5 Stages of a Clothing Revolution

“$400 a month for new clothes is the minimum you need?” I was trying to ask in a kind, and non-judgey way. But my confusion was showing through. Sometimes when I consult people on how to optimize their budgets with their goals, I am reminded how my seemingly every day, mundane choices are actually a bit radical.

8-Family photo

So… I accidentally didn’t buy any new clothes in the last 6 months. I wasn’t doing any sort of “no shopping challenge.” I wasn’t trying to reduce my spending. Or save money. Or become more enlightened by not shopping.

I just kind of didn’t think about it.

How is that for a momentous/ life changing/ pull yourself up by your bootstraps/ hustling to get ahead kind of story? I went 6 months without buying clothes!!! (because it never crossed my mind) wah-wah…

If you are just starting out, and working CRAZY hard to pay off debt, save for a house, max out your IRA’s, ect, I want to encourage you: It gets easier. So easy in fact, that you kind of don’t even think about it anymore.

Here are the 5 stages of shopping, on your path to Financial Independence. (We’ll use clothes as an example, but it’s true for most things.)

Stage 1: Buy the same things, at a lower price. You still feel like you need 10 new clothing items a month. But you really want pay down your credit card debt vs. grow it. So you try to find these items on sale. No more paying full price for you! You even start shopping in new more affordable places. Instead of Macy’s, you try to score a deal at TJ Max.

Stage 2: You buy less. Ok, maybe you don’t need 10 new items. Maybe you just need a few things to freshen your wardrobe. You love the new hot colors for spring, so you pick a few tops in that shade. You replace last summer’s skirts with ones in the new length.

Stage 3: You shop less for fun. Those long afternoons stopping in at all your favorite stores are a rare occasion, not a typical Saturday. You still go out once or twice a month. Or take a peek as your cruise by the clothes at Target. But it feels less like a hobby now.

Stage 4: Your taste changes. The newest color or cut seems arbitrary. You start buying the cuts and colors that flatter you. You focus more on items that you will still be thrilled to wear in 5 years because it seems timeless. Because you love that item. You have no idea if a magazine would highlight it as a trending design, but you don’t care what some stupid magazine would say. Because they are arbitrarily fickle. Is it comfortable? Does it seem well made? Can you move in it? Do you love the way it looks on you? Do you want to wear it all the time? Can it be washed vs. dry cleaned? Price still matters, a bit. But if you are going to be wearing that sweater for 5 years, paying $10 more for it isn’t a deal breaker. You actually become much choosier about what item will earn a place in your closet. You stop buying clothes JUST because the price is so cheap.

Stage 5: You shop to replace items. You buy 5 new pairs of underwear, and toss out the 5 oldest pairs. You buy 7 new pairs of socks, and ditch the ones with holes. Your jeans start to wear out by the pockets, so you go pick up a new pair. The soles of your sandals crack, and you find a replacement for summer. Because when you only keep the clothes you wear, they can wear out before they go out of style. You buy items that you would want to wear every week (seasons permitting). After 4-10 years, those much loved items are ready for the garbage can, not donation bin. So you head to the store to buy a replacement.

Then you might accidentally not buy new clothes for 6 months. Because nothing happened to need replacing.

So if you are starting out, it gets easier! Over time your perspective can shift. Your habits will shift. And there are TONS of benefits to arriving at the replacement stage!

  1. You save LOTS of money! I’ll admit I thought a $400 a month clothes budget for one person was a bit crazy. That is almost $5000 a year! But it’s amazing how much money is sitting in people’s closets. Big walk in closets, with hundreds of items of clothing all costing between $10-$100 a piece. If you want to spend $5000 to turn heads, buy a classic car.
  2. It’s easier to look nice. Instead of 250 items, some of which are out of style, don’t fit quite right, or you have forgotten you own, what if you had to put together an outfit from your favorite 50 pieces. You know exactly which sweater goes with that tank top. And you know where they both are.
  3. You will have more time. Shopping takes time. Trying things on takes time. Returning items takes time. Reading magazines to learn how you aren’t enough takes time. Finding something to wear in a sea of clothes takes time. Skip it all, and you will have more time.
  4. Your wardrobe doesn’t look dated. I know this seems counter intuitive, but hear me out. You won’t buy things that scream 2008, but instead focus on items that are more classic. You find items that mix and match well. You bought a nice black tank top in 2008, mix it with a cute cardigan from 2012 and the pants you picked up last year. It looks just as good as if you bought it all this year. And by only keeping items you wear frequently, they will wear out before they become too dated. Even a really well made item will only hold up about 10 years with constant use. As items wear out, you throw them out, and buy the replacement which keeps your outfits current. The people who have “perfectly good” shirts from 25 years ago: they have too many items of clothing. Trust me. Keep a reasonably small amount of clothing, and this won’t be you.
  5. You will feel better about yourself. I know it’s hard to believe at first, beings you are buying all these clothes to look nice. But you will feel better about yourself when you shop less. It’s true. All the advertising that convinces you to keep shopping, does so by saying you are not good enough right now. That’s a lie. You are. I am no less intelligent, attractive, funny, kind, witty, generous, adventurous or capable if I step out of the house in a dress from 4 years ago (or 8 years ago!). Plus you now have a lot more time and money (points 1 and 3), so you can buy and read books, take art classes, travel, write blogs, give to charity, hike with friends, bike to work, learn to lay tile and can actually be more intelligent, attractive, funny, kind, witty, generous, adventurous and capable. No designer jeans can do that for you.

Do you think I regret that fact I forgot to buy clothes the last 6 months? No. And you won’t either.

Bonus points: All the dresses are ones hanging in my closet right now. The oldest is from 8 years ago, the newest 4 years ago. Can you guess which ones I bought new, used, or on clearance? Which one is the oldest, or most current? The oldest one is still my favorite.  I did lose that hat. =( It blew into the ocean while I was in the Philippines, never to be recovered. 


For those that want to power through the stages and super charge their situation, I would recommend a shopping ban. For more inspiration check out:

Cait Flanders

And Ms. Frugalwood


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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4 thoughts on “5 Stages of a Clothing Revolution

  1. It is crazy to me that some people spend $400/mo on clothes! I get anxious when I spend $500 in a year on clothes, and my husband is even less spendy. In my defense, he does not have to buy bras…

    Love the points made here. I’ve ended up really shrinking my wardrobe, and only buying new when replacing a piece or if I’m really in love with something. The best part is that it forces me to keep up with laundry!

    • I find I actually like my wardrobe a lot more when it’s small. It’s a rather high bar for a new item to earn a spot there. I think I bought a lot of junk in my early 20’s just because it was on sale. Those things always end up being a false savings because I didn’t really like them enough to wear them all the time. I ended up with a whole bunch of mediocre outfits, but very few I was crazy about.

  2. Since my body weight swings, I actually bought quite a bit. But I buy them in sale and of well known brands, so I get to sell them off at just a bit of loss if I can’t wear it. The verdict – about $1000/year?

  3. I find that spending by neglect is one of the best plans, and it actually feels way easier than declaring any sort of shopping ban or decree. The second you tell me I CAN’T do something, that’s the only thing my brain wants to do. Totally contrary brain!

    So I don’t have any budget for clothing in our annual spending plan. I just assume that it’s not going to occur to me to shop since it’s not a recreational sport and I only shop online except when I truly need a thing or there’s a semi-annual sale at Nordstrom and I can pick up a basic piece or two to replace something that’s worn out. What I do spend comes out of my annual allowance and it rarely ever rises above $400 a year since at least half my budget is earmarked for charity.