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 and it 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 the cash isn’t always flowing into his practice. He sometimes has a hard time collecting from clients and may go for months when the work just isn’t there. Because he’s pretty much the only one he can depend on for money (which many of us can relate to), building his emergency fund and budgeting has always been part of his approach to money.
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, 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 and one of them was clothes shopping.
Because I have #moneygoals–building a business–following my own rules hasn’t been hard at all. I’ve done financial diets before when I didn’t have a money goal, and it’s definitely easier when you have one.
I found 5 types of clothing expenses I could cut out without my wardrobe suffering for it:
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 happier. Ok, it did… but only for a minute.
I now stop and think: Do I really it though? Do I really have to have it? I’ve 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–even if they didn’t need it. It’s now one of the questions I ask myself to make sure I’m buying something for the right reasons. Am I trying to impress anyone?
Usually, my answers were no once I figured out what was attracting me to an item. It was aspirational or trendy, and when it came down to it, I didn’t have the lifestyle for it. Yeah, no, I really don’t need resort wear this season! Lol.
SHOPPING TIP: Keep a wish list of items you want on your phone and pop them out when you go shopping. When you first start observing this rule you might fall back into old habits and give in to your impulses. This is how I handled that:
I kept the receipt and scheduled a return date on my calendar that was at least 5 days before the cutoff. If I wasn’t still crazy about a piece, I returned it.
I was almost never still crazy about it.
A lot of the time, 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, we can let it go. Something else I find helpful is 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 what 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.