How to save money when you’re a fashionista: My guide to not overspending on clothing and accessories.

When you love fashion it is very easy to get swept up in trends and spend a lot of money on clothes that you will no doubt wear only a few times, perhaps only once, after which the dresses and outfits you shelled out big bucks for sit in your wardrobe unworn because they don’t fit into the next season or they were not “wearable” clothing. By not wearable clothing I mean garments that look great but might be uncomfortable to wear for long periods, occasional wear that you can’t wear again easily, or clothes that just don’t go with your other clothes. I’ve fallen into this trap many times in the past, paid a lot of money for a dress only to wear it once and afterwards have it hang in my wardrobe unused. A classic example of this was the Romance was Born Link dress that I purchased, it looked good, had a great colour and movement, a great dress to dance in, but ultimately I only had one occasion I was able to wear it to, a friends wedding reception. I bought it on sale and it was a size 6, and I am probably closer to an 8 so it was really too tight for me to wear comfortably. I have quite a few size 6 dressed I wish were size 8…Sure you could try selling your unwanted clothes on eBay, but what if they don’t sell? Or what if they only sell at such a great loss you wonder if they were worth the money you paid for them?

I’m going to give my advice now on how to build a wardrobe that transcends seasons and years, so you will be able to look fashionable despite whatever the trend might be. The key, and you may have heard this before is building a great basic wardrobe from which you can accessorise and mix and match to get different looks. I have a variation on this basic wardrobe that works for me, and you will no doubt make your own adjustments based on your needs. Make sure the clothes you buy have a great fit, don’t fall into the trap that I and many others have fallen into of buying the size down because it was the “last one and on sale” because you will find something in your size. Always try it on before buying if possible. I’ve tried on a dress and it was great, seen a fault and just picked up another in the same size off the shelf and bought it without trying on, only to realise when I got it home that it pinched in places the other dress didn’t. There can be small variations piece to piece, different items in the same size and style will not always be identical.

Most people recommend having a classic white shirt in your basic wardrobe, but I live in hot and sunny Sydney, Australia where a white shirt is usually a bad choice for any season but winter because they tend to get hot and sweaty and unbreathable in summer months. I find I rarely want to wear or need to wear a white shirt. It is true if you choose a great cut white shirt they can be versatile but if you live in a warm climate like Australia you might find you don’t get much wear out of your cotton shirts. If you do want one, it is probably better to invest in one that is a more breathable material that resists stains like linen.

My secret (well, not so secret) way to save money on quality clothing.
Buy from thrift stores, second hand stores, vintage stores, eBay and save hundreds of dollars on your wardrobe. It is not only savvy to do this, it is also the most sustainable way to dress yourself, you are doing something good for your wallet and the planet but reusing clothing. The best things to buy second hand are vintage coats and jackets, for example woollen winter coats and trench coats which are often in great condition second hand because outerwear does not have the same stresses on it as everyday items like t-shirts. You can buy a woollen coat even if it’s a bit big because it is easy enough to have most coats altered to fit you. One of my best second hand coat purchases was a double breasted vintage cream coloured wool blend coat with wide lapels that cost me about $25, it is of the highest quality, exceedingly warm, and has attracted many compliments. As long as it is kept away from hungry moths and dry-cleaned occasionally it will last for decades. A similar coat bought new would have set me back at least $400, so I have straight up saved $375. The reason why you can buy vintage coats and look amazing is that coats often transcend seasons and years, a classic woollen coat, a trench coat, pea coat and black leather motorcycle style jacket will be wearable for years to come, you will even find if you hold onto them faux fur coats will also come, go and return to fashion every 5-10 years. In my wardrobe I always have a great trench in a neutral colour like black or beige, a woollen coat in black or beige and then a really warm coat for trips and those 5 degree Celsius days we get sometimes in winter, for example a long-line hooded down or synthetic insulated coat or anorak. These three coat types usually keep you covered in from mid-Autumn to Early Spring.

So what do you need to wear under this fabulous coat? A great versatile basic wardrobe. For me, this includes a few different styles of trousers because I do not wear dresses and skirts much. I find that separates make for a far more versatile wardrobe than dresses and one pieces. It is good to have a few nice dresses for summer but in cooler months your better off with tops and bottoms.

