Retire 3 Years Earlier By Cutting Down Your Clothing Consumption & Why I’m Going Cold Turkey

Retire 3 Years Earlier By Cutting Down Your Clothing Consumption & Why I’m Going Cold Turkey

The average American spends $1,600 a year on clothing. How can you spend less and still look just as amazing? How much earlier would you retire if you did and how much spending would you free up per year? #payoffdebt #studentloans #retireearlier #earlyretirement #financialindependence #financialfreedom

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.

This simply chart shows the correlation between years of retirement and your current savings rate.

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!

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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?

*Calculations were courtesy of Networthify and based on a post by MMM.

**Well, I had to pick a state, so I chose a HCOL one for conservative estimates.

14 thoughts on “Retire 3 Years Earlier By Cutting Down Your Clothing Consumption & Why I’m Going Cold Turkey

  1. Wow! You own a lot! I have may be 5 dresses (because I like dresses a lot), 5-6 shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, 4 track pants (I wear that at home), 8 tshirts for home, 3 pairs of shorts, 3 pairs of gym clothes (I only go thrice a week), 2 pairs of sneakers, 6 pairs of other footwear(including snow boots, and I hardly wear anything but sneakers) 4 coats (varying lengths, thickness, and even sizes), 10 pairs of socks. Those numbers are approximate and what I use actively. I do have 5-6 shirts and 2-3 pairs of jeans in multiple sizes because I lost 30 lbs last year.

    I used to have more earlier, but not to your levels. And I read “The life changing habit of tidying up” by Marie Kondo, and it was like a revelation. I didn’t actually use any idea from the book, except that I didn’t buy anything other than what I really liked. And I donated the rest to Big Brother Big Sister.

    All the best trying to sort that out.

    1. I think I’ll just leave them in the closet, but keep wearing them until they wear out. Definitely won’t be buying any clothes for the next year – maybe for the next few years? I’m going to just put the usage % up haha. This makes me feel slightly bad.

      I did read the Kondo book this year — safe to say a lot of stuff was thrown out! And I haven’t really bought anything since then. This year has definitely been a 180.

  2. Hello Ms. Firebird,
    I was looking through my closet the other day and was shocked at how many jackets (11) I own. I won’t even mention the jeans hoard. The funny thing is I am in the military so I pretty much wear the same thing every day. So why do I need so many clothes and why am I so attached to them?
    I used Mint for the first time last year to track my family’s finances and was floored at the $6479 spent on clothing. That is a lot of money that could have been put to work. I hope to cut that in half this year. Wish me luck.
    P.S.
    Love your blog!

    1. :0 While you’re at it, try to reduce 10 % a month until you get to 0! That’s a lot of money on clothes! It’s probably >6% of your after-tax budget (do you still have to pay the same taxes, just only federal?). >6% of your aftertax budget is like 5 years you could retire earlier! Mint is awesome. It catches all the little things.

      I used to volunteer for the USO quite a bit (not in Germany though). Thanks for your service!

  3. Solid tips! I’d say the other thing to mention is you have to know yourself to understand what you’ll actually wear. I think this is where most people have trouble.

    In 2017 I spent a little less than $1,000 on clothes. I think of my wardrobe as kind of like a puzzle, and fill the holes, instead of buying whatever I like, or what’s shiny. I don’t shop at fast fashion places anymore and buy mostly used designer clothes. Clothes depreciate so much buying secondhand is a much better business decision!

    Curious to know how much you spent on clothes last year? How far do you have to go to stop buying in 2018?

    1. That’s definitely true. I used to like buying super fancy dresses and heels for my imaginary self. I almost never wear heels though, and I’ve gone to exactly 0 ball-gown type events in the last 3 years…. I only go to super fancy meals a few times per year, so the CPW on those dresses is horrendous.

      Have you checked out poshmark? When you get bored at work you can surf through the brands you like. There are really good deals like 80% off things WITH TAGS that are super super super well made. Like this one: you could probably haggle it down to $50.

      https://poshmark.com/listing/Kate-Spade-multi-stripe-kite-bow-back-dress-size-0-59cc57b5ea3f368494008b93

      Agreed!! Just buy new (or gently used) clothes that are super discounted but still designer. Who cares if it’s used? No one knows and you can wash it to make it clean.

      As for the accessories staples, I’m wary of buying them used for authenticity purposes, so when I’m in Europe (or a friend is), I get them discounted due to VAT/exchange rates. I don’t carry around much stuff anyway (just phone and keys) so I hate toting around a purse.

      A post is in the queue about the return on Channel flap/Birkin bags and how they beat the stock market, hehe. I figured you’d enjoy that (read a few of your posts and will be following along. You seem to be a sample sale master).

      I just wrote a post on Yelp Elite (not sure if you’re a member), but they have free tickets to the Gilt sample sale in NYC every year and early access (an hour early I think? Whenever the media contacts are let in). Though you’re in advertising, so maybe you have some cool sample sale perks there :).

  4. Oh, I will share the hell out of that Birkin post. Someone on Twitter was saying how they judge people who spend $40k on a Birkin, and I thought to myself, Wait, no one bats an eye when ppl buy a $40k Audi, which depreciates way more. So I’d say the Birkin is a much better asset than a car! But since everyone buys cars, spending on them is deemed more morally OK.

    1. People are so weird. If you can buy super low and pick your pieces wisely, you can get ahead with selling it for more. Ulta-investment level is trying to see if the price increases match the sp500 haha.

  5. I was astounded at the number of clothes I owned, and like you, I notice there are some I hardly wear. I am committed to buying no clothes this year, and to hopefully cut my wardrobe in half through attrition and giving to charity.

    I like the concept of cost per wear…

    1. Same! I haven’t committed to yet another year of donation though as going through my closet makes me sad sometimes, but I really should declutter. Thanks! I use CPW a lot. I think we should have units of savings for things we own that we had paid fixed costs for.

  6. Wait…did you say I can retire 2-3 years earlier if I stop buying clothes? I can do that for myself easily, I spend almost nothing on clothing myself. My wife may need some convincing but could be open to the idea. My kids on the other hand, how do I make them stop growing?!?

    1. For the average American household yes! Tell your wife to read the post haha! I mean, does she REALLY need more clothes. This is coming from a woman herself!

      I calculated 2-3 years based on how much the average american Household spends on clothing (1.6k). So if you can eliminate that amount from your budget in terms of clothes, then yes!

      Hm, that’s a pretty interesting question I didn’t think about… I guess it’s all about perspective, and I don’t have kids at this time. Have you guys ever been to Plato’s closet or another consignment store? They frequently have pieces with tags on them — and the style is usually in season!

  7. I used to be so guilty of buying things that looked okay on me because they were a great deal. I’ve been working to stop doing that (mostly by not shopping). Great post!

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