making the most of your clothes spending (and the winter challenge!)

I know it seems like we just finished the fall challenge, but I am excited to report that the winter challenge is open for registration today! According to Alison, it will build on fall to add a little more warmth but take advantage of what we already own. It’s been cold here in Seattle and I’m looking forward to adding a few more layers. Holiday outfit ideas are also included, which I’ll be holding on to for next year while I live it up in my $30 Target maternity dress this year.

Winter/Holiday Style Challenge Banner

It’s no secret that I love numbers. I probably spend more time strategizing on the best way to maximize my dollars during these challenges than I actually spend on shopping for clothes. It’s totally part of the fun for me, but since I know most people aren’t quite as nerdy, I thought I’d share the ways in which I make the most of my money.

Create a capsule wardrobe. I have spent by far the least amount of money on clothes in the last year (compared to years before) and look much more pulled together while feeling like my options are ten fold what they used to be. Obviously I find Alison’s challenges the easiest way for me to create seasonal wardrobes, but others prefer to create them themselves. You can read about why I love capsule wardrobes in this post.

Set a budget. It doesn’t matter if you need to or not, or if the amount available is $100 or $1000. I guarantee that you will make better choices if you set a budget and commit to sticking to it. Come up with a number before the challenge starts and write it down. Once you have that number, weigh each potential purchase against it to determine if it’s worth it. The extra step of really thinking about an item makes it much harder to impulse buy and end up with pieces you might regret.

I did not set a budget for Spring and bought several ‘extra’ items that don’t get worn often. I did set one for both Summer and Fall and it really forced me to think about my purchases before spending the money. I noticed a big difference in how quickly I bought items (much more slowly) and in how many items I bought that don’t get regularly worn (none).

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Shop through Ebates. There really isn’t a reason not to use Ebates, which is a website that gives you cash back for shopping online. It’s free to create an account and takes approximately ten seconds to use prior to making an online purchase. For example, Nordstrom is 6% right now, meaning that if you click the “Start Shopping Now” link prior to making your purchase at Nordstrom, your Ebates account will be credited with 6% of your purchase. They pay out via Paypal once per quarter and almost every store I regularly shop at is included. This isn’t for just clothes, they have stores of all types, including Target!

I’ve earned $485 since opening my account in 2008. That’s not a ton of money, but it is $70 a year for virtually no effort.

Typically I forget to use Ebates at the beginning of my shopping adventure and remember right before I’m about to hit submit. I simply close the window, reopen, go to Ebates, look for my store, launch the store through Ebates, and go back to my cart. As long as you’re on the same computer, your saved items will still be sitting in the cart, waiting for you to buy them and earn yourself a few percentage points back.

Be loyal and earn points. If you are comfortable with credit cards, opening them with stores you shop at often is a great way to add more to your budget amount. Most retailers offer cards that earn rewards back on the purchases you make. I don’t open the Visa or MC credit cards, just the cards that are only used at that store. My budget amount each season is what I plan to spend in cash; I add any rewards I might have from stores on top of that. To make this effective and actually earn decent rewards, you have to be loyal to one or two brands (or do a lot of shopping I suppose if you want to be loyal to more than one or two).

I would say that 90% of my shopping is done with one of the Gap brands (Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Piperlime, and Athleta) or Nordstrom. Occasionally something will intrigue me enough at another store to make a purchase that won’t earn me points, but not often. I have coerced encouraged Greg to do most of his shopping with these two brands as well, using my credit cards. He has no interest in playing the rewards game so I benefit from his points. I haven’t bought a ton for the martian yet, but what little I have bought has all been sale clothes from Gap and Old Navy. There’s no shame in earning rewards off your unborn child’s wardrobe!

I’m not sure I’ll use it all, but I currently have $60 to Gap brands and $40 to Nordstrom. That increases my $300 budget by 33%, just for having shopped these brands previously. Other benefits of being loyal often include free shipping and sale days only for card members.

Know your stores. If you regularly shop at a few stores, you will learn their routines which will save you money over time. For example, I know that it is foolish to ever buy anything full price at a Gap brand store. At a minimum you should get 30% off because they are constantly running 30%+ off sales online. If there’s not some sort of deal, wait a day and there will be. Nordstrom, on the flip side, has major sales once or twice a year and other than that it’s very hit or miss when or if an item will go on sale. If you miss the big sales, you might as well buy an item regular price before it sells out.

During the spring challenge I bought a few pairs of jeans from Loft. They have an incredibly high minimum for free shipping, which I didn’t meet. Then I didn’t like the jeans and found that they don’t have free returns. I ended up spending nearly $20 to receive and send back two pairs of jeans. Lesson learned: pay attention to store policies, especially if they are stores you don’t frequent. And also, never pay for shipping. In this day and age, that’s just insulting!

Have any tips for maximizing your clothing budget? 

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