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How We Buy Our Clothes: When Frugal Isn’t Cheap

in Joan's Posts, Money Basics, Rants

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

We spent almost $500 on clothes in the past three weeks for our family of three.

That’s as much money as we routinely pay over our balance each month on our most-hated credit card, and it’s halfway to the $1,000 cushion we’d like to return to in our checking account.

So why blow it on our collective wardrobe?

Well, here’s the fun part: Other than the occasional odds and ends, we shop for clothes less than once a year in most cases.

Our recent trips have equipped us through at least next summer, with the exception of a couple pairs of jeans for my daughter in the fall if she grows more than another inch or two.

Some people love shopping for clothes. We don’t. So if you’re a “shop-for-fun” type, bear with me as I explain how and why we’ve developed the sartorial system we have – and why it’s not always cheap to be frugal!

To start, let’s take a look at how we choose our clothes in the first place. (That’s my whole wardrobe above, minus jeans, socks and underwear – we hang almost everything up!)

Joan’s clothing philosophy

The best thing about working from home is that I can wear jeans and T-shirts, with a few “dressy” exceptions. With that in mind, my wardrobe goals have evolved as follows:

  • Everything has to be able to be washed and dried normally with few wrinkles. Nothing dry-clean-only. Nothing that needs to be ironed (ugh!) I hang a select few things on a drying rack, but everything else is fully washer-and-dryer compatible.
  • Layerable. I’m always cold. It’s currently 76 in my house and I have a blanket around my shoulders. So I get a LOT of mix-and-match layerable pieces, like solid-colored short-sleeved and long-sleeved T-shirts and camis.
  • Versatile. I don’t have a ton of dressy events to attend – but I need tops that can go with both a pair of black dress pants as well as a cute pair of jeans – and shoes that can do the same.

Chris’s clothing philosophy

OK, so first note: This is “Chris’s clothing philosophy as seen by Joan,” but I think he’ll agree with 90% of it. I mean, he DID agree to let me take a picture of his entire wardrobe, sans T-shirts, jeans and underwear, which you can see above. It’s a little, uh, thinner than mine.

  • Solid colors and earth tones. This is a man who owns very few clothes – and they all need to match each other. By sticking to a color family he likes, and mostly solid colors, he can easily make 20 basic articles of clothing go from work to the grocery store to a restaurant dinner.
  • Durable. Chris will wear a pair of pants three days a week for three years. Granted, he’s not patching a roof in them or anything, but even so, they’ve got to be made well enough to last.
  • Have only what you need. That means Chris never has more than two pairs of jeans, and when he has more than five pairs of shoes, he gets a little stressed at having “so many.”

Sarah’s clothing philosophy

  • Good-feeling. Sarah has significant sensory processing issues – so FEEL and texture are the most important factors to any of her clothes. She’s had wonderful things given to her as gifts that she absolutely cannot wear because of a stiff collar or a scratchy waistband.
  • Simple. Much like her dad, Sarah’s not into complicated outfits. In fact, when she finds something she likes, we buy multiples of it – five pairs of the same jeans lasted her the past 18 months, for instance.
  • Predictable. This is predictable in a good way. Sarah likes to know exactly what she’s going to put on, so each day’s outfit is much the same. Our current uniform includes a pair of basketball shorts and a solid-color T-shirt, day in and day out, and in the winter, that switches to jeans, t-shirt, hoodie, day in and day out. Not a lot of decisions required!

What we scrimp on

Despite being picky about certain things relating to clothes, there are many things we never spend very much on. Here are the biggest ones, by person:

  • For Joan: I NEVER spend much on short-sleeved or long-sleeved plain T-shirts. I like them thin, for layering, and I wear them out every year. So these come from places like Old Navy’s Black Friday sale or the craft store, for about $2 apiece.
  • For Chris: Button-up short-sleeve shirts. Chris wears these to work, buttoned up, or open over a T-shirt when he’s not working. We get these at our local economy store when they’re on sale for $1 a shirt. Sometimes they’re decent brands, and sometimes they’re completely generic, but for $5 to $10 each year, Chris has almost all the shirts he needs. (That’s a dolla-dolla shirt, y’all, that he’s wearing in that picture above; Chaps, no less!)
  • For Sarah: T-shirts, short-sleeved and long-sleeved. She gets most of these as gifts, because between her size and her sensitivity to different materials and styles, it’s just about the only clothing item relatives can get that they know will be a win!
  • For all of us: Socks and underwear. Even the “cheap” versions add up after a while, so we stick to basic brands. (And Chris and I share socks, which helps offset that cost!) This is the one area we don’t buy secondhand, though.

