By Sireen Abayazid

I never truly got to explore my personal sense of style until about a year ago. The pressure of what my parents would find acceptable overwhelmed my desire to feel confident in myself and the clothes I wore. Like a lot of people, I went down a rabbit hole of self-exploration during the dreadful summer months of 2020. I have this perfect image of my future self and the clothes she’s wearing, and not much money to buy those clothes.

Learning to budget has been one of the hardest aspects of independent living. I am fortunate enough to have a family that supports me financially, and am currently living on an income of $350 a month, along with MU’s standard dining plan. I live in the on-campus residence halls, so I do not pay a monthly rent. Still, figuring out how much to put where has taken a lot of trial and error, and I am still not too confident in my budgeting skills.

According to award winning financial planner Pete Dunn, you should spend 5% of your monthly income on clothes, leaving me with under $18 a month. Of course, because I am not spending money on food and living expenses, I decided to budget 10%, allowing me to spend $35 a month on clothes. The rest often ends up going towards groceries, personal items, entertainment and my savings.

Throughout these first few months of independent living, I have failed to acknowledge how conservative my budget truly is, compared to a budget with expenses similar to mine. I worked for half my time in high school and, because I wasn’t buying my own groceries and food a majority of the time, I could spend my paycheck on any cute item that popped up in my Instagram advertisements. Now, I just scroll through my timeline wishing I could wear the same clothes as my fashion idols.

Black college lifestyle publication HBCU Lifestyle recommends avoiding name brands when shopping. While writer Khawaja Muhammad Adil agrees that renowned fashion companies tend to set season trends, “wearing named brand clothing is not the only way to look fab.” There are plenty of companies with similar items at more affordable prices.

When searching for cheaper alternatives to department store shopping, I often turned to the unsustainable, unethical choice of fast fashion. It became an even more prevalent fixture in my life once COVID-19 cases began to rise over the summer. It took me a while to realize that it truly wasn’t much cheaper than buying clothes in store. Even with coupon codes and free shipping discounts, the illusion of their cheap items only made me want to add more to my cart. I would spend just as much on an order from SheIn as I would during my yearly Black Friday shopping spree.

An option that I overlooked for months was local thrift and discount stores. Discount stores were a great way for me to find name brands I loved while still being able to shop within my budget (Burlington and Ross are my personal favorites). I’ve also turned to thrifting as a more sustainable (and much more affordable) alternative. It’s rare, but you can even find brands that you love!

It’s taken some time, but my childhood fashionista dreams are slowly starting to come true. I won’t be dressing quite as stylishly as the ladies strolling 5th Avenue, I still smile whenever I see my cute outfits in the mirror.

Abayazid is a freshman studying journalism at the University of Missouri.