Clothes shopping can be a fun way to spend an afternoon. And in many cases, whether it be for work, school or a special occasion, buying clothes can be a necessity. But for many people, buying clothes is part of a larger pattern of overspending. In fact, clothing items are the number one purchase category for people with shopping addictions.
Curbing that habit can be difficult, but there are some strategies you can use to make it a little easier. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
4 Questions to Ask Before Buying Clothes
How Often Will I Wear It?
Before I buy a clothing item, I try to think about how often I’ll wear it. This helps me determine what the cost-per-use might be, and therefore how cost-effective an item actually is. The more often you can wear a garment, the lower the cost-per-use is.
Here’s how to calculate cost-per-use. Let’s say I want to buy $150 rain boots that I plan to wear three times a week for four months, which comes out to 48 days a year. That’s a cost-per-use of $3.12 per year. The cost-per-use is relatively low, so even though $150 may seem like a lot to drop on rain boots, it would still be a worthy purchase.
But let’s say I want to spend $150 on a cocktail dress that I can only really wear twice a year or so. That comes out to a $75 cost-per-use annually, which is much higher than the rain boots.
By using cost-per-use as a benchmark, you can spend more on items you’ll wear frequently, like jeans, and less on items you wear infrequently, like a pair of gold heels you only bust out for weddings.
Does It Match My Other Clothes?
One of the biggest shopping mistakes I’ve made is buying something, coming home and realizing it doesn’t work with anything else I own. If I’m lucky, I can return the item. Otherwise, it sits in my closet for years until I donate it.
Now when I go shopping and find something I like, I imagine what else I can wear it with. For example, if I spot a pair of olive green jeans, I think about the black turtleneck, chambray shirt and red plaid shirt I can wear with them. My rule of thumb is that I have to think of at least three other items that match what I want to buy. If I can’t do that, I put the item back.
The same rule applies to accessories like jewelry and shoes. Don’t buy a pair of earrings or shoes unless you can visualize wearing them with multiple things you already own.
Would I Buy This if It Weren’t On Sale?
How often have you bought something just because it was a good deal? Don’t feel bad – I’m also guilty of buying a garment not because I love it, but because it’s on sale.
If you see something on sale that you weren’t looking for, ask yourself if you would pay full price for the item. If not, then it’s probably not something you really need. This question helps me avoid buying something solely because it feels like too much of a steal to pass up.
Will This Cost Me More Money?
Before you buy clothes or accessories, read the care instructions to see how you need to wash and dry the item. Doing this ahead of time can save you from buying dry-clean-only garments, which inherently cost more to care for.
Also, if you like something that needs to be tailored, factor in that cost before you buy it. A basic hem costs about $10, but more complicated tailoring jobs can cost between $20 and $60. Add that amount to the sale price so you have an accurate estimate of the item’s real cost.
How to Stop Impulse Clothing Purchases
Shop by yourself
Shopping with friends can be fun, but it can also be draining to your budget. Your friends are likely to encourage you to treat yourself, and if you see them buying clothes without caring about the cost, you might feel tempted to do the same.
If you do want to bring someone along for advice on colors or styles, tell them what your budget is beforehand and ask them to hold you accountable. If you make it clear that you’re on a strict budget, they should be less likely to lead you astray.
Limit shopping days
As a financial coach, I help people pay off debt by sticking to a budget. One of the best coping strategies I’ve found for my clients is telling them to limit shopping for non-essential items to two days a week.
For example, let’s say your shopping days are Mondays and Thursdays. If you see a cute skirt on a Friday, you have to wait until Monday to buy it.
By the time Monday rolls around, you’ll likely have forgotten about the skirt. If you haven’t forgotten about it, that probably means you really want it. This strategy works because it gives you time to consider if you actually need the item.
Pick shopping days that aren’t on the weekends, when you’re most likely to spend money. I like Mondays and Thursdays, but you can choose any two days. If impulse shopping is a major problem for you, consider picking one day a week instead of two.
Save for later
I have a “to buy” folder on my Google Chrome browser where I drop links to stuff I want to buy. Saving those links for later relieves the shopping itch for me. And if you’re sticking to the rule of only shopping during pre-approved days, that’s also a good place to keep items you’re waiting to buy.
Many retailers also have wish lists where you can add an item to buy later, and sometimes you’ll be notified if the item goes on sale. If you really struggle with impulse purchases, I would avoid using the retailer’s wish list and use your own. That way, you won’t be tempted to buy something just because it went on sale.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.