The average American spends just over 3% of their annual household budget on apparel and accessories, according to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This comes out to just over $1,800 on clothes each year.
While that number may seem high, there’s no need to max out your credit card trying to get the clothes you want. We’ve scoured the Internet for the best ways to save money while shopping, so you can find the middle ground between budget and style.
Tip 1: Create a budget and stick to it
Add a clothing category to your monthly budget if you don’t have one already. Throughout the year, try not to spend any more than the amount you set for that category. If you have extra at the end of the month, you can put it in your savings account or roll it over to the next month’s clothing budget.
Follow Debt.com’s guide to creating a budget or set a 3% target spending limit, since that’s the average spending on apparel. Don’t be too hard on yourself when first starting out on a budget; you can always adjust the spending target later if you need to scale up or scale back.
Tip 2: Go thrifting
Don’t be afraid of thrift stores! You can find vintage clothing, modern pieces, and everything in between. Many of the items you’ll find are gently used but flawless, and some even have the tags still on them. If you like to upcycle, the thrift store is the perfect place to scout items that would look great with just a bit of alteration.
Due to COVID-19, many thrift stores have shut down their dressing rooms. With that in mind, make sure you ask the store’s return policy before purchasing anything you don’t already know will fit.
Also remember, thrift stores aren’t just for shopping. You can always donate some old clothes, get a receipt, and itemize the donation on your taxes.
Tip 3: Download second-hand apps
For those who love the deals at thrift stores, but would rather shop from home, download a second-hand clothing app. Poshmark and ThredUp are two highly-rated apps that have substantial deals on brand-name items. Both have their own benefits and are worth checking out, but be sure to keep shipping costs in mind. If you’re not careful, you could end up paying more for shipping than the clothing itself.
Tip 4: Sell what you don’t wear
These apps aren’t just good for buying second-hand clothing, they’re also a great way to sell your old clothes. You can easily make some extra cash by just decluttering your closet. You can use either of the recommended apps in tip 3, however they work differently.
On Poshmark, you can list used or new clothing, and interact with buyers directly. Often, this means you can negotiate prices and bundle clothes to sell.
With ThredUp, the company handles the pricing and vending while sellers simply send the clothes they want to get rid of in a pre-provided shipping bag.
Tip 5: “One in, one out” rule
If you want to start selling your old clothes, try using the “one in, one out” rule. Essentially, you can only purchase a new piece of clothing if you get rid of a piece you already own. You’ll shop less if you know it means having to give away things you like.
Tip 6: Shop online
Shopping in physical stores gives you a limited range of prices and sizes to choose from. Looking at online retailers means you can effortlessly compare prices and find the best one for your budget. Plus, online retailers tend to have better clearance sales than what you’ll find in stores.
Tip 7: Track prices for items you want
Just because an item is out of budget now, doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way forever. Set up a price tracker through online sites like camelcamelcamel so you get notified when items you like drop in price. Then, in time, you’ll be able to get what you want without having to overspend.
Tip 8: Get cashback
Getting cashback for your purchases has never been easier while shopping online. Use Rakuten or Ibotta to get reimbursements at thousands of stores like JCPenny, Macy’s, Nike, and more. All you have to do is shop through their website and you’ll start saving. Alternatively, you can set up web browser extensions that will apply rebates automatically as you shop.
Tip 9: Search coupon sites
Good, old-fashioned coupons will always help you save. You can check out our coupon database here, or Google the store you want to shop at followed by the word “coupons.” Of course, a much more streamlined way to find coupons when shopping online is to add a web browser extension like Honey. It finds you the best deals and discount codes at checkout on any website you shop on. Over time, you can even earn cashback through their Honey Gold rewards program.
Coupon code finders like Honey can also be paired with rebate browser extensions like Rakuten or iBotta. So, you can save on purchases upfront and earn cashback to double up your savings.
Tip 10: Get on email lists
Although to some people, email lists are just junk mail, it could be an opportunity to save. Consumers on email lists are often the first ones to know about sales and special offers. Try setting up a separate section or folder in your email inbox specifically for these promotions. This way, your important personal or work emails won’t get lost. You can also simply ignore the folder when buying clothing doesn’t fit in your budget. That way, attractive retail offers don’t tempt you into spending when you can’t afford it.
