      – taking meticulous care of the few items you do elect to buy,
      – and not settling, ever,
      is a recipe for a solid wardrobe that lasts and lasts, and one you can be proud of for a number of reasons.

      and i wish more people would realize that ESPECIALLY when you’re on a tight budget it’s so important to use that money wisely and consciously – on something you truly love, and that will last.

      well said!! thanks so much for contributing.

  9. LauraNo Gravatar December 19, 2008 / 8:28 pm

    I also agree. My mother always taught me that one or two well-made pieces were worth way more than ten cute-but-cheap items. She was right, right, right!

  10. sarahNo Gravatar December 22, 2008 / 3:31 am

    I totally agree with you. All of it! It has taken me a while to understand the quality vs. quantity aspect of clothing but I’ve got it now. My biggest $ saver has been cross referencing at ebay and then of course back again because some ebay sellers have an inflated sense of what their item is worth compared to what it is selling for on the original site. I have found that I lose out on some items while I wait for them to go on sale (it sells out) but that is my budget shopping. I also stalk items for months and in some cases a year or more waiting for the right price. Casch Copenhagen is a prime example. I have been waiting for a reasonable price on a casch sweater via ebay for over a year in fact i found your blog via a google search about casch clothing.

  11. BettyNo Gravatar January 3, 2009 / 12:51 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I make some of my own clothes so I know that really good fabric (even t-shirt fabric) rarely comes cheap. Not to mention good workmanship.

    I was raised with a “poverty mentality” so it’s been hard for me to trust my own instincts and avoid getting sucked in by bargains at Target, etc. But this year, one of my resolutions is to stick to a handful of favorite brands/shops that carry the things I like and which fit me properly. Like Mamartinez, I can’t afford to keep buying disposable clothing. I love the idea of the separate ING account, since I tend to have difficulty holding on to the allocated money from month-to-month.

    And BTW I am another one who cannot tolerate the Wal-Mart experience. I normally shop at Target (but I’ve decided that is off-limits this year too).

    • grechenNo Gravatar January 3, 2009 / 2:20 pm

      @Betty – i’ve had to just ban myself from buying clothing at target, i don’t even look anymore. my fiance buys a lot of clothing for himself at target, and it always holds up well, and fits him nicely. i really think it’s different for men…the clothing at target just doesn’t fit me well, and i’ve tried every brand!! thanks so much for your comment.

  12. shannaNo Gravatar January 6, 2009 / 8:08 pm

    @sarah – I am such a clothes stalker. I do it online and in the stores. My friend has a boutique that I love but can’t afford, so I stalk and wait for stuff to go on sale and since i always support her and bring new people in, she usually gives me discounts on top of everything. Also I’ve become big on vintage clothing on eBay.

    Love this site. I’m more into getting pieces from smaller stores than disposable H&M/Target/etc. clothing. For the most part I have a decent wardrobe to last me. Shoes are a weakness though.

    shanna’s last blog post..Eyes Wide Open

  13. Kricket JolliffNo Gravatar February 10, 2009 / 8:26 pm

    so true, grechen! i have spent years buying cheap, cute clothes from target, kohls, mervyns and the like. UNTIL i found premium denim and fell in LOVE with the fit of true religions! premium denim will make any woman (no matter her size) feel GREAT!

    then i figured if premium denim is this fantastic, imagine how nice linq, aude and theory tops are.

    tell me grechen, have you ever shopped tulle? i love their cute stuff. take a look if you have time.
    http://www.tulle4us.com 🙂
    hugs and keep up the great work!

    • grechenNo Gravatar February 10, 2009 / 8:45 pm

      kricket – i love tulle – but everything i’ve tried on by them seems to run very small (a.k.a. nothing fits!). their stuff is SO cute though, i agree. and affordable. i’ve never tried linq though, how do you like it?