Reining in the why behind my clothing spending

A few astute and critical readers have commented on my clothing spending occasionally. This year, I had spent $2,608.02 on clothing as of June 30th. In July, I spent $0 on clothing. My goal for August is to, again, spend $0 on clothing.

I’m mostly fairly controlled about my spending, so you’re probably wondering why I spend so easily on clothing. I’ve wondered that too. For most of my life, I’ve kept spending low by being busy with school or work and not having the time to shop for miscellaneous items, which then results in a flurry of spending once the busy season ends. Online shopping can blow that out the window since it’s so easy to buy stuff.

There’s no real reason for me to save the amount of my income that I do. I’m far over-saving for a “normal” aged retirement. I could easily cut back on savings and be just fine, eventually. But there’s also no real reason to unconsciously spend money on stuff that doesn’t bring me joy. Sure, I have a really nice leather purse now, but I have one. And sure, I have a nice smartphone, but I keep them for 3 years before getting another one. The real kicker though is that I still have my five year old car and plan to keep it for many more years, same with my condo.

The little spending can easily get away from you when you make enough money, when it seems small. That exorbitant sum of money I’ve spent on clothing is a whopping 4% of my net income so far this year. I’ve resolved that with my level of income, I’m more than willing to spend money on things that bring me joy. Our trip to New Zealand earlier this year cost me around $7,000, plus two months unpaid off work (that made it a very expensive trip!), but that was totally worth it.

Do you know why I realized I was spending so much money on clothing this year so easily? My new job. At my old job, my to do list was never ending. At this job, sometimes the to do list does end and then I need to busy myself with finding more tasks or go home early. Or sometimes, there’s more wait time while in the middle of task. You know, compiling. Well you know what I was busying myself doing while compiling? Looking at clothes online. And BUYING them. That’s not all of the spending though. One thing I’m good at it is not having too many of one particular item…so then I create new categories of items and buy one of those!

Most of my projects for the summer have been to try to see what I’ll give up for grad school, combined with some deep cleaning. I’ve figured out how to get my hour of exercise a day: walking to/from the bus stops on my commute and going for a 15 minute walk mid-afternoon at work. Getting an hour of exercise on the weekends will always be a work in progress. I’ve developed some strategies for bringing my lunch to work and that it’s not that expensive anymore if I forget. I’m trying to reduce the amount of time I spend thinking about clothing. I’ve developed some strategies for spending less time geeking out over spreadsheets: reducing transactions has been a huge help with this. We have also been purging and reorganizing things around the house as part of merging two households into one.

Usually telling myself I can spend $0 on a category results in me spending tremendous amounts of money on it, so I’m quite surprised this worked. Now to stick to this no clothing buying plan through August as well!

Readers, how do you keep yourself from spending money on clothing?


27 thoughts on “Reining in the why behind my clothing spending

  1. Love the XKCD reference.

    I’ve never been much of a clothes spender, I don’t think I’ve bought any in a year and before that I bought around $300 on work clothes and the like. Sometimes I do want to spend more on clothing, much of what I have is pretty old and fits poorly / never fit well to begin with. The biggest thing that prevents me from spending money on clothes, though, is that nothing fits me off the rack (super petite) and in order to get a good fit I have to go to the tailor. That extra cost and barrier between purchase and wear is a big disincentive for me.

    • Before online shopping, I would go on a big shopping trip a few times a year, when I found the time. Now it’s much easier to find the time. One of my “excuses” lately has been that I’ve been fluctuating in sizes a lot lately. (I gained about 20% of my previous weight in my last job and have now lost some of it, but not all of it.) I’m now a size that is easier to find off the rack (I wasn’t before) and that makes it easier to buy clothing, oops. I buy most of my denim at Nordstrom – I found it easier to find stuff that fit in the waist/hips there when I was skinnier and they offer free hemming on regular price jeans.

  2. I spend way too much on clothing and often fall into the same trap you mentioned – a little extra time at work spend online shopping. I try to just avoid online shopping and regular shopping altogether. Also, looking at my wardrobe and seeing that there is literally no room left for more is a good motivator!

    • Yes I can go 2-3 weeks without doing laundry quite easily! My closet has a ton of space in it though, so that one isn’t much of a motivator. I’m not subscribed to any coupons lists, but occasionally a friend will forward some and I hate that.

