Chapter 8 - Clothes

Clothing is one of life’s basic needs. But like any purchase, the costs of covering up have the potential to get out of control, causing this necessity to creep into luxury territory — if you’re not careful.

The average Briton spends more than £1,200 a year on clothing and footwear, 1 and women are in charge of most of that shopping. Over a year, women in the UK spend about £315 more than men on fashion. In fact, the top two items women typically spend their money on overall are women’s clothes and children’s clothes, respectively.2

How might a frugal spender trim the costs?

Have no fear, fashionistas. This four-step program will help you stay frugal without losing your sense of style.

Changing Attitudes

Fostering a new perspective on when to buy clothes

Care Instructions

Dodging clothing costs before they come


Taking a fresh look at what you already have

Smart Shopping

Spending carefully when the time comes

Spendthrifts and misers alike can benefit from a fresh perspective on spending. Are you easily bored with your attire? Do you buy clothes without even glancing at the price tag? Do you purchase items you're not sure you'll ever actually wear? On the other hand, do you wear items even after they've tattered and worn out? If so, it may be your outlook, not your outfits, that needs a change.

Thriftiness is a delicate balance. The frugal approach to clothes shopping, or indeed any type of shopping, is to buy what you require, not whatever you want. What's the difference between clothing we require and clothing that's frivolous?

The main functions of clothes are 1) to protect us from the weather and 2) to make us look appropriate in our circumstances. When our clothing no longer serves one of these purposes, it's time to go shopping.

Thus, buying a new outfit because you're tired of your old ones is most likely a splurge (your current wardrobe will suffice even if you don't buy new stuff). But buying a new outfit because nothing you own matches the dress code of your new job is more likely a requirement (your attire will be inappropriate unless you buy new stuff). Buying clothes for your pets is most likely a splurge (animals survive nicely without them). But buying a new winter coat because your teeth chatter when you wear your old one is more likely a requirement (your current coat doesn't protect you from cold weather).

Impulsive shoppers like to buy now, budget later. But frugal shoppers think before they buy. As always, the occasional splurge is perfectly okay, as long as it doesn't injure your monthly budget beyond repair. When you need to save and can't fight the temptation to spend, try thinking about the bigger picture. What essential item will you have to go without because you've splurged on something you don't really need? Is it worth the sacrifice?

Another way to curb spending on clothing is to treat your garments well. Caring for your clothes helps them last longer, so you won't have to buy new ones quite so often. Never underestimate the power of taking precautions! Here are a few simple guidelines on clothing care:

  • Treat stains immediately with cold water so they do not set.
  • When machine washing, always choose the gentle cycle, unless your garments have particularly tough stains.
  • Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible as it is gentlest on fabrics.
  • Avoid using bleach, which tends to weaken fabrics. Launder your clothes with a substitute such as baking soda.
  • Skip the dryer and instead line dry your clothing. Electric dryers will wear down your clothes much faster.
  • Hang clothes on a hanger immediately after they've dried, to avoid wrinkles.

Another way to curb spending on clothing is to treat your garments well. Caring for your clothes helps them last longer, so you won't have to buy new ones quite so often. Never underestimate the power of taking precautions! Here are a few simple guidelines on clothing care:

  • Invite a fashion-savvy friend over and go through your wardrobe together. Have him or her suggest a few new ways to mix and match your outfits, particularly the ones you hardly ever wear. You'll get out of your fashion rut and won't be spending any extra money.
  • Identify a few inexpensive, versatile accessories to add to your collection. These will make your old ensembles look like new, but won't break the bank.
  • Pull out the clothes you don't want anymore, and tell your mates to do the same. Then meet up together and swap. This is a great way to reduce and expand your wardrobe at absolutely no cost.

Finally, when you do need new clothes, be careful not to overspend.

  • Before you enter the store, make a list of the items you need and how much your budget will allow you to spend on them. Do not stray from either!
  • Find cheaper items by going to charity shops or outlet stores, using coupons, and shopping sales.
  • Check tags before you buy. Dry-clean-only garments will end up being more costly over time than machine-washable ones.
  • Think ahead. Shop during the off-season for items you know you will need next year.

Here's another idea: If you want a new wardrobe, sell your old one. Then use the money you've made to buy new clothes. It's an even exchange.

august challenge: Learn New Skills

The DIY craze is in full swing. Thanks to the speed and ease with which we can share information, nowadays it's easier than ever to teach ourselves new tricks for saving money - in place of hiring a professional. But if you haven't yet taken a crack at a DIY project, or if you've given up on them because they seem too complicated, then this challenge is for you.

This month, immerse yourself in a new skill that will help you save money down the line. What is a common expense you have that would be cheaper to make, fix or replace on your own? For instance, someone who regularly takes clothes to the tailor would benefit from learning to sew. Someone who relishes in fine dining - and spends a lot of money at gourmet restaurants - would be better off learning to cook.

Brainstorm at least five different skills to take up; then take the month to try them out. You might stumble upon a new hobby that's fun and frugal. At the end of the month, deposit the additional money you would have spent on these projects into your savings account.