A sweet reader emailed asking how I budget and save up for new pieces in my wardrobe, and today I’d love to answer her question. I’m also going to add on a bit and talk about how I use my budget to create a cohesive wardrobe unit (hint: it takes time and intentionality).
I’m going to pretend you’re me 5 years ago, looking at a wardrobe that has some decent pieces in it, but isn’t 100% working for you. Not everything in your closet is your style. You know it could be easier to get dressed, but you’re stuck. So, here’s what I would do, step by step, to move toward a wardrobe that is hardworking for your life, without destroying your budget.
Step 1: Edit
So the first step in the process is to simplify. Most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time. So, start by removing the excess 80%.
This may be hard, but it is essential to having a closet you enjoy. I’m going to try to virtually hold your hand through this and cheer you on! Take everything out of your closet. Everything. Put back the clothes that are working the best. They flatter you, fit your lifestyle, you always wear them (aka, your 20%). You should be looking at a closet that looks like you – whatever your actual style and preferences are. Take note of what you like – colors, styles, sizes.
Now, the goal is avoid diluting the 20% with a bunch of clothes that you dislike, don’t fit, or you don’t use. We want to increase the percentage of usable clothes in your wardrobe, right? So, this is your first mental hurdle. Start adjusting to a smaller selection of clothes – but remember, these are clothes you love to wear.
The 80% that is lying on your bed? Try every piece on. Anything that doesn’t fit or flatter you should be sold. Anything that doesn’t fit your lifestyle should be sold. That makes sense right?
Now it gets a little tougher. To have a really tightly edited collection in your closet, you need to get rid of the majority of your “maybe” pieces. The ones you say, “Well, I guess it fits…” or “But I spent $$ on this…” so I should keep it. Wrong. Those are the pieces you should sell, because they’re diluting the clothes you actually want to grab off the hanger.
So, you should end with a much lighter closet. You can see what you own, and hopefully the outfits you like to wear. You can get a better picture of your personal style. The pile that is on the floor? Immediately put all of it into a giant ThredUP donation bag, to be sold. (The mailman picks it up, ThredUP sorts it, and sends you Paypal cash or store credit – your choice. This really helps with supplementing your budget. More on that in step 3!)
Step 2: Take Notes
Grab a notepad and take a look at your much emptier closet. What do you have? What essentials are missing?
On your notepad, make the following categories – Shoes, Bottoms, Tops, Outerwear. Because I live in Indiana, I have two wardrobes – warm + cold weather. So I would use two sheets of paper broken into these categories. Here’s an example of my lists along with a helpful tip called the rule of 3 from last spring. Fill in what you own. (ex. Shoes: brown ankle boots, black ankle boots, oxford shoes, Adidas Sambas). Now you can see your shopping flaws – maybe you have a penchant for buying shoes, maybe you keep buying sweaters but don’t own enough shorts, maybe tops are your Achilles heel, etc…
Assess what essentials are missing. Typically, it’s the basics that we don’t have enough of or the things that can be hard to shop for like jeans or swimwear. It’s the things that aren’t fun to shop for but are crucial to completing an outfit. Make your list. These are the only things you’ll be shopping for.
Step 3: Save Up
You know what you need to buy, but here’s where budgeting comes in. You cannot just go out and buy all these things at once, so you have to be smart with your money. These are my strategies…
a. Go on a spending freeze. Nonessentials are off limits for a chunk of time, like 3 months or even 6 months. No throwing things in your cart at Target or Amazon just because. Learn to live with your smaller wardrobe and slowly build an allowance for shopping. I do this a couple of times every year – usually January through March and September through November. It’s surprisingly freeing to have this boundary in your life.
b. Use birthday and Christmas money to strategically buy the closet staples on your list. When I was pregnant and knew I would need new jeans after losing the baby weight, I saved up almost a year’s worth of gift money to use after I had our third baby. This year, I used Christmas money to buy a pair of ankle boots that were a missing piece in my winter wardrobe.
