Trimming the Average Budget: Apparel

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.

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  1. Steve says:

    I save on shelter costs by only laundering my home when it needs it. And buying my home at goodwill.

  2. Josh says:

    If you donate your extra clothes to goodwill, you will not need as much closet space, which will reduce your shelter costs.

  3. anna says:

    I ONLY buy clothing if I have a coupon. American Eagle has a great coupon program where if you buy so many items from them, they will send you a 40% coupon every 3 months. They also have free shipping if you spend $100 so every 3 months when I get my 40% off coupon I buy clothes from their website, mostly off clearance and than return to the store what I don’t like or need. I maybe spend $200/year on clothing if you count what I keep, all of it is heavily discounted from loyalty programs at places like American Eagle or New York & Company. I can get new clothes for cheaper than Goodwill and without having to dig through racks and racks of clothing.

  4. Kevin says:

    I reduced my shelter costs by taking out a loan for an enormous hybrid sweater for my house, retrofitting an automatic thermostat to it, and only having people of Scandinavian descent wash it with homemade laundry detergent.

  5. Shannon says:

    I reduce my shelter costs by using my house as my clothes – you know, if your house are you clothes, you don’t need to actually spend any money on clothes!

    In other news, this blog has gone to @#$%.

  6. Emily says:

    @Kevin: I take this one step further by knitting the hybrid sweater myself out of yarn made from re-purposed dryer lint. Not my dryer lint, of course, I line dry my goodwill finds. My Scandinavian neighbors are great about giving me their dryer lint.

  7. liv says:

    aw, let’s not hate on old navy please. i love that store. yes, it’s not as high of quality as other stores but if you take care of your clothes, they will last you a long time. i shop at a variety of high/low quality store, but i have lots of clothes from there that have lasted me years.

  8. Julie says:

    Consignment stores are fabulous for clothing. My four-year-old son has never had a new piece of clothing (except undies, socks and shoes). Everything since he was born came from a consignment store. Not because I’m cheap, mind you. Simply because I refuse to pay for cheap crap from WalMart when there is better quality available for the same price or less. More often less. I typically buy much of my own clothing there as well. Yeah, I spend a little more than I would at Goodwill, but I’ve never found anything worth wearing as business attire and very questionable casual attire at places like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and St. Vincent.

  9. Kacie says:

    Goodwill isn’t one of the best for clothing in my area. It’s overpriced, in my opinion.

    I’ve found better clothes for cheaper at the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores. They have $1 days regularly. WAY better than the like $7-8 pants at Goodwill, for example.

  10. Vicky says:

    I love Goodwill! We have a VERY nice one in my area that is very clean.

    I OFTEN find VERY good items there – and on Wednesdays it’s half price!

    The only things I don’t ever buy used are shoes… that’s just icky to me, heh.

    If I can’t find what I want at Goodwill – I go to Kohl’s. They usually have AMAZING sales, and I frequently get coupons for them.

  11. Troy says:

    Finally getting good.

    Finance the cost of the organically grown hybrid sweater and arbitrate the cost with a high yield CD.

    Most people…new clothes, used car.
    Trent…used clothes, new car

  12. Vicky says:

    Also, the not laundering bit – I feel better knowing other people do this haha.

    I will wear a pair of jeans maybe 3-4 times before I wash it. I wear cami’s under regular t-shirts, and I wear the t-shirts more than once.

    And my favorite thing? Wearing patterned shirts under a long-sleeved t-shirt or thin hoodie.

  13. kristine says:

    Coop clothing:
    My teenage daughter and her friends have a lot of dress up birthday parties to go to. They swap dresses, so they each only have 1 or 2 nice dresses, but can wear something different every time!

    I have found a middle ground of clothing that is acceptable at work, yet comfortable enough at home so all I really need to is take off my heels and nice cardigan, and replace them with sneaks and a fleece jacket. Double duty!

  14. prodgod says:

    Just got back from Dollar Day at the two Salvation Army stores in town. SCORE!!!

