This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.
Apparel and Services – $1,881
Clothes make up the largest part of this category, in which the average American family drops $150 a month (on average). On clothing? It seemed a bit surprising to me, but then I realized that clothing is perhaps one of the areas of my life where I’m the most frugal. I already naturally do almost everything on this list.
However, if you’re finding that clothes constantly eats up a notable part of your budget, here are some simple tactics to try that might reduce your expenses.
Start your clothes shopping at the Goodwill Store. The first place to stop on any clothes shopping trip is the Goodwill Store. Many people immediately turn up their nose at this advice, but here’s why it works. Let’s say you go through the entire store and find only one thing that you’d wear. However, that one thing is a $75 item that’s marked for $2. That half an hour spent at the Goodwill Store paid off tremendously. Yes, the vast majority of the stuff you find at Goodwill isn’t stuff that you would wear. However, I’m constantly finding great stuff there – barely-worn stuff from surprisingly high-end manufacturers.
Move up the ladder as you shop, not down. Many people have a tendency to shop at the expensive store first, then if they don’t find what they want, “settle” for another store that’s slightly lower in quality. I’ve witnessed many people say things like, “Well… they didn’t have what I wanted…. I guess I could check Old Navy.” My perspective is the opposite. I start at the least expensive stores first and try to fill out my wardrobe needs there. Much of my apparel – white t-shirts, underwear, socks – is bought as inexpensively as I can find them, and most of my casual shirts are the same. I only go higher end for the clothes I’ll need for higher-end situations, like nice social events.
Don’t turn shopping for clothes into a social event. If you invite friends along, you’re adding social pressure and the “need” to “keep up appearances” to your clothes shopping. That usually means you’ll spend more – and often, a lot more. It’s okay to browse a bit with friends, but when you’re actually updating your wardrobe significantly, do it alone. This allows you to focus on your true needs without having to filter it through the eyes of those around you.
Buy clothes that are made from durable material and will last for a long while. When I buy my most presentable clothes, I make absolutely sure that the items are made from durable materials that will hold up over a long period – and I’m willing to pay more for that, if need be. If I’m buying a new sweater for winter social occasions, for example, and I’ve looked at some of the low-cost used stores and not found anything I’m looking for, I’m quite willing to pay more at that point to get a sweater that will last. If I can pay 75% more to get a sweater that will last three times as long, that’s actually saving money over the long haul.
Become handy with a needle and thread. If a button falls off of a shirt, it shouldn’t be disaster and it definitely shouldn’t hit the trash can. Instead, you’re greatly served by the ability to simply sew the button back on the item. You don’t have to have a sewing machine and be able to repair or replace anything and everything, but every bit of skill you have with a needle and thread will help you out at some point.
Buy clothes that accessorize well and match with many other items in your wardrobe. Along with durable, I usually buy clothes that go together well. I stick with basic, solid colors (most of the time) and don’t look for patterns that stand out in most of the clothing I own. This allows me to easily pull pretty much anything out of my closet and make it work. The end result? I don’t have to own as many clothes, since they all just work together.
Don’t wash an item of clothing every time you wear it, but only when it actually needs washing. Yes, wash your undergarments every time. But if you’ve worn a pair of pants or a shirt and it still looks and smells completely fine, don’t worry about washing it. One of my friends has a system where he has a separator in his closet. Everything on the left side of the separator is newly washed. Everything on the right side has been worn once. Then, when he undresses at night, he looks for where the empty hanger is from this morning and it tells him what to do with the item – put a left side item on the right and put a right side item in the wash.
Follow the instructions on the tag. It’s easy when you’re in a rush to overlook the special cleaning needs of particular items. Don’t. Instead, have a separate laundry basket for items that need special attention when washing and deal with them separately. Of course, the best choice of all is to minimize the number of “special care” items in your wardrobe.
I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.