I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we all make money mistakes, so don’t feel bad about yours. Learn from them. Then move on. But today isn’t about your money mistakes. It’s about one of mine and how you can avoid making the same one (or recover from it if you’ve already made it.)
I didn’t even notice
It started so innocently (as they often do.) I’d recently reconnected with an old friend and she invited me to join her on a shopping trip. I was used to shopping alone or sometimes with someone who had a very different style than me. This was a very different experience. She dressed in a similar style to mine, but better. And she shopped in similar kinds of stores to the ones I liked, but ones that were new to me. So I felt like I was improving my style. And I suppose I was, to some extent.
She liked to shop. A lot. And it was fun to go together. We always shopped the sales and used coupons that we got through the stores’ mailing lists. And these weren’t high end stores, either. So the clothes weren’t that expensive.
Collectively, they really added up. But I didn’t think about that until much later. At the time I didn’t think of it at all. After all, it’s not like I was going into debt. I could totally afford it.
I wasn’t going into debt, but I could have been putting that money towards so many better things. I wasn’t keeping track of my spending back then, so I had no idea how much I was really spending. I glanced at the credit card bill, and it always looked ok so I never gave it another thought. And I definitely never added up the clothing costs over the months and years.
On one of those shopping trips I got this shirt that was great in theory. It was sexy but not obvious. It fit just right. But I kept seeing it in my drawer and never putting it on because it wasn’t really me. I just couldn’t find a place to wear it.
And then it happened: I had the perfect occasion. I finally cut off the tags and did my best to rock that shirt. Yes, it was a good purchase!
Then one winter, as I did my biannual clothing swap (summer clothes away, winter clothes out or vice versa) I noticed that shirt. I’d owned it for at least 2 years and I’d only worn it that one time. Why did I buy this again?
I looked at the other shirts I was pulling out. There were some that I didn’t wear much. I didn’t even like some of them as much as I used to. Same for the pants. Hmm.
Time for a change
I didn’t think I was buying all that much. I usually only bought a couple things when I shopped, sometimes less. The problem was that I’d shop on a Saturday afternoon if I had nothing else to do. Or if I wanted to hang out with friends who liked to shop. It wasn’t because I needed anything.
Then again, I often looked at my wardrobe and felt, “I have nothing to wear.” I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
But I had that shirt and other clothes that I almost never wore. And I was having trouble squeezing everything into my dresser. So something was wrong.
Taking baby steps
I sorted out my clothes. From now on, I decided, every time I wore something I would move it to a specific drawer. After several months I looked at the “not worn yet” drawer to see what was left and I decided it was time to get rid of those. Well, some of them. Maybe. It was hard to let go.
Around this time I started reading about Project 333. I just came across it randomly, but it appealed. The idea is that you wear only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. After 3 months you choose another 33 items. Everything else gets packed away to the back of the closet. I couldn’t imagine doing that, but if all of these people could get buy on 33 items, surely I could wear less than I had been, right? Many people wear even less than that.
But it got me thinking.
Eventually I decided that I had enough clothes and it was time to get away from the “I have nothing to wear” mindset. If I didn’t love to wear my clothes, I shouldn’t have them. More than that, I should only buy clothes that I would want to wear a whole lot. That’s the point of Project 333: if you only wear 33 items, you’re going to make sure they’re items you love, and that means you’ll end up wearing your favorite clothes every day.
Surprisingly, I ended up doing Project 333 after all. Even more surprisingly, I love it! I look forward to switching out my wardrobe every 3 months. And when I do, I remember the hell that switching seasons used to be. It would take hours to lug multiple suitcases/duffels out of the closet, sort through everything, try things on to see if I still liked the way they fit, and find a way to make it all fit in my available drawer and closet space.
Now it’s quick and easy. I take one suitcase of off-season clothes out of the closet. I pull everything out, decide which 33 items I’ll wear, and take a few minutes to consider if I should keep the rest – after all, I don’t like them enough to keep them in my 33. The newly off-season clothes go back into the suitcase and into the closet. The whole thing takes maybe an hour. Easy!
Shopping without a budget
I still buy clothes, but it’s rare now. Usually twice a year I’ll consider if I need anything new for the season. After all, clothes get worn out, misshapen, and stained. They go out of style. They stop fitting. If I do need something new, I’ll buy one or two things to round out my wardrobe and that’s it. I have fewer clothes, so I know exactly what I’ve got and what I really need. And I’ll be sure I really love them. After all, they take up precious space within my self-imposed limit of 33 items.
