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