Managing my clothing spending with a whitelist

I’ll leave this tidbit for a more financial update: I own 68% of the condo, my husband 9%, and the bank 23%, or in another way: I own 59%, we own 18%, and the bank owns 23%. This is a huge change from December where I owned 76% and the bank 24%. I’m not ready to write a 5 year homeownership update (!!) as I prefer to write about things after they have settled and we haven’t yet figured out how to get approval to make the condo board less broke.

Over the years, I’ve spent the most time managing my clothing spending. I have tried many ways to reign it in, to limit myself, to plan for spending, to budget, etc. and nothing seems to work for very long until now. I’ve struggled with my clothing spending for a variety of reasons over the years. Primarily, I value having a wardrobe with pieces that I love and fit and suit me well. Yet I have donated and purged so much of my closet over the years and worn a really small portion of it.

I feel so, so guilty buying clothes. I feel guilty putting them in my cart. I feel guilty putting them on my credit card. I feel guilty taking them out of the bag they come in. I feel guilty seeing the pile of online shopping bags by our mailbox. I even feel guilty wearing new clothes, sometimes so I leave the tags on them without wearing them! I feel guilty spending down investments or cash savings or using my husband’s condo buy-in money to buy clothes or asking for clothes for my birthday.

I used to over-buy clothes in categories that were easier to buy (tops) and under-buy in categories that were harder (everything else). In May, I went into a store looking for a pair of shorts that fit, a pair of white pants that fit, and a cropped cardigan. What did I walk out with? A pair of shorts, a pair of yellow pants (I decided they were so awesome they were worth foregoing the white pants), a dress that fit splendidly (but was terrible quality and I later returned for a damaged material credit after one wear), and two non-cropped cardigans that were the same colors as cardigans I already had at home. I had reached decision fatigue and bought whatever cardigan I could find instead of the cropped style I was specifically looking for. On the one hand, my color selection at least proves I know my style and color preferences but I when got home with the cardigans, I realized my silliness pretty quickly and took them back to the store later.

Despite all this guilt, when I was filling in my mindful budgeting planner, my best purchases recently were: bras, underwear, workout crops, and a summer dress I bought recently. That tells me that underneath all the guilt, having more than one pair of workout crops encourages me to go to the gym more often, which in turn brings me joy. It also tells me that summer clothes bring me far more joy than winter ones do.

To reduce my guilt and to not stress as much about the necessary clothing spending, I’ve been keeping a “Clothing whitelist” and setting one of my monthly goals as “Clothing whitelist only” and it’s been working. (I use these soft cover daily planners – not an affiliate link. I love them because they are small and fit in my purse or backpack easily!) When I start contemplating a particular item of clothing, I add it to this list. Sometimes the items stay on the list for a few months and other times, I add things to the list and immediately buy them. As I review my spending throughout the month, I check in – is a piece of clothing I bought on the whitelist? If it isn’t, I either need to add it or return the item.)

A recurring theme on the list this year is “X that fits” which falls into the “one in one out” philosophy for wardrobe management: spring jacket that fits, hiking shorts that fit, 2 pairs of workout crops that fit, bras that fit, underwear that fits, shorts that fit, summer pants that fit. Other items have included: N* winter sweaters, N* pairs of underwear (finally swapped down to just black and beige colors which is life changing), a cropped cardigan, winter over-pants for walking to the gym, N* days of summer clothes, shoes for my wedding reception. With my huge exercise push this year, I’ve lost some of the weight I gained in my last couple years of jobs I hated and felt stuck in. It’s been huge for my general happiness levels and has given me the opportunity to shop the parts of my closet I didn’t purge from what fit back in 2014/2015, plus some pieces of last year’s closet.

Similarly, I picked which bra styles and colors to buy in what number by listing out the possibilities, along with which items I would wear with them in my wardrobe. I hate having a bra wardrobe that doesn’t match to my actual closet! (What you get when you take a CS nerd and get them to shop: spreadsheets, tables, and charts.)

So far, this method seems to be working really well this year, better even than assigning a dollar number to the clothing budget. If I gave myself a dollar figure budget, I probably would have kept those cardigans I didn’t need.

Readers, what is your trickiest category to budget for? How do you handle it?

N* is variable, depending on the category.

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8 thoughts on “Managing my clothing spending with a whitelist

  1. How come you feel guilty about spending on clothes if you value ones that fit you well?

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when describing the whitelist strategy. The reason why it’s working is because it’s a system. Goals by themselves are hard to achieve, but that pattern of behaviors is what helps you get closer to your goal. My system is first making a list of what I think I need, then I put items I want on Pinterest. Think it over lots, then buy. I’m almost always replacing something else. Sometimes I make a mistake. Almost always I sell/donate something when I buy a new item. Having a lot of stuff stresses me out.

    I also almost never go into a brick and mortar store to “browse”. I find it a more efficient use of my time to compare/eliminate items online, then investigate the final contenders in person.

    My trickiest category would probably be sweaters. In the wintertime I wear a sweater almost every day so I tell myself that’s it OK to keep buying more. I just bought two…I’m gonna handle it by getting rid of the least-worn ones.

    • It’s some programming in my head that says that I shouldn’t value clothes and that I shouldn’t buy them.

      I’ve gotten into trouble with the replace strategy in the past because sometimes as my body shifts, a different style is better or I no longer can find tops that go with my skirts or vice versa with external style shifts.

      Yup – I hate going into physical stores. It’s so much easier to think and be careful about what I’m buying online. The only thing I prefer about physical stores is the ability to try on multiple sizes at once. This year, I was really good with winter clothes – I bought a couple winter specific items and then otherwise, layered sweaters over fall clothes!

  2. Clothing is a problem for me too. My typical strategy is to go months without buying new clothes, then suddenly realize I hate everything I own and then go on a shopping binge. Not exactly the best strategy. I like the idea of keeping an ongoing list of items to add periodically instead of just browsing and hoping for the best.
    I’ve been much better about figuring out what styles of clothing I actually like (and suit me) and will now buy multiples of an item if it’s a real winner. Sure makes getting dressed in the morning easier!

    • I had that strategy too! It would fail in that I would always make several regrettable purchases while on the shopping binge. Multiples are great – I have two pairs of the same workout crops in the same color and three of the exact same workout tank in different colors.

    • Haha I’m a lot like that too! I do keep a running list of things I need or really want, like the whitelist idea, so that helps. Been looking forever for a nice merino black/grey long sleeve striped dress for winter (work appropriate) and a nice soft blazer-style jacket.

      I love dresses because it makes the whole thing so much simpler!

      The struggle is, I’m always cold, and need something warm (cardi/jacket etc) to wear with everything. Definitely struggling with that this winter – staying warm, looking professional. I might make scarves a part of my daily outfit formula…

      • I’ve really fallen in love with dresses lately! They have changed my wardrobe for the better and I’m sure they also help me look my age better. I used to keep cardigans at my desk at work to help with the crazy A/C.

  3. Glad to see you back! Thought you abandon this blog. Clothing has never really been an issue with me because I’m very basic. Shelter, transportation, and food on the other hand…big $$$$$!

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