Nov 13 2007

Principles for frugal clothes shopping


What “frugal” practices do you apply when clothes shopping? I have the food budget down..thanks to you; but clothes are so expensive.

Good question!

Clothes are expensive. More often than not, they’re overpriced. I’ve thought about this question and I’ve come up with a few different strategies shoppers can use to acquire clothes frugally.

If you are shopping for children, I’ve gotta say this: Kids grow fast. You know that. Why plunk down $25 for a new pair of jeans every time Junior grows an inch? Get comfortable with buying second-hand clothes for children. They often outgrow them faster than they can wear them out, right?

Another thing: I think it is frugal to have high-quality clothing for adults. If you want classic pieces that will last you years and years, don’t buy a poorly-made garment, even if it only costs $1 in the K-Mart clearance bin. It’s probably not worth that dollar.

Have a really good idea of what you already have. Consider making a clothing inventory. Do you know how many sweaters you have? Khaki pants? Blue jeans? Panties? Socks? If you have 20-pair of socks, all in good condition, and you spot a sale for more socks just like those, do not buy them. You have plenty.

My point is, when you go shopping, you need to know what you already have so that you don’t add to your sock collection. Also, knowing what you have will help you piece together new outfits. If you find a pretty skirt but have no top to wear it with, you only have half an outfit, and it might cost you a lot more to complete it.

If you are a runner or an athlete that needs a good shoe, I think you should view athletic shoes as an investment. No, you won’t be able to sell the shoes on eBay after you logged 500 miles in them. But, if a good supportive shoe will protect you from typical runner’s injuries, it’s a good investment in your health.

Make a list of all clothing you need for the year, and buy only what is on that list, but only when it is a good deal. I call this my “I’m in the market for a …” list. I know it’s November, but if you know you’re going to need a swimsuit in the summer, put it on your list. You might find one marked 90% off somewhere–you just never know.

If you know your underpants are getting a little raggedy, then put underwear on your “I’m in the market for…” list. Unless you’re down to your last pair of wearable underwear, don’t rush out and buy some. Shop around and wait for sales.

Now, using your “I’m in a market for a…” list, write down the maximum amount you are willing to pay for each item. For example, no more than $10 for a well-made top, or $30, or $60. Whatever fits your budget. Don’t exceed this.

Here’s some clothing sources. I’ve arranged this list on a sliding comfort level, going from “extremely confident and comfortable with yourself” to “gimme a break, I’m new at this!”

  1. Sew your own. That’s right, I said it. Whether you start from the beginning and buy fabric at a craft store (on sale or with a coupon, right?), a pattern, and all of the notions, or you use your sewing skills to put new life into an item. See my friend Bee’s crafty blog for how she turned a ho-hum dress into a really cute one. My sewing skills right now are limited to repairing a loose button. In middle school, I learned how to use the sewing machine a little bit, but not enough to make anything useful. I’m going to try to learn.
  2. Visit yard sales and thrift stores. Deals like you wouldn’t believe! And if you can sew, all the better. You can find great clothes and repurpose them.
  3. Not comfortable rifling through tons and tons of other people’s clothes? Try a “trendy” thrift shop or consignment store to get you started. Visit a Plato’s Closet if you have a teenager who must have name-brands, or visit a consignment shop. It has been my experience that consignment shops on the whole have a great stock of gently used (or never worn) items suitable for career-wear. For you Pittsburghers, how about Treasure House Fashions? I haven’t yet visited, but from the web site, it seems like a nice shop. Actually, there’s dozens of shops throughout the city worth checking out.
  4. Consider browsing through eBay for accessories or clothing.
  5. Online retailers can offer great discounts. The obvious drawback is you can’t see the item in person or try it on. Use coupon codes and combine that with an incentive program such as Ebates to sweeten your savings. Caution: Be committed to loving the item. If it’s not what you wanted (it doesn’t fit/go with the rest of your wardrobe/poorly made) then require yourself to send it back. Hanging it in your closet and forgetting about it means you just threw some money away.
  6. Try brick & mortar discount retailers: T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, Value City, etc., can carry those name-brands you might be seeking for a fraction of the price. They’re worth a visit. Watch your Sunday ads for coupons for these places. I recently saw a $10 off $30 purchase coupon for Value City.
  7. Some outlet malls can offer discounts, but not always. Sometimes, the “outlet mall discount” is a myth. Still, swing by one every once in awhile if you want. I know there’s one north of Pittsburgh in Grove City.
  8. Visit a regular mall. You can still find deals here, though it can be more of a challenge. Check your Sunday ads for coupons before you shop. Macy’s always seems to have a 20% off coupon somewhere, for example. Check store web sites to see what sales are going on. Ideally, you should spend the least amount of time in the mall as possible.
    • Stores like to just gobble you up, and you could spend a lot more money than you intended. Start in the clearance areas of the store to see if you can find the items on your “I’m in the market for…” list. Then, move on to the regular sales racks to see if you can find your searched-for item. If you find said item at the regular price (and it’s higher than you want to pay), walk away.
    • Remember the price, and challenge yourself to beat it somewhere else. If a day or two passes, and you don’t think you’ll be able to find it anywhere else, go back and buy it. If you’re daring, you might find a manager and see if you can get a discount. I’ve never done this, but I’ve heard that managers can use a little discretion.