  3. Buying clothing online is such a gamble, though. I never do it unless the clothing is a known quantity, that I’m already familiar with it and know it will fit me.

    I keep my costs low by taking pride in my once-a-year trip to an outlet mall to buy clothing where I use gift cards I usually get at Christmas. Outside of that one trip, the only new clothes I buy will be replacements. Say some shoes get worn out, or I have some underwear that really shouldn’t be worn anymore. We are trying to keep our clothes spend under $1,000 this year, which we also did last year.

    • Under $1,000 for two people? That’s pretty good!

      I find online shopping to be easier as there are more sizes available than in a store. I’m really good about returning stuff that I don’t like / doesn’t fit though.

  4. I try to be fairly conservative with my clothing spending. The problem I run into is that I usually need two sets of clothes: work clothes and everyday clothes. The professional dress attire for work can really add up in iur budget.

  5. I’ve never been much of a clothes spender either. I have no idea why. I know why I don’t do much online shopping though– I hate returning things and I’m never quite sure of fit without trying something on first.

  6. I’ve spent very little on clothes in the past several months. Maybe nothing? This is not typical for me. The reasons are similar – no time to shop (even online).

    Another large factor – my new job is much more casual than any job I’ve ever had, and I don’t work with any women on a day-to-day basis. A lot of my shopping was for work clothes. I never spent all that much, but I would always dress “well” for work. Now I can wear most stuff both for work & weekends, and no one is commenting / complimenting on my outfits if I do put in the effort to dress well. And I don’t see other women that are well-dressed, so the urge to dress up for work in moderately current outfits just isn’t there. (There are occasions for more formal dress – but it isn’t the norm.)

    For weekend / after work clothes, I’ve always been less fussy and not spent as much. Plus, been so tied up with puppy lately that I haven’t worn anything but jeans since we got him!

    • I do work with women at my job, but the engineer women don’t dress nicely, much more tomboyish than the women at my last job. And the men here dress much less nicely too. No one wears nice shoes. So I’ve ditched the necklaces that I used to wear to work and toned down the dressiness of my tops. I’ve always worn just jeans to work, but I tried to dress nicely for the longest time. I think I’ve given up on that.

  7. Don’t let the reader comments get to you! If you enjoy your clothes and that’s really (from what I can tell) your only regular splurge than so be it. With you income and low expenses, it’s not even going to come close to derailing your plans. I bet you’ll have a clearer picture though after a few months of not shopping to see if the money was worth it. Great perspective! Thanks.

    • I’m totally okay with conscious splurges. I’m not okay with a rabbit hole splurge. That’s what I’m trying to fix here :)

      You’re right that it won’t really derail my plans. That’s part of what makes it a bit weird. There’s no real need to rein it in. I just want to evaluate it a bit more consciously, you know? I don’t want to give myself a clothing budget since then I’ll spend at least that amount, so I’m not sure how to limit it properly.

  8. You’re give me joy approach made me think of a short book I read recently: While I found some of the spiritual aspects of the book a bit kooky, the give me joy approach she took in going through all items you own, asking themselves the question whether they give you joy and discarding them if they don’t was interesting and, I think, quite useful and looks like a great approach to take for reducing your clothing purchases. I have been applying it to non necessary purchases for a long time- the next is to apply it to things I already own. Unrelated to your post, but the other core idea of the book was throwing most things out (criteria=don’t give you joy) first and only then organizing.

    • I haven’t read the book, but I know people who have and I’m pretty sure that’s where I got the “joy” phrase from :)
      I’ve been actively over the last few years trying to make sure that my clothing purchases bring me joy and I’ve gotten much better at that. The vast majority of my purchases this year have, so perhaps I should try to find a way to limit the spending so that it doesn’t get to be too much. (My total $$ amount spent this year has been relatively consistent to previous years, but I have bought fewer items.)

      We’ve been doing a lot of throwing things out and reorganizing with the combining households thing. That’s still a bit of an ongoing project.

  9. It seems like you’re going for the right balance. As you said, you can definitely afford the clothes you’re buying, but it makes sense to figure out if they are worth it. Continuing to be conscious about it seems like it will work for you, given how diligent you are about all things money. Don’t beat yourself up about it. :-)

    • Thanks :) I’m definitely not beating myself up about it. But I do want to make sure I’m being a bit more conscious about this spending!

  10. I have been reading your blog for a while, I think you do a great job.

    I wouldnt let what some readers say get under your skin. You do a fantastic job of saving money. And its not like you are unable to afford the purchases you have made.

