How I Stopped Cheap Clothes From Killing My Budget

Prioritizing quality over quantity in fashion saved me thousands of dollars in the long run.

by Michelle Jackson
Mar 21 2018, 3:04am

Photo via Getty Images

A couple of years ago, I was crazy broke. The kind of broke that makes you look at every financial move you’re making and question what the hell is going on? Budget audits became a constant part of my life as I tried to figure out what to do. The cause was clear: I was financially overextended with debts from bad spending decisions and a previous lack of financial knowledge.

I began blogging about my struggles with money because I felt like my story might resonate with other people. It did. Thousands of people a month would read my blog and follow my story. It soon became clear that I wasn’t the only person struggling with money. As I documented my journey toward a debt-free life, I became focused on figuring out what my financial freedom formula would be.

I’d stopped spending with my credit cards, and let’s be real, I couldn’t use them because they were maxed out. But, for some reason, I still wasn’t able to gain traction with my financial goals. So I decided to do something crazy. For 365 days, I stopped shopping for anything that is worn on the body. Really, I broke up with shopping for a year and discovered that fast casual shopping was one of the habits that was keeping me broke. Shocked? So was I.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said: “Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship.” Who knew that my habit of popping into Forever 21, H&M, and TJ Maxx was one of the reasons that I couldn’t get a handle on my money?

As my yearlong No Shopping Challenge continued, I noticed every time I felt the urge to go shopping. In those moments, it became clear that shopping was a habit that I had to break.

  • If I was bored, I would go shopping.
  • If I was lonely, I would go shopping.
  • If I was anxious, I would go shopping.

As a result, by removing the habit, I had to figure out different ways to deal with these emotions. When I was bored I would go hiking, when I was lonely I would see if a friend or my mom would like to hang out. And, when I was anxious, I tried to figure out what was going on and deal with whatever was bothering me. By the end of the challenge, I saved $4,000 compared to the previous year. Shocking. But, I didn’t just save cash, I saved time and energy.

How did I figure out that I was blowing thousands of dollars annually on slightly crappy clothing? Well, I spent a lot of time looking through my bank records. And, as I began adding up the amounts spent at Target, Forever 21, Goodwill, and other budget stores, I felt sick and embarrassed. I asked myself: How in the hell is it possible to drop that much cash on used and cheap clothing? But the numbers didn’t lie. It’s possible, I did it, and I believe a lot of other people do it too. Mindlessly, one trip at a time.

In case you want to look into your own spending, here’s what you need to do. Set aside some time to study your financial records. When you log into your bank accounts, you can look at one month at a time and add up spending on shopping. If you have credit cards, scroll through those records, and add up the amounts that you spent on clothes.

Then, divide that total amount by the amount you earn per month, and multiple it by 100. That is the percentage of income that you’re spending on shopping. When looking at my anemic savings account and the percentage that I was spending on clothes, something had to change.

It has been a minute since I finished my No Shopping Challenge and you’re probably wondering if I’m spending like before.


But, an interesting thing did happen. Even though I spend thousands of dollars less than before, the actual items that I purchase tend to be more expensive.

Here’s what I do now: First, I still enjoy shopping from time to time. But I approach shopping differently. One of the weird things that I discovered during that year was that no one remembers what you wear. People in my life would forget that I was doing a No Shopping Challenge and would ask me about my “new clothing.”

This realization inspired me to spend more time reimagining how I wear what I own. Accessories factor in pretty heavily in how I elevate an outfit. And, I focus on quality versus quantity now. I buy more classic looks in clothes and focus on accessories to keep me up to date with what’s in style at the moment.

Here are a couple of tools that I use to save money on clothes:

  • Ebates: I absolutely love this savings portal! Basically, you get rebates back on shopping. The only negative—you have to remember to log into Ebates before you begin shopping online. I no longer enjoy going to malls so this works out perfectly for me.
  • ThredUp: This is an online consignment shop with a ridiculous amount of new, higher end clothes, plus regular wear. I love the whole experience of shopping via ThredUp and have requested closet cleanout bags to send clothes I no longer wear to the company. Their payout rate isn’t great but it’s an easy way to get clothes out of the house and a credit towards some new stuff
  • Email signups: Yes, I know that everyone hates all of the emails they receive on a daily basis, but retailers typically include sales alerts and coupons in those emails. Sign up for a few lists from your favorite stores, and see how much you can save.
  • No Shopping Challenges: I continue to embrace shorter No Shopping Challenges to break up with shopping as a habit. Each time is easier than the last and I would encourage anyone who is struggling with their budget to give a 30 Day No Shopping Challenge a try.

Shopping my closet is the next habit that I’ve focused on. I also discovered that I had A LOT of duplicate clothing. Basically, I was buying variations of the same piece of clothing, over, and over, and over again. I don’t do that anymore.

It’s shocking to me how one habit derailed my financial life. Now, imagine having multiple bad financial habits. Take one habit at a time and begin changing your financial life. Your bank account and future you will thank you.

Michelle Jackson runs the blog and podcast Michelle is Money Hungry. She's still on her debt freedom journey, but is getting closer to the end. When she's not blogging, you may find her roaming around the mountains of Colorado. Follow Michelle Jackson on Twitter.