7 Easy Ways to Slash the Cost of Clothing


Clothing is not optional, but spending a lot of money on it is, says author Gregory Karp in his book, Living Rich by Spending Smart: How to Get More of What You Really Want.

Some rights reserved by eflon

Some rights reserved by eflon

So, just off the top of your head, how much would you say that your family spends on clothing in a year? According to the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey, a family of four spends on average $2,850 a year on apparel and services like dry cleaning, to keep that apparel looking good. Wow. That’s $240 a month—a major expense in any family’s budget.

Karp offers seven easy ways to cut that expense without having to take fashion risks for yourself or sending the kids off to school looking odd and frumpy.

1. Do nothing. Of course this is my favorite of the seven tips. Maybe that’s because I’m  naturally lazy or, like many, have enough clothes to get by for months. Do with what you have by recognizing the difference between needs and wants.

2. Buy used. Vintage, consignment and thrifts stores are growing by leaps and bounds, offering name-brand used clothes. If you’re creeped out at the thought of buying secondhand, take a tour of a few stores. They’re not usually the dark, smelly, chaotic places you remember as a kid. Most these days are as lovely as regular retail stores. And if you’re really uncomfortable buying used clothing, here’s a tip from Karp: Take baby steps by buying one time, maybe something inexpensive at a high-end consignment store.

3. Use garage sales wisely. Garage sales can be a great source for clothes for kids and babies, but probably not so much for adults for the simple reason that you won’t find enough inventory to offer a good selection of sizes, styles and colors.

4. Strategize. Most of us have wardrobes jammed haphazardly with so many clothes, it’s nearly impossible to know what we have. So we just keep buying more. Instead organize your closet and take inventory of what you have. And, says Karp, buy for the size you are now, not the size you someday hope to be.

5. Simplify. Buy classic styles that will look good for years. Assemble a base of neutral colors—blacks, khaki and navy—that can mix and match to create a number of outfits. Ditto for shoes.

6. Save on retail. If you won’t buy secondhand, says, Karp, go to your favorite store’s website site to check its sales every week. Signup for that store’s email newsletters to receive coupons and notice of coming sales.

7. Maintenance. Read the tags before you buy. If a garment must be dry-cleaned, that is going to add to its cost tremendously over its useful life. Also, steer clear of fabrics that tend to pill or wear too fast. Make sure you use the proper temperatures for washing and drying your clothes. A great tip: Put your clothes in the dryer for just a few minutes, then hang them to dry. You’ll save on energy costs and extend to the life of your clothes as well.

Question: What is your clothes shopping style? A set budget and a plan or something more spontaneous?

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17 replies
  1. Beck says:

    I got a sweater at Goodwill years ago and I still wear it all the time. It pays to go there about once a month or on the first Saturday of the month like NF said for 50% off. It is also a great place to donate older tv’s without having to pay a recycle fee.

    • debra says:

      Yes, Tide and Wisk are terrible! Wisk actually removed color from a top. I use the homemade soap Mary recommends from Soaps Gone Buy. When I wash whites I use Seventh Generation liquid with the clorox – cleaning rags etc. With the homemade detergent you really don’t require softner but I use Mary’s recipe with vinegar, water and 77 cent bottles of VO5 or Suave conditioners!

  2. terijo says:

    We probably don’t pay $50 a month on clothing let alone $240. I shop thrift stores and garage sales. in our area I get lots of my clothes at garage sales. having basics to build upon makes it really easy to pick up pieces. Ilove color. turq., red, yellows , coral. I pair them with white black and camel. I am 5’10” so I can get away with lots of gypsy boho things

  3. NF says:

    Hitting a goodwill on 1/2 price Saturdays in an upscale neighborhood is a bargain hunters heaven. You must be patient, persevering and picky. I don’t dress “fancy” but i like to look reasonably well put together. I have found harve Bernard, jones new york, Columbia sports wear and many other decent items of clothing for around 5 bucks and under. I don’t do slacks/jeans since I wear talls, but capris and skirts are all in the running. I have also found fantastic deals on bed linens, comforters and window treatments. If u find a matching set, snatch it up.
    As far as repairs, I don’t do zippers, but I can sew a seam and I have a small collection of buttons and misc. fasteners i keep on hand. Iron on appliqués can also add some zing to a piece of clothing or even hide a flaw u missed.
    Goodwill does take returns also, exchanges only within 14 days of purchase. Ur not truly stuck with something if u don’t bond with it.
    My favorite find is my 4 dollar wool cigar coat in absolutely perfect condition. Have worn it to death, classic, comfortable. Add a piece of jewelry and an updated scarf, it looks great. Get a lot of compliments on it too.

  4. kaetra says:

    Our family of 3 spent $986 on clothing last year and that included several pairs of high quality shoes (for my husband who walks 10+ miles per day at work) and a growing tween. We wear simple clothes that look nice, last a while and most importantly are comfortable. Jeans aren’t comfy for my 11 year old, so she prefers stretch pants. I get them in darker colors which hide stains and I usually only pay a few dollars a pair at Target. Plain t-shirts are a popular choice for our whole family and we all lean towards darker colors. I’m careful to use the right wash temperature and not too much laundry detergent to reduce fading. If my dark fabrics fade I use Rit dye to darken them back up and set the color with cold water and vinegar.
    Wearing designer clothing/items with the brand name/logo emblazoned on them is ridiculous to me. “The North Face” jackets you see almost EVERYone wearing are an example that comes to mind. Teach your kids that being a walking billboard for some designer is just plain silly. Quality is important, but trying to impress people with the brand you’re wearing is just plain stupid.

