On average, we spend $1,800 a year on clothes. Here's how to reduce that number and still look good.
Americans spend more than $1,800 a year — that’s about $150 a month — on clothing and accessories, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If your clothing costs are gouging your budget, you can probably do a lot better. Check out these 23 ways to pare down this expense.
1. Sell what you don’t wear
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If you don’t wear it, drop it off at a consignment shop. When the shop sells your clothing, they’ll cut you a check for a portion of the profits. You won’t get the full amount, but you won’t have to do much work either. Consider going through your closet once a year. If you haven’t worn that sweater in 365 days, you don’t need it.
2. Shop thrift stores
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Thrift stores sell gently used clothing at a deep discount. Many stores also have regular sales or a weekly special. A thrift store in my area has a “50 percent off anything with a yellow tag” sale every Wednesday. Just make sure you’re shopping at a true thrift store and not a vintage clothing store. The difference: Vintage clothing stores sell trendier older pieces at a markup. Thrift stores sell older and newer clothes at a discount.
3. Find coupons online
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At Money Talks News, we don’t believe in paying retail, and you shouldn’t either. (Check out our deals page before you shop online or in-store.) On the go, use your smartphone to find clothing coupons before you check out. There are several great coupon and cash-back apps for Androids and the iPhone. My favorites:
4. Check the tag before you buy
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Read the label before you buy. If you buy a dry-clean-only silk skirt, you’ll keep paying for it every time you pull up to the cleaners. Stick to machine-washables and save.
5. Take care of your clothes
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Remember that “machine washable” doesn’t equal “indestructible.” Wash your clothes on the gentle cycle in cool water and even line-dry them – they’ll last the longest this way. For delicate items or clothes that might shrink, hand wash. Take care of your clothes, and you’ll get years of wear out of them.
6. Buy out of season
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Retailers put out-of-season clothing on clearance to clear the stock from their stores. You can save a ton buying clothing when you don’t need it — like a winter coat in May or a swimsuit in December.
7. Shop online clearance sales
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Don’t discount online retailers (and retailers’ websites) when you’re shopping for clothes. They also offer deep discounts — and a larger selection than most stores — on clearance items.
8. Repurpose old clothes
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If you’re handy with a needle and thread — or even a pair of scissors — turn something you’re no longer wearing into something else. I cut the legs off my old jeans and turn them into shorts. My friends repurpose old shirts into tank tops and skirts. You can even make a purse out of an old sweater.
9. Don’t buy it because it’s on sale
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Don’t buy clothes unless you really need them — even if they’re on sale. Thirty percent off isn’t a good deal if you don’t wear it.
10. Buy basics from generic brands
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Your basics don’t need a designer label. Buy T-shirts, tank tops and lounge wear from cheaper stores. I buy all my layering tank tops at Old Navy. The sweatpants I wear for errands came from Target. Simple cuts and solid colors don’t require a high-end designer.
11. Skip expensive workout clothing
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The same goes for workout clothes. A pair of Puma running tights can cost $80 — or you can buy a similar pair at Old Navy for $15.97. You’ll get the same workout whether you’re wearing a fancy yoga outfit or an old T-shirt and sweatpants. Check cheaper retailers like Target, Walmart and Kohl’s for more affordable workout gear.
12. Proceed with caution at outlet malls
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Outlet malls do have deals. They also have scams. In “5 Tips for Finding Outlet Store Deals,” we found that some outlet store clothing isn’t store overstock. The pieces were actually made for the outlet mall, meaning they’re lower quality. And those “75 percent off!” deals — they’re not actually 75 percent off. Read the fine print and you’ll see that is the discount on the suggested price, not the actual retail price. It’s more marketing gimmick than deal.
Check the labels on outlet store clothes. Avoid anything that says “factory line” and do the math on supposed deals before you buy.
13. Swap with friends
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At the start of every season, my friends and I go through our closets and trade whatever we won’t wear. Last winter, I ended up with enough sweaters to last the entire season. Set up a trading day with your friends or family members. Then take anything you have left to a consignment shop. You’ll end up with new clothes and some extra cash.
14. Stick to simple garments
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Trendy clothes cost more and have a shorter shelf life. You could spend hundreds trying to keep up with the fashion magazines, only to realize you no longer adore that peasant skirt six months later. Stick to classic styles and basic pieces that always work. For you that might mean polo shirts, T-shirts, jeans and simple skirts, or a blazer and slacks, with a variety of scarves.
15. Shop discount stores
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I save a lot of money by shopping at T.J.Maxx, Ross and Marshalls. Discount stores sell overstock and slightly imperfect pieces from other retailers for a fraction of their cost. Just check the clothes carefully before you buy them. I’ve lost money on spaghetti straps that ripped or buttons that popped off, but it’s rare.
16. Hem your own clothes
Tailor-shop pricing varies by area. Where I live, it costs $10 to $12 to have one pair of jeans professionally hemmed. If I had all 14 pairs of my jeans professionally hemmed, I’d pay $168 on top of the cost of the clothes. Hem your clothes yourself, and stop paying the professionals.
If you can’t sew, offer to swap jobs with a friend who can. I’m horrible with a needle and thread, but I can baby-sit. So I watch my friend’s kids for a night, and she hems my new clothes the next day.
17. Borrow what you only need once
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If you only need to wear something once, borrow it from a friend or family member. You’ll save 100 percent and won’t have a useless dress or suit filling up space in your closet.
18. Don’t rent what you’ll wear more than once
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If you can’t borrow it, buy it. In “Formal Wear: Rent or Own,” we recommend buying a tuxedo if you plan on wearing it more than twice in your lifetime. The average cost of renting a tuxedo is $196, according to WeddingStats. Rent a tuxedo three times, and you could be out close to $600. Buy from a discount store or resale site like Craigslist, and you could spend much less and own the tux outright.
19. Buy uniforms at discount stores
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Work and school uniforms get expensive, but you can buy them at discount stores for a fraction of their cost. In my area, we have stores that sell school uniforms, scrubs and overalls at deep discounts compared with the cost of buying them through your employer or school.
20. Don’t skimp on swimsuits
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When it comes to swimsuit shopping, it doesn’t pay to buy cheap knock-offs. A well-designed swimsuit will cost more upfront, but it can last years. Three years ago I dropped $85 on a higher-end swimsuit. I wash it by hand and line-dry it after each use, and it still looks brand new. Check out “16 Tips to Find the Perfect Swimsuit for Less” — a complete guide to swimsuit shopping.
21. Shop the men’s and kids’ section
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Women’s clothing is often priced higher than men’s and kids’ clothing. If you’re a woman looking for something universal — like a T-shirt or hoodie — check the racks in the men’s and kids’ sections first.
22. Treat clothes shopping like grocery shopping
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I won’t go to the grocery store without making a list first, but I’ll blindly charge into the mall, credit card in hand. That is the wrong way to go about it. The next time you shop for clothes, make a list of what you actually need and stick to it.
23. Buy clothes that fit now
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Only buy something if you can wear it today. Buying something a few sizes too small because you think you’ll lose weight later is a gamble. Even if you do, you may realize you don’t like the way that shirt looks on you. Either way, you’ve wasted money.
Our goal was to create a complete list of ways to save on clothing, but we may have missed one. Do you have any more tips? Share them on our Facebook page!
Christina Majeski contributed to this post.
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