10 Thrifty Style Tips for Mummies on a Budget

by - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Being a mummy need never mean you are frumpy! Just because babies and children force us to budget (in terms of both money and time) does not mean we should forget about our stylish selves.

Here are my top 10 thrifty tips to help ensure you always look - and feel - fabulous, even when you're broke and have only five minutes to get dressed in the morning.

1. Ensure you have a fabulous, fuss-free haircut

The last thing a stressed, time-stricken mum needs to worry about is whether she has the time to wash, blow-dry and style her hair each and every morning. Trust me on this ladies, it's far easier (not to mention cheaper) to have a wonderful, fuss-free style which requires little more than a brush through and perhaps a hairband or simple clip to make us feel utterly elegant.

I've worn my hair in almost every style imaginable: short, mid-length, long, curly, straight and dyed. But for the past six years or so, I've decided to keep my present style: one length in the back with a side-swept fringe which suits the shape of my face and only requires styling "properly" if I'm getting ready for a night out.

The best haircut for any mum is one which requires little fuss to lool absolutely great. Even if you have tightly curled locks, fine flyaway hair or ultra thick unmanageable tresses, there will be a perfect style for you.

The trick is to find a good hairdresser. As friends have often told me, the best hairdresser will perfectly understand your needs and find a style to suit you perfectly. Ask around: friends or family, and even local forums are all great places to find a reliable and experienced hairdresser whose skills with the scissors can tame your tangled masses into a elegant and easily managed mane.

Try also to keep your natural colour, spending the money you would save on regular colourings and root touch-ups on regular haircuts instead. This could save you more money and anxiety than you imagine: you need never be concerned that your roots are showing; your hair will appear healthier from the lack of chemical treatments, and you needn't be concerned about buying expensive products to suit your coloured hair.

However, if "natural" is not for you, try colouring at home instead and ask a friend to help you out. The end-result is undoubtedly better than attempting to reach all areas on your own, and saves pounds each time you'd have visited the hairdressers instead!

2. Organize a capsule wardrobe

A "capsule" wardrobe comprises of several key clothing items which can be mixed and matched to create a multitude of outfits. By having these key items in your wardrobe, you will always ensure you have the perfect outfit to hand, no matter how busy you are or how little time to get ready in the morning.

To create your capsule wardrobe, you needn't feel as though you need to spend loads of money. Instead, take a good hard look at the items you already own. Chances are you will already have several key pieces and may not even need to buy anything new.

What you will need to do is look at your clothes and combinations in a different light.

The best explanation of how a capsule wardrobe will solve all yoru clothing dilemmas is presented by Gok Wan in the new series of Fashion Fix (Channel 4, on Friday evenings). He suggests 24 key pieces to create literally dozens of new looks, and explains this by example when creating a new wardribe for each of his guests.

The 24 key items Gok suggests are:
  • 1 pair good fitting trousers
  • 1 pair jeans (dark dyed bootcut works well for almost every figure)
  • 1 skirt (cut just below the knee is a style which suits everyone)
  • 6 tops (including one white shirt and a camisole)
  • 2 dresses
  • 2 jackets
  • 1 coat
  • 2 scarves (to match wardrobe colour scheme of choice)
  • 4 pairs of shoes (2 flat, two heeled)
  • 2 handbags
  • 1 pair of gloves
  • 1 wide belt
In the episode I watched on Friday, Gok created a complete new look using red and green as key accent colours with the items in this capsule wardrobe (one pair of shoes, a handbag and the gloves were all pillar-box red, along with the coat and a jacket). I was inspired by his method, especially seeing just how much of a difference this capsule collection made to the lady's sense of style.After the show, I went upstairs and began rooting through my own wardrobe to collect items I could use to create my own capsule collection (and luckily only need one more dress to ensure this is complete).

Think of all the different combinations you can create with these basic items:
  • Dress and a jacket, worn with heels for a formal look
  • Dress worn alone with flat pumps for a casual outing
  • Trousers with camisole and white shirt plus a scarf around your neck
  • Skirt with a casual top and flat shoes
  • Skirt with a dressy top and jacket, worn with heels
  • Jeans and a white shirt, worn with pumps and a long scarf
  • Jeans with a dressy top and heels for a night out
The list goes on!

If you find there are items missing from your capsule wardrobe then these are the items you should look for on your next clothes shopping trip, not that bargain sequined dress which you know you'll never have occasion to wear!

3. Get rid of any clothes you don't wear

While it may seem daft to get rid of clothes when there is little money available to buy replacements, worry not: having a wardrobe clear-out will help you in many ways!

