I have a friend who I go to for money advice because he knows a lot about the stuff. Investments, loans, 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 was able to pay cash for his New York City apartment. He had to suck up his pride and live with his dad for about 15 years and made other sacrifices in order to do that, but it speaks to how he approaches money.
I wanted to know how he stuck to his budget so one day I asked him for his best money-saving secret. He told me, “I follow one simple spending rule:
I never buy anything I don’t absolutely need.“
He’s an attorney and works for himself so he has a lot of experience with money management. 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.
But how does he stick to it? What does he do differently from the rest of us, I wanted to know. These are the types of strategies 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.
- He buys what’s on sale. When he shops for groceries, for example, he’s flexible and buys only items on sale that week.
I’m someone who will buy new underwear because I’m too lazy to do laundry, so I knew I couldn’t follow his strict spending rules. I could though, observe some rules some of the time. Thanks to him, I started stocking up on paper goods when they’re on sale and for years now, I’ve rarely paid full price. I’ve also resoled a pair of shoes (mainly because I love it!) and was surprised at how the repairman was able to make it look almost new.
I eventually figured out how to apply some discipline to clothes shopping and it’s been easier than I expected. I’ve been able to cut back on clothes expense by following my own set of rules. These are the 5 types of clothing I no longer buy, and I’m not at all bothered by it (anymore):
1. Sales items that need repair
I used to buy a lot of clothing that was a size too big, was ripped, missing buttons or needed some kind of repair after convincing myself it was a steal. But I rarely ever got those clothes fixed and they would end up sitting in my closet until I donated them to a friend or Goodwill. I no longer buy those.
SHOPPING TIP: Unless it’s a wish list item and I will take it straight away (on my way home) to be repaired, I leave it on the rack.
2. 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, a piece of clothing is going to inspire us to finally lose those 10 pounds. Rarely does that happen and in fact, I’m sure we already have something in our closet that could serve as inspiration.
SHOPPING TIP: I’ve become more aware of these and other rationalizations.
3. Special event clothes
For weddings and other special events, I might pick up something new but I now put more thought into whether (and how) I will wear it after the event. If there’s even a chance I won’t wear a dress again, I don’t buy it. I’ll buy something new for a special event, if…
- The piece is versatile.
- It’s a cute maxi dress or skirt because maxis are part of my personal style.
- I own accessories and separates to go with it.
- It’s within the budget I set a budget for the entire event.
SHOPPING TIP: I challenge myself to be creative and to style things I already own differently.
4. Impulse purchases
In the past, there were so many times I would buy something because it looked pretty or interesting. I would think, I have to have it! as if just owning a pair of boots would make me happier. Ok, it did… but only for a day or so.
I’ve talked to women who said it made them feel better about themselves to be able to walk up to the register and buy an expensive item, even if they didn’t need it. That gave me the idea to check my motivations before I took something to the register. Can I afford it? Do I really need it though? A lot of my “wants,” as it turns out, are aspirational and I don’t even have the lifestyle for some of it. Just last week there was a dress I was fanning over but could leave on the rack with this self-talk: I definitely don’t need resort wear this season! Lol.
SHOPPING TIP: When I first started observing this rule, it wasn’t always easy to resist temptation. My workaround was to buy the item and mark my calendar to return it in 2 weeks if I still hadn’t worn it or was still crazy about it. After doing that a few times, I realized I was rarely (only once in 2 years) still crazy about an impulse purchase. I’m fully aware that I get a buzz from shopping so like any recovering addict, I monitor it.
5. Fast Fashion
Until a couple of years ago, I used to go to Forever 21 and Zara religiously every Friday. Then one day, after getting some climate change education from a woke princess named Eva Kruse, I began to rethink the habit. In her TedTalk about changing the world through fashion, Kruse talked about the role of fashion in the world’s water shortage. She felt that businesses and consumers could come up with solutions by making more ethical choices.
Now when I see something selling for $12, I know it’s most likely at the expense of the environment and haven’t been in those stores in years. I have purchased activewear in Marshalls and Ross though, but only a handful of pieces in 3+ years.
SHOPPING TIP. What you and I really want when we shop are clothes that look fresh and amazing on us. It’s when the detail, cut, print or something else about a piece of clothing meet a minimum standard that, IMO, it looks amazing on.
It no longer feels like a sacrifice to limit the things I buy. The rules I try to follow make sense for me and the fact that I save a lot of money help me stick to them.