What is The Appropriate Amount to Pay Monthly for Clothes?


Since my shopping addiction, I’ve had to learn how to get my spending under control and identify my spending triggers. This is important because impulse shopping can be extremely dangerous for your bank account, and it is important to figure out where you should draw the line. But at the same time — it's not like you can go without clothes. So, what's the baseline? What's the appropriate amount to pay monthly for clothes if you make okay money but want to be budget conscious? What's the hard and fast rule for spending limits when it comes to clothing – for both work and play. How much should you spend on clothing in one month? One year? Let's find out.

Related: 25 Ways to Stop Overspending


My Super Easy Rule for Determining How Much to Spend

The 5% Rule

Most financial experts say around 5% of your budget. So, take whatever your monthly pay is and multiply it by .05. So, if you take home $3500 per month after taxes, you would (in theory) spend no more than $175 each month on clothes, or $2100 a year (for those who like to shop just 2-3 times each year.) Who What Wear has a great article on how to stretch 5% of your monthly income broken down by income.

For me and my budget, I like having a rough guideline of what's acceptable and what isn't.

5% might not be right for you. If you are on a limited income, have a high rent, or are paying off debt, 5% of your income is definitely better used toward other things. The truth is that the exact number will be different for everyone.

But you definitely shouldn’t let shopping control your finances. If you’re in a tough spot with your money, stick to the tips below to help make your wardrobe work. Once you’ve got a bit more “play money” – keep in mind 5% or indulge in 5% and beyond guilt free!

Related: How to Pay Off Debt Quickly: The $8k in 90 Day Challenge

How to Save $$ On Your Clothing Budget Each Year

There's other ways to curtail clothing spend (if you're overly indulgent like me) or want to sock away extra cash for debt repayment or other financial priorities. Below are the tips I've found helpful to not spending more than I can afford on clothing. My clothing budget has changed dramatically over the years – from a shopping addiction + credit card debt, to my poor AF years as an administrative assistant in New York City, to working for myself, to going back to work and now clearing six figures, I like the 5% rule because it changes when your earning potential does.

#1 – Check Your Budget and See What You Can Afford to Pay Monthly For Clothes

If you don’t have a budget already – what are you waiting for? A budget should always be your first step in finding out how much “play money” you have to shop, dine out, or do any other fun stuff. The 50-30-20 method is my favorite way to start. The important part about creating a budget is that it will give you a hard limit for your spending. You shouldn’t be sacrificing meals to buy a new dress, and if you’re sticking to your budget you won’t have to.

Is your spending in line with your annual income? The average American spends $161 each month on clothes (or ~ $1700 a year. Families too!)

#2 – Invest in Quality, Not Quantity

I LOVED this piece that talks about making fashion sustainable, because let's face it: fast fashion is bad for the environment. And even though clothes can see exorbitantly expensive, investing in lifelong pieces (especially once you hit your mid-20's, I mean…you're not gonna outgrow it) can actually be a smarter money move.   And buying more expensive clothing doesn't always have to break the bank. Below are my favorite places to shop sales (and only sales! similar to my travel budget mantra, I try to never pay full price.)

  • TJ Maxx  & Nordstrom Rack– Now that they have an online shopping platform it's easier than ever to shop for the higher-end designer brands I love (like Theory, Nanette Lepore, and Kate Spade)
  • J. Crew & J.Crew Factory – While the quality of J. Crew has diminished somewhat in recent years, I can pick up a lot of “trendy” stuff for not a lot of money by shopping their sale section.
  • Lord & Taylor – Another department store where I love getting designer shoes and boots at deep discounts.
  • Designer discount sites like Rue La La and Gilt.com  (Rue La La is my JAM)
  • When possible, I try to shop vintage or snag gently used items via sites like Ebay or thredUP

Related: What 15 Millennial Women Spend on Clothes [BUSTLE]


#3 – It's Cliche but….Shop Your Closet

I have substantially pared down my closet from the monster it once was.

In fact, I even converted my old “closet” (actually a whole room in my old home- remember?) into my home office last year.