My basic cooler month wardrobe includes a pair of great fitting classic straight cut Levis jeans (or your choice) in a mid blue. It is good to also have a darker pair of jeans and a lighter pair of jeans or cotton jeans-look pants, they could be straight or skinny cut but I would avoid boot-cut jeans or flares that will very rarely be in fashion. For the lighter pair you could choose light blue, olive or grey but I wouldn’t choose white because they won’t stay white for long. I also like to have a pair of black jeans and really miss them when I don’t have them. I would also have at least one pair of wide legged black trousers which are nice enough to wear to work, and a pair of fitted suit trousers in black or grey. I keep wide legged trousers in a few colours, like navy and light grey because I mainly wear trousers and wide legged trousers are very comfortable.

For winter I like to have at least one black vintage leather skirt in my wardrobe. I would suggest either a mini skirt or a longer A-line or pencil skirt depending on what your preference is. You can generally get a nice vintage leather skirt for less than $50. If you get a second leather skirt for your wardrobe, get a different style in black or a different colour like brown or burgundy. You can also get great leather handbags second hand, if you shop around, for the same price or less than you would pay for a new synthetic handbag. I was lucky enough to find a genuine Rebecca Minkoff bag for $15 at my local Op-Shop. I have another Rebecca Minkoff bag I got from eBay for $30. The best colour handbags to get for long term use are black and brown. It’s nice to have some coloured bags, especially to brighten up an outfit, but you will find you tire of them faster than back and brown.

I also love having a pair of black leather trousers but it can be very hard to find a nice vintage pair so you might have to look out for them at sample sales or online auctions. I got my leather trousers for $130 at a sample sale, whereas new they sell for $700, that’s a saving of $570. If you live in Australia, then you can sign up to the Missy Confidential email newsletter which gives all the latest major sample sales in your city (for the cities covered). Just to be clear I’m not sponsored by Missy Confidential in any shape or form, I just find the emails useful.

For tops, I have a few well made black long-sleeved blouses and at least one cream or ivory coloured long-sleeved blouse. A well fitted ribbed top in silk or cotton with long or T-shirt length sleeves will also look good in colder months.  You’ll need a few nice jumpers or sweaters, I actually love vintage jumpers but if you want new, go for something that will last for a long time like a wool or mohair blend and buy it on sale (usually the beginning and end of winter). The best advice I have heard for buying a new cardigan or jumper is only to buy one you can see yourself wearing for the next 5 years, otherwise it’s just not worth it. Don’t buy cheap poorly made synthetic crap that will just fall apart after a few months, buy natural fibres like wool, mohair or organic cotton. Natural fibres are also better for the environment and pure wool and mohair are resistant to fire. Blends are not necessarily resistant and may burn hotter than synthetics so don’t go standing too close to any bonfires!

I have 3 pairs of gloves, a pair of black gloves, a pair in lighter beige and a dusty pink leather pair that I got this season from Forever New for about $50. I have invested in leather because a good pair will last you ten years. I also have a pair of beige felted wool gloves and they have also lasted well, they cost me about $15 from a pharmacy store. I got the black pair from a leather goods and formal dress store Chinatown 10 years ago, and it’s only this year they are starting to look tired.

You probably are picking up a trend in the basic wardrobe, the palette is white, cream, grey, denim-blue and black. This is because from this colour base you can co-ordinate with any bright accessory or jewellery you might want to throw in to look more on trend, like a bright handbag, beanie or scarf.

This means, when a new season comes around you will be looking to accessorise with cheaper items like hats, sunglasses, jewellery and scarves. You won’t need to fork out for the more expensive items because your basic wardrobe is always classic and fashionable.

For warmer months you will want a pair of cut off denim shorts or a mini skirt if you prefer skirts, and some feminine dresses and tops, because it doesn’t really matter if colour block is on trend this season, feminine looks are always going to look good year in year out. Whereas that colour block top you bought 5 years ago, doesn’t look so hot now. I am quite thin and have a fairly straight up and down body shape, so for me the best things to buy for summer are floral prints, plain light coloured frills over the chest, broidery anglaise and crochet, and bohemian (Bo-Ho) style blouses, shirts and dresses. I have a mixture of long and shorter dresses, I often prefer a long loose fitting Maxi-dress in summer. The best thing about this is, you probably guessed it, because they are a recurring fixture in fashion you can get great pieces second hand or vintage. If you have a bigger chest you might want to downplay it by wearing darker plain coloured tops which will make your top look smaller. If you have a more pear shape body, you might try wearing darker pants and lighter tops which will make your top look bigger and slim down your bottom half. It is up to you, but the main point is to buy items you can wear for several summers, that won’t look “so last year”. For this reason, I would often avoid prints unless they soft floral prints or are very artistic and can be worn as a statement piece. I would also avoid heavily embellished pieces unless they fit a recurring theme in fashion such as so called “ethnic” needlework and embroidery or tough girl styles like studded moto jackets.