What we splurge on

  • For Joan: Shoes and insoles. I have had horrible knee, foot and back problems most of my adult life, and cheap shoes are by far not worth it for me! I usually have one pair of high-quality sneakers, a pair of orthotics to insert in those, and both black and brown well-supported, name-brand dressier shoes for each season. In all, this is cheaper than paying for all the physical therapy copays I used to have, but it’s pricey up front!
  • For Chris: Shoes and pants. Chris will wear a pair of “work” shoes more than 50 hours a week for over a year, so it’s much more economical in the long run to buy one $80 pair that will last that long than to buy a $30 pair every 3 months. The same is true for pants – a $50 pair of pants that Chris can wear 300 times over two years works out to a better “price” than a $20 pair that he can wear for two months.
  • For Sarah: Jeans that fit. No one in their right mind would buy their 12-year-old five pairs of $40 jeans, right? Well, if your 12-year-old is 4-foot-8 and weighs 62 pounds, you know that if the jeans fit, buy ‘em! (If you have such a child, I highly recommend Levi’s skinny straight jeans in slim sizing with an adjustable waist; they’re worth every bit of the $40!)
  • For all of us: Good outerwear. Chris is still wearing the same brown winter coat that he bought in our first year of marriage (we’re in Year 8 now). For Sarah and I, I prefer the three-in-one style coats from Columbia or LLBean, where you can wear the inner piece, the outer piece, or both pieces together, and we too can make those last several years.

5 ways we fit the clothes we like into our budget

So, to sum up, we like to have certain pretty nice things. We scrimp where it doesn’t matter, but we’ve made the decision to fund those “splurges” from the above list, and here’s how.

1. Shop as infrequently as possible, and buy everything each person needs all at once.

When we started trying to manage our budget better, we began grocery-shopping every two weeks, instead of here and there as we needed things. That, combined with a solid list, saved us a LOT of money… so we applied that “less is more” strategy to our clothes shopping too.

This helps for a couple reasons. First, it’s a definite motivator not to overspend. I know what I really need for each person – and how much money I have to get as many of those things as possible.

Second, you can be sure that everything goes with everything. Chris and I shopped for his annual wardrobe at Kohl’s two days ago, and he tried on the shirts with the pants with the shoes. Sarah did the same a couple of weeks before.

2. Limit your total number of clothing items.

Here’s the thing. I like a nice purse and an expensive pair of sneakers. But I like one nice purse and one expensive pair of sneakers – not five of each!

I have a goal to be under 200 items of clothing (including socks and underwear) by my 30th birthday this November. There’s nothing special about that number – but keeping it in mind keeps me accountable and prevents many impulse purchases.

3. Make money selling no-longer-needed clothing.

After we get back from a shopping trip, we generally practice “one in, one out” and purge our closets of the things we’re no longer wearing.

Much of this gets donated to our local economy store (home of the dollar shirts; it’s only fair!), but good-quality, brand-name items are sold on Craigslist or via our local consignment shop.

Even if we make back $50 out of $500, hey, that’s 10 percent of our clothing budget!

4. Stick to one store and know your sales.

I’m a little crazy with this, so bear with me. I don’t mean I only shop at one store, ever.

But when we know we’ll have multiple, major clothes-shopping trips in a short period of time, we try to do it in such a way as to stack discounts.

Here’s how this worked for us this month:

Sarah had a $50 Kohl’s gift card from Christmas, which we’d saved until she needed clothes. We also had a coupon for 15% off your entire purchase, and we held on to it until they had a great sale and were giving out “Kohl’s Cash” toward future purchases.

We spent $150 for about 20 articles of clothing for Sarah and 3 items for me, and earned $30 in Kohl’s Cash. (Side note: I forgot to use the gift card. Fail.)

Two days later, I went back WITH the gift card and paid $15 out of pocket for 3 more items I needed, and earned $10 more in Kohl’s cash.

Two weeks later, Chris and I went to get HIS wardrobe needs. We used the $40 in Kohl’s Cash, and paid $260 or so out of pocket for 10 items (including a high-quality pair of shoes.)

In so doing, we earned $50 MORE in Kohl’s cash, which I will use along with about $50 out of pocket to finish up the last of my shopping needs!

Notice that I’m the flexible piece here; Sarah and Chris finished their shopping in one trip apiece, but in this case, I got more for our money by splitting my purchases into a couple trips.

Maybe you don’t have a Kohl’s. That’s fine. The point isn’t how cool they are; it’s that I learned to make their system work for me. Whatever your store of choice, stack coupons and sales whenever possible!

5. Make the quality stuff last.

We can sell our used higher-quality clothes for a good price, even though sometimes they’re three years old, because we take care of them. We can MAKE our clothes last for three years of regular wearings because we take care of them.

Our biggest tip in this area is simple: Have a good laundry system.