Whew, this is a long post. What have I missed? What can you suggest?

Posted under Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Principles for frugal clothes shopping”

  1. You’ve covered everything as far as I can tell! But, I recently posted about washing a dry clean only item, so maybe we should take into account the cost of laundering an item. If it can’t be washed at home, the price skyrockets! Good post!

    Oh yeah, hand me downs and in the tightwad gazette – hand me ups!

  2. I agree with debbie j. – look at the care labels before you buy. I hate having items that need to be cold washed and now avoid both them and dryclean only clothing.

  3. Great List! I once read about a group of women that got together every 6 months and exchanged clothing that they no longer wear or doesn’t fit. I really thought that was a great idea…my problem is none of my friends where the same size!

  4. I don’t have much to add to this, but wanted to let you know that I love your blog. YOu have such commitment and wonderful ideas.

  5. Good ideas. Let me just 2nd the second hand/goodwill stores. My boys are very hard on their clothes. I can buy Old Navy, Gap, or Levi jeans in their size or a size up for 2.99. I feel so much better paying these low prices for still good jeans than paying the 25.00/each and they tear them the first day.

  6. It’s also really useful to educate yourself about fabrics and designers. I try to buy clothes made with natural fibers. These clothes last longer and look better longer. I agree, it really is better to buy quality and keep it for a long time than to continually replace an item! Also, I love to shop at huge discount stores that get overstocked/last seasons’ merchandise. You have to pick through the clothes to make sure that they aren’t damaged or stained, but you can find wonderful clothes there for next to nothing. One of my best deals was a pair of designer jeans that would have easily cost me $300+ for $15.99. Yay! They’ve held up MUCH better than the jeans that I paid $70 at GAP for at about the same time. But I would feel like a lamb going to the slaughter in stores such as those if I didn’t know my designers. Mixed in with the top end there are an equal ammount of cheap, mass-produced clothing there. Thankfully, my favorite clothing warehouse separates clothes according to designer or store so it’s easier to get through. Basically, my best buying tool has been doing my homework!

  7. when you go to the malls, the places that say 60% or 75% are the good ones. the rest are crap sales and you can wait. victoria’s secret semi-annual has great sales. ridiculously low. their website has good stuff, too. february is a good month to shop for sales and july. they’re trying to move the merchandise out. thrift stores and marshall’s/tj maxx wear me out b/c they’re so disorganized. even large box sales have me just throwing my hands up and leaving unless there are a max of 5 other customers in the entire store. good thing i usually shop in the morning during the week.

  8. You’re cright about outlets being a waste of money sometimes–the *best* time to hit up an outlet is right after christmas and on into January. The clearance deals will be phenomenal. About 5 years ago, I got a ton of simple tees and shirts at the Banana Republic outlet for a couple of bucks each, and they have only recently worn out (after TONS of wearings). That’s even cheaper than I can find at the thrift stores around here! Also, ask your local consignment stores about their sale schedule. I recently scored a new-looking BCBG top for about $5 when I hit a sale at just the right time. There are deals to be had everywhere!

  9. When shopping for clothes for kids, even if you buy used don’t buy horribly out-of-date. I admire my parents’ frugality by dressing me in clothes from my cousins (9 and 4 years older). It was exciting to go through the bags and pick out what I liked best.

    But it was also really hard to deal with wearing clothes which were often 9 years older than me. Made me feel like an outcast. So go with timeless stuff or find used stylish stuff in the stores. Just don’t make your kids wear dresses from the 80’s (or 90’s) unless they’re doing a “retro” look!

  10. We’re die hard thrift store people at this house, and it has probably saved us thousands of money already clothing 2 kids under 5 years of age. But I agree with the previous poster that you have to be picky and not make your kid look like they came from a different era! I don’t want my kids to resent the fact that we get clothes secondhand. :)

    Also, the outlet mall in Grove City can be pretty decent if you go at the right time. About 3 years ago, we went shortly after school had started. The Children’s Place had nearly everything in the store for $2.99 each (those are thrift store prices around here). Needless to say, we stocked up on everything we thought we could use, and even got a few gifts while we were there. I love The Children’s Place clothes, and their outlet (at least at Grove City) can be a real moneysaver.


  11. I think this is another area where knowledge is power. I worked for a couple of years for department stores and got a great education in quality clothes. Go to the nicer department stores, and listen to the sales pitches. You’ll learn that linings are important, they’ll show you reinforced seams, and so on. Get to know what quality fabrics feel like and how they hang.
    You have to know what quality looks like in order to find it at a thrift store!
    Likewise, our Goodwill sells every shirt for $3.49. Even KidConnection shirts that I *know* retail brand new at W*Mart for $2.88. So know the “house labels” for good brands and quality clothes so you can recognize them.

    And if you can find a Children’s Place outlet – it’s awesome! I’ve gotten lots of clothes there for my kids off the 99 cent rack and they are on the third child!

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. How do you budget and shop for for clothing? | Sense to Save

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

Keep in Touch!
Like me on Facebook Follow Me on Twitter RSS Feed

Subscribe to my email updates:
  • Ebates Coupons and Cash Back

Web Statistics