My Greatest Spending Weakness
To people who are even more frugal than I am, $240 spent in a year on clothing for a family of four might still seem high, but buying new clothing has always been a big spending weakness of mine. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I remember I spent around $1100 on maternity clothes, and that was even after I’d been given lots of hand-me-down clothes from my sisters! (I should also note that that was also on a teacher’s salary. Like I said, big weakness of mine.)
Going through college, I felt like I had barely enough money to pay our utilities bill every month when it came due…yet I still usually somehow found the dollars to splurge on a few new shirts and maybe a skirt or two most months.
Also, until more recently, I was averse to buying clothing at thrift stores (though not against hand-me-downs in the slightest), which meant that I was regularly buying brand-new clothing for myself regularly, even though I had a whole closet full of stuff already.
So, how did we go from spending about $1500 a year on clothing for two people down to just $240 for our family of four (and still have at least some of it be new stuff)?
Our 3-Pronged Approach to Clothes
1. For our kids, who outgrow things so quickly, we source as much as possible from family, friends, and neighbors.
Hand-me-downs are glorious, glorious things. Because I have two sisters who are finished having kids and no one else in my family who is actively producing more at the moment, I got ALLLLL of my nieces’ and nephews’ hand-me-downs, many of which had hardly been worn (especially the baby stuff, since people always give tons of new clothes for babies). On my husband’s side, we are also among the only people in the family actively still having kids, so we’ve been getting a lot of the hand-me-downs from THAT side.
Additionally, being a person who is naturally pretty friendly and also being a person who lives in a naturally friendly neighborhood, I have made several contacts over the years with people who know they are done having kids and who are all too willing to give me all the kid and baby stuff they no longer need.
So, first order of business if you want to save money (especially on kids’ clothes)?
Ask around. If you know people in your social circle who are done having kids, ask them if they have any plans for the stuff their kids have outgrown. Ask your family members and friends to be on the lookout for people in THEIR social circle who might fit under that category. Post an announcement on Facebook or Instagram that asks if anyone is giving away or selling any of their old kid stuff. Join a local Facebook classified group, and look for the free stuff that always crops up on there.
Trust me, once you start looking around, you will find stuff.
And if you feel weird asking upfront for flat-out free donations of other people’s old stuff, then ask them if they have any previously used kid stuff they’re thinking of selling. I had a former neighbor who had a daughter who was just less than a year older than mine, and as she was the only daughter born to a family of all boys, she basically had all-new clothes bought for her. The mom wanted to get back some of all that money she’d spent, so she sold a lot of the outfits to me for a song—usually between a quarter and a dollar apiece (and they were CUTE things in FABULOUS condition, and from much more high-end places than I was usually going to shop at!).
If you know the people personally, I’ve found that it takes away some of the “ick” factor that can sometimes come up at thrift stores or garage sales (though remember—everything can be washed!).
Once I get a donation, I sort through everything by size, then I get rid of the stuff that’s obviously really worn out or super outdated. If I’ve gotten enough clothing per size (which I often have), I can even pick and choose further, donating anything that doesn’t fit my kids’ (or, let’s be honest, my) style.
For my kids, I typically only get them new stuff for their birthdays or for Christmas, although now that Raven is older, I’m finding that I need to purchase some more pants/leggings for her since those are often worn out by the time they’ve been through an active kid (especially now that she’s in sizes that she wears for a lot longer).
2. For clothing that will only be worn for a limited amount of time (maternity clothing, special occasion clothing, or immediately postpartum clothing), I buy used or rent whenever possible.
Fact: things like wedding dresses and prom dresses can be rented. Fact: I rented my wedding dress, and I have never once regretted it. Fact: If you choose to buy those special occasion pieces, you have to store them indefinitely because you’ll feel too guilty giving them up after just one or two uses.
So, a better idea than buying in those cases is just to rent. Google places within a reasonable driving distance from you that rent out special occasion clothing, or look at the myriad online options available for clothing rental. In the long run, renting will likely save you time, money, space, and stress, so don’t rule it out as an option for those once-in-a-blue-moon occasions.
For things like maternity clothing, I learned the hard way that it’s 1) better to just buy some regular clothes in the first place that can work for the maternity and postpartum phases, and 2) you can get maternity clothing for a STEAL through local classifieds and at thrift stores.
Since maternity-wear is something that’s worn for just a brief period, you’ll usually find that a lot of it that’s pre-owned is actually in pretty good condition. I’ve also found that sometimes, a woman will want *some* return on her maternity-wear purchases but doesn’t want to put in the energy to list each piece individually, so she’ll just offer the whole lot of clothing for something like $50. I SO WISH I WOULD HAVE TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF THIS THE FIRST TIME AROUND.
Since I had bought so many clothes the first time I was pregnant, I didn’t need a lot for my second pregnancy. However, I was pregnant in a different season the second time around (summer), so I did need a few more pieces to fit me at my largest during that time of year. Instead of going the pricey new-clothes route, I simply went into our local thrift store one day and got 6 or 7 pieces for something like $24 (and I purposely bought some pieces that I knew would look good after I’d had the baby too, like wrap dresses).