  • Don’t let your clothes sit in the washer, and put things away promptly after they’re done in the dryer.
  • Hang up anything you can.
  • Don’t wash every item after every use. (Some people hate hearing this – but, really? I sit on my butt and type. Surely I can make a pair of jeans last at least two days before washing; in reality, it’s probably closer to four!)
  • Treat stains immediately. (Many thanks to my mom for instilling this in me!)
  • Use good-quality laundry products. Cheap detergent does NOT get my whites whiter, sorry. It’s worth the added expense to add a year of wear!

The frugal path is not always the cheapest up front.

I do think we spend less annually on clothes now than ever before, but I’ve also paid more per item in the past two years than ever before.

I think it’s worth it in the long run.

What do you think?

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Freedom | Rethinking the Dream July 12, 2012 at 9:27 AM

I agree with most of the points in this post. The only spot we differ is in buying all our stuff at one time. I usually buy shorts and khakis about once a year when/if I my old ones need to be replaced. T-Shirts are another story. I’ve been trying to dress up my small T-Shirt collection. Typically I had been wearing plain solid color T-Shirts, but lately I’ve switched to logo shirts where the log isn’t really obvious, the type that have some artsy wording on the front. These I’ve been picking up as we travel.

Making stuff last is probably the best thing we can do. We also keep an eye on the wash and transfer it when done, then put them away right away after drying. Hanging up is good for items that need it, like button ups, but I find t-shirts and shorts work just find folded. My wife hangs most of her stuff, but most of my stuff gets folded neatly.

We weeded our closets during our big purge and are able to easily fit all our clothes in our closet. We don’t even have a dresser anymore. Before the purge we had drawers and closets full of stuff that was never used. Now most everything in there gets used on a weekly basis. This helps makes it quicker and easier to select the day’s wardrobe, because everything in there is something we like to wear.

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:52 AM

You’re exactly right – taking good care of stuff is THE biggest thing! I would probably fold my T-shirts if I could keep them inside the closet – but that’d mean having a closet with enough room for some shelves! :) Chris does fold his T-shirts, and we both fold our jeans, but that plus unmentionables still leaves us room in our one dresser to have a drawer for spare sheets and blankets!

The other neat thing is, we don’t really “rotate” between seasons – except to move the hangers around. That’s nice, because I know right away what I have all year!

Anyway, so glad you have a system that works so well – and that your closet has only the stuff you love!

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Kaye July 12, 2012 at 9:32 AM

This is a great post! Thank you so much for filling in all of the details. This is one area where we do pretty well in but could do better. Thanks!

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Kaye, thanks so much! I’m sure I could do better too – but I figure if I just keep trying, I’ll get there! :)

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Jason Clayton | frugal habits July 12, 2012 at 9:44 AM

I enjoyed this post Joan, and totally agree that for undergarments – “brand new” is the only way to go :)

Lately in my town there has been a lot of new businesses focusing on resale of lightly used clothing. It’s a great way to recycle kids cloths (and my cloths), and still get quality stuff… They require washing, pressing, and hanging the cloths on a hanger before submitting and even then it can be rejected based on wear (has to look new) – so there is some work involved to make some money this way – but can really be worth it. For purchasing, the deals are superb and the quality is still there.

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Jason, that’s the type of consignment store we take some of our items to – and it’s great! (We also shop there on occasion, though not as often now that I need fewer dressy items; when I had to wear “office clothes” each day, I was a regular!)

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Sarah July 12, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Interesting post! I like hearing how another family works out their budget. Our family does #2-3 & #5. We have gotten a fair amount of gifts of clothing over the past year, which have replenished stuff that went into the donation pile. Otherwise my strategy is to hit my favorite 3 thrift stores as I can (with a 2 year old, time for shopping is scarce, so I don’t go that frequently). Since their offerings change regularly, I just pick up whatever they’ve got that we like the looks of, even if it’s out of season. If it’s a great brand and a size too big (for my son), then I usually pick it up. Especially if it’s at the store where most items are 66 cents! Probably does lead to buying slight more than I might otherwise, but I get my fix of shopping and don’t spend more than $20 to get a big bag of goodies. Buying for your daughter resonated with me because we have a few brands that we know we like for their durability and softness, and if I see anything in our sizes by them I pick it up. Now, shoes are another story and those are the place where there is absolutely no scrimping. We just get 2 pairs each!

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Sarah, you nailed it – if you find that “one thing” on sale, GRAB IT! I should add that I’ve been known to do that as well, and that’s actually how I came to have my Columbia winter jacket; a store in town was going out of business and I was in there trying on this huge winter coat when it was 80 degrees out, but at 85% off, it was a MUST! :)

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Erica July 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM

Excellent post, Joan! This is destined to go in the hall of fame for informative posts on how to live more simply. Thanks for the tips.

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Wow, Erica, thanks!

