Awesome Work Clothes on $20 a Day

work outfit1

I got this great new job, and I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to look like a professional who was ready to conquer the world. The problem is, I hadn’t bought work clothes in about four years. In fact, most of my more professionalish pieces are from my early days of teaching. That’s nine years ago. Shhhh!!! Let’s not talk about how long ago that is.

Let’s add to that the fact that I am not a rich lady and clothes are expensive. When you’re trying to get by on $20 a day, there’s usually not a lot left over for clothes. I mean, cheese and chocolate are important, but when you go to work, people expect you to be dressed. Time to go shopping.


I made a plan because I get easily distracted by cute sundresses. From the hundreds of outfits and accessories I have pinned on Pinterest, I created a new pin board and narrowed it down to 10 things that I wanted to look for on my shopping trip. Then I gave myself an allowance, $40. Two days worth of spending to try to get myself something new to wear to work.

Shopping is not my favorite thing. It’s a chore, but it has to be done. Let’s not talk about the trauma of broken ATMs. My first score was these red ankle pants that I found at Nordstrom’s Rack for $10. What? I had to have them. I also scored this cute navy blouse for $16 at TJ Maxx.

I tried on a bunch of stuff that didn’t work, and found a bunch of great shoes that were almost my entire budget. It was a tough day, but I’m happy with the few things I was able to find, and confident that I’ll be able to add some accessories, like a skinny leopard belt, soon enough. I still have $14 left to buy myself something new.

work outfit2

I’m going to have to continue to very slowly grow my collection. One must play one’s part. But I also just have to accept the fact that a lot of my clothes are old, and work is not a fashion show. I don’t think I’m more than the normal amount of vain. I just want to represent myself and my organization in the best way possible. Most humans have eyeballs. They look at you, and their brains make an assessment. That’s reality. 

Looking good also makes me feel more confident, and in the face of a brand new career, I’ll take all the confidence I can get. What are your awesomest shopping tips for work wear on the cheap? I need all the help I can get.


Hometown Tourist

palm trees

It’s your day off, and you’re desperate to leave your house, but you only have $7 to spend between two people. What’s to be done? Emily and I faced this dilemma one day, and we decided to become hometown tourists. 

We walked into Waikiki with our swimsuits, our towels, our cameras, and our $7. We had a great time pretending to be fancy tourists without actually spending that much money. We even put on cute outfits and lip gloss. You have to look the part.

em and flowers

After a swim in the Pacific, we got lunch, hot dogs and a can of iced tea at the ABC store. Two people, five dollars. Perhaps not the most nutritious or delicious, but we weren’t hungry. Then we set off to explore. 

All the hotels in Waikiki have open lobbies with shops and exhibits, so it’s almost like going to a museum for free. There are even some animal attractions if you know where to look. 


I had a lovely day following my daughter around as she took a hundred photos of every little thing in Waikiki. She was having a blast trying to get the coolest shots of flowers and art work and signage. 

yellow hibiscus

The great thing about being a hometown tourist is that you don’t have to live in a touristy area like Honolulu to do it. Pick up your camera, and see your own hometown in a totally new way. You’ll see things you never noticed before. And you don’t have to spend a dime.

The Rule of Second Cheapest

Feeding and entertaining three people on $28 a day is proving to be pretty damn challenging. Every penny counts. Luckily, I have a few tricks up my sleeve the make those precious few dollars stretch a tiny bit further without feeling like everything you pick up is the worst thing ever. They’re probably terribly obvious, but hey, you can’t think of everything.


The rule of second cheapest

We’ve been following the rule of second cheapest for a few years now. This basically means that when you’re making selections at the grocery store on something where quality counts, things like olive oil or peanut butter, we allow ourselves to buy the second cheapest. It’s not the pricy stuff, but if you stay away from the absolute bottom of the barrel, there’s a better chance that you won’t get something that actually tastes of generic. Sometimes if you buy the cheapest thing on the shelf, it ends up tasting so bad you don’t want to eat it anyway, which defeats the purpose of food. I don’t want to spend money on something I’m not going to enjoy. The fifty cents is usually worth it. Sure, you can’t afford the really expensive high quality chocolate, but you don’t have to buy the absolute worst one, either.

Bulk is the baker’s friend

I don’t buy in bulk very much, partly because I don’t have a lot of space to store 48 cans of black beans, and partly because I don’t ever know what I’m going to want to cook from one day to the next. I do, however, save a lot of money by stocking up on baking staples, especially butter, cream cheese, sugar, and chocolate chips. The butter and cream cheese can be frozen until you need them, and by weight, you end up spending sometimes half as much. I can’t get a bag of flour at my Costco in anything smaller than a 50 pound bag, and where the hell am I supposed to put that? But I have also bought vanilla, brown sugar, and berries there and saved a bunch of money. 

When shopping in a foreign country, just buy the item with the funniest name.
When shopping in a foreign country, just buy the item with the funniest name.