  15. Laura in Seattle says:

    What the trolls in posts 1, 4, 5, and 6 are referring to (though apparently they were so busy trying to come up with snarky comments that none of them could be bothered to say this) is that there’s a typo in the last paragraph of the post. It reads: “In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming shelter costs” when it should say “clothing costs.” But extra brownie points to Josh in comment #2 for finding a way to connect the post to a shelter cost savings!

  16. Candi says:

    @Emily, you have neighbors, any neighbors that still use the dryer? Our hand knit house sweater is made from yarn knit from the hair off the floor of the local hair salon. That way no one had to waste dryer time!

  17. Maureen says:

    Laura, you are late to the party. That ‘typo’ has shown up a lot lately. Loved the comments today!

  18. Thea says:

    I love thrift stores. I bought clothing there all the time until I was about 12. Then we moved back here from overseas and found that in our area, the stock wasn’t as good. Still, some areas now have consignment shops that are focused primarily on professional or party clothing, and you might be able to find better deals there than other conventional retail stores.

    Avoid buying stuff that will need to be dry-cleaned if you can help it: not so good for the environment, it can get pretty expensive, and it’s hard on your clothes in the long run.

    Wear what people used to call “body linen” back in the day: undershirts, slips, stockings, and so forth. It will save you from having to launder your outer garments as often, and they’re easier to replace.

    Likewise, wear aprons or smocks or old clothes when you’re doing dirty jobs (or even just cleaning or cooking, if you haven’t changed out of your work clothes.) Stains and such will make you replace your clothing faster.

    Don’t buy much! Make a plan for your wardrobe and stick to it. After you’ve bought the backbone pieces, you won’t need to replace things as often–just a piece here and there.

    Find a shoe hospital in your area–often they can fix up shoes which I thought I would have to throw out and I can get another year or two of wear of out them.

    Invest time and money in maintenance of your clothes, if they’re quality pieces. I know an elderly woman who has a cashmere sweater and a pair of kid gloves she has worn for over 60 years. (not kidding!) The style is so classic, and she takes such good care of them (and they were high quality), that she can still wear them.

    Try to avoid going up or down in sizes drastically. Keeps you healthier and saves you from having to buy a new wardrobe.

  19. Des says:

    Maybe the Goodwills in Iowa are different, but where I live it would take MUCH longer than a half hour to go through an entire store. I’ve spent hours in a thrift store before and still not seen everything. I find that the amount of time it takes to find an item that is good quality & in my size rarely pays a good hourly wage. But, it is good cheap fun!

  20. Sarah says:

    I disagree with your advice to “follow instructions on the tag.” Clothing manufacturers often recommend on the tag that the item only be dry-cleaned … and what that really seems to mean is, “You’re probably too stupid not to wash this in hot water, with a lot of agitation, and then tumble-dry for an hour on the hottest setting, so we recommend that you just take it to a professional.” A hand-wash in cold water is fine for most garments. And when hand-washing, don’t scrub or agitate – just let it soak. The only items that are worth it to me to be dry-cleaned are formal dresses or men’s suits, because it’s too much trouble for me to press nicely with my home iron.

  21. Amy H. says:

    I have a lot of pajama pants (woven 100% cotton and 100% cotton jersey) and long-sleeved t-shirts that I got at Old Navy more than six years ago — they are still in fantastic shape. The secret to avoiding having cotton clothing fall apart after some use (and also avoid having it shrink and become unusable) is to wash it in cold and hang it to dry. Avoiding use of the dryer greatly extends the life of your clothes — especially anything that is mostly cotton or is “performance” fabric like stretch fleece or yogawear, etc.

    @Troy (#11) — I think you mean arbitrage, not arbitrate . . . .

  22. Kristen says:

    I vote for not skimping on bras and shoes… but that’s me. And, yes, finding a good cobbler will save your butt.

    Our thrift store where we used to live in Alabama had “Bag Sales” where they would put out everything in big piles on the lawn and then you could fill a paper grocery sack for $2. You could fill as many as you wanted. It was great! Check at your thrift store for similar opportunities.

