Shop Girl

From Where magazine

In couture circles, Kathryn Finney is known as The Budget Fashionista (TBF, for short). A fashion-forward woman with a passion for shopping, Finney has spent many hours at the mall and many dollars filling her closet. At one point, she had the $20,000 Visa bill to prove it. At the urge of her husband, who hoped to curb her spending by keeping her at home, Finney created her blog,, in June 2003. An increasingly popular Web site offering shopping tips, fashion advice, online coupons and all-around good humor, the blog is one of the top sites to pop up in a Google search for “budget fashion” or “fashion advice.”


Have you always been into fashion?
Although I didn’t start my career in fashion, I’ve always had my own special look. I was shopping at Ragstock and the Salvation Army before it was popular to do so. I graduated in 1994, when fashion was deep in the Gap and grunge movement, but I always loved vintage fashion and would put together some interesting outfits.

Have you always been budget conscious?
[Laughs] Mostly because I had to be. It wasn’t an option.Do you shop alone, or with others?I’m a stylist, so I do shop with other people on a daily basis. But when I’m shopping for myself, I like to shop alone. I don’t like to feel constrained. If I want to spend an hour in a store, I want to feel like I can do that.

You’re a stylist and an author now. Did you have a different career path in mind earlier in life?
I was an epidemiologist. I went to graduate school at Yale, which is part of the reason why I was broke. I worked for a short while and thought I was going to save the world. That didn’t really happen, but I’m at least able to save people’s closets now.

Why do you think your blog became so popular?
I think maybe because there’s a real person behind it. I have the same body issues and same budget issues as everyone else. People can tell when someone’s sincere and I think that helps. And, a little luck thrown in there, too.

How often do you make it to Minnesota?
At least twice a year, sometimes more. My whole family lives in Minneapolis: my grandparents, my brother, my mother, my niece and nephew. My brother is one of the biggest male fashionistas I know, so he helps a lot with tips for men.


What is your favorite Minnesota-based store?
I like Opitz Outlet and the DSW (especially if you have big feet like me) in St. Louis Park. I also like Von Maur in Eden Prairie Center. We don’t have that on the East Coast. Being someone who travels a lot and seeing how department stores are all the same, it was really refreshing to go somewhere different, somewhere that’s not a Macy’s. I used to come home to go to [local chain] Marshall Field’s [now Macy’s] because we didn’t have that on the East Coast. I found that those stores were really high quality but you could find incredible sales.

Do you have a favorite shopping neighborhood?
I like the 50th & France neighborhood. That can be a pricey area, but when they’re having a sale it’s a great place to find things you won’t necessarily see in the mall. If you want to be a little more unique, that’s a great area to shop. I also like Uptown. I used to love Urban Outfitters. During high school that was my store, and then I would walk around the corner and go to Ragstock. I think Ragstock is a great concept, because things aren’t overpriced. Vintage and consignment shops on the East Coast are very expensive. You can go to Ragstock in Minnesota and find similar items that would probably sell for $200 in New York for $10 or $15. That’s one of the reasons I always try to stop there when I’m in Minneapolis.

Do you have a favorite mall?
I like Ridgedale, Eden Prairie Center, and it’s a toss-up between Southdale and Mall of America. The reason I like Mall of America is it’s one-stop shopping. I wish the Mall had more unique stores like it did when it first opened.

What are a few of the best places to shop in the Twin Cities while on a budget?
Definitely Opitz and Saks “Off Fifth” downtown. I always stop by there when I’m in town. If you’re a business traveler you need to go to a SuperTarget, because the Twin Cities is the home of Target. If you’ve never been in one of these stores, just take a peek in one and it’ll revolutionize your life. If you’re into vintage fashion, peruse Uptown. It’s uniquely Minneapolis and you’ll find things you can’t find anywhere else. Then walk down the street and walk around one of the lakes. Lake Calhoun is beautiful. If you have a free day in Minneapolis, don’t go to the mall, go to Uptown, go shopping and then go walk around the lake. That’s a very Minnesotan thing.


What do you think is the best thing about the Minnesota shopping scene?
No taxes on clothing. We pay 3 percent in New Jersey and 8.25 percent in New York. Instantly by shopping in Minnesota you get a discount.

What are the fashion must-haves for fall?

Black and gray. A nice black dress. When you think of this fall, think British. British fashion is what’s influencing fashion right now. Plaid is back. You’ll mix the plaid with the black and gray. The skirts are a little bit shorter, and people are pairing those with bright colored stockings. The Xhilaration line at Target has stockings like this for cheap. For men the fuller-legged pants are in, but tailored in the waist and the hips area. Red as an accent is another thing that’s very in. Add a pop of color to your muted fall tones; the color comes in your accessories (belts, bags, shoes or jewelry).

What are three main ideas to keep in mind when shopping on a budget?
1) One of the things I say in the book, and just in general to clients, is when you buy something, really think about the cost-per-wear (divide the price of the item by the number of times you think you’ll wear it). So if the cost of an item is $100 and you think you’ll wear it 20 times, then the cost-per-wear is $5. I try to shoot for a cost-per-wear between $2 and $3. So that means things that are cheaper I don’t have to wear as much, but things that are more expensive, I have to make sure I’m really going to wear it. The lower the cost-per-wear, the better. It helps you start thinking about value; I think people spend too much time thinking about price. You can spend $10 on a T-shirt, but if you never wear it, you just wasted $10.

2) Celebrities pay a lot of money for people like me to come and make them look fabulous. Find aKathryn Finney celebrity-style twin, somebody whose style you like and someone whose body type is similar to yours. I would not choose Halle Berry. I’m not a Halle Berry size. I’m a solid 16. Oprah or Queen Latifah is closer to my body type and either one would be a perfect style twin for me. Look at what they’re wearing, but never try to copy them straight out. Take a picture of the celebrity to a store and try to recreate that look.

3) Love what you buy and buy what you love. Never buy something you just like. You would not marry someone you just like, so don’t do the same with your closet. If you follow that, you’ll be excited to get ready in the morning and you’ll always have something you want to wear. W