She's Going a Year Without Buying Clothes (and So Can You)

A year without buying clothes
By Alexa Mills

Do you ... :
  • Think about new outfit ideas when you're bored?
  • Only feel calm and clear-headed when you're at the mall?
  • Envision clothing items before you've seen them at a store?
  • Dream about manicures that will match your outfits?
  • Buy items that you never end up wearing?
Then perhaps ...:

You, like me, have a clothes addiction and would like some help putting the kibosh on your most expensive and time-consuming habit/hobby.

Let Me Help You with My (Nearly-Proven) 11-Step Program

It is working for me, and it will work for you.

1. Don't give up shopping immediately. It could take you months to prepare for this. First, give up buying clothes for a period of time that's unnatural for you. Last year, I gave up shopping for Lent. Forty days was a stretch for me, but I did it. A week after Easter I made up for the lost time, but I'd restored my confidence in my own willpower.

2. Clean your closet. If you do this right, it will take you several hours or even a whole weekend. You have to look at -- and even try on -- every item you own. You have to match each top with several different bottoms, and vice versa.
Find the items that match nothing. Are these items meaningless, regrettable impulse buys? If so, pack them in a bag for your cute little cousin or the local goodwill. Are these unmatched items well-thought-through purchases that you'd wear every week if only you had the right shoes/pants/cardigans to go with them? If so, make a list of items you need to complement your unused pieces. When I did this activity, I found that my whole fall wardrobe would be more tenable if only I owned a pair of brown ballet flats. Easy.

3. Consider a year in your life. What outfits are you going to need? If you give up shopping in May, but you have three weddings to attend in July and you don't own a fancy summer dress, you will fail at this. If you can wear jeans to work but you don't own a pair of jeans you love, you will be miserable. Make a list of the things you need and stick to your list. Do not make an extravagant list. When you go to the store to buy the items on your list, do not give in to whims. Do not treat yourself to an extra. The list is it. This is your first test.

4. Draw up the rules of your game. Try to be as extreme as possible with your rules. If you give up buying clothes but not accessories, you're on a slippery slope. If you give up buying clothes in your home city but you're allowed to buy things when you travel, you're going to have sad vacation bills. If this is the year you're honeymooning in Italy, this is not a good year to give up shopping. Wait until you get home from Italy.
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My rules are pretty simple: I'm not allowed to buy any new clothes for any reason for 12 months. In an emergency (such as: The airline has lost my luggage for the first four days of my trip) I can make an exception, but I have to attempt to solve my problem at a used clothing store. I also have one free pass for myself: I can spend a delightful day consignment shopping with a friend if the opportunity comes up naturally. It hasn't so far, and I'm six months in to this challenge.

5. Don't give yourself a free pass on shoes. You have to give up shoes too. Sorry.

6. Don't give yourself a free pass on accessories. What isn't an accessory?

7. Confess your plan to people who love you and see you often. These people are going to hold you accountable. Put together a list of clothes-loving coworkers and friends and email them (all on the same email, even if they don't know each other. Do not bcc them.) on your start date. Your friends won't ask you to go on superfluous shopping trips anymore, and your coworkers will know your wardrobe well enough to sniff out a slip-up. My mom got me a beautiful yellow cardigan for my birthday. The day I wore it to work, my boss started asking about the new sweater before she even said hello. According to my rules, I'm allowed to accept gifts.

8. Hope and pray that your mom or aunt or someone takes pity on you and buys you something. But do not ask for anything. Don't even hint.

9. Keep a running list of the things you want. The moment a clothing vision comes in to your head, write it down. Some interesting patterns will emerge. I found out that I really want to buy clothes the day before I'm traveling somewhere, whether for work or pleasure. I also get cravings for brightly colored socks.

10. Keep a running list of things you already have. And I don't mean clothes. You have friends; you have access to a community exercise class; you have a library card; a local museum is free on Wednesday nights. All of these things will fill the void when you stop shopping. Because the thing is -- and this aspect of the project surprised me -- there is no reason to pop into a store for minute if you know you can't buy anything. I envisioned myself shopping just as often, but not bringing anything home. Instead, I've almost completely stopped looking in stores.