It’s easier and faster to buy only a few items a year, but even better, I don’t think much about the cost! Ok, I’m not shopping in stores that sell $500 jeans. And I do check price tags to be sure everything is reasonable. Still, there’s a lot more leeway when you know you’re only buying a couple of items and that will be it.
Funnel clothes $ to your nest egg without major limits
If you’re at the point I was at 10 years ago, limiting yourself to 33 items sounds ridiculous and impossible. But you might still want or need to cut your clothing budget. You’ve probably already heard advice like:
- pay for clothes only in cash and limit the amount of cash you carry with you and
- stay away from the stores (and web sites) altogether.
I happen to think these are great ideas, but they aren’t for everyone. So what can you do?
Follow the money
There are all sorts of estimates out there for what people spend on clothing but those numbers mean nothing. What matters is what you spend.
First, pull out some recent credit/debit card statements and add up your clothing purchases. Don’t guess; look at the statements. How much have you spent? Figure out how much you’re spending per year. Now multiply that by 10. If you’re spending $100 per month (to use a round number), that’s $1200 per year, and $12,000 after 10 years. Think what you could buy with $12,000! That’s a car. It’s a good start to a downpayment on a house. It’s many vacations. It’s even more than $12k if you invest it.
Why 10 years? Because it’s not so far in the future that you can’t picture it. Imagine 10 years from now if you’ll be wishing you’d spent more money on clothes that lay neglected in your closet or on those other things. My guess is it will be those other things. It is for me, anyway.
Now that you’re sufficiently motivated to save some of that dough for other things, let’s forget about money for a minute. Instead, let’s talk clothes.
Grab and pen and paper. How many shirts do you think you need? How many shorts? Pants? Skirts? Dresses? Shoes? Coats? Take a guess for each category. Include everything. Just make a quick list and put a number next to each category. This should only take a minute.
Now, how many of each category item do you think you own? How many pants do you have? Bras? Shoes? Take a minute to write these down. These are guesses. No one else will see the list. So just make some quick notes.
Do you have your list? Good! Now set aside some time to actually count what you’ve got. If you live in a climate like mine, you might have off-season clothes packed away. Count those too if you can. If you don’t have time now, just do what you have out. Go through your drawers and closets. Count it all and note the numbers on your list. Were your guesses right?
If you have a lot more than you thought (and you probably do) don’t feel bad. The point now is to consider this the next time you shop.
Oh, and don’t worry, I won’t ask you to get rid of anything. That’s not what we’re doing here. Just ask yourself: how many pairs of pants do I need? Are 3 enough? Do you need 10? And how many have you got? If you think you need 5 and you actually have 12, then you have plenty.
Shop your wardrobe
The next time you have the urge to buy clothes, look at your list. Let’s say you want to buy a new sweater. Check your list. You figure you need 5 sweaters. You have 8. Pull them out and take a look. Maybe there’s something in there you forgot about. There’s a good chance you don’t need a new sweater after all.
Or maybe you look through your sweaters and 1 is stained, 2 don’t fit anymore, and another is completely worn out. You decide to buy 1 new sweater, and you know you won’t buy any more, so you make sure it’s one you love. As long as it’s in your new and improved clothing budget, go for it!
5 minutes once a month
At the end of each month, take 5 minutes to pull out any clothes you haven’t worn recently. Put them at the top of your drawers. Move them to a more obvious part of your closet. Make sure they don’t get hidden under the clothes you wear more often.
If you notice that you’re pulling out the same clothes every month, ask yourself why you aren’t wearing them. Why are you letting these clothes take up precious space? Would you miss them if they were gone? If not, consider donating them.
And be aware of these clothes. Every time you want to shop, ask yourself, if you have clothes you don’t wear, do you really need to buy more?
Forgetting money again, think about how much time you’ve spent shopping for clothes. Maybe you love shopping. Maybe you just bought things with a click of the mouse. But it was still time. If there’s anything you want to do and you hear yourself saying you just don’t have time for it, here’s your chance!
Now that you’ll be shopping less, spend more time on a hobby, hanging out with friends, getting stuff done, exercising, volunteering, or whatever else you’ve been wanting to do. You’ll easily fill up the time and you’ll wonder how you ever had time to do so much shopping to begin with. If you can’t figure out how to fill up that time, comment below and I’ll help you figure out something fun to do.
Saving money without thinking about money
As you’ve noticed, the point here is to save money without focusing on the money part. Instead, it’s about being satisfied with the clothes you’ve already got. If you feel that you don’t need to own more, you won’t buy more. And not wanting more is the easiest way of saving money I’ve ever found.
All that’s left is to take that newfound savings and throw it into your nest egg funds!
How will you change your wardrobe? Comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear all about it!
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