What’s my point? That you might already have awesome clothes that you can give a new life to without going to the store. How? Shop your closet.

It might sound goofy, but sometimes you don’t really know what you already have. It's been proven that people only wear about 20% of their closets (unless you're a sworn minimalist!). I don't think anything feels better than having that “new purchase” feeling with something you forgot about in the back of your closet .

By shopping your closet you’re able to see what you have to work with, as well as finding out what you really need. This means that when you do go shopping, you’ll have a better idea of what you should be buying as opposed to blowing your budget on a pair of boots you already own.

Related: How to Shop Your Closet in 10 Simple Steps

#4 – Try a No Spend Challenge

I'm a big fan of experimenting with new routines to whip our finances into shape and learn more about ourselves and our spending habits. Having a no-spend challenge for a month or even a year-long shopping ban, (read Michelle's post on that here, or follow Cait's TWO YEAR LONG shopping ban here) can be a great way to take the focus off of your closet, and onto your finances.

Get a handle on your debt by using our free debt tracker. Click here to subscribe and grab the debt tracker and six other worksheets in our “Best Life Vault”!

#5 – Make a List

I use Trello for everything: my blog, my business, my personal finance goals, everything. ALSO in Trello is a list of things “missing” from my closet. For example, when a pair of my favorite yoga pants ripped, or when I wear out a pair of boots, I add in replacements on the list, as well as things I think would take my wardrobe further (like white jeans, or a new ruffle sleeve top.) Front Door Fashion is a service that helps me plug those holes and come up with fully styled outfits, but keeping a list serves to keep me from overspending and also keeps the item I need top-of-mind so when I spot a good sale I can act (guilt free.)


How Much do you spend each month on clothes? Any rules you stick to in order to avoid over-shopping and over spending?

If you're asking yourself "How Much Should I Spend on Clothing In One Year?" I've got one hard-and-fast rule that makes budgeting for this category easy.


*this post originally appeared on October 3, 2015. It was updated in April 2018.

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  • Giulia Lombardo
    October 3, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Before budget I saw something and bought without thinking if I needed or not, since I have a budget in my life I rtend to write a list for every year, looking what there is already inside my closet, doing shopping from it and try sort of shopping ban, then I do decluttering and keep only pieces that I wear mixing together, but being a woman I love visit into H&M but try to shop only when I really really need…

  • Rachel
    June 14, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Loved this! Just stumbled upon your blog when I was googling, feeling guilty and trying to justify my spending! I spend about an average of £100 on clothing and beauty a month and I only work part-time so it’s a big chunk of my wages. Working less is a double downfall as it means more time to shop! I’m going to join you on this fast! I think even six months is a bit ambitious for me but if I go July and August without buying anything I’ll be really pleased with myself. I was going to go to the Kooples outlet store tomorrow and treat myself but I’m not going to now! Thanks for the motivation!

    • L Bee
      June 14, 2013 at 12:55 am

      You are super welcome! Two months is nothing, you can do it!! It does get hard from time to time, (there was a30% off sale at j.crew today and I almost caved!!) but I thought about the house I am buying and the credit cards. Planning out your outfits for the week helps too! Let me know how it goes!!

  • Janine
    May 22, 2013 at 1:49 am

    When I’m i school I don’t usually buy clothes because I can’t justify it. Maybe set a really ambitious saving goal and funnel your clothing spending towards it.

  • Francieidy
    May 20, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    I try to buy items on sale or clearance or blah blah blah, but those are just excuses to buy more clothes that I don’t need. It must be a girl thing to get bored of the clothes we already have and want more. $3500 is alot – about what I spend as well – I’m going to take this challenge with you. Maybe not for six months but at least till August cause we’re moving and that’s super expensive and we need new living room furniture which is also expensive. Just gonna have to come up with new outfit ideas with what we already have =D

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      Yes, I am also moving into a new house and we will need at least a few pieces of new furniture. I was honest with myself about the six months vs. the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to it!