    • Asmomommy says:

      You’re absolutely right, kaetra! My husband and I have never been brand-obsessed, either! Glad to hear we’re not the only ones! In fact, we take pride in looking unique in our style. We hope to raise our 9-month-old daughter with the same mindset. We find amazing deals, as I frequent our local thrift shops. I usually pop into our Goodwill once a week for a quick stop, and most months I make a longer hour or more stop to scour the racks for deals. We’re really able to be fashion concious on a budget that way! Another way I find great deals for my daughter is to not be afraid to purchase a season or two ahead. At the end of the season, clearance is out in stores, and people are unloading unwanted seasonal gear at thrift shops, so now is the time to take advantage of those deals and buy a size up for next season for my kiddo!

  5. Ellen says:

    I have classic clothing (mid-priced, nothing designer) that I’ve worn for years. One secret: Do not buy anything that requires dry cleaning, which jacks the cost of the garment. Also, remember that basic black or beige always look more upmarket than gaudy colors, even for less expensive garment. Always think of cost per wearing when buying anything.

  6. Ann says:

    To extend life of shoes, or freshen them, I use Meltonian Nu-Life Color Spray..Couldn’t find it at my
    local shoe repair shop or any shoe store anywhere, but ordered online. For vinyl, plastic, leather (brush shoes first). $6-$8 and bottle lasts for years.

  7. DianaB says:

    My biggest problem is a 12-yr old grandson who is leaping and bounding from one size to the next. We have no problem going to thrift stores and most of them have a fitting room of some sort. I do buy his shoes new, however, in most cases but not always. Kids outgrow shoes at a pretty rapid rate and some very nice ones are found at thrift stores where someone else has outgrown theirs without much use showing on them. I, personally, haven’t bought much of anything new in clothing in years. My wardrobe doesn’t change much at my age (71). Only other things new once in a while are underwear and socks. We also donate graciously to our local thrift store (items in very good condition, clean and folded neatly). Everyone appreciates a bargain; no one appreciates junk.

    • Tonya says:

      When my 14-yo son hit that in-between stage (where he isn’t in kids’ clothes but a lot of the men’s clothes are too big) and was growing like a weed, I started carrying a measuring tape in my purse. I found one pair of pants he had that fit perfectly and measured them. He needed 30×32 pants, but ones that SAY 30×32 on them vary great. Sometimes the waist is 29″ and sometimes they’re 32″ (I guess for those 30″ waist kids to wear sagging around their backsides). Sometimes the length is off, too. This has been the saving grace for me at used-clothing stores since I can’t usually get him to go with me and try things on. I always buy new tennis shoes but can usually find dress shoes used (he only wears them on Sundays anyway).

  8. vicki says:

    At the beginning of a season, I turn my hangers backwards. When something is worn, it is hung up properly (forward). At the end of the season, if it hasn’t been worn (hanger is still backward) it goes to resale or charity. Strange but by having less clothes, I’m spending less. I easily see what I might need and purchase only that item. Also, learn to sew enough to do your own mending, hemming, etc. Any new purchase that includes an extra button, sew that button inside right away. It’s right there when you lose one.

  9. Grla says:

    Learn to sew. Learning how quality clothing is (or should be) constructed will teach you the clues to look for when you’re shopping in order to recognize shoddy products that are going to fall apart after only a couple of wearings.
    Think classic. Today’s newest fad is usually dreadfully out of style in only a few short months. Passing up items that are ultra trendy in favor of well-constructed classic clothing that can be updated by simply changing accessories will save you tons of money in the long run.

    • Tonya says:

      Fabric can be so expensive nowadays, though. My mom used to sew to clothe her kids till she discovered garage sales. My kids all wear jeans every day; kinda hard to sew those.

  10. Beck says:

    I figure out what I need or what is wearing out it is a small budget. I have found brand new shoes and several pieces of clothing with the tag still on them at garage sales. I bought a beautiful suit for $3.00, new shoes for $1.00 and a purse that looked new for a $1.00. We call it garage sailing on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. if we have one of those days off we look at the ads in the paper map our route, take a drink from home and then hit the library for free dvd’s and books to read on the way home. The fun thing about looking for clothing or anything else at yards sales it is fun to see a lot of “retro” house hold items and clothing you take a trip down memory lane.

    In the midwest subdivisions often only have one sale per year and everyone in the whole place puts out something for sale. It can take an hour to go through a whole subdivision. It is great for kids toys, golf clubs, costumes, exercise equipment, dishes, pans and so forth not just clothing. I got a great crock pot for $4.00 this past summer.

    On the other hand I have not had much luck at consignment shops. If I don’t find what I need I use a coupon at J C. Penney and get it often for less than it would be at Walmart.


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