Clothing Budget: Lessons Learned

Having a clothing budget is more useful than I’d realized. It doesn’t just keep your spending in check, it helps you spend more wisely, too. Not solely because your spending is limited, but because keeping records of your incomings and outgoings allows you to look back and see which buys turned out to be the good ones, and which didn’t.

Fresco showing a woman so-called Sappho holding writing implements, from Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum (14842101892) restored
I’ve had a clothing budget for just over three years now – $25 a month ($18 US), which covers pretty much everything but shoes. Each month I keep a record of what I spent, and – most importantly – on what. Brace yourself: things are about to get statistical.

In the three years I looked at, I spent $860 on clothes. (That’s about $625 US.) Which, frankly, seems like a massive amount! I made a list of each item I bought over the three years (divided by year), what I paid for it, whether it was new or second-hand, and whether I still wear the item or not – and if not, why.

I spent $40 on clothes which I am already no longer wearing. Actually, there’s another dress I’ve only worn once, but it’s a special occasion dress, so the verdict is still out on whether I’m avoiding it or just haven’t had many suitable occasions yet. If it turns out I am avoiding it, that’s $60 total I’m not wearing any more.

2015-05-06a Clothes-shopping criteria -- index card #shopping

Most common reasons for not wearing something any more? It doesn’t fit, or it doesn’t suit. That seems reasonable. Then I looked at the breakdown of new versus second-hand. It turns out that fully half of the second-hand items I bought in those three years I no longer wear (five of ten). But I’m still wearing 13 of the 15 new items I bought.

Why? My guess is that I’m a lot less picky when it comes to second-hand clothing, because it’s so much cheaper. But if I’m going to spend good money on something, it better be worth it! The decision-making process increases in length proportional to the price of the item.

In support of this theory, I note that the two new items I’m not wearing any more were a super-cheap t-shirt (this was before I started shopping ethically) and a zip for a second-hand skirt. Total cost, $6.60. In fact, the average price of the garments I’m not wearing any more is less than $7. Shocking.

Macke - Modegeschäft
Where things really got interesting was when I started comparing how many items I bought in each year, and how much I spent on average per item. Remember, it’s just this last year I’ve been making an effort to shop ethically.

In 2015 I bought 11 items at an average of about $28 each. (Buying a swimsuit pushed the average much higher than it would otherwise have been.)
In 2016 I was still in the red from the expenditures of the previous year, so I only bought six items – average about $38.
In 2017 I started shopping ethically, and here’s where you’d expect the prices to skyrocket, right? I bought eight items, for an average of about $40.

Overall, I did spend more in 2017 than in the preceding years, but that was still less than $20 over what I spent in 2015.

To be honest, the real cost to me in shopping more ethically hasn’t been the financial cost. It’s been the cost of planning, the cost of avoiding the easy buy and taking the time to find ethical options.

"Mrs. America buys clothes with care" - NARA - 515034
Side note: if anyone’s interested in encouraging the ethical shopping habits of Australasians, what would be really helpful is a guide to what can be bought where. Don’t just tell me XYZ has an A rating, tell me where’s good for buying pajamas, or socks, or collared shirts…

So those are the lessons my clothing budget has taught me so far: it’s worth taking the time to be sure about an item before buying it – no “close enough is good enough” buys; and shopping ethically isn’t that much more expensive.

Will I keep on with this? You bet! For one thing, in the next few years I’ll be getting some valuable data on how long various garments last. Because no matter how much I expect my clothes to be immune to the ravages of time, nothing lasts forever.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - A Calling (1896)
Especially socks.

Round 3: Knock-Out!

Or to relieve your feelings, kick-out (the Marquess of Queensberry need not apply. Nasty fellow).

Today we are going to be executing a purge in that room of waking hours, the living room. I have never understood why FlyLady puts the living room in the fifth week of the month with her zones, thus ensuring that it almost never gets a full week’s worth of attention.

