If you are anything like me, it is very easy to go overboard while shopping. Having some checks and balances in place will really help you stay on track, while still being able to have some fun with your wardrobe. A couple weeks ago, I talked about how I want to get my spending in check in the clothing department, and these are my rules of the road to make that happen.
My first tip to shopping on a budget is, well, make a budget! I want to give you a little insight into what I did before I had a specific clothing budget, and why I think it is so important to have one. I've always had a budget, but not having "shopping" listed in it left me trying to grab from other categories to purchase clothing. For example, I would think, "oh, I'll just not eat out as much, so I can buy this skirt." But towards the end of the month (I get paid monthly), I had depleted my entertainment budget with one week left until payday. Not good.
To create a budget, its as simple as taking your monthly/bi-weekly/quarterly income (however you want to look at it) and subtracting all your expenses. This means rent/mortgage, bills, groceries, entertainment/eating out, transportation; basically any money that is going out over the course of your budget time frame. I also subtracted the amount I want to save each month before coming up with a realistic figure that I can spend on clothing.
Once you have subtracted all your expenses, whatever you have left is what you can work with for a clothing budget. I separate this amount into a clothing category and an "extras" category for any pesky unexpected expenses, that way I'm not using all my leftover cash for shopping. And voila! You have a reasonable amount to spend on clothes without going overboard. This is what's going to save you from racking up credit card debt.
For more budget resources, see here and here.
Now that you know what you have to spend, make a list of what pieces you are looking to purchase. This can include items from your list of completer pieces you compiled after a "shop my closet" session (see last week's post), and maybe a few trendy items you have been eyeing. Having an idea of what I am looking for stops me from doing the afternoon Forever 21.com browse, resulting in numerous frivolous items in my cart (which if I'm having a particularly bad day, I may just purchase). Blew my budget right there.
If I know that in the month of November, I want to purchase a plaid button-up, faux-leather pencil skirt, and a new coat, my shopping will be much more focused. I can shop for those items first, and then use any leftover budget for something that caught my eye during the month. Or, you can roll that money over to spend next month.
Find a system that works for you. Do it on paper if you like. If you have a smartphone, I find that a budgeting app is really convenient. I use Spending Tracker. I enter in my total budget amount, then track each expense as it comes in and categorize it. I can also view graphs that show me how much I have spent in each category. Having to manually enter each expense keeps me accountable, and I can quickly and easily see how much I have spent that month.
You can also use Mint.com if you don't want to manually track each purchase. Link your bank account and credit card(s) to your account, and your purchases will be categorized in Mint based on what store/site the charge came from. You can track your spending over time with various graphs. I found this site to be less helpful for me because I wasn't having to record each purchase myself, and would go weeks without checking my account to see how I was doing.
This is very important! The more coupons you can get your hands on, the further you can stretch your budget. I never purchase anything online without first checking RetailMeNot.com for a coupon code. You can also sign up for a store's email list and get a coupon for your first purchase. Email lists are also great to stay in the know about the latest and greatest sales and promos, but don't use them as an excuse to shop each time one with a 30% off subject line enters your inbox.
Get familiar with the sales and promotions run by your favorite stores. If you are eyeing something at J.Crew Factory, I can guarantee you that if you wait a week or two, you will see a 30-40% off promo going on. Same goes for stores like Express, Limited, Loft, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Gap. These stores all run frequent promotions, so wait a few days for that sale notification email before you buy. It also helps to know the return policies of the stores you shop at. Some stores have a certain window where you can get money back on an item you purchased if it goes on sale after you bought it.
Another way you can save money is by setting up sale alerts on Shopstyle.com. Find an item you like and click the Sale Alert button to enter an email address where you would like to be alerted of a price markdown. I really love Shopstyle as an all-around great shopping resource. So many great retailers are a part of their network, so it makes it really easy to search for a specific item and find tons of options. I always sort my searches from lowest to highest price to get the best deal.
If you don't think you can stick to a budget on your own, recruit your husband, best friend, sister, whoever you can count on, to help you out. In order for this budget thing to work, you have to be responsible about spending your money. Be honest with yourself and your accountability buddy. Don't beat yourself up if you spend a little over your budget, just subtract that amount from next month's budget. It's going to take a little while to get used to, especially if you are just starting out like I am.
1. Avoid random "browsing trips" or "emotional shopping." Always have a mission or specific item you are looking for before you leave the house. As far as "emotional shopping" goes, find a less expensive way to treat yourself on a bad day if you are prone to retail damage (your favorite dessert, a new nail polish or lipstick, etc).
2. Set a limit on how much you prefer to spend on each item of clothing (example, maximum $50 on a pair of jeans, $30 on a top, $75 on a bag, etc.). Of course you don't always have to stick to it 100%, but it can help limit "splurge" purchases.
3. To save up for a more expensive item, set aside a certain amount from your clothing budget each month until you have enough to purchase it.
4. If you prefer online shopping, limit your time spent browsing online. The more time you are looking, the more items you will find that you will be tempted to buy.
Like last weeks shop your closet post, the tips I've put together are pretty simple and straightforward. For those of us who want to be a little wiser about our spending, its all about coming up with plan and sticking to it. Next, I'll be sharing my tips on how to be a smart shopper once you hit the stores, so make sure to check back next Tuesday!