Inspired by Cait Flander’s new book: The Year of Less, I started thinking about my consumption habits — particularly clothes. I wondered why I needed to buy new ones every year and how many years earlier I could retire by removing clothing consumption from my lifestyle.
The average American Household spends $1,600 a year on clothes. Considering the average household income is $60,000, the after-tax in NY** is $42,000. 4 percent of your average household’s yearly expenditure is on clothing. That’s 2-3 years earlier most people who are in the FIRE community can retire earlier if they stop spending money rotating the clothes in their closet.
What if we look at the average American? The average American saves 5 percent of their income. If they removed clothing consumption, they could retire an ASTOUNDING 10 years earlier. For most people who are thinking of being financially independent, the savings in years amount to 2-3 years of early retirement. Just 4 percent, or the average percent of income an American household spends on clothing purchases every year, can get you to freedom 2-3 years earlier! Insane!
My Journey To This Realization:
Prior to college, I wore a uniform every day at school. As a result, I didn’t have that many clothes in my closet. When I got to college, all of a sudden I had to have clothes for every day of the week. Different clothes each day, of course. My wardrobe ballooned and I began buying clothes I semi-liked if it was a good deal. I participated in Black Friday for the first time ever and came back home with shopping bags full of clothes. Sophomore year came along, and landing an internship meant buying more business casual wear. Oh, if only I had gone into tech and been able to wear T-shirts all day.
After college, I realized I had way too much stuff and started donating 30+ or pieces of clothing every year, but still buying a few pieces to replace them. I realized I had enough. I was spending money on new clothes I would barely wear and still donating a ton every year. In 1930, the average American woman owned 9 outfits. Nine. Nine?! Forbes says the average is 30 outfits today, but I don’t think I’ve seen someone’s closet with less than 50 outfits. I guess it’s not surprising when you realize the average American house has increased nearly 3 times in square feet.
Be honest. How many items do you donate per year and what percentage of your closet have you worn once, just once in the last 2 years? I thought about this and the answer is pretty sobering. Below are my personal stats on clothing. I’m defining my Clothing to Wear ratio as anything I’ve worn at least once in the last year.
Clothing to Wear Ratio by category:
Dresses – 14 %
Shirts – 50 %
Pajama pants -100 %
Shorts – 15 %
Running shorts/yoga pants – 100 %
Hooded Jackets – 25 %
Blouse/polos – 10 %
Suits – 0 % (I find you only really wear these to job interviews)
Shoes – 10 % (I’ve worn all of maybe 4 pairs of shoes this year…)
I really don’t need to be spending money on clothing when I don’t even wear all the clothing in my closet. 95 percent of the time I’m in a dress, as I’m not a jeans girl. 50 percent of my dresses I would love to wear, but I’m 1-2 sizes too big for them. It’s time to finally lose those 15 pounds so I can fit in them. Of the items I wear a lot, my cost per wear (CPW) is less than 25 cents. The CPW of the things I don’t really wear? Well, close to the price I bought it at :(.
So, here’s going cold turkey and here are some tips to getting to a zero consumption level. 2018 and not buying clothes? My retirement accounts thank you.
5 Tips to Saving Money on Clothing Consumption:
1. Stop buying things because they are good deals.
Stop the nonsense. As human beings, we get a rush of endorphins when we see a good deal, and we keep feeling that every time we look at the piece of clothing we’ve bought for 60 percent off in our closet. The problem here is if you only bought it because it was a good deal. How many pieces are in your closet because they’re good deals that you’ve never worn? If you’re the kind of person who buys for the good deals, then think about this when you’re at the store. Look through your closet to see exactly how many pieces you bought for this reason. Be honest with yourself.
2. Check if it’s a good Cost Per Wear (CPW)
I’ve never gotten a good CPW out of fast fashion retailers (Forever21, H&M, Zara, etc). At most, their clothing lasts 7 cycles through the wash and then my CPW is $3-$5, which is pretty horrendous. The same goes for mid market quality as well. On the high quality side – Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Vince Camuto etc, I’ve gotten CPWs of 25 cents. This is mostly because people tend to sell high quality things for 80 percent off (with the tags still on!) because they buy too much stuff and then decide to get rid of it. I hear things like, “I need the money for X thing that broke this week.” or “I don’t get paid until next week and wanted to get something from the store and realized I don’t wear this.” America, stop spending below your means and start building an emergency fund.
My very good CPWs:
There’s probably 6 dresses I wear at least every other week from the high quality caliber brands mentioned above. All but one look brand new and have CPWs of around 25 cents now. I’ve worn these dresses for about 3-4 years. The one that has a little tear is a woven dress that I’ve put in the washer every time — I decided it was worth it because it costs $5 to fix tiny tears Chinatown and dry cleaning is absurdly expensive and would add to my CPW.
My boots/flats come out to a CPW of 25 cents as well. A pair of knee-high leather boots bought for 50 percent off at $200 has lasted me 4+ years and I still wear them everyday in the winter. I occasionally wear them in the spring or summer if they go with my outfit :). I buy polish and cleaner for $10 and it’ll last me longer than a decade. I get the shoes resoled for $15 every 3 years in Chinatown.
I’d recommend aiming for CPWs of at least 25 cents for things you would wear on a normal basis.
3. How much will the laundry/dry cleaning bill be?
Do you really want to buy that silk dress? Because if you do, you’re going to either have to hand wash it or send it to the dry cleaners for $6. Let’s be honest, you’re a busy person. You’re not going to hand wash it. What about that wool or cashmere sweater? Sure, it’s comfy, but if you dry it out, it might shrink or pill. That leads to a higher CPW.
Take into account the cost of your laundry bill in your CPW. If you have to dry clean that silk dress every time you wear it, that’s and extra $6 CPW. Kinda pricey, no?
4. Buy new things from other people, not the store.
Go on Ebay, Poshmark, Mercari, or any women’s fashion resale website where people list their closets themselves. The flood of clothing that is NWT (New With Tags) with original prices of a few hundred dollars are often found for 80 percent off. Ta-da! High quality pieces for fast fashion prices! It always amazes me people buy things for full price then turn around and sell it because they realized they don’t want it.
If you like shopping with physical products, go to a consignment store. Same concept as the above, but the consignment store has pre-vetted the authenticity, style, and quality of the pieces. You don’t get to negotiate in person usually though. You can usually negotiate online.
Be sure you know how to tell if pieces are authentic. Go to the store’s brand and feel the fabric, look at the tags for font, size, and get a general feeling of the style. If you’re not sure of its authenticity, ask a friend. If no one is sure, do not buy it!
5. Wait a week, and then see if you still want it.
If you see something you like, and you’ve considered the above 4 tips, wait a week and then come back to it. Chances are that you won’t even remember. Also, if it’s something on sale, usually it’ll be gone, so your temptation will be removed!
What is your yearly spend on clothing? What is a good CPW for you?
**Well, I had to pick a state, so I chose a HCOL one for conservative estimates.