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Glen Craig July 12, 2012 at 11:43 AM

We actually do a bulk of our clothing shopping on Black Friday weekend. We have an outlet mall that’s a comfortable drive from us that doesn’t get too crowded that weekend. But the prices are insane! We get quality items that easily last the year and more for a fraction of the cost.

I also try to get items I know I can use in different situations for the whole year, like a good pair of khakis or a good button down shirt.

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 11:59 AM

Glen, we do our share of Black Friday stuff too – that’s where I ALWAYS get my things like plain Old Navy T-shirts and all. (And we have some outlet malls near us that are great most of the year, actually!)

The all-year-long thing is important too. As I mentioned in one of the other comments, we actually don’t have a summer/winter clothes rotation. What we got is what we got, as it were. Chris’s clothes are VERY all-season, and mine are pretty much so with the exception of a couple dresses that I won’t wear when it’s cold. I love that – because it makes your wardrobe that much more versatile!

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Linda July 12, 2012 at 12:07 PM

You need me to come organize those closets. I can double or triple your space. You should see my closets. Spend a few bucks on customizing your closets. You’ll be amazed at the storage space you’ll gain. I never hang sweaters or knits. They stretch out of shape.

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Leah E-H July 12, 2012 at 12:37 PM

Good post Joan! Really great ideas and tips. I totally agree with taking good care of your clothing, treating stains right away especially! And I consign most of the kid’s clothes when they grow out of them so we can trade up for other stuff at the shop. I consign a lot of my clothing too. Totally worth it!

As for shopping, we don’t do a lot around our house. We get a lot of hand me downs for the kids, but they’re only 7 and 4, so that’s pretty easy at these ages. I imagine more shopping for them will be in the future. When we do need something for them, we almost always go to Goodwill or Value Village. The local consignment shop for kid stuff often has good quality shoes in good condition, so we do that for the kids.

For me, my friends do a lot of clothing swaps, so I get a lot of my clothing that way. I needed a dress to wear to a wedding last summer, and I found that at Goodwill, a really pretty flowered Ann Taylor dress that matched a pair of shoes I already had at home. $9!!!

We also agree that good quality coats and shoes are important. We do buy one pair of shoes for the kids each year usually, we used to buy Simples, but now that company is out of business, so we’ve been looking at Keens on Sierra Trading Post. And we’ve found that for my husband, we have to spend a lot to find something that doesn’t hurt his feet. $40 sneakers are not working for him. Last time we went to Value Village we strolled past the men’s shoe aisle and found a pair of Nike Air Cole Haans, Clarks, and Eccos, all 3 in practically brand new condition, each for $15. We snapped those up quick!

Mostly we thrift store shop and we can usually find good quality items! It’s a treasure hunt :)

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Joan July 12, 2012 at 1:36 PM

It’s our favorite kind of treasure hunt!! I didn’t know Simple went out of business – I loved their sneakers! Crudbuckets!

We do a lot of Clark’s for our dress shoes – because their factory store is only about 15 minutes from my house, and I happen to be the sample size. $15 Clarks – yeah!!

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Sara Jane July 12, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Great tips. Also Kohls will do a price adjustment if the item sells cheaper within 14 days of buying it. So if it was 30% off and then goes to 50% off for example you can get the difference back (and they still use your 15% off coupon so you don’t lose that discount). Of course that requires another trip back there to check and get the refund, but it can be worth it!

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:32 AM

Sara Jane, in our case, it’s fairly convenient – as it’s a half-block from my house (this is sometimes TOO convenient!) I do like that they do that, and that they’ll honor things like the “yes pass” (15% off) even if you don’t have it with you, if you mention it. They’re among my top retail stores right now for their great customer service.

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Kate July 12, 2012 at 2:06 PM

I love this post! I think most people spend wayyyyy too much on clothes. About a year ago, I pledged to go “new-clothes-free” for 3 months, meaning I would only buy used. Well, one year later, the ONLY things I have bought new have been shoes (I needed some new ones for work, got good quality on sale), a T-shirt from my favorite yoga studio, and a sweatshirt I bought at a recent festival.

I would estimate that over the year, I’ve acquired about 4 pairs of pants/shorts, and at least 15 shirts/sweaters, all for less than $160 total. Most of them are from local consignment shops, and some are from clothing swaps with friends! I even got a nice black dress to wear to a recent wedding!

To me, it’s been fun to search around these stores, and know that I am getting good-quality stuff for mostly under $10 each! Plus it’s allowed me to enhance and update my wardrobe without spending a ton of money. In the past, I would hesitate to even go clothes shopping because I simply didn’t have that much budget for it.

So, thanks for this post, as I really think that clothing is a huge area for people to be spending less!

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:33 AM

Kate, thank YOU – and that’s awesome, isn’t it cool what you can come up with when you put some creativity into it!