Tip 11: Get discounted gift cards
Believe it or not, some people just don’t like using their gift cards. They sell them online at a deep discount through sites like Gift Card Granny and Cardpool. If you dig around on these sites you might be able to find $50 gift cards to your favorite clothing stores for only $40, which is already a 20% discount. Combine that with store promotions, coupon codes, and rebates. Now you’re really maximizing your savings!
Although it can be tempting, don’t buy a gift card for a place you rarely shop at just because it’s a good deal. Only purchase cards you know you’ll use.
Tip 12: Remember, discount stores are your friend
Discount stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and Ross sell trendy clothes at lower prices than most department stores. You can get awesome deals, especially if you shop their sale racks or find gift cards using the previous tip.
Look out for the “compare at” price on many of the clothing tags at these stores. While they’re meant to show you how much you’re saving compared to the suggested retail price, the numbers are often inflated—so it can seem like you’re getting a better deal than you actually are.
Tip 13: Don’t trust outlet malls
Outlet malls can be tempting, but tricky. Many stores there will say they have the lowest prices to get you to buy, but you can never be too sure. If you really want an item at an outlet store but aren’t sure if you’re actually getting a great deal, use your phone to look it up online—then you’ll know if you can find a better price somewhere else.
Tip 14: Shop off-season
Stores charge you more when they know you need something—it’s the rule of demand. This is why it makes sense that winter clothes are never actually on sale in winter and summer clothes are never discounted when it’s actually hot outside. As the season ends, clothes for that type of weather go on sale so stores can get rid of excess inventory. Even though it may seem backward, buying swimsuits in fall or winter and puffer coats in the spring or summer can save you a lot of money.
Tip 15: Use price-adjustment programs
Look into shopping at stores that price match competitors, or stores that will adjust prices if an item goes on sale within a window of time after you buy it. Here’s a list of some store policies that can help you save.
Tip 16: Stay away from the center of stores
Many clothing stores put their highest-priced items in the center of the store. While clearance sections are usually in the back or around the edges of the store. Flashy center displays are meant to draw you in, so you buy the more expensive stuff. To avoid all getting roped in, put your blinders on when you walk in the store and head straight for the sale section.
Tip 17: Know your price codes
Some stores use certain numbers in their sale prices that indicate aspects of the discount. If you know these secret codes, you can navigate sales and find out exactly what kind of deal you’re getting. Check out the Cheapism blog to learn more, and for a list of 16 popular retailer sale pricing codes.
Tip 18: Take the surveys on your receipts
You know those surveys cashiers always tell you to take, the ones you most likely ignore? Next time, take the survey and you could get a pretty useful coupon. However, only do surveys that give you immediate benefits, like $5 off a $25+ purchase.
Tip 19: Sign up for rewards programs
Everyone has a favorite store, or two, or five. Whatever yours are, check to see if they have a customer loyalty rewards program. You could earn discounts, special perks, or even free items just for shopping at your preferred places.
Tip 20: Avoid buying things just because they are on sale
Just because it’s on sale, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Low prices are enticing, but make sure you actually like and need the item—and you’re not buying it out of impulse. Think about it this way, if you buy something just because it’s on sale, you’re wasting money that could have been spent on a better addition to your closet.
Tip 21: Set a waiting period
Prevent impulse buys by giving yourself a purchase waiting period. Make yourself wait anywhere from a few days to a few weeks before buying an item you like. Waiting can also help in more ways than one. If you wait long enough, the item you want might go on sale, making your decision much easier.
Tip 22: Only buy what fits now
While buying clothes, especially for your kids, only buy what fits. Although they could “grow into” the items you get them, it’s ultimately a waste of money. Live in the moment and purchase what you and your family can start wearing today.
Tip 23: Upcycle older pieces
Get crafty with clothes that aren’t in style or don’t fit anymore. YouTube and Pinterest are full of inspiration for making over old shirts, pants, jeans, and more. Did you know you can make an old t-shirt into tank tops? Or a men’s button-down into a dress? You can even revamp some old jean shorts by sewing a simple design on the pockets. The possibilities are endless!
