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Frugal and Fashion Mix in Slow Economy

Trends for parties and apparel cycle back into fashion every few years. But one trend that debt management consultant and blogger Clarky Davis feels has been unduly kept in the back of the closet is consumer frugality.

Our grandparents' generation lived through or was raised in the years of the Great Depression, which heightened their tendency towards frugality. The last two generations of Americans see that frugality as old-fashioned, uptight, uncool.

"For the last 25 years, Americans have been on a spending spree," Davis says. "Historic trends show consumption has grown faster than income. The average American household has more than $9,000 in credit card debt."

But the current state of the economy has many spenders trying to change their habits, Davis says. This extends to the purchases they make for their own appearance, their homes and their social lives. "Don't let the word frugal create a mental picture of your grandmother who re-used tissues that she saved in the sleeves of her sweater," Davis says. "Instead it's time to make frugal fabulous. Living stylishly within your means doesn't mean banning fun.

Instead, make it a challenge to find the resourceful way to spend your hard-earned dollars. Doing it with spirit and adventure makes you look wise, and your bank account and paid-down credit card debt will cushion you from bad economic times."

Dressing the Frugal Diva

"When I see an outfit I really covet in the store, I stalk it," Davis says. "I check back every week or so to see if it is on sale, and if the store still has my size. I'll visit the retailer's Web site to see if they are offering any online specials. I never, ever pay full price."

Visit discounters like Stein Mart, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, which have a good selection of career and casual clothes for much less than department store prices. Sign up for their customer cards to be notified of special sales not always open to the public, that give you a sneak peek at sale prices or an extra discount.

Yet, don't get sucked into a sale just because of red ink on the tag. Make sure the item works with your wardrobe or you'll end up with a closet full of odds and ends that represent wasted cash.

Stores like Target have a long-standing relationship with typically high-end designers like Isaac Mizrahi and others. More recently, Vera Wang is designing a line for Kohl's. Though the items are of lower quality than the designers' other offerings, it's a wise way to take advantage of what may be short-lived fashion trends for less. You can always spend more on timeless items you hope to become mainstays of your wardrobe. Actress Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten line, which can be found at Steve and Barry's, offers pieces for under $20.

Don't overlook yard sales and thrift stores like The Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries. Some boutique consignment shops have strict condition requirements. After all, one woman's castoff is another woman's Chanel. Search for designer brands online at sites like eBay, where you can bid for bargains.

Frugal Fun at Home

Want to throw a party, but worried about breaking the bank? Rethink how you entertain.

"Invite a few friends over and ask everyone to bring an appetizer, entree, side or dessert," Davis says. To set a festive mood, "light lots of candles - I buy mine at the dollar store - and prepare some interesting conversation starters like: ‘What's the habit you're proudest of breaking?' 'What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book?' or ‘If you had to be named after one of the 50 states, which would it be?'

Break out your board games or decks of cards, unless of course, the conversation is flowing so easily you don't dare interrupt. Try a family-style international theme for large quantities of generally inexpensive food like Italian, Mexican or Thai. Or, consider a movie theme. Ask your guests to bring a signature dish or drink from of their favorite flicks: Sex and the City might mean cosmos and sushi. The Godfather makes one think lasagna and cannoli. Use your own DVD collection or Netflix queue and create a menu around a movie, then dim the lights and watch. "If this same group of friends went to a restaurant, you'd be looking at big bucks - most likely put on your credit card," said Davis. "Why not take the money you saved by throwing this little soiree and use it to pay down your outstanding balances?" Most importantly, try to adapt a lifestyle in which you spend less --period.

"When the going gets tough, don't go shopping!" Davis says. "Give yourself a laugh instead. Check out a funny book from the library, watch a comedy on TV or surf over to your favorite humorous Web site. Go for laugh therapy instead of retail therapy."

Davis offers these tips for debt reduction:

--Focus on your highest-interest credit card and pay as much as you can on that card first, while making at least the minimum payment on your other debts. When that card is paid off, add that amount to the next highest credit card and so on.

--Pay your bills on time. In fact, pay them early if you can. Your credit report will benefit.

--Keep the focus on getting out of debt, but set aside some money to create a savings cushion. This will be where you turn for unexpected expenses like car repairs, instead of your credit cards. Rachel Koning Beals has written about credit, real estate, personal finance and investing for 14 years.

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