3. I got a rewards credit card for the store I shopped at most frequently (Old Navy), and I combine it with coupons, promos, and Ebates to get new clothes for almost nothing.
First, a major disclaimer for credit card usage: It is NOT worth it for you to get a credit card with rewards if you’re not going to pay off the balance in full every month, because you will lose whatever advantage you’ve gained in rewards by paying off interest on the card. So, if you know you won’t pay off the balance monthly, don’t go this route. If you know you can handle it, though, this can be a great way to go!
Years ago, I got an Old Navy credit card, which gives me 5 points for every $1 I spend at Old Navy and its sister brands (like Gap and Banana Republic) and 1 point for every $1 spent elsewhere (although they’re almost always running promotions giving me much more than just the 1 pt. for $1 scenario).
I don’t put any of our regular purchases on a credit card, but I do put all of our more unusual, “big” expenses on the credit card, such as school tuition, new photography equipment, car repairs, hospital bills, etc. (Note: I always have the cash to pay off all these things when they come due, but for me, just putting big purchases on the card means that I never go overboard with spending on it because I’m not letting a lot of little purchases add up without me being super aware of it, if that makes sense.)
For every 500 points I get on the card, I get a $5 reward at Old Navy or one of the other brands. So, for example, last year we put about $2000 worth of hospital bills on the card during a time when Old Navy was running a promotion that every dollar spent on the card outside of their brands would earn 3 points. So, $2000 = 6,000 points = $60 in rewards. Now, this is money we were going to spend ANYWAY (on the hospital bill), and as I said, we paid off the balance in full before it was due. So it was essentially like we just got $60 free dollars to spend on clothes from that. (Click here for more information on Old Navy’s credit card.)
Then, once we’ve let a good amount of rewards rack up, I wait for a really good sale to come up at Old Navy, like when they’ll occasionally do 40% off everything, if you’re looking for some spring and summer clothing). Then I’ll combine that sale WITH the rewards and then I’ll ALWAYS use my Ebates cash back browser button. All of that together will mean that I usually get quite a few articles of clothing for almost nothing!
BTW, If you’re not using a program like Ebates (now called Rakuten) when you do your online shopping, you’re essentially throwing away free money! Ebates is a browser extension you can add that alerts you every time you come to a retail site that offers cash back (there’s also an app with a similar feature, I believe). You simply activate the cash back before you make a purchase, and then Ebates cuts you a check every quarter or so of all the cash back you’ve accumulated over the last few months. (And, if you’re a new Ebates member, you can get $10 free upfront if you sign up through my referral link.) I always recommend to people signing up that you definitely take advantage of doing the browser extension plug-in, just because then you don’t have to remember to go to the Ebates site first before you make an online purchase–it will just pop it down for you anytime you go anyplace that has a cash-back offer.
So, as an illustration of a recent clothing spree I went on:
I got three t-shirts for me and a dress and a shirt for Raven for a grand total of $4.04.
The shirts for me were different varieties of Old Navy’s luxe shirts (which I am OBSESSED with), and they normally would have cost me $49.97. The dress for my daughter was part of their kids’ sale and would have cost $8, and the shirt was also part of the sale and was supposed to cost $4. So, all told, my bill should have come to $61.97.
I applied a 40% promo (which didn’t apply to quite everything, but almost), and then I had $35 in rewards, which brought the total to $3.78. With the tax added on, it came out to just $4.04, and since I’d charged enough big things to the credit card the year before (thanks, cost of having a baby), I’d qualified for their Navyist status, which meant I got free shipping to boot (if you don’t have Navyist status, you need to have a minimum order $50 to qualify for free shipping most of the time).
I currently have $60 more in rewards, and I plan to buy Matt two pairs of jeans and several t-shirts, which I expect will cost me about the same as the order I just talked about.
Now, if I just shopped at Old Navy, I would probably end up spending something like $50 for our whole family per year in clothing. However, I’m a bit pickier with our shoes, just because I basically only wear about two pairs of shoes regularly any given season, so they need to last (and Matt is the same). So we tend to spend a bit more on shoes, but I make sure to always wait for a sale, and I always go through Ebates.
And there you have it! How we spend just $60 average per person on clothing per year 🙂
What are your best secrets for saving money on clothes?
P. S. Have you joined my email list yet? A few times a month, I send out exclusive content like tips, more personal stories/thoughts, and book lists just to my email subscribers!
P. P. S. If you’re looking for ways to educate yourself more about your personal finances, you won’t want to miss the Master Your Money Ultimate Bundle sale coming up on February 19th – 20th, 2020. For just $37, you get thousands of dollars’ worth of resources to help you learn to budget, plan your retirement, find more ways to save, and much more. Click here to get a reminder email for when that goes on sale!