  23. Noadi says:

    The single best bit of advice on there is to learn to sew. I think that skill has saved me more money on clothes than anything else. I can hem pants that are too long, make a men’s formal shirt fitted for my female figure (I have somewhat broad shoulders so if it doesn’t stretch I go several sizes bigger or men’s), fix buttons, replace zippers, etc. If you are more creative you can refashion thrift store finds into something trendier.

    My parents bought me a sewing machine in highschool and I use it regularly 10 years later, a good sewing machine will last decades. You can find used ones pretty cheap.

    Also I buy “the basics” socks, underwear, solid color tshirts, jeans, etc. at discount places like Walmart and Target. Then I can dress them up with a nicer shirt or cute jacket. I’m a single girl in my 20s I like looking good while not spending loads of money.

    One place I don’t cut back on though is shoes, I have problems with my feet so I buy good quality shoes that fit well. What I spend on shoes I more than make up for in savings on doctor’s bills.

  24. Ruth says:

    @Laura – Would you call those trolls? I thought they were funny. Probably they didn’t bother to point it out specifically because they already did so on the last few posts. Perhaps they have gotten the idea that Trent isn’t actually reading the comments.

    Regarding sewing – Iron-on patches can also be very helpful to repair holes in pants, especially if you catch them early. All it takes is an iron, no sewing required. Even if you use them as “grubbies” after that, closing the hole with an iron-on patch will prevent it from turning into a missing pant leg after a few more washes.

  25. mstreemn says:

    Check for a goodwill outlet in your area
    they sell the excess donated clothing in our metro area for 1.29 lb.
    last trip I picked out 30 pieces of clothing for $17.80
    all nice higher end brands; most look nearly new
    One of the workers said they get in 4 truckloads a day from the stores
    they also have a furniture and housewares outlet at the main store

  26. chacha1 says:

    I thought the best tip from the post was “learn to sew” and from the comments “avoid dry-clean-only.”

    Back in the old days (heh) people routinely did something called “sponging” to freshen clothes that aren’t perceptibly dirty. Lay clothing piece flat on the ironing board. Dampen a clean rag in a light solution of Woolite and water. Press the dampened rag all over the surface of the clothing piece, turn over, repeat on the back. Then heat up the iron on low and go over the garment once lightly; hang and let drying finish in the air.

    Re: iron-on patches: these are really only suitable for heavyweight fabrics like canvas or twill/denim. If a good garment has a tear that isn’t along a seam, it’s worth finding a seamstress/tailor to fix it properly. Seams are easily mended by hand with needle, thread, and binding tape.

  27. Robin Crickman says:

    I second the suggestion about learning to sew.
    It is not only economical, it is also a very
    satisfying hobby.

    Another tip is to watch for end of season sales.
    One doesn’t need much fancy clothing working on
    a farm but insulated winter clothing is much
    cheaper to purchase now than back in October.
    In addition to places like Goodwill, some good
    used clothing can be found at yard sales,
    retirement auctions and some community sales.

  28. Hope D says:

    I went to Goodwill the other day and found a cute pair of shoes for my 5 year old. I didn’t buy them. They wanted $15. My husband looked at the coats but stopped when he saw they cost $25. I am looking forward to yardsale season. I also like Ebay.

  29. Amanda says:

    After a lifetime of secondhand shopping for me and my children, I’ve learned that if you shop secondhand, it is important to get clothes that were originally of very good quality. Higher-end clothing will last through lots more wearings than items that were originally inexpensive.
    I have finally given in and begun purchasing new shoes, and better – though not luxury- brands. They last longer and look better and most importantly have improved my walking experience tremendously. At the very least for me its an investment in less back pain.

  30. J says:

    Alternate title: An Engineer’s Guide to Shopping and Dressing.

  31. Kate says:

    RE:”Follow the instructions on the tag”—the best way to keep your clothes looking great is to put them in lingerie laundry bags before you toss them in the washer. Vertical drum washers (the most common sold) are very hard on most clothes. You can find these bags at Kmart. (no, I don’t work for this store—it’s the only place I could find them!)Thanks for all these great tips everyone!