Firstly, you will be making room for the items you do wear so you can easily see what's available. Secondly, you will be able to see easily which areas of your wardrobe are lacking, and can concentrate on building these up when clothing funds are available to you.

When you declutter, you should look at each item and consider the following:
  • Have you worn this item in the past year?
  • Could this complement your capsule wardrobe?
  • Does it fit you now?
If you answer "no" to any of these questions, it's time to say goodbye to this piece (or at least put it away for storage if this is a sentimental item).

For clothes which are still good, consider selling on eBay to contribute towards your wardrobe fund. Or try swapping/"swishing" your unwanted clothes to update your wardrobe for free...

4. Swap unwanted clothes for something new

Another idea is to swap your clothes for something you would wear instead. There are many clothes-swapping sites sprouting up now including:
  • BigWardrobe.com (my personal favourite) where you can trade/buy anything from Primark to Chloe and Stella McCartney!
  • WhatsMineIsYours.com - you can even swap furniture here! More "high-end", including designer and vintage items.
  • CovertCandy.co.uk - a relatively new site which aims to help make trading easier by using a points system.
"Swishing" offers a more personal approach to clothes swapping, where friends organize clothes-swapping (Swishing) parties to trade their unwanted clothes for something else. It makes perfect sense, and saves the necessity of buying new clothes when we could just as easily swap. Take a look at Swishing.org for more information plus tips on organizing your own swishing party.

5. Try to have loads of plain white T-shirts and shirts

Mums, I hear you screaming "why on earth do we need white tops when our little darlings will stain them so easily?".

This, ladies, is exactly the point. It is far easier to remove stains, spills and baby sick from plain white cotton clothes than any other fabric at all. If you wear plain white often, you can bung all your dirtied tops in the same high temperature wash (along with a little bleach or one of those ingenious whitening sachets) and have these completely clean ready for the next round.

In contrast, patterned, coloured and even plain black tops are more difficult to clean as effectively; they will undoubtedly lose their colour after a few washes and will certainly not last as long as their white cotton counterparts.

White is also a universal colour to suit all skin tones, hair colours and complexions. It is far more flattering than black (which when worn against the face makes almost everyone's skin look dull), and can be jazzed up so easily with scarves, beads and other accessories.

Basic T-shirts and shirts are among the cheapest tops you can buy(such as those £2 Tees and £3 shirts from Primark, Asda and Tesco). Trust me on this and stock up on a few more plain white tops. You'll understand my point in less than a week!

6. When it comes to clothes, less is more!

The average woman wears 20% of her wardrobe 80% of the time ans spends over £13,000 in a lifetime on clothes she will never wear!

Rather than spend little and often on the latest fashions, it is far better to onvest in good quality, timeless pieces for your capsule wardrobe which can be worn almost 100% of the time.

Saving up to invest in one good quality piece which you will wear often will save you time and money. For example, instead of buying ten cheap synthetic Primark tops to get you through the summer months save your money towards one or two longer lasting, good quality cotton shirts. These will wash and wear far better than those cheap tops and will certainly last longer than one season.

Do your research, shop around; buy only the best quality items you can afford and only those which are absolutely perfect - not those which are simply "okay". "Trade-up" if you can: rather than shop for your basics at Primark, save up a little longer and visit Marks and Spencer, River Island or Monsoon; although these are more expensive, the quality if far better making the clothes last much longer (and helping your feel fabulous in the process).

I've been doing this for around six months now and despite shopping for myself so infrequently I honestly feel much happier about what I buy: there are no more "bad decisions", impulse purchases, or clothes which don't suit me (even though they looked great on the store-front mannequin!). Instead, I am simply replacing worn items from my capsule wardrobe and occasionally adding to it with clothes I am sure suit me, and which make me feel happy when I get dressed each day. To sum things up, I am spending less (in the long run) on things which I wear far more.

7. Ditch the Salon for DIY Beauty Treatments

Hair removal, brow shaping, facials... The things we ladies do to make us look pretty can cost a small fortune at the beauty salon! Aside from my regular bikini wax (my only indulgence, because I simply cannot do this myself!), I've always performed by own beauty treatments at home. This works out as a saving of over £70 a month compared to the equivalent treatments at my local salon:

Basic manicure£10
Basic pedicure£15
Simple facial£10Cost at home:
Full leg wax£17
Chin and upper lip wax£12
Eyebrow threading£8.50

It would take ages to explain the methods for my own DIY beauty treatments, so instead I'll give a quick overview and link you up with some excellent demonstrative videos to help you achieve great results at home.


As mummies, our hands suffer the most of all our body parts, but with a few tips it's easy enough to keep out hands in great condition.