I don’t have a or need many pairs of shoes, I have less than ten pairs of shoes, mostly flat because I prefer flat shoes as I can wear them all day, they include, leather Converse sneakers for weekends and causal days, black ankle boots, black knee-high boots, brogues or “nurse shoes” for wearing to work, a pair of sandals or espadrilles that can be dressed up or down for evening or day, a pair of Australian made Ugg boots for winter slippers and a pair of jogging sneakers. You’ll notice almost all my shoes are in neutral black and can be dressed up or down. If I still lived in the country I would also keep a pair of hard wearing elastic side boots to walk in the paddocks, and I would probably wear more flannelette shirts!

Now for probably the most important bit of advice…don’t go out and buy all of these items in one go. Don’t max out your credit card or use payment schemes like After Pay, Zip Pay and the like. I personally wouldn’t buy any clothes on credit EVER. The thing to know about building a classic wardrobe is it can’t be done well or effectively overnight, and it will take some work looking for pieces and some saving of cash to invest in the pieces you need to buy new. The key to not spending too much money is to slowly build up your wardrobe based on need and what funds you have available to spend on clothes.

For example, if you need a pair of great boots and already have 3 coats, then buy yourself the boots not another coat even if it’s on sale or the sales person says “It really suits you!”. If you hardly ever wear high heels or dresses, don’t buy another dress or high heels because “They would look so pretty on me”. I’m sure they would look pretty on you, but if you’re like me those high-heels and dresses won’t see the outside of your closet! If you can hold out for sales, great but make sure you go into the sale knowing exactly what you need and not buying anything but the item type you set out to buy and you will save money. This takes will power and the ability to block out advertising and pressure from sales staff. Most people will be swayed, but you can’t let yourself be swayed or you will waste your money. Going into a sale or a clothing store to buy clothes but not knowing exactly what you want, is how you will end up with a heap of clothes you won’t wear.

We unfortunately live in an era of mass consumption where most people feel like they are missing out in some way. Remember that you are in control and you don’t HAVE to buy anything if it’s not perfect and doesn’t fit your criteria. In economics we call this separating your needs from your wants which was one of the most important things I learned from my High School Economics teacher. Buy what you need first before you spend on wants. If you need to, make a list or inventory of your basic wardrobe so you know what you already have and from there you can figure out if you need to buy anything new that would make building outfits easier or if you simply need or organise your wardrobe better so it’s easier to find pieces that look good together.

I hope this blog post was helpful to you!

The Looming Sydney Housing Crisis

What is it that people say? It’s a recession until you loose your job, then it’s a depression. I feel it’s a bit like that with the Sydney housing market. It’s not a crisis, it’s a bubble, until your bubble pops and you are pushed out of the property and rental market because you’ve been out priced.

One of the problems with the Sydney housing market is that it’s been treated by many as an easy no brainer investment class. I’m talking about people who buy houses as an investment to sell at a profit rather than to live in them. It doesn’t really matter whether they are local baby boomer investors or overseas investors, the end result is that because there has been so much speculation in the market for so long, we in Sydney (and Melbourne) have seen an artificial elevation in house prices that is not linked to wage growth. This has ultimately out priced many younger people from the market, and basically anyone who wasn’t on the property ladder to begin with.

Now there is a phrase I have a real problem with “the property ladder”, which implies a buying and selling of properties to upgrade ones housing, presumably for comfort, but more recently (say the last decade at least) for sheer profit.

The thing about houses is they don’t generate any income until they are rented out or sold, and if you have a very big loan you won’t really see the revenue until you sell. People have seen housing as an easy get rich quick scheme, they don’t tend to loose value because people always need somewhere to live, and the more people started investing, the more new investors were drawn in. Until recently property investors (that sounds a bit ominous “investors”, but here I mean anyone who was not buying a property for themselves to live in long term) could buy in parts of Sydney and sell a year later making a 20% profit. It’s a bit reminiscent of other bubbles in the past, most recently the Bitcoin bubble which worked on the same easy money principle.