11. Call your sponsor. If you do breeze through your favorite store in the coldest month of the year to find a gorgeous spring collection, and find that your mouth is actually watering, call up one of those friends. Okay, you've confessed your temptation. Now go home.

My year is up Sept. 23, 2013. When is yours?

Alexa Mills Lives in Boston.

More from The Billfold:

How A Family Of Four Manages To Live Well On Just $14,000 Per Year
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She's Going a Year Without Buying Clothes (and So Can You)

"My husband told me he'd heard about this book, ["America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money]," she said. "We talked about it over the phone and I read it and thought how it could apply to us."

The couple had a single savings goal in mind –– scraping together $30,000 for a downpayment on their home in their native Henderson, Nevada.

The mindless spending was out, and Wagasky came up with a budget she could make work.
"I changed the way I was grocery shopping and started working my way up, " she said.

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Wagasky barely knew her way around a kitchen when she started her money makeover.

Now she's an avid cookbook collector (she checks them out from libraries or asks for them as gifts to save), and it's one of the simplest ways she's managed to cutback on spending.

With a $7 bread-maker she scored at a local thrift shop, she never spends on store bought slices. She's not shy about professing her love for wholesale stores like Costco, which is her go-to source for baking ingredients.

Above Wagasky's twist on homemade Sloppy Joe's.

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"Everything must be budgeted," Wagasky wrote in a June entry on her blog. "From family outings, to toiletries to clothes purchases. It must be budgeted."

And she takes Do-It-Yourself to the extreme. Everything from laundry soap and clothing to the kitchen her husband installed in their new home was either crafted by hand or thrifted.
She swears by this home-made laundry detergent recipe. (pictured above)

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When it come to cutting costs, cable was as easy luxury to part ways with.

With two children aged 6 and 8 to entertain, Wagasky invests $14.99 in a Netflix plan and recently added Hulu to the mix.

The family also uses a simple antennae to pick up basic cable channels.

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With a single source of fixed income, there's no room for impulse purchases in the Wagasky household.

They budget $400 for groceries each month and that's it.

"Once that $400 is gone, it is gone," she writes. "There are no extra shopping trips made because there is no more money."

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Wagasky said they have no credit debt, but they do charge emergency expenses on plastic when absolutely necessary.

"We recently had some medical bills we had to pay, and we were able to take our savings and pay those down as fast as we could," she said.

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With gas prices creeping higher each all the time, the Wagaskys watch their mileage like hawks.

That means combining errands together and doing all they can to make one take of gas last a month.

"We know we don't get to drive and visit family often, so when we do we cherish it," she wrote in a blog entry.

"We don't go just for an hour, we stay and visit and even run errands that may be close to where we have family. We try to remember that when the gas is is gone."

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After Wagasky's husband left active duty and started school, the couple knew they would only have $14,000 per year to live on.

So they paid off the $8,000 he owed on his truck while he was earning more and they could afford the expense.

They also bought a van, which they saved $10,000 for initially and were able to pay the remaining $12,000 owed within a year.

Having zero car payments is a nice relief.

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Like anyone with simple math skills, Wagasky was quick to realize how much cash she was wasting on prepackaged snacks for her children.

She cut them out completely and whips up homemade granola bars and trail mix instead.

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If you're on a tight food budget, your freezer will become your best friend.

Wagasky chops vegetables and fruits and freezes them for a month. She actually does the same for dairy products like cheese, butter and yogurt.

"I am able to freeze about 8 gallons of milk each month," she writes. "They sit at the bottom of my freezer and we thaw them out when we need them." Baked goods get the same chilly treatment.

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Wagasky was dubious about joining a food co-op, but after three months, she realized she would never beat the savings or quality she found.

Food co-ops pool membership fees together in order to fund a monthly harvest that's distributed at designated pick-up points.

A couple of times per month, Wagasky gets a basketful of in-season produce for $15 –– way better bargain than she'd ever find in stores.

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By the time Wagasky's husband came home from Iraq, they had managed to scrape together the $30,000 they needed for a downpayment on a home.

"But we decided the best option would be not to have a mortgage payment at all," she said. "We found a fixer-upper that didn't have a kitchen ... and we paid cash."

Price tag: $28,000. With the leftover cash, they were able to finish the kitchen and install wood flooring throughout the house.

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