  • Dana
    May 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Yes! I call it Clothing Austerity. I initially shoot to spend $0 for a month. It’s amazing how creative you can get with those 4-year-old Ann-Taylor-clearance wore-them-twice items in your closet.
    Dana (NYC, strongly considering move elsewhere)

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      I have a few of those hanging around, but usually they go to goodwill or get swapped with a friend who is the same size as me. (She recently lost an assload of weight and gave me all her size 6 Ann Taylor pants.)

      Gotta love NYC, I miss it sometimes, but overall I’m happy I moved. Where do you want to move to?

  • Canadianbudgetbinder
    May 19, 2013 at 3:50 am

    Wow, that’s lots of $$ on clothes $3500!! I tend to go in spurts when I buy clothes as I’m picky about quality. I would rather save up my clothing budget and buy jeans, t-shirts or sweaters or whatever a bit at a time. I also shop at the second-hand shops where I’ve scored some great deals on high-end, good quality clothes for dirt cheap! It’s always worth having a peak if you don’t mind second-hand.

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      I have been known to frequent thrift stores. In fact, I think last time I did a clothing fast I said I could cheat at thrift stores, which did curb my spending some, but the point of this fast is more about being happy with what I have and “making do”. Gotta love the prices at the thrift store, though. I feel like they have better quality men’s stuff than women’s IMO.

  • mochimac @ save. spend. splurge.
    May 19, 2013 at 12:45 am

    I spend WAY too much on clothes. I’m trying to scale back this year but.. damn.

    I will say that I haven’t bought any clothes since April so I feel good… this streak will continue seeing as I don’t really find anything decent to buy these days (Not Made in China, Not Polyester, etc).

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Glad I’m not the only one. I’ll let you know how it goes, keep me updated on your progress as well.

  • Sara
    May 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    I’ve spent less than $75 this year; and combined we’ve probably spent about $200 (he’s far harder on his clothing…and also ginormous). We have been trying to spend so little for so long that most of our clothing could use a complete overhaul.

    Having said that, I would put $3500 on our car loan. That debt bothers me more than anything else.

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      I’m really bad about throwing things out the minute they have the slightest bit of “wear” in them. I’m also ridiculously hard on my shoes, so I don’t throw those out often enough I suppose.

  • Chris G.
    May 17, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Hey L to the Bee. The blog is great. I’ve added you to my feedly (since Google Reader has spat on and tossed aside its RSS users). I look forward to reading lots of money-saving-fantastical blog posts here.

    As to spending too much on clothes, I don’t really spend that much on le clothes. According to my mint.com, I spent $310 on clothes last year. I guess I’m like the Mahatma Gandhi of clothing fasts. If I had an extra $3,500, I would definitely put it towards my down payment on my future house.

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      haha. $310 in one year? That’s like $26 per month. Guess you are the Ghandi of clothing fasts. Now you’re just making me feel bad, ha!

      And thank you for adding me to your feed.

  • Leah
    May 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    I have a wonderful affliction that renders me incapacitated while clothes shopping. I get so overwhelmed and anxious that even if I truly need to buy something, I often can’t do it.

    For example, I literally only have 1 pair of shorts for spring/summer. I desperately want to have a new pair in my wardrobe (who likes to be seen in the same pair of shorts every weekend for 5 months?), but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’ll put off buying for at least another year. My mouth is actually drying up just writing about buying a new pair!

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      I have to be in “the mood” for shopping, otherwise I go into a store trying to get something I need and also get distracted or don’t feel like going to try things on. Girl, you should probably have more than one pair of shorts though!

  • Katie
    May 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I have the same idea starting June 1st! Although I don’t buy clothes nearly as often as I used to, it is still a habit that makes me feel better. My very large closet is packed with clothes so there’s nothing I need to be spending money on regarding that department. So I’m challenging myself to stop. It will definitely make at least a small impact on my budget, which supports my goal of getting out of debt. Great minds think alike! I look forward to reading about your progress!

    • L Bee
      May 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm

      Thanks Katie! I hope to do a monthly update, so we will see how it goes. I already had to restrain myself at target yesterday. Gah!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    May 17, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    My husband and I together have spent a bit less than $500 in the last year on clothes and shoes aka less than 1% of our gross income. I think a clothing fast is a great idea – once you get out of the habit of looking for stuff to buy I think you’ll have an easier time even when the fast ends. Just don’t keep a list of everything you want to buy the second it ends.