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DaveL July 12, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Wow this article definitely relates to me…I recently cleaned out my closet and drawers of all my old clothes that are either too small or that I don’t wear. I will have to look for a place to sell my old clothes to locally, even if I was to only get 25 cents out of each one :)

Looking forward to applying these tips while I upgrade my wardrobe a little.

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:34 AM

Dave, that’s awesome! I think that’s the key – if you have a good number of clothes that are in good shape still, even a small amount for them is a help. I wouldn’t do it for just an item or two unless they would sell at consignment for a high price (i.e., for women, formal gowns), but if you’ve got at least a small box, it is certainly worth the time!

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Mark July 12, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Awesome article on a rarely contemplated household issue Joan! I think that when MTV Cribs started to show walk-in wardrobes we were all doomed to accruing clothing that we never wear…

My tips (for dudes):
Dress like a rock star: if you have ten seriously awesome pieces of clothing in you wardrobe you’ll be less likely to splash out on ‘vaguely okay looking’ midprice items of a whim
Choose based on the style: is it fashionable? Will it look rediculous in five years? Something like classic Levi 501s will still look cool in ten years.
Window shop for items you love: i’m a big fan of All Saints in the UK. At £80 a jumper, i can’t afford to reasonably buy much from them each year. I visit the shop, note things I like, and when they pop up on ebay- usually worn a couple of times and six months after the new lines have been launched- I buy them for 20% of the RRP
Holiday with an empty case: every three years I leave the UK and go to Los Angeles for a month on holiday. I buy $1 t-shirts on the Sunday dollar sales (flea markets etc) and other items I like- my last time there I picked up a fake fur coat and a Brad Pitt ‘Fight Club’ leather jacket! These retro buys mean something to me when I put them on as they remind me of a brilliant holiday, and when someone says ‘where did you get that t-shirt’ I have a great story that endears the item to me even further.
Don’t chuck a classic: love wearing it? Bored of it? Keep it, as you’ll come back to it one day. I kept band t-shirts from the early 90s and now wear a few of them again. The ones i didnt want went for good money on ebay to fans of the bands.

Cheers people, keep up the good work Joan :)

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Mark, that’s true for ladies, too – classic styles, awesome stuff that keeps you from the church on “vaguely OK” – I love it!!

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Greg@ClubThrifty July 12, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Joan,

I love this post – probably because I see so much of my family in it! I absolutely hate shopping for clothes. In fact, I’d say that I shop for clothing maybe once a year for myself. I also get an annual clothing allowance from work, so I do have to go and spend that money. However, that is spent on suits and dress shirts. So, when I’m not working I usually like to dress down as much as possible.

Personally, I rarely buy a T-shirt unless it is either on clearance or at a garage sale. I may shop for jeans or shorts once a year. However, when we buy those items we make sure that they are quality made as I will use them for years.

The fact that you buy multiple items of the same thing for your daughter made me giggle because that is exactly what we do for my wife. She has back problems, so if we find shoes that work for her, we always buy at least 2 pair. She even bought herself 3 of the same bathing suit in 2 different sizes because she loved it so much.

I’m so glad to hear that we are not the only ones out there who shop for clothing like this:) Thanks for another great post..

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Greg, good for you guys – and I am sitting here smiling at your wife. GO HER. If you like it – get it. (Says the lady with two of the same pair of sneakers in her closet, because they were so comfortable.)

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Jenny July 12, 2012 at 6:40 PM

I have made some items last between 10 and 6 years.
When I lost a bunch of weight after bought of food poisoning one; I took my favorite items to a tailor down the road and he fixed them all up for me – for between 10 and 12 dollars! (My American clothes in Bangkok, worth keeping and worth supporting local business, too.)

Although I have to say – my wardrobe was fleshed out (waaaay too much and under a model of economics I now feel was too over the top) 4-5 years ago when I was finishing University and got ready to student teach. Some of that has needed to be jettisoned, but a lot of that I’m still wearing and still making it chug along!

As for buying stuff once a year – one problem I (used to) have with that was just my color preferences being in or out of season – I know what I like and I scrounge for it all the time until it pops up (or I just never buy it if it doesn’t). And now, as an expat, I kind of shop piecemeal when I really just can’t do without a new article of clothing any more; or (if I have enough of a chunk of money saved up) being home for the holidays will be a small clothing revamping time. I may be petite but damn it I have a butt! I want jeans and work pants with a butt! Right. Sure everyone wanted to know that.

But with the color scheme, I’m always looking for my absolute favorites.

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:37 AM

Hahaha, I love it, Jenny! I will trade you – if I buy pants that fit elsewhere, they’re baggy in the butt :)

AWESOME on making things last that long. I love doing that. One of my favorite dresses was bought at a shop that’s now been out of business more than 10 years – and it was bought some time before that. When you go classic, that sort of stuff happens and it’s great!