  32. Kara says:

    Has anyone read “Color Me Beautiful”? It’s supposed to give you a season of colors that will look good on you, so you don’t waste money on unflattering clothes.. (I just picked the book up from the library, but haven’t finished it yet).. wondering if it works?

  33. Sam says:

    On the shelter cost typo – I wonder if Trent will try to write a post that makes it look like he only wanted shelter cost saving tips from the get-go. Like he kept putting it on the end of posts without proofreading, got called out on it and criticized, won’t admit he made a mistake (like he rarely seems to, that I’ve noticed), and will try to pass it off as not a mistake and try to make everyone that made fun of him look like idiots. I don’t know if he will, it’s just crossed my mind. It seems silly to continually put the same typo in post after post. I don’t know for sure on this, but it seems like Trent rarely fixes typos even when they are kindly pointed out. Other bloggers appreciate it and happily fix little things. I wonder if it has to do with Trent feeling like less of a writer when others point out his many typos. I’m not the best at grammar, but I’m also not a “professional” writer. I think Trent thinks of himself purely as a writer when in reality he’s a blogger that does what many other bloggers do everyday, and I’m sure many of them do it with a full-time job, but that’s just speculation.

  34. Sara says:

    “Don’t turn shopping for clothes into a social event” is a good tip. I think shopping for fun leads a lot of people to buying clothes they really don’t need.

    I don’t completely agree with paying more for durable clothes, because I am kind of hard on my clothes. I have ruined many shirts at work, and it’s not a big deal because I buy $10 polo shirts. It would be much more upsetting to ruin a $50 Ralph Lauren polo shirt. I do think it’s worthwhile to buy good shoes, though!

  35. almost there says:

    We used to share our outdoor washer and dryer with out neighbors in a tropical island south of Japan that took US currency (Give Us American Money). Ah, those nights when I would go out on my patio and talk with the wife with the long blond hair as she did the laundry in her bikini. Those were the days. We didn’t have to share shelter costs with them though.:)

  36. Man, you’ve got to be kidding me! $150 a month on clothes??? Then again, I would guess that most guys would react this way.

    All your points are great, however, I may have the best one.

    Stop buying so many damn new clothes!!!

    I haven’t spent a dime on clothing for myself in years. I suck at fashion, so I couldn’t buy anyways. I ask for clothes on my birthday and at Christmas and it works out great.

    I don’t look like a geek either.

    If you follow the other steps in the posts, the clothes you do have will last a lot longer

  37. deRuiter says:

    Shop thrifts and resale shops in wealthy areas, the quality of merchandise is better. Learn to sew the basics like repairs, hemming, letting down sleeves, turning collars. Find a really good tailor and buy expensive suits and dresses. if you wear them and have them tailored to fit. Shop rich and upper middle class neighborhood yard sales for expensive, classic, natural fiber clothing for pennies on the dollar, beautiful all wool sweathers for $2.-$5. is common, and then negotiate the price down. Shop ebay. When you buy preowned, you’re giving money directly to Americans, not damaging our balance of trade and sending American dolars overseas. It’s thrifty to shop for preowned, patriotic, good for the American economy and environment. Besides, you get fine quality things at cheap prices, and no one but you will ever know.

  38. Tina says:

    @#32 Kara,
    Color Me Beautiful is great! Now that I (finally) understand which colors flatter me, it’s much easier to pick out clothes that look good and work together. Combine the color know-how with classic styling and I no longer buy “mistakes” that don’t get worn.

    I got the new edition of Color Me Beautiful for women; it even discusses jewelry (i.e. silver vs. gold tones) which is super helpful.

  39. Gretchen says:

    Sewing is NOT cheaper than buying. At least for everyday stuff.
    For a specific speciality item, it may be.

    Around here, the Goodwills are like the Target clearance center (and yet the items are priced higher then the tag) and I personally prefer Salvation army on half price Wednesday. It takes more than half a hour though.

