black maxi dress driftyness

What a Black Maxi Dress Taught Me About Managing My Finances

WWhen I saw it, I gasped. The perfect loose-yet-draping-in-the-right-places dress. It was long and covered my legs, which meant I could skip the lotion if I was running late (#girlhacks). The V-neck cut was décolletage friendly without leaving me feeling overexposed, the thin and seamless straps made it look a little more designed than your average black maxi dress, and the material was one that wouldn’t start forming those horrid little balls that make whole outfits look shabby.

It wasn’t crazy expensive, but as a grad student with a limited income, I still had to save up for it. I calculated how long it would take for me to get it, and I checked on the dress a few days later.

To my horror, it was sold out and hasn’t been restocked since. My feelings were hurt, and to be honest, I’m still a little salty.

It bugged me even more because this has happened before on multiple occasions. Bombshell little black dress for a ridiculous price? Can’t afford it. Cute statement jewellery that matches my glasses? Too broke. Flash sale at one of my favourite stores? Not enough money for that, sorry.

I think I’ve got it half right in that I shouldn’t be spending money I don’t have, but I think I’m half wrong in not being prepared for situations that are only partly unpredictable: I know that they’ll happen, but I just don’t know when.

Join me as I try to get myself together.

My Wants Have a Pattern

It’s not news to me that I’m a clothing fiend. Many of us had our absolutely-stupid-with-money millennial phase, and pretty much every dollar I did (and didn’t) have got spent on clothes. Even though I stopped acting like a dumb-dumb, I always get an itch to buy new clothes when the seasons change, when I have a major event coming up, or when I’m bored and daydreaming about what I want my life to be like. The bottom line is that it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I want to buy clothes.

So why don’t I have money to buy the things I want!?

I Need to Line Up My Expectations With My Budget

Most people have limited income. I’m not an exception to this. I’m a grad student, and no one goes to grad school with the expectation that they’re going to be up to their eyeballs in money while they’re there. So yes,  there is a certain amount of suck-it-up-ism I’ll need to do when I’m window shopping online, see something I like, want it, and realize my budget isn’t set up like that.

I think I’m not terrible at this, although I could do better.  I also think there are some times when I just shouldn’t go down that window-shopping rabbit hole at all.

When I was younger, I had an obsession with fashion blogs. It paid off well, because I learned where all the fashionistas shopped (thanks, Chictopia). Zara, Mango, and ASOS are still some of my go-to stores. The problem with stores like these which have both a cult following and serious popularity with people who aren’t fashion bloggers is that things sell out fast. Really fast.

That knowledge throws me into a bit of a panic because if I want that thing, I need to buy it now because it might not be there if I wait. I told myself that I should either just learn to be more satisfied with strictly window-shopping and daydreaming, or straight-up avoid browsing when I know I don’t have money to spend on things that cost more than a cup of coffee.

But I Also Need to Line Up My Budget With My Expectations

I’m not going to die if I don’t have cute clothes, but at the same time, I know that fashion has always been important to me. I could walk in heels before I hit double digits because I used to spend hours walking around in my mom’s heels. I planned my prom dress for months. I’ve gone to events just so I had a reason to wear an outfit I’d been planning. I literally have spreadsheets for the stores that have the clothes I like and an inventory of my closet. I’ve gone off the rails for fashion, okay?

The problem is that I haven’t planned for this. I’ve learned to be a lot more frugal and practical than I used to be, which is good, but I also need to make a little room for my personality. When I was planning my budget for grad school, I just planned to live in jeans, t-shirts, button-downs, and loafers. Most of the time, that works out ok, but I’m extra and sometimes I just have to scratch that itch. Like do I need to show up to a bar in head to toe sequins? No. But nobody can or will stop me from doing so if it’s my birthday.

Some Frivolous Expenses Actually Aren’t Frivolous

More practically, I didn’t expect that I’d have to go to events where it would be inappropriate not to dress up. Grad students are considered to be part of the academic world, and you start getting invited to stuff. Dinners, conferences, awards. Yes, I can skip some of these events, but I can’t skip everything. Not only would it be rude, it would be skipping things that could help me in my career.

So here, fashion isn’t just some frivolous thing. Being able to dress the part influences how people see me, how they treat me, and gives people a sense of whether or not I belong somewhere. This is amplified for me because a lot of the time, I’m “the only one,” or “one of a few,” if you catch my drift.

