My senior year of college, I got a part-time job at Athleta, which then became my only job after I graduated and couldn’t find a full time job for the next 8 months. At that point, I was making slightly more than minimum wage and just covering my basic expenses, it felt like saving money was so far away. If I had leftover money, I spent it, often at Athleta (I had a 50% discount). At the time I thought that I had this limited time to buy nice clothing at an extreme discount so I was lucky to use it. I would use these things forever! I was wrong. Five years later, I don’t have a lot of those things anymore and I feel dumb for having bought stuff that I didn’t wear a lot after my brief retail salesperson career and not saved that money for something actually useful or paid down debt faster.
I know that I am an emotional shopper. I buy things when I’ve had a bad day, or when I’ve had a really good day! It’s a way to treat myself. But, I recognize that the more I do this, the less it’s an actual treat. And I know that–at least at this point–moving into a strict budget with no room for buying things that I want instead of need would also make me miserable and probably wouldn’t work in the long run. So, where’s the balance? And, if you’re eschewing brands that make $6 t-shirts in sweatshops, can you still be a savvy budget shopper?
Here are a few things I’ve learned so far:
- If you want something, wait on it. Have I totally stopped impulse shopping? No. But, especially with larger purchases, this rule is key for figuring out if you want something just because of an impulse or if 24 hours later/1 week later/1 paycheck later, you still want it. Last year Brass Clothing came out with a ponte legging pant that looked amazing, but was $98. I loved the idea of it, but at the time, it was summer (i.e. 90 degrees) and didn’t make a lot of sense since I wouldn’t even be able to wear it without melting. They very quickly sold out and I felt total FOMO pangs for not getting them, even though it was still hot AF and not yet practical. By the time they restocked, it was closer to fall and there were actual customer reviews about the fit, as well as pictures of the pants on different body types. I still wanted them, thought they would work, and bought them, and loved them. (And then, already between sizes, I lost a little weight and they were now too big. After waiting for my post-Christmas budget, I bought them in my correct size because I wear them all the time and you can buy that first pair from my Tradesy account for $54 instead of $98. If that’s your size, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE MAGIC PANTS! By the way– shopping second hand is a great way to wait on something and look for deals)
- There are almost always promos. If you’re used to shopping mainstream brands, you’re probably also used to mainstream sales cycles. Depending on the brand, that may be a few times a year, or for brands like the GAP or Loft, every few days. (Yes, when you really start to think about it… that is bananas.) When I first started making the effort to purchase clothing from more eco-conscious and labor-conscious brands, I acknowledged that I would be trading in cheap quantity for a more expensive quality, and give up ye olden days of Getting One In Every Color. But ethical brands want to bring in new customers or cull older merchandise too–so, especially if you are following rule #1, you can often find or wait for some sort of deal.You can search “[brand] promo code” in google and a couple sites that will pop up with suggestions. I’ve found that these usually work! Or, you can get an extension like honey and have that do the work of promo code finding for you.If there’s a brand you really like, signing up for their emails often yields and initial save $10 or 10% code, plus continuing to get them means that if they send out information about a new sale or promotion, you get that information first. I really like Everlane so I get their emails, and when there’s a good sale or promotion I think about what items I’ve been mulling over for the last couple months and usually will make a purchase because I already have a (small) running list of items that I am Waiting On.
Additionally, lots of brands that may not even be promoting their own promo codes may hide them with influencers. Doing a quick instagram search on posts tagged with your favorite brands may yield a blogger’s post touting a promo code that you can use. I recently discovered that Albion Fit does this with instagram influencers and had no idea because I assumed they were a 2-sale a year brand.
So, if you’re being thoughtful about your purchase in the first place, adding in a little research about when you might be able to get it for a discount should be part of that process!
- Put it in context of your bigger budget. Sure, one $100 purchase may be okay for your budget right now, but what else are you planning to buy or pay for in the next few months? Would three other $100 purchases fit in your budget? Or does $400 sound crazy? I try to keep a running list of items that I would like to get along with their costs, so that I’m thinking about a longer-term purchasing strategy. If it’s a reality check to see what your wish list total is, then you can reassess what you want/need and when you want/need it. I just read an article on budgeting that articulated this in a way I really liked:
When you splurge, it also helps to splurge on the stuff you love, not the stuff you like. This way, you get more out of your spending and it’s more fulfilling. Divide your spending into two categories: Likes, and loves. What kind of stuff you do love spending money on and what kind of stuff do you just like spending money on? I like spending money on clothes but I love spending money on travel. Ditch the likes and focus on your spending on the things you love instead. This helps weed out impulsive purchases you later regret.
I’m not a strict personal budgeter, but I try to be as realistic as possible about my spending priorities for incidentals. I love cooking, so I will make my own lunches and snacks so that I rarely have to go out and buy a $10 wrap that I won’t like anyway, so I feel better about justifying a new shirt or dress every now and then. In a larger budget sense, I would love to travel more, so that takes a longer-term line of thinking. I have found that Digit is a really helpful tool for mindless saving, (in addition to–hopefully–your actual savings account and retirement contribution) which you can then withdraw from for vacation money or other splurges.
- Be real about your situation. It’s easy to give in to lifestyle inflation or social media FOMO. The fashion bloggers I follow may have their own budgets, but they have budgets that are very different than mine. It would be insane to get hung up on someone else’s $600 coat when that’s more than my rent. I can can only act within my own means. What are the things worth saving up for in your life, vs. what are the things where you can find something similar that is reasonably priced vs. what can you do without altogether?
These are things I’m still working out in my attempt to be a better, more conscious consumer, but they’re definitely things that I have learned by making some money mistakes along the way. Nothing sticks in the mind like a regretful, shameful decision, ya know?
Do you have any tips to share? Comment below and share!