I have a guy friend who I go to for money advice because his ability to save is impressive and he’s also knowledgeable about many different types of investments. His savings skills are so impressive that in 2015, he paid cash for his New York City apartment. How did he do it? With his goal of buying a home always on his mind, he sucked up his pride and lived with his dad for about 15 years even though many times (and I was around for a few of them) he wanted to do anything but.
I asked him to share his biggest money-saving secret and he told me there’s one rule he follows that dictates all his spending habits. This is his one rule:
I never buy anything I don’t absolutely need.
He’s an attorney and works for himself and sometimes the cash isn’t flowing into his practice. He often has a hard time collecting from some clients and sometimes he will go for months when the work just isn’t there. Because he’s pretty much the only one he can depend on for money, building his emergency fund and budgeting has always been part of his approach to money.
These are some of the shopping habits that help him stick to his rule…
- He’ll replace before buying. If his shoes can be repaired and resoled, for example, he does that before he even thinks of buying new ones. Same for toasters, sofas, appliances, everything!
- He never buys anything he can’t pay cash for; including an apartment, apparently.
- When shopping for groceries, he’s flexible and buys only items on sale that week.
Now I knew that I could never be so strict as to apply this rule to all my spending, but I tried finding areas where I could. One of those areas I decided is my wardrobe–at least for now when I’m trying to build a business.
I found 5 types of clothing expenses I could cut out without my wardrobe suffering for it. In fact, since I began observing these new rules, my wardrobe has not looked more cohesive and edited. These are the 5 types of clothing I no longer buy:
1. Impulse purchases
When I buy something, I make sure it’s something I really want. In the past, there were so many times I would see something and bought it because it looked pretty, or pretty interesting. I would think, I have to have it! As if just owning it would magically make me more stylish.
I now stop myself just by asking, Do I really though? Do I really have to have it?
Very often I concluded that the piece was something aspirational, trendy, or I didn’t have the lifestyle for it. Just by stopping to question whether I needed it, helped me make the right decision… to leave it on the rack.
I’ve also talked to women who told me it made them feel better about themselves to be able to walk up to the register to purchase an expensive item.
Strategies you can use. Keep a wish list of items you want on your phone and focus on those when you go shopping. When you first start observing this rule you might fall back into old habits. This is how I handled those:
I kept the receipt and marked it on my calendar to return the item in 20 days if I wasn’t still crazy about it then. I was almost never still crazy about it and 20 days gave me enough time to get it back to the store within the usual 30-day return window.
For you (I know it was for me), the things we consider “must haves,” are just daydreams of our inner stylist and once the more practical side of our brain wakes up and remind us of our financial goals, it loses its “must-have” appeal.
As for the emotional high that spending can bring, it’s helpful to just acknowledge it. Awareness can be a gentle guide to better decision making.
2. Sales items that need repair
So often while I was in the store I would reason that something that was a little too big, is ripped or have missing buttons was worth the investment because it was on sale. I rarely ever got those clothes fixed and they ended up sitting in my closet unworn until I bagged and donated them to Goodwill.
Strategies you can use. Look at sales items as things other people didn’t want, and question whether you’re actually getting a bargain. Who’s the better shopper? Is it you because the style is absolutely you or it’s an item you need, so it’s really a score? Or, are all those people who passed on it before you the better shoppers? Unless it’s a wish list item and you have a tailor in mind and will take that item straight away to be repaired, leave it on the rack.
3. Clothes that are too small
As women, we’re forever on a diet and a part of us really believe that even though we’ve been at our current weight for 3+ years, an item of clothing is going to be THE inspiration to finally lose those 10 pounds. Rarely does that work and in fact, I’m sure we already have something in our closet that could serve the same purpose.
Strategies you can use. Realize that rationalizations like these are just one of those lies our brain tells us. Become aware of these rationalizations and it won’t be just clothes you’ll have more discipline over.
4. Special event clothes
For weddings and other special events, I might still pick up something new but I now put more thought into whether (and how) I will wear an item again before buying it. If there’s even a chance I won’t wear something again, I don’t buy it.
Strategies you can use: Challenge yourself to be creative and to style things you already own differently or shop friends’ closets.
When I do buy something new for a special event, I follow these rules…
- I buy separates that are versatile.
- I’ll get a cute maxi dress or skirt because maxis are part of my personal style and I know I’ll get a lot of wear out of them.
- I’ll be sure to get the item in a color that will go with things I already own–shoes, bags, etc.–so I don’t need to buy other things to go with it.
- I have a total spending limit and never go over it. I’ll factor in what I’m spending on a wedding gift and look at the total cost of an event, not just the clothing I might buy.
5. Fast Fashion
Until a couple of years ago, I used to go to Forever 21 and Zara religiously on Fridays. Both were very close to my office in Midtown Manhattan. My co-workers and I would often sneak out on a Friday afternoon to treat ourselves– and to get out of the office– sometimes lunch was involved, but mostly it was all shopping during these extended lunch breaks.
Especially at Zara, there would always be something new and fabulous greeting us as soon as we walked through the door. I swear, those retailers must know the Friday afternoon spending habits of women and change around their shops weekly (maybe even every couple of days), just to entice us.
Here’s what’s helped me: I’ve since become aware of the true cost of fast fashion.
Now I understand that brands make ridiculous profit margins, so if they’re able to sell a top for $12, then chances are it was at laborers’ or the environment’s expense.
I now look at fast fashion differently and try to buy more ethical labels that cost more and last longer. By waiting for those better brands to go on sale (not the ripped and tired-looking sales items I was referring to above, mind you), I save a bit and because they outlast fast fashion, my per-wear cost is virtually the same.
Strategies you can use. Consider your per-wear cost over the expected life of an item. Go through your wardrobe and think about what those pieces you’ve owned and worn for a long time or received the most compliments on had in common. Consider that after a certain point, you’re not buying a new blouse, skirt or any addition to your wardrobe because you need it. What you need/want is a new blouse that looks fresh and amazing because of the detail, cut, print or something else that often, fast fashion could never offer.