I’ve never been a big fan of clothes shopping. Don’t get me wrong — I love finding the perfect, figure-flattering, skintone-brightening, exactly-what-I-was-looking-for outfit as much as the next person. I’ve just always disliked the browsing, the trying on and the comparison shopping. In the past, I would snap up expensive clothes (you could even call them overpriced) simply because I didn’t have the patience to hunt for bargains.

Now that I’m older and wiser, and I have a mortgage to pay off, my attitude towards clothes shopping has changed radically. I’ve realized that nice duds don’t have to put you in the poorhouse. With a little foresight, planning and yes, patience, you can look like a million bucks without spending that much. Here’s how.

1. Don’t shop with credit
To some of you, this may sound plum loco. But if you leave your credit card at home and go strictly debit (better yet, cash-only), you’ll avoid overspending when you fall in love with that totally impractical tulle cocktail dress. This is an especially good tip if you have a thing for shoes or purses. Those little suckers can really add up!

2. Put together a clothing budget
Decide how much it is you want to spend on clothing this season, and stick to it. This technique not only keeps you from overspending — it also provides great motivation to ensure you really love what it is you’re buying.

3. Decide what it is you need
Once you’ve determined your clothing budget, make a list: what you need and what you want. Fulfill the “need” side first; if you have any funds left over, then tackle the “want” column.

4. Check the discount racks
You know the discount racks: usually stuck in the back of the store, overstuffed and cluttered, with a dearth of size variety. Still, take a deep breath and wade in: you can often find fabulous items that only one month ago cost twice the price.

5. Keep track of those emails that clog up your inbox
Most days, the emails you get from stores just get in the way of your real messages. And you think, “Why did I sign up for all of these?” Take the time to check them now and again, especially when you’re in the market for some new ensembles. Many chain stores offer discounts of 20, 30, 40 percent or more for the customers on their mailing list.

6. Rethink your old clothing before giving it the boot
You might feel eager to toss that boring black skirt or outdated dress to Goodwill. Fair enough — but take a closer look to see if some of your old clothes could have a new life with alterations. You can find a host of YouTube videos with suggestions on how to revamp and update your old clothes. If you don’t own a sewing machine, you can find equipment and classes at places like The Sewing Studio in Toronto or Spool of Thread in Vancouver.

7. Keep a colour palette in mind
To ensure that your clothes work together, empty your closet and take a look at what you’ve already got — figure out what colours, prints and patterns might work well with your existing wardrobe. This has the added benefit of preventing you from impulse-buying that one gorgeous item that goes with absolutely nothing.

8. Host a clothing swap
One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, right? When it comes to clothes, that’s absolutely the case. Invite your friends (and maybe some clotheshorse acquaintances) over to your house for a clothing swap. Everyone brings a bag of great stuff they’re bored with, you serve some munchies and beer, and hopefully everyone leaves with some cool new duds. Leftovers go to the thrift store.

9. Invest in a few high-quality pieces
Don’t cheap out when it comes to key wardrobe pieces. When building a work wardrobe, splash out on a few more expensive, high-quality items (like a nice suit, tailored pants and skirts, boots, a wool coat) that will last longer and look more professional. Then mix up the pricier stuff with cheap H&M blouses and tops.

10. Don’t fear the thrift store
This tip is for the brave ones out there. Vintage shops and thrift stores can offer you luxe fabrics, superior craftsmanship and unique style for a pittance. It just takes a lot of time and dedication to find enough things that work for you. Dive in with a patient friend and remember: You can always alter it!

Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.