  40. Brandi says:

    Like Trent, I live in Iowa and the two Goodwills in my area are amazing. I love clothes and I’d guess that 70% of my wardrobe comes from secondhand sources (with 20% as gifts from my fashion-loving mother and 10% new items). My Goodwills have “quarter day” once a week on different days , so two days a week I can purchase items with a certain colored tag for 25 cents. However, when I lived in Oregon, the local Goodwill stocked lots of new merchandise (much of it recognizable as Target-originated), had no sales, and charged much more for items, say $8 for a shirt that would cost $3.38 in Iowa. One could do as well shopping the 70% off racks at department stores, like my mother does. I also make it a point to visit local thrift stores when traveling, and can certainly attest that all Goodwills are not created equal! When I lived in Seattle, Value Village beat Goodwill any day for cool clothes. Also, if you don’t find anything you like at a particular store, give it another chance at a later date. The merchandise at secondhand stores can vary greatly over time, I recently found cool clothes at a Mennonite-run thrift store that I’d previously written off as hopelessly dorky.

  41. Beth says:

    @Kara #32 – I’m not sure about the book, but the concept works. I wear colours from the summer and winter pallets.

    Most people don’t realize that staple items like a white blouse and little black dress look awful with their skin and hair colour. My staple items include a plum blouse (purples look good on most people), a navy dress, and some colourful scarves to keep black and white away from my face.

  42. NMPatricia says:

    Late in posting. I haven’t been able to use a lot of the money saving/budge helping comments – already been there, done that.

    And I will echo the comments about Goodwill, at least in my town, not being worth it. It is the highest priced thrift store in the area. I do use it because I can get household items there for a lot less than I can get them retail. Can’t find them at other thrift stores.

    The best “hint” and one I haven’t seen anywhere else is to start low and go up. And makes a lot of sense. It gives a reality which I hadn’t put into words. Target, and I hate to shop there just because it is big business, has name brand underwear. Why should I pay more at Penny’s, Dillards, etc. for the same underwear?

  43. Gayle says:

    Love the tips from everybody! When my daughter was little I owned a kid’s resale shop. Of course she was always dressed like a little doll – second hand all the way! The key is to window shop in the expensive stores, familiarize yourself with quality brands, good fabric and garment construction. Then when you go to thrift stores (and my favorite, garage sales!)you know what to look for. I look for quality fabric first, then style or color (read Color Me Beautiful – will save you a lot of money on stuff that doesn’t look good on you!)

    Be willing to look at a range of sizes – things shrink after they are washed and sometimes a perfectly good item in the next size up was donated because it shrank! I’ve bought pants in sizes 2,4,and 6 – all the exact same fit!

    Buy quality, then extend the life of the clothes:
    Hand wash delicates, almost everything labeled “dry clean only” can be hand washed – the exception would be a lined wool coat, I think!
    Soak in cold water with your homemade laundry detergent or any other, if you don’t make your own – I usually use a huge mixing bowl. Lightly rub any stained areas together(collar, cuffs), rinse in cold water, roll up in towel, shake out and dry on one of those wooden drying racks. Sweaters stay nice indefinitely, even silk blouses. My washing machine has a hand wash setting, very little agitation, and I wash all my sweaters by machine (sort by color and never put wool in the dryer).

    Spots and stains: Work a bit of concentrated laundry soap into the spot (or spray and wash), let it sit, then wash as usual.

    Worked in a professional office – always shopped in thrift stores. Classic pieces never go out of style. Bought beautiful silk shirts, wool skirts and blazers, dress pants – you name it. The prices have gone up at thrift stores, so be careful (and complain – most are non-profit!!!)

    Learned to sew when I was a kid (thanks Grandma!) so I can make anything out of fabric. Darning a hole, sewing on a button, repairing a ripped seam, hemming pants or skirts, are all within the realm of easy money-saving fixes. Replacing a zipper is much trickier, but many tailoring services will do this for about $8 in my area – worth it on a pricey item.

    The Junior League in my town runs a thrift store of clothing donated by members. Gorgeous!

    Buy socks in a bunch of the same color – one missing socks doesn’t ruin a pair.

    LOVE a bargain when you find one!!! Consider yourself smarter than the average person for scoring such a deal!!!