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager July 12, 2012 at 7:19 PM

I’m with Sarah on this one, stock up when things work/look/feel good on you. I’m lucky that my best friend is very fashionable and comes into town once a year and goes through my closet, gets rid of stuff and makes a list of things I need. Kind of childish, but I like it.

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:38 AM

Jenna, my good friend Janeen actually came to my house and played “What Not To Wear” with me and took me shopping at one point. NOT childish at all. You would rely on a friend who was an expert for anything else, why not for your clothing? :)

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Andi-Roo (@theworld4realz) July 12, 2012 at 9:03 PM

I had never thought to make clothing purchases all in one fell swoop, but that makes perfect sense! My family hates shopping, too, so I think we will be re-examining our budget soon to make this part of our minimalism action plan. Even if it does cost more up front, I look at it as investing. The return more than makes up for what you originally put in.

We actually hate shopping so much, we have begun ordering some of our non-perishable groceries online via Amazon. If you order over a certain amount, there is free shipping, so we wait till we need a bunch of stuff before hitting “send”. And actually, we’ve just signed up for Amazon Prime, which only charges a nominal annual fee — & this will cover all shipping costs henceforth.

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:39 AM

YAY!! I’m so glad that resonated with you. And I’ve thought about the nonperishables via Amazon, too, but at this point I’m holding on for the cents-off of gas we get from buying them at our local grocery store. If gas prices ever go down (OK, stop laughing), that might change, because I hear good things!

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Steve July 13, 2012 at 2:41 AM

what do you do if you want something more expensive, could be just for kicks buy (not that often) or if you want to dress to impress?

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

Steve, this is exactly what we do so we CAN have those more-expensive things. I’ve got a $300 purse and I’m proud of it – because I have ONE, that I saved and saved for and that will last me at least 5 years, and that is versatile enough to go from dressy occasions to the grocery store.

And I’ve got lots of dress-to-impress clothes, all bought using this same system. I don’t have to buy them super-often, because I choose classic styles and take great care of the ones I have – my “little black dress” is something like 5 years old and I feel amazing in it. Chris is similar, though of course not regarding a dress ;-)

If you’re asking, what if we want to buy something two months from now, well, if we really wanted it, I guess we would, but if it was a major purchase or investment, we’d make sure it was reflected in the budget!

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Jeff C July 13, 2012 at 3:50 AM

Long time reader, don’t think I have ever commented before. I really enjoyed this post.

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Joan July 13, 2012 at 9:42 AM

Wow, Jeff, thanks! :)

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William @ Drop Dead Money July 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Same here. A few years ago someone mentioned in passing that if you dress to impress, you have to ask exactly who are you trying to impress? If mere clothes will impress them, well, a shop window dummy can do better than you.

Since then I don’t think I’ve been to Nordstrom once. Costco and Walmart have kept me in threads for several years now… and the friends I ended up with are the friends who value me for me, not for my wardrobe. Good friends and cheap clothes – now how can you go wrong with that? :)

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Joan July 14, 2012 at 11:31 PM

I LIKE THAT PLAN! :) I am very lucky that even my very “fashion-conscious” friends have helped me learn to come up with a style that is flattering to me – without a lot of name-brand stuff. (And they could care less if I wore a gunnysack!)

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Joe July 13, 2012 at 7:25 PM

The last time I bought clothes, it was free. I had (after years of buying ALL my work suits there) spent a collective $500 at Moore’s; their loyalty club sent me a $50 gift certificate. I went into the store and used it to buy 2 pair of really nice shorts. Each was (supposedly) $50, but they were having a “2-for-1″ sale. That was in May. Since then, I’ve only bought a pack of underwear. I don’t know how people spend so much on clothes. Even when I wasn’t on parental leave I didn’t spend that much. Now that I’m off, I just wear one of my three pairs of shorts and a golf shirt every day. If it’s cold or rainy, I wear jeans – one of my two “wearable” pairs. One is Parasuco, the other is Buffalo. Great quality, bought them for $50 each with a gift card.

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Joan July 14, 2012 at 11:33 PM

Joe, that’s awesome!! I am so glad I’m not the only person who finds value in sticking to one place to build up stuff like that (plus, it’s a lot simpler!)

Enjoy the time on leave, btw!

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Jesslyn July 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Hi all,
I have found using deal sites like Groupon to buy apparels, shoes and etc extremely useful. There are days where I can get as much as 60% discounts! Cumulatively, I can save at least few hundred dollars a month!

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 9:45 PM

Jesslyn, I have to stay away from Groupon – too many impulse buys – but if you plan it out, I’m sure it can really help! Thanks for the tip!

