I have a friend who I go to for money advice because he knows a lot about the stuff–investments and the stock market, borrowing money, couples’ finance, you name it, he can help with just about any money-related topic. His savings skills are so impressive that in 2015, he paid cash for his New York City apartment. He was able to because 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 once asked him what was 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 who works for himself and sometimes has a hard time collecting from clients so he may go for months when cash isn’t flowing in. Because he’s pretty much the only one he can depend on for money (which many of us can relate to), budgeting and building his emergency fund has always been priorities for him. But how does he stick to it? What does he do differently from the rest of us?
These are the types of 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, plumbing fixtures, 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.
I’m someone who will buy new underwear because all of mine are in the wash, so I knew I could never be so strict as to apply this rule to all my spending. With grocery shopping, I could be flexible on some items like paper goods, yogurts, vegetables, meats, etc., but I have a few brand preferences I buy no matter what. Fixing appliances and PCs, probably not. When it comes to clothes shopping though, I realize that setting some limits on what I wouldn’t buy could help a lot and be doable and after some failures, I was able to find 5 types of clothing expenses I could cut out and have no troubling sticking to:
1. Impulse purchases
When I buy something now, I make sure it’s something I really want. In the past, there were so many times I would buy something it because it looked pretty, or pretty interesting. I would think, I have to have it! as if just owning it would make me happier. Ok, it did… but only for a minute.
I now stop and think, Do I really it though? I’ve talked to women who said it made them feel better about themselves to be able to walk up to the register to purchase an expensive item–even if they didn’t need it. I began to check myself on that too and if there’s any chance I’m not buying something for the right reasons, I don’t get it. I can do a quick check-in to figure out what was attracting me to an item. A lot of “wants” were aspirational or because something was trendy and after my “check-in” I realized I didn’t have the lifestyle for it. Yeah, no, I really don’t need resort wear this season! Lol.
SHOPPING TIP: When you first start observing this rule you might fall back into old habits and give in to your impulses. I handled that by scheduling a date to return impulse purchases that were at least 5 days before the cutoff. If I’m not still crazy about a piece by that date and if I hadn’t worn it, I return it. I also left the receipt in an envelope in the glove compartment of my car so I wouldn’t lose it.
After doing that a few times, I realized I was rarely (only once in 2 years) still crazy about an impulse purchase. That made giving them up altogether much easier.
A lot of the time, the things we consider “must haves,” are just daydreams of our inner stylist. I found it helpful to acknowledge that I get a buzz from shopping. I like clothes and I have fun putting looks together so it’s natural for me to want things I don’t need.
2. Sales items that need repair
So often while I was in the store I would convince myself that something that was a size or two too big, ripped or have missing buttons was worth the investment because it was on sale. I rarely ever got those clothes fixed. They just ended up sitting in my closet unworn until I donated them to a friend or Goodwill.
SHOPPING TIP: Look at sales items as things other people didn’t want, and consider whether you’re actually getting a bargain. 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.
SHOPPING TIP: Realize that rationalizations like these are just one of those lies our brain tells us. Become aware of them 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. If there’s even a chance I won’t wear something again, I don’t buy it. 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 so 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 so I don’t need to buy accessories and separates to go with it.
- I set a budget for the entire event–gift, transportation, clothes–and never go over it.
SHOPPING TIP: Challenge yourself to be creative and to style things you already own differently or shop friends’ closets.
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 and going with a friend/co-worker was our opportunity to sneak out after lunch when we were more in weekend mode than in work mode.
I swear, those retailers, especially Zara, must know our Friday afternoon spending habits because the layout was always different and there was a fresh collection to trigger me. Here’s what made me go off fast fashion: I became aware of the true cost of it. I now understand that fashion labels and retailers make ridiculous profit margins, so if they’re able to sell a top for $12, chances are it cost them $4 or less to make. If they’re doing that, then it is at laborers’ or the environment’s expense and I’ve decided I don’t want to be part of that–at least not consciously.
I try to shop more ethically. It feels better and there’s less I can afford obviously, and I like that.
SHOPPING TIP. 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… and try to let that guide your spending habits.
I (and I think it may be this way for you too) never really need a new blouse per se. What we really want is something that looks fresh and amazing because of the detail, cut, print or something else that speaks to our inner stylist is going to give us a confidence boost when we wear it, but we shouldn’t be overpaying for the benefit of those feelings.