    If we had an extra $3500 we’d max out our Roth IRAs and spend the rest on a vacation.

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Less than 1% is fantastic! Yay you! I have a hard time with shopping because I do keep lists. Every season I go through my closet and throw away things that are old (I’m a compulsive de-clutterer) and then I make a list of the items I want, generally the “trendy” items that go from season to season.

      Not keeping a list is a great tip.

  • Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries
    May 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    I’m in the middle of a clothing almost-fast right now. While Leslie and I pay down some debts (and free up our budget) we are on a spending freeze for clothes. The only thing I’ve bought for myself over the last year was a sweater, some socks, and one new pair of shoes since my old ones had holes in them. We did recently buy Leslie some new business clothes, but it was pre-budgeted and saved for over the course of a few months.

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:47 pm

      Is it bad for me to say that pre-budgeting for clothes almost takes the fun out of it for me? The part of shopping I love most is going in for a deal and coming away with something unexpected that I adore.

      Eesh. Reading that I realize how it’s gotten.

  • Miss Amanda
    May 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    About a year ago, I had lost a bit of weight – enough that clothes weren’t fitting properly anymore, and therefore I allowed myself to buy some new clothes then. However, due to various factors, I’ve put most of the weight back on (not much, but enough to change how my clothes fit again). Because I’m not happy with this weight, I’ve avoided buying new clothes because I’m hoping I’ll be thinner/stronger again soon.

    Rather then giving myself a time frame where I’m not allowing myself to buy clothes, I’m giving myself a goal weight to reach. Which hopefully doesn’t take too long to reach!

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      I think waiting until you hit your goal weight is a great idea! I keep telling myself if I pay off my student loan I’ll treat myself to something. That wouldn’t be so bad, right?

      • Miss Amanda
        May 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

        It’s really hard not to buy the cute/on sale clothes that I aspire to fit into one day! But I have more than enough “skinny clothes” in storage as it is… 🙂

  • Jordann @ My Alternate Life
    May 17, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    You can totally do six months! After Christmas I went four months without spending anything on clothing. I just recently broke that trend when I ordered some summer items I’ve been needing. You can do it! You’ll feel better for it too.

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:46 pm

      I always look to your minimalist wardrobe posts, and I feel like compared to most people my closet is relatively small, but I’m constantly replacing worn pieces with more expensive upgrades. Hopefully, this next year having those great staples in my closet will help ease the sting of not being able to shop.

  • Mrs PoP
    May 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    My clothing spending is pretty minimal, but that’s largely becuse I find shopping boring and a chore. =). Can you train yourself not to enjoy shopping? It makes life so much cheaper!

    • Emily @ evolvingPF
      May 17, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      We’re the same way – shopping is not fun. Even when we force ourselves to go sometimes we don’t come away with anything.

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:54 pm

      I love to shop! I have to be in the mood for it, but I love searching for a specific item and hunting down the best deal. I’m always the big sucker for store coupons that encourage spending.

  • Michelle
    May 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    I used to spend too too much on clothes. I’ve been much better with it and now I spend hardly anything. I do need to go shopping soon as I hate everything in my closet, or I would so join you in this spending fast!

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Why do you hate everything in your closet?

  • JW_Umbrella Treasury
    May 17, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Hi L Bee! I found your post through Twitter and love this post. I used to spend a LOT on clothes…several hundred per month, in fact. It got especially bad as I was started reading fashion blogs and made a lot of impulse purchases that were completely unnecessary.

    I’ve drastically cut back since then. When my husband and I were saving for our wedding, I bought almost no clothes for 6 months. Now, I’m allowing myself a new piece every now and then…usually no more than $50-100/month.

    In terms of having an extra $3,500…I would put that towards a down payment on a house : O

    • L Bee
      May 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      I have a budget of $60 per month for clothing, but then I usually blow through that on a season shopping spree I’ve been treating myself too, which makes my “average” monthly spending closer to $250. Yikes.