For beautifully soft hands, slather loads of cheap hand lotion or vaseline over your hands before putting on the rubber gloves to clean/wash up. The heat from the hot water helps the lotion or vaseline penetrate deeper into your hands, and is a great treat to compensate for all the cleaning we have to do!

I personally tend not to paint my fingernails as the varnish chips within a day or two (even when I'm wearing clear varnish). Instead, I keep my nails fairly short and buff once a fortnight with a buffing block bought for less than £2 from the chemist and finish off by rubbing olive oil into my cuticles and skin (usually while watching Desperate Housewives, so it really doesn't take up much time). Buffing makes my nails look really shiny and lasts for ages. This video from VideoJug will show you how easy it is.


Our feet need looking after. Having a pedicure at the salon is immensely gratifying, but it's still possible to recreate the experience by pampering ourselves at home on a monthly basis.

This video explains how to pamper your feet at home. The products you'll need will last you for months; try visiting PoundLand (or the beauty stall at your local market) to get everything you need for under a fiver.


There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of home-made face mask recipes available on the web. Take a look here for a huge selection or simply Google to see what I mean.

One of the best I've ever tried is the "Asprin mask". I first learned about this after reading India Knight's Thrift Book and was at first dubious until I saw the results for myself. Basically, asprin contains salycilic acid: a key ingredient in many high-end exfoliating face treatments (and is great for blemishes). This article from Faking Good Breeding offers a complete explanation, along with instructions for use.

For a complete "home facial" tutorial, take a look at this article from About.com.

Hair removal

Waxing is wonderful; the results last for weeks and is ideal for depilation on legs and the awkward bikini area. If you're able to wax yourself (or have a willing friend to help) then good for you! Personally I find home-waxing particularly taxing. My attempts have been rather painful, with less than desirable results.

Instead, I've learned two alternative and very effective techniques which cost virtually nothing. Neither are particularly easy and require some practise to perfect, but both are very frugal and will leave you feeling baby-smooth wherever you use them.

Sugaring is a little like waxing but it's far easier to wash off the residue and does not require you to use rags/strips to pull out those hairs. You can use sugar hair removal anywhere on your body, and since it uses all natural ingredients it's unlikely you'll have any unpleasant reactions.

Here's a video explaining how to create your sugar solution with a quick overview of how this works:

Threading is wonderful for eyebrows and facial hair (you can also use this for your legs, but it takes ages and it's awkward to reach the back of your calves). Ideally, you'll need to partner up with a friend and thread each other's unwanted hair as it's very difficult to apply this technique to yourself. All you'll need for threading is a length of cotton and a little patience. Here's how to create your "threading tool" and here's a tutorial for threading eyebrows.

8. Learn to Accessorise with Style

Accessories are a cheap and cheerful way of updating your look. If you have a classic, capsule wardrobe, you will be able to update your look with the latest trends simply by adding accessories, rather than forking out the cash for new clothes each season.

Now I will admit that I'm not really the best person to ask for advice on accessories. Until recently, I barely wore any jewellery at all, and belts were simply to hold my trousers in place! Luckily, my sister works for Claires and is quite the expert on this subject. She's helped me learn some thrifty style tips to help me feel more fabulous using clever (usually cheap) accessories which can be adapted to make any mummy feel great:
  • Have one great, oversized handbag for everyday use: Rather than have loads of different handbags for each day of the week, it's more useful (and economical) to have only one good quality bag which is large enough for everything we need as mums.

    A good handbag need not be expensive: my favourite bag ever (which I've had for over 3 years now) is a classic leather bag which cost £20 from TK Maxx. With a huge main section and loads of pockets, I can segregate any "messy" kids stuff from my purse and documents. And as my sister tells me, big bags help you look smaller in comparison.