SadHousewifeI don’t generally need a whole week each month to declutter and clean my bathroom, for example. The bathroom in the house we’re moving to is about 2×3 metres (if so much) and contains one bath, one basin (hanging on the wall) and one toilet. Storage is limited to a small cupboard built into the wall, and the windowsill. Of course, since that’s the only bathroom in the house, I could call it the “master bath” (Zone 4) and give the living room some more time and why didn’t I think of that before?

The living room in our new house will serve us for workspace (we both work at home), relaxation area, entertaining area and book storage. It is the largest room in the house. It needs to be. Half a week is not enough.

Today, however, we are going to have a stab at the stashes of stuff that build up in that most-used of rooms. What you have in your living room depends on what you use it for. Besides furniture you may have books, “media”, games, hobby stuff, paperwork, collections, magazines/newspapers, and items left on display such as photos, china and little decorative doodads. And that’s before we venture into any storage areas the room might have.

Fibber McGee and Molly closet photo 1948So feel free to adapt my suggestions to suit your own circumstances.

First up, the media. CDs, DVDs, LPs, videos, cassette tapes… Yep, I have all of these, although I must admit that the older a technology is the more likely it is that I have recently pruned it. That said, I’m sure there are a few items I could do without packing, moving and unpacking again. Let’s see what fifteen minutes can do.

I scored: one DVD, one video, 4 cassette cases (no idea what happened to their contents), 4 CDs and 10 LPs. Total of 20, and a relatively painless extraction at that. Phew – and onwards!

Next up: the books. Of which we have a great many. I haven’t counted them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they ran into the four digits. A large percentage of them were bought second-hand, which should make them easier to move on – but on the other hand also makes them easier to acquire, because they cost less. Still, there’s no use keeping a book you aren’t going to read again, unless it’s the sort you don’t really read as such, like a dictionary. I have read encyclopædia volumes in my time; I don’t think I’ve ever been quite desperate enough for reading material to embark on a cover-to-cover dictionary-a-thon.

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds 2Fifteen minutes on the clock….. and five books pulled out of the shelves, including philosophy, Elizabethan plays and the poetry of Robert Browning. Running total 25. Even if you don’t prune much, going through your library book by book will at least serve to remind you of all the good books you’d forgotten you still had and would now like to read again.

For the third course, following the light media appetizer and the rather stodgier main course of books, I thought we would end with a delicate bibelot or two – what my grandmother called “dustcatchers.” Depending on the level of decoration you prefer, this may take less than fifteen minutes, even if you wander into every other room in the house, but it’s worth doing. We get so used to seeing things sitting there on the shelf or the mantelpiece or the little end table that we stop consciously seeing them, which is a complete waste. You can also look at things hanging on the walls – pictures, paintings, posters etc. I would, but I’ve already taken ours down and packed them.

Fifteen minutes of knick-knackery, doo-daddery and decorative items – go!

Henry Treffry Dunn Rossetti and Dunton at 16 Cheyne Walk

I collected one clock (deceased), one origami crane (pink), one origami elephant (ditto), a vase full of peacock feathers, a small plastic dome with tiny flowers in it, a harmonica, a somewhat decorative box and a silver candlestick (badly tarnished). Total of 8; grand total 32 – more than the previous two weeks put together!

Putting them all together, though, I get 13 + 16 + 32 = 61! Sixty-one fewer items than I possessed a few short weeks ago, and all done in nine sets of fifteen minutes. For the statistically minded among you, that’s 135 minutes, or just over 2.2 minutes per item removed. So if you have five minutes to spare to consider your possessions, you can expect to find a couple to get rid of. Ten minutes, four items. Fifteen minutes, six items. Half an hour, twelve. A whole hour? Eighteen and a cup of tea.

All this is completely theoretical, of course – one person’s brief experience is hardly enough to base a rule on, even a rule of thumb (everyone’s thumb is different – ask Bertillon). But it’s worth remembering that even a short snatch of time can make a permanent difference. There are sixty-one things that I didn’t like or didn’t want or didn’t use (or all of the above) which took up space in my house and never paid rent or contributed anything – they just were. And now they aren’t, and I feel good about that.

so happy smiling cat