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Charlotte @ Moneyinthe20's July 15, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Great ideas. One year when my son was little I bought multiple pairs of jeans for school but before he had a chance to wear them out, he had out grown them. I had to buy again and give away the barely worn ones. After that I only bought one or two at a time.

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 9:49 PM

Ha, that’s a good point, Charlotte! I’m lucky that my daughter’s past the fast-growing age for now – but boy, I remember those days!

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April @ Albuquerque CPA July 16, 2012 at 5:30 AM

You have given such amazing tips and I find it quite useful since sometimes I would want to splurge on an expensive bag and then I find myself thinking that would not be good since that would mean increasing my budget for clothes and apparel for that month. So now I know where to scrimp on so I can splurge on an expensive bag every once in a blue moon. Or perhaps wait for a sale…hey I’m frugal as well. ;-)

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 9:51 PM

Sales are good… hypothetically, the Coach outlet is good ;-) … all hypothetically of course!

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Christine July 22, 2012 at 3:05 PM

What great tips! I never considered many of them, but I think just following a few will save me a ton of money. Thank you for writing such a great article!

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Carol July 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM

Yes as everyone is saying these are all great tips…however if the pictures represent the quantity of clothing that seems like a lot! Especially the pile of athletic shoes on the top of the closet. I was remembering what Adam and family took with them when traveling and it was not half that I think for all of them including the Baby!

And like your other responders I could not buy all at once because I live in a 4 seasons state. I buy things in the recommended seasonal cycle…but rely on the best quality for the lowest price. I thought nothing of paying $200 for a high quality Gore-Tex raincoat that will last almost forever and can be layered over other items in the winter when we have freezing rain and wet snows.

Thank you

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 9:59 PM

Carol, we’re in Pennsylvania – we’re definitely four seasons! But my clothes are not for the most part; we are about “three-seasonal” with most of them – and layered and unlayered the rest of the year!

And the shoes – hey, I’m a work in progress. ;-) One thing I admit I do is keep sneakers that I can’t wear daily any more because of my feet, just for my yardwork, so one of those is that; one is my “daily sneakers,” and the other hadn’t been worn yet when I took this photo, because I hit a buy-one-get-one-free sale at an outlet and bought a teal and a blue pair of the same sneakers to wear back to back! (And there’s a pair of bowling shoes, not sure if you can tell that!)

Like I said – under 200 items total is a goal that’s in reach and that meets my needs! (No RV or backpacking for me, at least not for a while!)

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J.J. August 16, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Your #5 point has been a HUGE challenge for me. I’m a tomboy and an avid home cook, so between impromptu outdoorsy adventures and preparing massive feasts, even clothes I earmarked as “good” are often stained and have holes within a year. I’ve tried many years, and failed miserably, to make the nicer clothes last, despite careful laundering techniques.

That being said, until recently I spent $100 or less per year on clothes. Nearly every single thing I wear (except for undergarments and socks) comes from thrift stores. Unfortunately, the thrift store chains here in Alaska all imposed major price hikes last October, so now I would be forced to spend $9 on a pair of jeans instead $4.50. Also, the quality of second-hand clothing has decreased dramatically in wake of the economy’s collapse. Why should I continue to shop thrift when I can go to Wal-Mart or Old Navy (or wait for apparel to go on sale at nicer stores)? It’s becoming a time-critical issue for me since my wardrobe is getting to the point that my available clothing is showing wear.

I felt guilty last night during a grocery shopping trip to Wal-Mart. I’m one of those OCD shoppers that does NOT “do” impulse purchases: if it’s not on the list (or something that we genuinely need that I forgot to put on the list), it doesn’t go into the shopping cart. Period. But as we strolled around, we passed a women’s clearance clothing rack. Tank tops for $1, polo shirts for $2, and pants for $3. And cute stuff, too, not the bottom-of-the-barrel crap that not even a 90-year-old granny would wear. So I blew $10, the first time I’ve bought *any* (new or used) clothing items in, hmmm, five months or so? I’m slowly getting over the guilt today of having deviated from the established shopping list, and instead focusing on the fact that I just generously expanded my wardrobe for an extremely reasonable amount of money. It’s been a bit of a lesson in how it is indeed possible to be a little TOO frugal, and get sucked into the challenge of saving money to the point of genuine self-deprivation.

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Joan September 17, 2012 at 8:16 PM

J.J., that’s a GREAT point – saving money is awesome, but what are you saving it “for” if it means wearing clothes that are obviously past the point of when they should be used? That is something we struggle with at times too – and the accompanying guilt – but I’m just glad you’ve got a thought process engaged so that you’re looking at these decisions and saying, “OK, what’s the REAL impact of this?”

