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Small Steps to Save Money on Clothing

May 2020

Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®
Distinguished Professor and Extension Financial Management Specialist Emeritus
Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Like food, clothing is a major recurring expense in family budgets. It may not be the largest expense, compared to housing costs, utilities, or transportation, but people still spend a lot of money buying clothes, especially when young children are growing. Below are twelve small steps to cut clothing costs:

  • Choose Basic Styles - Select “timeless” clothing (e.g., a black dress or black dress pants) that can be dressed up or down and build a wardrobe around neutral colors (e.g., black, navy, and brown) and a few favorite colors that compliment you.
  • Buy What You Own - Select new clothing to go with clothes that you already own. Aim to get at least 3 outfits from each new item (five or more is even better). When you buy clothing that matches what you already own, you do not need to buy more clothing to go along with it.
  • Buy Quality, Not Quantity - Select well-made garments that last longer and look better. The longer the expected life of a garment, the better the quality should be. Look for high quality fabric, well-made details, (e,g., pockets and buttonholes), and brand names associated with high quality construction.
  • Set Shopping Boundaries - Set personal policies for shopping that you will not cross. Examples are “I will never pay full price for clothing” and “I will only buy something if it is at least 25% off the original price.”
  • Shop Second Hand - Look for new or “barely worn” clothing at consignment stores and thrift shops. Some thrift shops have periodic “bag sales” where you can buy a big bag of clothing for a nominal cost such as $5.
  • Family Hand-Me-Downs - Pass gently used clothing down from child to child within a family or an extended family (e.g., cousins). Some churches and community organizations also have clothing exchanges.
  • Look for Discounts - Use limited-time coupons and shop one-day sales or clearance events at department stores. Another savings strategy is to shop at discount stores that generally have a smaller price markup.
  • Follow Retailers on Social Media - “Like” retailers on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. By doing so, you are likely to get “insider information” about sales and “promo codes” to save money on purchases.
  • Take Care of Your Clothes - Follow fabric care labels and treat stains immediately. Failure to do so can permanently damage a garment, making it unable to wear.
  • Learn Basic Sewing Skills - Know how to repair a ripped hem and sew on a button. These skills will keep items in your wardrobe “wearable” versus having them sit in your closet.
  • Sign Up for Retail Store Rewards Cards - Some clothing retailers provide cash-back reward certificates or additional savings discounts with a rewards card. Beware of their credit cards, however. Many have annual percentage rates (APRs) of 25% or higher. Use retail store credit cards only if you pay your balance in full.
  • Share Your Clothing Preferences - Don’t make people guess what to get you for a holiday or birthday gift. Describe your clothing preferences or suggest a gift card at your favorite store to buy what you really want.