Just because the economy is still depressed doesn't mean you have to be. In fact, there are plenty of ways to live it up without seeing your bank balance plummet — especially if you know how to use social media to live the good life on tight budget.
Even the most reclusive social media shut-ins need to leave the house for some in-person networking at some point. And when you do, you don't want to look like the poor slob who just threw on whichever pants were closest to the computer screen. Nor do you want to be the designer diva who can't afford cab fare because she blew all her bucks on a brand name bag. Fortunately, thanks to a few online tips and tricks, high fashion doesn't have to come with a high price tag.
1. Smell the Savings
Coco Chanel once said, "A woman who doesn't wear perfume has no future." While Coco may have been overstating her case a bit, it's true that perfume and cologne are great accessories to any outfit. Of course, buying the good stuff can also be a great way to flush a fortune down the drain. That's why sample sizes should be your new best body-odor-fighting friend.
Don't let their small size fool you — one of these little bottles will still probably give you a good six months of sweet scents, depending on how heavily you use it. Sample perfumes start as low as $1.99 on Amazon, and because they're so small, shipping is extremely cheap. If you buy from a bigger retailer like FragranceNet, they'll also usually throw in other goodies like more perfume or makeup samples.
'Try Before You Buy' Online
2. Personal Stylists Are Out of Style
Before you buy any clothes to go with that signature scent, use a site like Polyvore or ShopStyle to be your own personal wardrobe stylist — no hefty retainer required. These sartorial social networks let you "try before you buy" by giving you the tools to put together looks online, so you can see how clothes and accessories will work together.
With huge databases of designer duds, this is a great way to test drive an outfit before you spend cold, hard cash on it, and a great way to keep track of what you already have in your closet. Plus, with everyone posting different looks, these are also great places to get inspiration for new ways to wear the stuff you've already shelled out the cash for.
Look for Rebate Offers, Private Sale Sites
3. Keep Your Cash
When you are ready to make a big clothing or beauty purchase, make sure you use a service like eBates, which gives you a percentage of what you spend on their partner sites back as a cash rebate. So, it's basically like you're paying yourself to shop — or at least that's what you can tell yourself to justify spending so much on shoes.
4. Sample Sale Sites
Of course, you can avoid spending full price on anything by signing up for a private sale site. These sites are the online equivalent of a sample sale, giving you exclusive access to amazing deals on designer looks. And, many of them will even e-mail you when a sale matching your particular preferences pops up.
With so many sale sites to choose from, it can sometimes be difficult to decide which ones are worth opening your inbox too. If you're looking for basics like great jeans or tees, then BlueFly is probably your best bet. This mainstream online shopping mall also has a fantastic private sale area, where anyone can browse big discounts on designer duds from brands like Theory, Prada and Louboutin. You don't even have to sign up to use it, although registered users can ask to be notified about new deals via e-mail.
If you're into the higher end of high fashion, then Gilt Groupe, Net-A-Porter and Haute Look are all great bets for big name brands. Gilt Man gives guys the same exclusive deals on a site built just for them. Gilt Groupe even has an iPhone/iPad/Android app to let you shop sales on the go. Net-A-Porter lets you do the same from your iPhone/iPad.
For more unique, up-and-coming designers, head to Rue La La, which has a slightly younger aesthetic and a lot of fun, playful finds. If you've got little ones to outfit too, use Zulily. They've got great clothes and accessories for kids, and a few things for mom too.
5. Vintage: Everything Old is New Again
If brand new brands aren't your bag, the web is also a great place to track down fabulous vintage finds, which often cost far less than their shiny new counterparts. In the dark ages before the Internet, finding that amazing designer piece of vintage clothing was like searching for the proverbial needle in a big, messy thrift store haystack. But now, there are some great options for perusing the previously worn racks from the comfort of your computer screen.
Etsy, Rusty Zipper, Archive Vintage and Posh Girl Vintage are just a few of the places where you can score hot looks with a little bit of history behind them. CMadeleines has a great listing of vintage duds by designers, including pieces by Chanel, Dior and Hermes. And, TheFrock has fantastic vintage dresses, including a great bridal boutique.
Speaking of brides, if you're looking to accessorize all of those fabulous outfits you just bought online, you can score great jewelry deals — including deeply discounted bridal bling — at I Do, Now I Don't. This site specializes in the sale of jewels by scorned exes who want to unload them fast for much less than what they were purchased for in the first place. You can bid on necklaces, bracelets, rings and more, or buy them outright. Just try to avoid reading the stories about why the items are being sold, unless you want to spend a whole lot more in retail therapy to get your mood back up.
Find Fashion Brands on Facebook, Foursquare, Gowalla
6. Why Buy When You Can Rent?
If you just need a single look for a particular event, or you want to get all the benefits of a brand name buy without all that pesky commitment and cold, hard cash, then you want a runway rental service. These sites offer what A-list celebrities have been privy to for years; borrowing. Designer duds and amazing accessories can be rented for far less than you'd pay to actually own them.
It's sort of like Netflix for your closet. Bag, Borrow or Steal and From Bags to Riches offer amazing purses and accessories, and Rent the Runway has clothing options guaranteed to get even the most finicky fashionista frothing at the mouth — or the keyboard, as the case may be.
7. Fashion Goes Social
Even if you're not necessarily an online shopper — or renter — you can still get great gear at low prices using the web. You can follow brands like Louis Vuitton on Foursquare and Toms Shoes on Gowalla for insider info, good deals and the chance to win great stuff.
Or you can use Stylophane to quickly find your favorite fashion brands on Facebook. If you want to find coupons you can use in the real world, CheapTweet will let quickly scan everyone who is sharing a fashion or beauty sale on Twitter in real time, so you know which coupons to print out and which ones to pass on. You can also send a tweet to @couponbot with the name of your favorite store, and see what deals come back.
Of course, you should also make sure you accessorize your favorite mobile device with an app like ShopSavvy, which lets you scan bar codes of stuff you're thinking about buying to see if there's a better price elsewhere. Because if you're paying the bill for a decent smartphone data plan, you definitely can't afford to pay full price for fashion when there's a sale going on somewhere else.
No matter what your style, saving money is always in. Especially with the recession turning penny-pinching into the hottest trend for fall. But thanks to the Internet, you can be on top of that trend – and many more – without a lot of extra effort or energy. Because saving money on style is great. But saving money on style while sitting at home in your pajama pants is even better.
Mollie Vandor is the Product Manager for Ranker.com and Media Director for Girls in Tech LA. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, where she writes about the web, the world and what it's like to be a geek chic chick.