And as you said – the impact is that for incredibly little money, even by thrift-store standards, you expanded your wardrobe significantly – which is awesome! :)

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JMK September 9, 2012 at 9:12 AM

We buy so little clothing that we don’t budget for it. Zero. So far in 2012 I’ve bought myself a 3pack of socks, and a scarf while on vacation. I too sit on my butt in front of a computer all day. I generally wear a uniform of black pants or skirt, black top (turtleneck, or dressy T) and depending on weather a bright jacket, cardigan or scarf/wrap. Unless I’ve worn something out or damaged it beyond repair there is no need to shop. Sitting in a office doesn’t wear out your clothing very quickly. If I suspect I may soon need to replace something, I as for a gift card at my BD or Christmas and put off the purchase until then. My husband refreshes is work clothing every ~2yrs (dress pants, shirts) at a 2 for 1 sale his favorite store has annually. He needs tall shirts with very large necks so second hand never works for him. After his little spree they always email him a gift card for between $30 and $50 as a reward. It’s a men’s store not really meant for teens, but they do carry some “casual Friday” type clothing. We usually give the coupon to our son (18) to replace jeans, belt or occasionally get a semi-dressy shirt for the times a Tshirt won’t cut it. The rest of the time he relys on ~10 different black Tshirts and a couple of hoodies. Occasionally at his BD or christmas he’ll get a new one and move an old one to the workout clothing category.
My DD (11) gets a fair number of hand me downs from her cousin and anything she specifially wants is usually received at her BD or Christmas. She used to have way too many items – totally my fault because everything I saw was just too cute to leave behind…. After one particularly thorough purge of her closet she remarked how easy it was to find all her favourite things and that set the new standard of how much she really needed. She agreed that it was better to have far less but love all of it. We have an annual “girls’ day” which involves a small shopping component, but we review her clothing and make a list of what needs replacing. I don’t want her to ever think aimlessly wandering through stores is a leisure activity. We bag up whatever she’s outgrown to send to a younger cousin and decide if it needs to be replaced. Last round she cleared out all the skirts and announced she no longer liked wearing them and didn’t want to replace any of them. Fine with me. Now she’s happy with a couple of pairs of skinny jeans, a couple of leggings, a couple of hoodies, and a small assortment of tanks and tshirts. As with everyone else, socks and under garments are always new.

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Joan September 17, 2012 at 8:18 PM

I agree with so many of those ideas – and am so thrilled that you have it down to such a system! I think that’s the key – no matter what the system is, having one in place so that you know what you’re getting and when!

(And good for your daughter – we’re adopting the less-is-more philosophy more and more with our daughter’s clothes as well, and it’s great!)

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marie September 17, 2012 at 11:05 AM

I agree with nearly everything you said in that post, but I was just wondering (you know, for us girls!) how do you factor in cut and fashion? I mean I would love to shop at one store instead of running around to find stuff that doesn’t make me look fat…

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Joan September 17, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Well, that’s a great question, Marie! I guess I’d say you have to pick “the one store” carefully, I guess is my answer!

I won’t say I never buy any clothes elsewhere – for instance, shoes usually come from a different store – but always the SAME store, with its own loyalty program that gets me $30 off every 10 purchases.

In my case, the reason I went with a department-store-type place is that they carry a number of brands. I wouldn’t do all-in-one-place shopping at, say, Old Navy, because if they don’t have a cut of pants that fits me this season, then that’s it, you know? But at a store with lots of brands, if I need jeans, I can get LEI, Levi’s, Candies, whatever, you know? And ONE of them will fit, even if most of them don’t! :)

My mom is plus-sized, and she has her “one store,” too – not anywhere I can shop, but she’s decided it’s much easier for her to go there and buy pants that she always knows will fit, even if they’re $10 more than they would be in, say, Kohl’s or Target or wherever, than to have to shop all over town, like you say!

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kathryn lees April 14, 2013 at 5:16 AM

I am from the UK and cannot believe how many clothes and shoes you have. Most people I know, unless they are high earners, footloose and fancy free, would not own anywhere near that amount of clothing. I do agree with shopping for a seasons wardrobe but that would only be replacement items as needed. The French and Italians and many other European people do not own this amount of clothes either, although they do buy quality products. It makes me believe that the US is a hugely consumerist society and will have great difficulty in paying down their cumulative debt as we are all having to do in these austere times.

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Akilah June 23, 2013 at 10:38 PM

Not all Americans have such a generous wardrobe. I, too, looked at the photo and thought that’s a lot of clothes and shoes, and I’m American. A closet that jam-packed would scare me. But I agree with her that if you’re not exactly mainstream sized, and you find something that fits, just go ahead and buy it. My teen is 4’11, and no longer growing, so if I find a petite jean that works, I’m buying it. Most of the time even the petites still need hemming. And not even my teen has as many clothes as in that top photo, and would have even less if her school weren’t insistent on school t-shirts for every activity: band, field day, spirit, ugh…Uniforms would be so much easier!

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