Walking into certain places dressed inappropriately or shabbily can be like requesting an invitation to be insulted. I don’t agree with this kind of behaviour, but it happens. Nobody’s telling me that I need to be dressed in head-to-toe designer, but I do need to have a small arsenal of clothes that I can wear to career-building functions. Unfortunately for me, these kinds of clothes are on the expensive side. This means that sales are my friend. This also means that I have to be able to act fast when I see something I need because sales are often limited and product moves fast.

Related: Building A Basic Wardrobe

Bottom Line: I Need to Plan

All this means that I need to organize my finances in a way that allows me to be my supercalifragilisticexpialodocious, career-focused self without spending money I don’t have.

Related: The Broke Fashionistas Club: Dressing Well On a Budget

I don’t love planning, so I’m going to try to keep this simple.

Step 1

I need to figure out what I actually need or will need in the future (e.g. jeans I need to replace) and focus on that.

Step 2

I need to figure out what limited number of things I could add to my wardrobe that would get my inner fashionista through grad school without feeling like she’s lost her sparkle and tragically became frumpy.

Step 3

I need to start building a small fashion fund so I’m not panicking when I have a career event coming up or stuck walking around in jeans that have unintentional holes in them. We don’t have time for looking shabby in 2018.

One of my goals for the rest of my 20s is to get organized, so I think this is actually a helpful way to get started. Nobody wants to think about budgeting because it isn’t fun, but when I think about it as a way to equip myself to get the things I want, I can get on board.

What about you? What do you do when you want something that’s not in the budget?


Image via Kira Ikonnikova @ Unsplash

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11 comments on “What a Black Maxi Dress Taught Me About Managing My Finances

  1. Yes, I love maxi dresses as well – especially the ones that don’t hug certain I think you’re on board with setting up a plan for what you want. My mom used to always tell me, Nikki – if you see something you want and you have the money to get it – DO IT! because I would always pass up the thing and talk about it later with regret that I did it and viola! go back to get it and it’s gone, so I know that feeling. I also loved how you used “supercalifragilisticexpialodocious” – lol, you don’t hear that everyday.

    • I have that tendency to pass things up things too, even when I have the money. I don’t even know why I do it. I once passed by a flea market and saw a perfect linen blazer for just $5 but decided to keep walking. Changed my mind the next day and walked all over the place in the rain trying to find it – no luck. I guess life is like that too – sometimes you only get one shot to grab something. Wise advice from your mom!

  2. It’s the summer time and all I want are maxi dresses and skirts! My job is casual so it fits right into my wardrobe lol These were some points for me to take down because Lord knows I’ll get on Fashion Nova and spend like no tomorrow.

    • Fashion Nova and She In are so good for my budget because they’re cheap, but also so bad because they’re cheap! One top turns into a whole outfit, because if it’s under $30 why not, right? Ugghh. They look so good on, though!

  3. im a sucker for a good maxi dress…lol. PS- Hate when that happens… one minute its there, the next its not… especially at spots like Forever 21. Good lessons!

    • Ugh, that feeling is the worst. Hopefully I’ll have fewer moments like that when I graduate and get a big girl job. I can’t deal with Forever 21 anymore, though, the crowds are crazy!

  4. I love it! Sometimes we get so focused on staying on budget or living frugal that we don’t add any personality to that budget spreadsheet. Making a budget that is a true reflection of where you are financial AND who you are is uber important. My weakness is a combination of clothes, books and odds things (like a the vinyl record player I’ve been eyeing on amazon for the last year.) Our appetite for consumerism is real but not inherently bad. I love how you explore that in this post.

    • Right? Why does my personality have to be so expensive though? 😭😭 I used to have a dream of having a library full of books in my house one day! And for odd things, I always had a thing for typewriters. I don’t think I’d ever use it, but nobody said you couldn’t have cute paperweights. Hope somebody gets you that record player for your birthday or Christmas 🙂

      • I think the hard part for me is my taste isn’t even really all that expensive; so there’s always this little voice inside that tries to trick me into buying stuff by saying “It only costs $19.99 plus shipping but you have a 10% off coupon LOL it truly is a struggle to try and include your personal consumer appetites within your budget but I think it is definitely important; otherwise you’ll end up being unprepared for that sale and spending more than you intended. Just like going into Walmart for one thing and coming out with a full shopping cart. I think planning that in your budget as you mentioned will empower you to spend only on what you really like and not panic because you weren’t prepared.

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