c. Avoid being conned into spending your money. Retailers want you to shop. They’re unveiling new deals, sales, and arrivals weekly. Resist. Unsubscribe from retailer emails. Avoid sales and the mall. Avoid trendy pieces. Stop following brands on social media – they are just streaming ads to entice you to buy.
d. Sell your old clothes. Use ThredUP, run an Instagram sale, or go to your local consignment store to sell your old clothes. This cash can quickly add up.
e. Try out referral links. Maybe you don’t have a blog or a big social media following, but you can still refer your friends to shops you love or to clean out their closet and give you some referral cash. Tell your Facebook friends how you cleaned out your closet and sent it in a huge bag to ThredUP and made $50. Chances are they’re still dropping things off at the local Goodwill. You’ll make $10 for every referral. If you love Everlane, add your referral link to your Instagram profile link and share a pic of your favorite piece. You can earn $25 for each new referral. Even if you just told 4 people, that could be a new cashmere sweater or 6 t-shirts for you. Grana, Homage, Chatbooks, Ebates all have referral programs you can sign up for. (Another hint: If you ask for something for your birthday from Everlane or Grana, ask the buyer to use your referral link to purchase it and you’ll get a $25 credit too.)
f. Use Ebates for extra cash back on purchases. I always start at Ebates whenever I buy something online. For example, right now if I bought something at Gap, Ebates would give me 8% back of my total purchase. They send you a check every three months with your cash back rebate. Plus, you can tell your friends and get referral cash added to that check. My whole family uses it!
Step 4: Purchase
Ok, once you’ve saved up enough cash, be super, super selective about what you buy.
When you cross something off your list of missing essentials, you want to be certain you chose a quality item. Don’t buy the fake leather boots for $40. Wait and go try on the real leather brand that does cost more, but will last for years and mold to your foot. Quality over quantity.
Now, I always want to try on before I buy. If I’m not sure, I return things. New clothes have to earn a spot in my closet. However, because I’m trying to be strategic, I still like to take advantage of sales and promotions. So, once I’m ready to buy, I start to stalk an item. Is it so good I’m willing to pay full price so it doesn’t sell out? Is it worth waiting until it goes on super sale since stores are always selling items long before the weather actually calls for it? Is there a big holiday coming up when you know stores run sales?
Consider buying secondhand. Last winter, I knew I wanted a puffer coat to stay warm while outdoors with our kids. I was almost ready to pay over $200 for a new J.Crew coat, and then I looked on ThredUP and last year’s version, which was almost identical, was being sold for $50. It was amazing! I washed the coat at home, and it’s like new.
For example, when I bought my Madewell jeans, I turned in a pair of old maternity jeans to get $20 off.
Step 5: Maintain
You have edited down to your favorite pieces and then added in anything missing. Now you have a great closet.
Start curbing the desire to add more pieces. Shop for inspiration – like outfits, hairstyles, or interesting layering ideas – but not to buy (or don’t shop at all!). Feel the freedom from the cycle of binging-and-purging clothes. You are so much more than a consumer. You have enough and you don’t need more.
Care for the clothes you do own. They are no longer disposable pieces, but staples. Condition your leather bags and boots. Hand wash your sweaters. Wash in cold water. Air dry pieces instead of using the dryer. Get your coat dry cleaned at the end of the season.
If you aren’t wearing certain pieces, sell them. If something wears out, replace it.
If you are getting dressed and feel like there’s one item that would make an outfit, jot it on your notepad. Take stock of your wardrobe once or twice a year. I like to do this when the season is changing.
These are the steps I followed and I can honestly say that now my closet is full of great hardworking pieces I love. Outfits are easy to pull together and feel like “me.” Since I’ve stocked my closet with basics that can mix and match for my everyday reality of stay home mom (instead of a fantasy style), I don’t often buy clothes these days. Writing on this blog affords me the chance to occasionally add something to my wardrobe without dipping into our budget, but really I don’t need anything. If there is something I’d love to add, often I wait until I have some gift money to use, instead of instant gratification. This is so helpful for our budget! I don’t need to shop and that’s the goal.
Put in the intentional thought, edit, strategically purchase, and practice contentment. If you need any more hand-holding feel free to ask questions in the comments!