Tips for Sticking to Your Budget: Getting Clothes Shopping Under Control

published Jun 20, 2014
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(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Sometimes getting a bargain isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are tons of tips out there for getting a deal on your clothes shopping — shop off season for coats and swimsuits, swing by the store on a Wednesday morning to scope out the new markdowns, use the department store’s extra percentage off coupon, etc. Sure, these are great tips for saving money when you buy clothing, but not particularly helpful if you’re buying up the deals willy-nilly without an eye to how these items fit into your life. I’m all for saving money, but sometimes shopping smart, and for the right items, is more of a savings than any trick for getting a bargain.

Here’s my strategy for thoughtful shopping and putting an end to my own bargain-hunting, over-buying ways.

  • Evaluate what you have. Pull everything out of your closet and drawers and spend an afternoon playing dress up. Do you really wear all of these items? Donate anything that doesn’t fit, or that simply doesn’t suit you any longer, and separate out anything that’s in need of repairs for a future trip to the tailor.
  • Identify your “basics”. We’ve all seen lists over the years which claim every wardrobe needs a foundation of basics like a white button down, a blue button down, a black dress, a pair of black pants, and so on. It’s a great idea, but everyone’s “basics” are going to be different. Whether it’s jeans and striped t-shirts or pencil skirts and button downs, or even floral dresses and bright blazers, determine what items you wear day after day, and invest in high-quality versions of these items.
  • Make a list. I carry a list in my wallet of clothing items that my wardrobe is lacking and allow myself to buy anything from the list at any time. These are typically items that are replacing older “basic” garments in my wardrobe that have either worn out or no longer suit my style. Right now my list consists of thin black pants (I’ve been without black pants for over a year, I can’t seem to find any I like!), non-skinny jeans, a white t-shirt that is not transparent, tan heels, white tennis shoes, and a dark color knit dress. I keep this list with me to remind myself when I’m out that these are items that I decided I needed while at home, actually looking at my wardrobe. There is a reason these items are on my list and a tangerine silk cocktail dress for an as yet unknown event is not.
  • Allow for fun purchases. Set a limit for yourself of how many fun, non-basic items you’re allowed to buy. I tend to allow myself 2-3 non-basic purchases for each season (summer/winter), but I don’t invest the same kind of money in these purchases as in my basics. While I love the new floral sundress I purchased last month, I am simply not going to wear it with the same frequency as my basic navy shift.
  • Follow the “one in, one out” rule. Full disclosure, I hate this rule, I hate it with fiery passion, but it’s a good one and I try to force myself to stick to it. Whenever you buy something new, something old needs to go. This is easy when you’re buying replacement basics from your list, but a bit harder when one of your fun purchases means getting rid of something that isn’t directly being replaced. I certainly struggle with this rule, but I try to follow it at least 80% of the time. I have to admit that the idea of having to get rid of something has stopped me from making a purchase more than once!

What are your tried and true tips for getting the most out of your clothing budget?