  44. pam munro says:

    Living in Los Angeles – & being an actress & performer, even though I spend a lot of my time in jeans and t-shirts, I ALSO need dressy clothes & clothes that are more or less “costumes” for auditions. This all on a very tight budget.

    However, the thrift shops around here are marvellous. Of course, the prices vary from outlet to outlet, even in the same charity chain (like Goodwill) – so scope that out. We just visited what we considered an expensive Goodwill while visiting relatives over the holiday…& others that weren’t too bad, but not rock bottom & without the $1 rack we find at some thrift stores. That said, all my BEST clothes come from thrift shops! All the designer lables I have are 2nd hand – Over the holidays I picked up jeans for @ $5-6 EACH – which are very nice! And I stock up on underwear when a shipment comes in at the 99 Cent Store.

    The only problem with this sort of shopping is that you have to grab the deals you see asap – so it leads at times to impulse purchases. You should always have a mental list of what holes in your wardrobe you wish to fill – so if you, say, run into a nice pair of black dress shoes or some boat shoes for casual use, you can see how they fit into your wardrobe. And I always pick up good cheap tshirts, as they stain & wear out easily, so they are on a pretty fast rotation…Wear lesser clothes at home & save your better things for when you go out to meet the world – Avoid dry cleaning – many things can be hand washed – or brushed & pressed – or sprayed with Fabreeze to freshen them – Learn how to get stains out effectively to lengthen the life of your clothes – Do your own minor mending & have a mending kit at home with varying colors of thread and spare buttons. Bondex works well for some rips – elsewhere you can use iron-on facing which comes in black & white – or webbing to fuse a patch. And remember that torn & worn jeans are again fashionable!

    You can also get good deals in vintage stores!(or vintage at thrift stores.) I scored a very nice summer dress for $5! (needed buttons, which I supplied). I frankly think that the Gap, Old Navy, Target etc. are expensive all things considered, when I can get equal quality much more cheaply at a thrift or bargain store. I have even gotten patent sandals at what I call an “Oriental bargain store” along with scarves – and also scarves at the 99 Cent Store! (Elsewhere they would be at least $5 each…) And accessories like scarves go a long way toward pulling together an outfit.

    At cheaper outlets you can afford to indulge yourself in those accessories – and trendy details you don’t want to spend too much $ on. There are also deals on things like tights & socks and so on. Sometimes there are deals at higher end used clothing boutiques – Always look at the sale merchandise! (And remember that sales racks are usually placed in the back of a retail store – so go back there & check it out…)

    There are some thrift shops that will regularly have brand new merchandise donated – so keep your eyes open at such outlets. I landed a bunch of $7 jackets at a Salvation Army that would have been $50+ elsewhere!

    And remember that the added value of shopping at charity thriftshops is that you are ALSO contributing at the same time to the CHARITY the shop supports! So you have the satisfaction of being able to donate a lot more $ to these charities than you would be able to otherwise!

  45. stella says:

    Not sure who your readership is and the type of jobs the commentors here have but I do question if any are professionals in fields where appearance is a factor.

    There are fields where you definitely have to dress “up” and while you may not need designer clothes, you really can’t get away with seasons-old clothes (no matter how nice) of the type you can get second-hand.

    The cost of suits for women, even on sale or at discounters is not cheap, but if work in some places, you have to “invest” in this kind of apparel.

    And the costs can add up. That’s why a lot of folks basically get leisure/non-work/stay at home clothes at thrift shops. There’s not a lot left after work clothes to spend on casual stuff.

    When you need better quality clothes you can often find relative bargains (emphasis on “relative”) at consignment shops in high-end parts of a town or city.

    It’s one thing to be an executive or someone who makes serious money and have the $$ available for upscale professional attire (and yes, folks, even today, some of us do have to dress up for biz or risk not being taken seriously by co-workers or clients, who really do watch what you wear).Where it gets tough is if you work in a company where the execs dress like that and you work FOR them, but your salary in no way can include such clothes.