    May I ask this, do you budget each month? I know you track everything to the nth degree after the fact, and I know you have explicitly spelled out strategies and goals, but I dont know if you do a formal budget (although I may have missed it).

    One thing I have found is that the task of my wife and I sitting down to do a zero-based budget each month is liberating. Every dollar that we anticipate coming in is assigned a task, and we can put away as much or as little as we want for savings, clothing etc.

    By doing so, we dont end up in a binge process where we spend nothing and then spend a ton., Since we have purposefully decided how much we will spend every month there isnt the buyers remorse.

    Conversely, when we know how much we have in the budget it makes it easier to prioritize. Just this week my wife was talking about buying a patio set that she had been looking at for some time. There was money in our budget for furniture, but when I ask her whether she wanted to get the patio furniture now or wait for a new mattress that we have been wanting, it became an easy answer and we waited.

    Its not that I think you are over spending, just the opposite. but you might just find out that a zero based budget (if you arent already doing one) would get you to balance out the need to save everything with the desire to binge buy on clothing to pass the time.

    • Thanks for your long and thoughtful comment, George!

      I have the philosophy that just because I can afford something it doesn’t mean that I should do it. I should do things that I want and buy things that I get enjoyment out of.

      I don’t budget monthly or follow a zero-sum budget. I find that they don’t work for me. I do budget annually and then check how I’m doing against that each month and quarter. I just don’t call it out on the blog monthly since I do a post about it once a year. Here’s my 2015 spending plan: and if you look under the “spending” tag, you can see how I’ve been tracking against it each quarter.

      As nicoleandmaggie mentioned above, clothing is a bit of a glympus pin for me. If I budget for it, I’ll spend at least my budget. If I don’t budget, then I’ll spend some dollar amount too. I can’t forecast what I will buy and I mostly don’t see a problem with that. I’m not going to cut myself off because I’ve spent over $X already. I do budget for clothing items that are necessities, like bras, underwear, socks, running shoes and replacement shoes, and outerwear, but most of the rest of my clothing spending is fairly discretionary.

      I’m not going to buy new patio furniture when I already have some, for example. That just seems silly to me. But for the most part, I think about whether I’d rather have X item or the mortgage paid off $X sooner and sometimes I choose the item and sometimes I choose the mortgage. So I budget on paper in a way and don’t always set an amount for all discretionary items because otherwise, that would feel like giving myself permission to spend and I don’t want to do that. I want to evaluate this item or the mortgage when I want to buy discretionary clothing. I mean, I set myself a $900 clothing budget for the year and I blew through that pretty quickly. I’m not going to stop spending just because my budget tells me to, but I don’t buy a lot of stuff relative to my income.

  11. Well, you’re doing so well financially I couldn’t imagine quibbling with the amount spent. But do you research how your clothing is produced at all? I really enjoy the process of clothes shopping, but I don’t enjoy supporting most of the fast fashion industry, so reminding myself of what I’m “voting” for with my $ helps with a lot of that.

    • That’s definitely something I’ve been looking at. The jeans that I buy now are made in the US, rather than overseas. I’m trying to buy other more locally produced items and higher quality items as well and some of that has driven up the total $ amount.

  12. I had meant to comment on this when you posted, but just now have the time. I used to be quite the shopper, ended up with lots that I didn’t love, read the book, got rid of the extras and now just buy what I need. I figure out my needs list by doing a sort of uniform wardrobe (I personally LOVED the worksheets at Unfancy) and from there have figured out that I like the boundaries of buying only what I need, but the freedom to choose those $$ shoes if that is truly what is going to work best for me. Culling the clothes that I did helped greatly in sorting out what I didn’t actually wear, despite it being popular at the moment on social media. Also, I have started reminding myself that just because it is *there* (on sale, flash sale, once in a lifetime available at the thrift store/antique mall, etc) still doesn’t mean that it has to come home with me. :)
    I really love reading your posts~lots of helpful research to follow up on and sage advice. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for stopping by! Don’t apologize for waiting to comment – I still read and appreciate every comment, no matter when they come in :) I’ve been taking this time of “no shopping” to figure out my uniform and what I need in my wardrobe, take inventory of what I already have, and think about seasonal clothes. I’ve always been good at not buying things just because they’re on sale, but not necessarily at having a purpose for the items I buy.

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