Take the time to go online

We live practically next door to Safeway, and we go there at least once a day. Safeway has one of those annoying club cards, but what makes it worthwhile is Just for U. If you go to their website and register your card, you can have even more coupons and discounts automatically loaded onto your card. You don’t have to clip coupons and remember to take them to the store. And since your club card tracks what you buy, a lot of the deals are targeted at things you actually want. I’ve gotten some pretty great deals when I actually remember to go online and load up my card. It’s totally worth it. Check your neighborhood store and see if they have something similar.

Grocery shopping can be such a drag, especially buying things like toilet paper. What a drag. But if you save enough on the boring stuff, maybe you can afford to buy some ice cream. Ice cream never lets you down.

Fitness Should Be Free

urban hiking uk style

Last week, I shared one of our favorite ways to save money and get some exercise. Urban hiking may be a great mode of transportation, but it’s pretty one dimensional in terms of a workout. I guess one would occasionally need to add a bit of variety to one’s exercise regime. I mean, if you have to. What you definitely shouldn’t do is spend money to work out.

I don’t get gyms. Unless you want to lift heavy weights, I can’t think of any other reason to set foot in one. It’s definitely not worth the money, as far as I’m concerned. Pretty much any kind of workout I would want to do can be done in my living room or at the park for free.

Jillian Michaels Yoga

YouTube is your new best friend when it comes to working out for free. They’ve recently started allowing much longer videos on their site so you can get tons of 30-minute workout videos without leaving your house. I use the YouTube app on our PS3 to play yoga, pilates, and Zumba videos on my TV while my husband laughs at what a total loser I am. Or you can piece together shorter clips to break the monotony.

Harry Potter Workout

Pinterest also has a health and fitness category with tons of links to workouts you can do at home. They can get pretty ridiculous, but there are also fun surprises like this Harry Potter workout. How awesome is that? 


If you want to add a little resistance to your life, I recommend thera-bands. They’re basically long strips of stretchy latex. They’re great because they can be lengthened or shortened to vary the resistance, they can be tied or looped around just about anything to get the right angle, and they fold up nice and small and take up practically no space in your already tiny and crowded home. I grew up using these as a dancer, and I promise they’re so much better than those silly tubes or bulky weights.


I know I need to get in better shape, but I’d much rather spend my money on cheese and chocolate. I am not a health expert, and you should definitely not quote me as an authority on anything. Except I do have that dance degree in an envelope somewhere, so I guess I do know a couple of things about how the body works. The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body and know the difference between good pain and bad pain. Bad pain isn’t worth it.


Working out is not the awesomest, but if you have to do it, have as much fun as possible. Laugh at yourself as much as you can. Then go have a cookie.

Urban Hiking

Geoff and Gandhi
Gandhi says, “Take a walk.”

Recently I had a reader request a post on how to stay fit on $20 a day. I am the last person you’d want to ask about being healthy and working out. Exercise sounds like profanity to my ears. I only run if I’m being chased by a bear. And there is absolutely no way you’d find me anywhere near a gym. What a rip off.

You can't get this view from a gym.
You can’t get this view from a gym.

I used to be a dancer, so staying thin (and I mean really thin) was easy. I was much younger then and danced six hours a day. I could eat Cheetos every day for lunch, and it didn’t matter. But thirteen years and 25 pounds later, I find myself having to force my body into movement more often than I’d like, but dance classes can be expensive. I have a few tricks for working out on the cheap, and what we like to call urban hiking is our most used trick for burning a few calories.

Our favorite rest spot, and a great place for whale watching in the winter.
Our favorite rest spot, and a great place for whale watching in the winter.

Urban hiking is code for walking around town, but it makes it sound more like an adventure to my daughter. That’s how we trick her into walking to the movie theatre. Sometimes it’s hot and sweaty and exhausting, and I think I hate it. I get blisters or a sunburn, and I’m always exhausted when I get home. But there are a few things I love about walking instead of driving.

  1. You are forced to talk to the person you’re walking with. There’s no radio to distract you, no traffic to concentrate on. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been on a walk.
  2. You burn way more calories than you would sitting on the couch. It’s perhaps not the most efficient workout, but if you go the long way around a crater to get to California Pizza Kitchen, you’ll burn enough calories to be able to have a glass of wine and dessert. 
  3. You get to see your city in detail. There are so many beautiful or intriguing moments that just blur past you from a car. Take a walk and stop to notice your own world. It’s breathtaking.
You'd never see this from your car.
You’d never see this from your car.

Saturday night we walked 3 miles to get to a restaurant and then walked back home again. It was like the calories were already negated. On the weekends, it’s pretty much our only mode of transportation. We even wear flip flops. No need to buy expensive shoes. 

Surprises around every corner
Surprises around every corner

Walking is free, and it’s good for your body, your mind, and your soul. The next time you need to go somewhere that’s only a couple of miles away, put away your car keys, put on your hat, and head out the door. You can even imagine you’re a hobbit if it makes you feel better. 

Don't forget to stay hydrated.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
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