Expect Higher Holiday Prices for T-shirts and Jeans

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Cotton costs twice as much as a year ago, and supplies are at a 20-year low. Here's how to save now instead of spending more later.

We know it’s a little early to be thinking about Christmas. But if you’re planning gifts of clothing to friends and family, you might want to buy a little earlier this year.

The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) — yes, there is such a thing — is forecasting higher US demand for cotton next season. And while it’s great for the economy when Americans are out buying clothes, the ICAC also reports the world stock of cotton is the lowest it’s been since 1990, mainly because of natural disasters in big-producing countries like China and Pakistan. That made India — the world’s second-largest producer of cotton, after China — earlier this year decide to restrict its exports.

While India’s export restrictions have since been relaxed, you can probably guess what increasing demand and falling supply means: The price of cotton is at a 19-year high, and that could lead to higher prices for T-shirts, jeans, socks, and underwear: according to this article from CNN/Money, cotton T-shirts could rise in price by $2 next year.

Fortunately, the pricing cycle has a few months’ delay, so higher prices won’t be reflected among retailers –and hitting your wallet — until around the end of the year. So now’s the time to stock up. Here’s a few other things you can do to keep your clothing expenses down in general…

  1. Keep an eye on clearance sales. The next time you’re in a major retailer picking up odds and ends, make a quick detour through the clothing clearance areas. You can find stuff up to 80 percent off, especially when new stock is due in. Some retailers do this seasonally — many do it every month — and clothing-specific shops more frequently than that.
  2. Make coupons a habit. If you’re about to head out shopping and you haven’t made a quick check for deals, you’re doing it wrong. Using a coupon search engine – like this one at the top of our deals page – only takes a few seconds and could save you anywhere from 10 to 50 percent. Subscribing to a store’s Facebook page or Twitter feed is also a way to be automatically notified of bargains. One other idea: pick up an ad circular at the store’s entrance and skim it while you’re shopping.
  3. Give up those designer brands. Stop paying for a label or a fancy design — having money is better than looking like you have money. Plain, colored T-shirts are often available for a quarter of the price of trendy ones.
  4. Buy used. If you’re not too proud to check them out, flea markets, thrift and consignment shops are the place to go for bargains. The prices are already much lower than retail, and some places like The Salvation Army slash prices even more on certain days of the week. I once found a like-new dinner jacket for under $10. (It was marked for about $20, but that day was 50 percent off men’s clothing, too.) Just be sure to look carefully at the condition before you buy, since these places usually don’t offer refunds.

If those tips are obvious habits for you, congrats on being a smart saver. But I’ll bet there are some ideas you never thought of in our story 18 Tips to Dress for Less. Check it out.

Stacy Johnson

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