Shopping for Clothes Without a Budget

Shopping for Clothes Without a Budget


warehouse sales are the worst
via flickr

I Am Not Controlled By Sales

I am not a big shopper, never have been. Part of it is the stress of clothes never fitting me and another part is just the general anxiety of being in a crowded store altogether.

About 5 years ago I made a conscious decision to stop looking at clearance racks. Two years ago I unsubscribed from all my store/deal/flash sale newsletters.

I no longer let sales dictate when I go shopping.

I have reached a point in my life where price no longer dictates what I need.

This doesn’t mean I go out buying whatever willy nilly, I only buy what I actually, truly, need. This works for me, personally, because shopping isn’t an enjoyable activity so I don’t want to do more than I have to do anyway.

Shopping List First, Budget Second

The problem with setting a monetary budget first then a shopping list second, is that our brain will trick us into buying things we don’t need.

Let’s say you give yourself a budget of $100 for a new pair of jeans. You spend the day shopping and find a pair for $65. This means you now have $35 leftover in your budget. Your brain will tell you that you have “free” $35 to spend since you already allocated the money and can afford to spend it.

In that case, why not buy a new shirt? After all it’s totally cute and goes with the jeans (what doesn’t?). Do you need a new shirt? Not at all.

But since you made a clothing budget, you’ve already given yourself permission to spend that money on any clothing.

Even though you only needed jeans.

via flickr

Why I Don’t Use Coupons for Clothes Or Shop Sales Racks

Don’t freak out! I know what you’re thinking. Take a deep breath and let me explain.

Big sales and clearance racks are to push inventory out at the end of a season to make room for the new stuff. This often leaves undesirable clothing and odd sizes.

For some body types and style preferences this is fine. However after shopping clearance racks for years and either 1) wasting hours or 2) buying clothes that I never wore only because they were on sale (and I had invested an hour into this hunt), I’ve learned that it’s just not for me.

It’s hard enough to find clothing that fits me right even when I have a fresh season to choose from and it’s practically impossible to find that on the sales racks.

Since shopping isn’t fun for me, I much prefer to shop at the start of a season and get my full pick of styles & sizes. That is far less stressful even if it is more money. Although in the end I am only buying high-quality items that I need so in the long run, I’m spending less.

Breaking Down What You Need

This year, I’ve tried doing the reverse. I planned out early in the year which of my wardrobe items really need to be replaced. Here’s my breakdown.

Spring: To replace cheap casual Old Navy dresses that barely fit at the time I bought them with pretty, good fitting, mid-length, work appropriate dresses.

Fall: To replace cheap H&M jeans that got torn up in the past year with good quality boot cut + skinny jeans that fit right and are work appropriate.

Winter: To replace last year’s cheap (seeing a theme here?) pair of boots that fell apart at the end of the season with high-quality leather boots that will hold up from nyc walking.

Dresses for Spring

Earlier this spring, I headed to Anthropologie on a hunt for two new summer dresses. This was my shopping list: two dresses. Nothing else. Budget unlimited.

Budget unlimited?! Well, it’s Anthropologie so really how much can I possibly spend on a single dress? $200? $250? If it meets my criteria then that is okay. Is it a lot of money? Yes! But I shouldn’t have to replace it every year like the cheapo dresses I had been buying.

Let’s be real here, I’m not going to Versace for a work dress (or anything).

Before heading to the store, I scoped out Anthropologie’s new arrivals online first. If I didn’t see anything I liked, I would check out a different store first instead of wasting my time and possibly seeing other items in the store I want but aren’t on my shopping list.

I did not look for deals or coupons.

Even though I spent $300 on dresses that day, I will not need to replace them next year.

Jeans for the Fall

Jeans have always been tricky for me because an hourglass figure means jeans fit around the thighs but then are too big at the waist. Or vice versa. This adds a whole other layer of frustration on top of the shopping trip altogether.

Instead of buying numerous pairs of $30 cheapo jeans through-out the year just waiting for them to rip out and knowing that they don’t look the best on me, I decided to go for higher-quality jeans.

Now, keep in mind none of this is going on my credit card. Sure, it’s a splurge, but these are things I can afford in cash. I just can’t afford do it every month and that means $300 that isn’t going in my savings that month.

Again, I made a shopping list: one pair of boot cut and one pair of skinny jeans – boot cut to wear with sneakers and skinny jeans to wear to work/with boots in the winter. Budget unlimited.

With the help of a competent staff, I spent about the same as the dresses on two pairs of jeans. I didn’t purchase anything else at the store and felt confident about the purchases I did make.

Clearly buying multiple cheap pairs of jeans throughout the year was not cost efficient.

Boots for Winter

I haven’t completely looked into this because, well, it’s not winter yet. I am keeping this in the back of my mind because I need to buy boots for the colder months.

Unlike jeans and dresses, shoes are a lot easier for me to buy because my size fits 95% of the time. I can buy shoes online without a worry, which helps to keep the cost down. I also never buy shoes so that helps too.

I’ve received recommendations for Frye’s that are said to last a very long time. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll end up doing but I know good quality boots are expensive. I am giving myself a budget of $400 for one pair of boots when I do go looking.

My strategy last year was to buy the $100 pair of cheap boots to see if I liked them, if I would wear them, if they were comfortable, if I had clothes to wear them with. And I did. The $100 was a worthwhile risk for me. Rather than buy really nice boots but then realize I only wear them with one outfit.

Unfortunately, since they were super cheap boots, they completely fell apart by last spring, lasting about 4 months. I certainly don’t want to do that again (plus they looked cheap, fake leather).

My Time Is Worth Something

Aside from the mental anxiety of shopping, my time is money. I just want to get in a store and get out, and I’ll pay a premium for that.

Scouring over junky clothes on the sales rack is spending my precious time and will rarely make that article of clothing as good a deal as you think it is.

If you enjoy shopping, then clearly this is worth your time! If you get a rush when you find sales and you can wear sale items, then by all means do your thing! It’s just not my thing and I’ve stopped being embarrassed saying it.

Stay Focused

Now, I haven’t bought any other clothing item this year except for those dresses and jeans. I don’t just go to a store to kill time or for something to do. I know that I don’t need new shirts so I haven’t bought any. So, it may seem like a lot of money, but that’s it. That’s all the clothes.

By planning the clothes first and money second, this gives you more freedom to buy the clothes you want while also saving you from spending money on things you don’t need. Also, it helps to walk into a store with a goal and stay focused. Much like taking a list when grocery shopping, if you walk in knowing you’re only buying jeans, you’ll be less inclined to just browse around.


3 Replies to “Shopping for Clothes Without a Budget”

  1. I have the same issue with jeans, although I have the great British pear shape rather than an hourglass :) Have you tried getting the waist altered? I find it works wonders provided that the waist is within an inch or two of where you want it to be. Won’t work for clown pants with giant waists and tiny legs.

  2. Love the idea to make a list rather than setting a budget. That’s what I do anytime I need to buy clothes. When I was younger (high school), I absolutely loved shopping, but now it’s just not fun. It helps that I have an outfit limit. I want 7-8 outfits in my closet for the weather. (Since Tennessee has short spring/fall anymore, I just focus on 7-8 winter outfits and 7-8 summer outfits.) So I only shop when something wears out or if I find something I like better than anything else in my closet (which never happens because I’m cheap, love the things I already own, and don’t shop for “fun”).

Comments are closed.