Tip 24: DIY alterations
You don’t have to throw something out just because it doesn’t fit right anymore. There are some simple ways you can alter your clothes at home to make them last, with or without a sewing machine.
This Bustle article gives you some hemming hacks for the less crafty among us. If you have a sewing machine at home, try following this Bespoke Post, which includes a guide to making more drastic alterations.
Tip 25: Think about the cost-per-wear
Say you’re thinking about buying a shirt that costs $40, but you know you’ll only wear it 4 times. That’s $10 per wear! The lower the cost-per-wear, the more “worth it” a piece of clothing is. Not into doing the math? Use Glamour’s cost-per-wear calculator to make sure you’re getting the most out of the clothes you buy.
Tip 26: Rent formalwear
When you have a formal event coming up, it’s tempting to go out and buy something special. Most likely though, you’re only going to wear this specific outfit once or twice. To save, shop at sites and stores where you can rent clothing.
RentTheRunway is a great site for renting designer clothing. You can pick out multiple items, and keep them for as long as you want before returning them and getting new ones.
Tip 27: If you want luxury, go for consignment
Paying full price for quality designer clothes is overrated. Check out local designer and vintage consignment shops to find unique clothes at prices that are actually affordable. If you want to shop for discount designer goods online, try browsing The RealReal or LePrix.
Consignment stores are also a good place to sell your designer clothes. You definitely won’t get what you paid for it, but you’ll be able to keep all of the money you make from the transaction. Be aware that on second-hand resale apps like Poshmark and Depop, the third party may take a significant amount of the profit on higher-priced items.
Tip 28: Look for “machine washable” items OR dry-clean at home
Buying items that are dry-clean only is counterproductive if you’re trying to save, and hand-washing items can take up a ton of your time. Always check the tags on the inside of a piece of clothing before buying to see what the washing instructions are—and use that to determine if it’s really worth the price.
On the other hand, there are some effective methods for taking care of your dry-clean-only items without paying an arm and a leg. This list of dry-cleaning alternatives will keep your clothes fresh at a lower price. Some detergent and fabric softener companies like Woolite also make dryer sheets that have a dry-cleaning effect.
Tip 29: Care for your clothes
Clothing maintenance is a big part of saving money. Learn what the fabric care symbols on your tags mean and make sure to follow those care recommendations. You should also store your clothes in a dry, clean place, and wash delicate items accordingly.
Here are a few extra things you can do beyond the tag’s instructions:
- Don’t hang sweaters and knit fabrics, the weight of the clothing could cause it to stretch over time.
- Be sure to properly put away dry cleaned clothes. Leaving them in the plastic dry-cleaning bags for too long can actually harm your clothes.
- Wash dark clothes inside out to prevent color fading.
- Use a drying rack or clothesline to save electricity, and avoid shrinking your favorite apparel.
The more you care for your clothes, the longer they’ll last—and the less you’ll spend in the long run.
Tip 30: Don’t buy into too many trends
Following trends is fun, but unfortunately, it can lead to spending way too much on clothes. Plus, what’s considered “the latest style” one week might be “last season” in a matter of months. Even if you can get a trendy piece cheap at a fast-fashion store, it’s not good for the environment and isn’t made to last. Instead, spend some time building your own style and investing in classic pieces.
Tip 31: Host a clothing swap
You probably aren’t the only one in your friend group who wants to update their wardrobe without emptying their wallet. Plan a clothing swap party and invite stylish friends over to trade clothes you all don’t want anymore. Then you can all get something “new” without spending a dime!
Tip 32: Explore yard sales and garage sales
While this is similar to thrifting, it’s a little more hit-or-miss. The great thing about garage and yard sales is that you can negotiate prices. If you see something you really like, ask the seller if they’re willing to go lower—chances are they will.
Tip 33: Invest in quality
In a post about saving money on clothes, it seems counterintuitive to tell you to invest in more expensive pieces. Yet, spending on a few quality basics now can save you a lot down the road. Looking back at the “cost-per-wear” rule, you can see how spending more now on an item you’ll wear for years can be the better option for the long run.