    There are a lot of secretaries and administrative assistants in offices all over the U.S. who work for execs who expect them to wear quality suits and other not-so-cheap clothing–as it reflects on both them and their business.

    Some jobs, like these, come with built-in costs that are not covered by salaries.

    Heck, we’d all love to work from home and dress in jeans/casual slacks and tops. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Some of us have to trim budgets elsewhere to have money for clothing, including shoes and bags and accessories (women have more stuff) to go with it.

    It may be fun and affordable if you’re relatively young and single and have no other big expenses…but if you have a family, a home, etc. it’s money you hate spending.

  46. triLcat says:

    For people who dress down, the cheapest place to get solid colored t-shirts new is usually craft stores (they sell them for painting on. I have a bunch that I bought in ’98 that are still in decent shape)

    And for jeans, Old Navy has my vote all the way. I got a pair in ’98 that’s been worn hundreds of times, saved me from a dog bite, can withstand my husband’s juggling (he’s TERRIBLE about tearing his pants).

    For dressing up, little secret, Syms has a bash labor day weekend and maybe memorial day(?). When my dad had to wear business suits 7 days/week for work, he got them all there at the bash days. Good quality, good price, tailored there. Last season’s styles, but you can USUALLY get away with that.

    Likewise, they had some nice women’s stuff. Racks of stuff to go through, and not all of it to everyone’s taste, but worth the effort. I got a winter coat there that lasted 5-6 winters.

    If you’re in an industry where what you wear counts, then you’ll have to spend more on what you wear. If that’s business suits, then look for sales and deals and exchange with friends and thrifting. If that’s high-fashion, then take good care of everything you buy, wear it until it’s out of style for your set, and see if you can sell it on e-bay for 25% of what you paid for it.

    If you’re a lawyer, then you’re going to have to wear a real suit and an ironed shirt every day. You can save by buying your underwear/socks in bulk, buying your suits end of season, and keeping your clothes clean so that you don’t have to wash them or replace them as often, but you’re not going to be able to pick up business suits for $50 at Old Navy.

  47. SLCCOM says:

    Save the buttons from everything you toss! I’ve done that all my life, and lots of times a new set of really nice buttons makes a ho-hum piece look very expensive. I got a nice white brocade-type blouse for presentations with really boring buttons I looked in my collection and found some nice, shiny and elegant buttons to replace the boring ones. Now I have a nice presentation blouse without having to buy new buttons.

    I’m fixing up another blouse that lost a crucial button and have a nice set of pretty blue buttons to replace them with from my collection. Both sets of buttons were from other worn-out shirts or blouses.

    Stella, if you buy classic styles that never go out of style for “good” clothes you’ll be fine. Pencil skirts, basic blazers, a-line skirts, nice collared blouses, trousers, etc. will always be “in style” and look professional.

    You might want to subscribe to the Clothing Chronicles newsletter for excellent advice. It is a free e-newsletter. Google it!

  48. Amy K. says:

    I think the best tip is

    “Buy clothes that accessorize well and match with many other items in your wardrobe.”

    This make it much easier to pull together an outfit in the morning, if most things to together. I do have a few things that make me say “Oh shoot, I really wanted to wear this shirt but it really only goes with those pants, and they’re already in the wash!”

    Adding to the “buy used” bandwagon, I have to third the recommendation of eBay. I’m wearing $10 (including shipping) Ralph Lauren jeans right now, and my $16 (also including shipping) mystery box arrived today with ~ 6 pairs of pants and 2 sweaters I’ll wear to the office, plus some odds and ends I may donate to a local thrift store. At back-to-school time I saw complete packages (jeans, tops, purses, belts) on eBay.

  49. lynne says:

    Some years back my husband needed either a new suit, or slacks & nice sports coat to wear to an early afternoon wedding. We went to a number of stores but for whatever reason, we couldn’t find any sport coats (summer?). I finally suggested we stop at the Salvation Army Thrift store. We ended up with 2 very good sports coats—1 was hand tailored in England, the other a very expensive high-end retail brand. Cost—$3.50 total From then on when my husband needed “new” casual shirts, etc. we headed for the thrift store!