The problem with the housing bubble, is that it’s not just currency like in the case of Bitcoin, it’s houses, that is homes that people live in. If prices get too high many people are spending too much of their income on loan repayments or rising rent prices. This becomes a delicate balance and if something happens, like you loose your job or prices go up again or let’s say interest rates rise, some people are ultimately going to be pushed off the edge, when their bubble pops (e.g. they can’t make their mortgage repayments and default on their loan). This  can even be the first step towards homelessness. If you are a young person paying high rent with low wage growth and probably low wages due to the casualisation of the workforce that is happening in Australia, you can’t even save enough money to become an investor or home buyer to get yourself out of paying high rents.

The problem is, houses only really generate income when they are sold, and because people have seen the housing market as an easy way to make money there has been a massive wave of speculation. The housing market isn’t as complicated as the stock market, prices have tended to go up without the investor having to do much research or anything much once they have invested. Sure this has made some people rich, but the purpose of housing, something I think people in Australia and some other parts of the world have forgotten, is that houses should be viewed primarily as places for people to live in, not an income generating stream or investment class.

Investing in housing only pushes house prices up and doesn’t have any real benefit. Because really, if you own a place that is overvalued, there will eventually be a price adjustment (read price fall). You don’t really have a million dollars if you own a house valued at million dollars. You own a house and if you sell you will only receive what the market says it’s worth. You only have a million dollars if you sell that house for a million dollars and put that money in the bank.

People should be investing in local businesses and companies as those forms of investment do generate income and they can cause growth in the economy in areas that actually have some benefit to Australia like growth in jobs and wages. Australia has had so many great new technology companies leave because they couldn’t find investors here. The ones that spring first to my mind are the new energy solar power companies that went to China or the US when they couldn’t find investors here. There are your jobs of the future and they’ve all gone overseas and will never benefit Australia.

Australia having a trillion dollars in private home loan debt is not benefiting anyone except the banks that are selling the majority of the loans (1), who will see even more profits roll in when interest rates eventually rise, and they will eventually rise . It wasn’t that long ago real interest rates were around 6% and in the 1980’s they came close to 8% (2). I’m talking about real interest rates too here, not what the banks charged as the interest rate on their home loans which reached staggering levels close to 17% in the 1980’s. Anyone with a large home loan should be very concerned about what interest rate they are paying. If interest rates were raised a few percent higher without wage growth in Australia, many borrowers would default on their loans.

Being tied to high home loan repayments and rents also limits what households can spend as consumers, because all their income is going into housing. This also does nothing to stimulate wage growth and other parts of the economy.

To exacerbate the problem there has been very poor housing affordability policy by all levels government which has played a part in rising house prices and household debt.

The Housing Bubble and Homelessness

We are already seeing the effect of this bubble in the increase in homelessness in Sydney. Don’t think there is a connection between homelessness and rising house and rental prices? Think again. When the Government doesn’t provide enough crisis housing or long term housing for people on low incomes, and the unemployment policy is that if you leave an area with more jobs (like Sydney) for an area with less jobs (like a country town with a cheaper cost of living) you could be cut off unemployment benefits.

So picture the scenario,  you loose your job or you get sick and can’t work for a long period, then because of the drop in income you can’t pay your rent or mortgage and you loose that place. You can’t afford rent on a new place in your area because you haven’t found work again and there is not enough crisis accommodation for all who require it, so you have to find somewhere to go. You probably can’t leave Sydney and move somewhere cheaper because you will be cut off any unemployment benefits by the Government. If you can’t find a place you can afford in the city and unless you have someone who can support you you might eventually end up homeless. you might couch surf for a while, but one day you might run out of people to stay with or you might have some kids, and your friends don’t have room for all of you, so you are living in your car, until you can’t afford your car anymore.

This is a reality, and it is partially caused by housing speculation. There are however many other contributing factors to homelessness. Low wage growth, poor housing policy by Government, poor (or should I say stagnant and un-evolving) unemployment benefit policy and poor mental health and domestic violence policies by Government have all contributed to homelessness in Australia.