    If you have young babies, you can even ditch the nappy bag in favour of an oversized handbag, which will last you far longer and is honestly a great investment for your wardrobe.
  • Wide belts help narrow your waistline: Like many mums, I still have a rather flabby area around my midriff. I prefer longer length tops to hide my little bulge, but have found that wearing a wide belt around my waistline helps pull me in so I look slimmer no matter what I'm wearing. 
  • Wear a pretty necklace to dress up a plain top: Necklaces really do help complete an outfit (particularly when teamed with a matching bracelet or earrings). Unless you're wearing a high-necked, fussy printed top, try adding a simple set of beads or pendant to make your outfit stand out more. Chunky beads really suit those with smaller chests (like me) while long thinner strands lengthen and slim the torso as they draw focus down the body rather than across it.
  • Coloured scarves can draw an outfit together: An alternative to necklaces is the classic scarf (square or long) in a colour which draws upon an element of your outfit. For example, if you wear a dress which has red in the print, team this with a red silk scarf tied around your neck. Primark do a wonderful selection of scarves from only a couple of pounds each and you can also find these as giveaways on the covers of style magazines. Charity shops too usually have a basked dedicated to scarves and other accessories which you could pick up for as little as 50p!
  • Heels will make you appear slimmer: I am a true advocate of high heels and would probably try to convert anyone who would listen! Heels make you appear taller, lengthen the leg and look as great teamed with jeans or with pretty dresses and evening outfits. Recently the trend for "platform" heels has re-emerged, and the latest styles offer a seamless appearance between the shoe and sole; these help you wear slightly higher heels than normal as your foot is not as arched as it appears to be. Try this style (even with a small heel) if the thought of stilettos makes you cringe: they are far more comfortable, and could convert even the most dedicated "ballerina pump" mum!
  • Hairbands, clips and bobbles are essential: Mums tend to have less time to style their hair, so try keeping a selection of hair accessories for quick fixes instead. My four-year-old and I regularly raid each other's collection! Even if you have short hair, you can jazz it up with pretty slides and decorated hairpins.

    By far the cheapest sources are Primark, supermarkets and your local market. Claires Accessories regularly have sales where you can buy 10 items for £3 so stock up when these events happen.

9. Look after your skin

By looking after your skin, you will undoubtedly feel younger, more vibrant and prettier from the inside out. It's really not necessary to spend a packet on expensive "youth nurturing" creams and skin peeling serums: a common sense approach works miracles, while cleansers and moisturisers can even be bought at the pound store.

Drink lots of water to flush out toxins and hydrate skin from the inside out. I promise this will help you look and feel loads better! Tap water is equally as good as those expensive bottled drinks (we pay way over the odds for fancy packaging), so there really is no excuse! Plenty of fruit and vegetables helps too.

Baby lotion is wonderful for the body; the "budget" versions from the supermarket cost pennies, and smell far better than their equivalents in the women's beauty section. Since having an allergic reaction to an expensive (apparently "miracle-working") brand of moisturiser, I now buy from the simple, no-frills range at Superdrug which works wonderfully for me.

10. Make time for you

In most areas of our lives, we pay more for things which save us time and are more convenient: microwaveable meals to save time in the kitchen; cleaning products which promise shine without scrubbing; hair dye which you can rinse away in only 10 minutes...

When we are trying to be frugal, we can save money by spending time instead. Whenever possible, try to reserve an hour for yourself each week. Ask your partner to mind the kids while you have a long soak, de-fuzz and give yourself a manicure, or rearrange housework to give yourself an afternoon off. Don't try to rush: spend time applying products or styling yourself properly and it needn't matter that the things you use cost less money to buy.

As I wrote right at the beginning of this article, many mums have only five minutes to get dressed in the morning before the school run/nursery dash/drive to work. We have barely enough time to brush our teeth and hair, let alone choose accessories to complement our outfits; perfect our make-up and set our hair in rollers.

So save time by rearranging your schedule, and manage your time more efficiently!

Decide what to wear and lay out your clothes the night before, giving you time to iron wrinkled clothes and decide on accessories in advance. You could even spend an afternoon arranging your wardrobe and clothes, grouping outfits together so they can be grabbed in a single sweep. Give yourself a manicure/pedicure while watching your favourite show on TV. Small efforts like these can add minutes to your day, preventing you from feeling stressed and anxious.

By managing your time effectively, you will feel more relaxed and find that there is time for a manicure, time to apply a touch of make-up, and enjoy a coffee with your other half after breakfast. Relaxed mums smile more often and appear more confident: two utterly fabulous qualities which are out of no woman's reach!

So despite your busy days, the endless housework and the rising costs of living, remember that you are important too. Spend a little time and less money on yourself and your confidence will reap the benefits!

Image credits (in order of appearance): Hairdressing by Helmet13; What to wear by Sugar Cookie; Cluttered closet by Darwin Bell; Washing by Daylight.; Clothes shop by *Muhammad*; Pedicure by (nutmeg); Shoes by stevendepolo; Time by Epesara. All via Flickr Creative Commons.

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  1. oh my gosh when I started reading this and saw your haircut advice I thought this was going to be a complete dumbing down for any style vixen but insteady it's completely minxy - I love it! congratulations to you, I think this is brilliant advice. xx

  2. Thanks for that, nixdminx :) I've done my best to include only those tips which really make sense for busy mums and would have hated it if readers thought I'd "dumbed it down"!

  3. i absolutly love your advice i may not be a mum but i usally don't have time for myself then after reading this piece of art i found it easier and people started loving me more !!!