  50. Jules says:

    I hate clothes shopping unless there is a specific item that I want.

    This year, I’ve decided to only buy clothes if I’m going to replace an item. It helps cut back greatly on spending because I don’t replace clothes that often.

  51. Nancy says:

    I like the tip– use a divider in your closet to divide the newly washed clothes from the clothes that have been worn once. Usually, after I’ve worn something once & it is still wearable, it just ends up in a pile on the floor. So this is a good idea to stay organized.

    Another good place to look for good-quality clothing–check to see if the Junior League in your community has a garage sale, or if a local women’s group organizes an annual consignment sale. I know of 2 communities that do this, and you can find really high-quality clothing (including suits for the office) at excellent prices.

  52. Danielle says:

    We have actually found ways to make sewing a more cost effective option, especially for little girl’s clothing. We buy fabric for $1-2 per yard, or buy fabric, sheets/blankets/etc from the thrift store, or bigger sized clothes from the thrift store. We also use Freecycle, and a lot of really stained children’s clothing comes apart to make nice patterns.

    We also save buttons from anything that dies, and save fabric scraps for later projects. Sometime soon, I’m going to start hand-sewing Barbie clothes from the really small scraps… a hobby that will happily take up some downtime at night or on a road trip and cost me nothing, especially if I end up selling any outfits.

    Additionally… I’m not a big fan of local Goodwill prices, but nearby big cities have what is called a Goodwill Bargain Bin. Locally, it’s $1.50/lb, which ends up being around ~30 cents per piece for clothing from newborn to 4T (which is what I’ve bought before). We recently bought over 100 pieces of baby clothing for our baby surprise and it cost $30, which is amazing for clothing in good condition.

  53. Steffie says:

    Please don’t forget the ‘Church Rummage Sales’. I’ve found many a good deal there, a complete tuxedo,$3.50 and nice fake fur coat,$5.00. and imo donating to God can never be a bad thing. No, I am not advocating a specific religion, just thrift. If you don’t like the message, don’t go there. I work in a professional office and most of the clothes that I get compliments on are ‘second hand’, accessories are the key to updating an ‘old’ suit. Go to the library and look at the high end fashion magazines to get an idea of what will be in the next season. Odds are you have the basics and a belt or scarf will add the pizazz you are looking for. Also many women can get by with mens clothes for casual wear; jeans, shirts, socks, shoes etc. They are sometimes cheaper and often made better.

  54. Honey says:

    If you are not handy with a needle and thread, then a good tailor can be a lifesaver. In fact, a good tailor can also be incorporated into the Goodwill thing – buy a high-end $2 dress shirt that is slightly too big and have it tailored – you’re still probably spending 60% less but now it fits you perfectly.

  55. JK says:

    On the shopping from the bottom up idea, I figure the first option ought to be really review your existing wardrobe to see IF you actually need anything. If you really go through your closet and pull out all your accessories for a review, you may already have a lot of “new” outfits. I’d bet money that most people don’t actually need anything. Unless you are pregnant, a growing child, in the middle of a massive weight change, or do very physical or dirty work, then it’s unlikely you are wearing out things on a monthly basis.

    As a personal challenge I’m trying to cut my clothing purchases as close to nil as possible until I’ve actually worn out or donated enough stuff that I’m down to a sensible level where I’ll switch to one in and one out. So far since Sept’09 I’ve bought a tshirt, a 3pk of socks and a second hand sweater for a grand total of about $15 in 11 months.

    I tend to stick to quality classics in basic colors and bought on consignment or on sale. I change up the looks with scarves, wraps, cardigans and jackets in more trendy colors. Even my outerwear follows this pattern – my trench coat and winter coat are black and charcoal grey, but I have scarves and leather gloves in purple, fushia, red, apple green, etc. I expect to get 7-8 years out of the coats and all the gloves were received as BD and Christmas gifts (when asked for suggestions, have a proper list of items you actually want ready to provide!).

  56. Prabu Rajasekaran says:

    Are there any tips for Indians out here? Indian frugal stores like Goodwill etc.?

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