Setting a Clothing Budget

Setting a Clothing BudgetWhen I first decided to start getting out of debt, one of the things that I had to seriously consider eliminating was my clothing budget. I really didn’t want to at first. I was fresh out of University, and my wardrobe was looking pretty pathetic as it was. I really wanted to spend a lot of cash on buying new, grown up clothes to suit my new, grown up personality.

Unfortunately, the first time I calculated my payment on my $27,000 in student loan debt, I knew that my dreams of having a beautiful wardrobe were probably going to be crushed before they were ever achieved. I just didn’t have enough cash to pay my rent, my car payments, and my student loans, while still investing in a gorgeous wardrobe.

So, I resolved to do something about my debt, and as I started to slash all of my discretionary spending, clothing turned out to be one of the things that was eliminated as well.

Now, almost 17 months later, my student loans are paid off. Part of this was my strictly controlled clothing spending. I tried out a few tactics, but eventually I was able to settle on a way to keep adding slowly to my wardrobe, while paying off a huge chunk of my overall $38,000 in debt. Here are a few ways to set a clothing budget.


As a Percentage of Your Income

I started out setting my clothing budget as a percentage of my income. Initially, it was 3% of my net income. I loved that budget. It allowed me to buy at least a shirt or an accessory every week. I stayed that way for a few months, and enjoyed it immensely.

I didn’t feel bad about spending the money, since it was a predefined amount in my budget, and it encouraged me to work hard at generating extra income, since the more I made on the side, the more I’d be able to spend on clothes.


As Needed

Eventually, I’d updated all of the really worn out or out of style pieces of my wardrobe, and I didn’t need to buy quite so much. Instead, I switched to an as needed method of paying for my clothing. I eliminated it as a line item in my budget, and instead just spent money on stuff whenever I needed to replace a shirt, or buy some new jeans.

All of the money that I was spending on clothing, got funnelled into my debt. This wasn’t the best idea, since I was almost always tempted to spend the cash on my debt instead of clothing, to the point where I was avoiding replacing stuff so that I could pay just a little bit more cash towards my student loans.


As Part of Your Personal Spending

These days, I allow myself about $50 per week in personal spending. This covers my hair cuts, books, make up, running gear, and clothing. It doesn’t cover my grocery spending or entertainment budget since my fiance and I budget for that together, but it does cover everything that I would buy for myself. I settled on having this personal spending budget because I was otherwise depriving myself. Of all the different ways I’ve tried to budget for clothing purchases, this is by far the way that works best for me.

If I want to buy a shirt or dress, I can, but I have to hold back on spending money on other things. I know that I need to have this money available in order to lead a healthy and balanced life, so I don’t worry or have guilt about wasting it.

Keeping clothing purchases to a manageable level can be difficult. For a 23 year old like me, resisting the urge to shop is tough! By keeping everything in moderation, I’m able to still have a decent wardrobe (though I have to admit, it’s not the MOST stylish one in the world) while still kicking butt at paying off my debt.

How do you spend money on clothing? Do you just buy it when you need it?

Or do you have a strict or loose budget? What is your clothing budget?



  1. says

    What a topic, living in Australia where everything is twice as expensive as the States, I definitely have a budget and only purchase during sale periods (end of financial year & Boxing day). I generally put away $75 a fortnight which comes to about $1950 a year, but I dont always use the whole budget and shift the left over into savings.
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  2. says

    We don’t really have a clothing budget, we just lump it in with household “shopping” which includes everything from toilet paper to prescriptions. But neither of us are really “shop for fun” people, so it works. When something is worn out, we replace it. Just like we do when the toilet paper runs out.
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  3. says

    I like the idea of having a general personal spending budget. It lets you spend a certain amount of money on whatever you want, guilt-free, without messing up the rest of your finances. We’re only human and it’s just not realistic to think that we’re never going to spend money on things that are purely for enjoyment. Plus, keeping it general instead of trying to budget each specific discretionary spending category makes it much simpler and much less stressful.
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  4. says

    We are on a strict “as needed” clothes budget right now. Things are looking pretty shabby, wardrobe wise, but I know it will be worth it when we’re finished. At that time, we’ll probably just have a set amount for clothing in our budget. With a family of six, things can get pretty out of hand spending wise, pretty quickly, on a clothes shopping trip. :-)
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  5. says

    Congrats again in paying off your student loans :)

    I haven’t settled out on a hard and fast way of budgeting for clothes yet. I would like to do the “as needed” approach, but my wardrobe is still somewhat in a state of disrepair, meaning I’d be spending more than I’m comfortable with right now to get it to where I’d like to be. I’m picking up pieces here and there as I need them. I’m hoping to do a larger trip in the fall to get me fully back up and running again so I can revert to the as needed.
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  6. says

    I guess I’m definitely an “As Needed” clothing buyer. Probably to an extreme. I seriously do not remember the last time I purchased a piece of clothing. Probably around 5 months ago. However, all those free t-shirts from college are fading and it’s time to start updating both the professional wardrobe and the personal one. In August I’ll probably budget out some entertainment and in some clothing.
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  7. says

    While your first option sounds like a good idea at first blush, it actually encourages you to enter the lion’s den…the mall. If you allot a certain percentage to spend on clothes each month (focus on the last five words), you’ll do as told and march out to get that money spent!

    I prefer to use my Future Capital Expense (FCE) strategy, which has you setting aside (notice the difference in words?) a certain amount each pay period for a variety of future expenses that you know will come up (including that cute dress!). It worked great for me over that last 15 or so years. There’s a topic on my site that describes my method: Reduce Financial Emergencies With One Simple Strategy.

    Great post, Jordann!
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  8. says

    I think buying as a need basis is most important if you’re trying to pay off debt, like I am. It’s tough, but you have to learn to appreciate the clothes you already have. In the past year I’ve only bought new under garments as the old ones get too many holes and new running shoes since I don’t want to have an injury that could cost a lot more than $100. If you’re on a budget, consider having old clothes that don’t fit you well tailored – it’s how I’m going to “splurge” when I hit a milestone. Learn to be a minimalist and buy plain, timeless clothing that you can mix and match. Sticking to shades of grays, blues and other subtle colors will allow you to have several different outfits to constantly change it up.
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  9. cherie says

    We have a set amount per person combined, and set it for a year – I count my husband twice since he wears suits most of the time. I now give my teenaged daughter her portion as an allowance twice a year – it eliminates arguments about what to buy and she’s learning to live with a budget and learn from her mistakes – she wears uniforms to school so I am less concerned than I might otherwise be about her making sometimes silly choices for out of school clothing

    But I commend you – when I first started working eons ago clothing was where ALL my money went after bills, and more than all as I wound up in cc debt – so good for you!

  10. says

    Since we tend to binge-shop for desperately needed clothes only a couple times per year, we have a targeted savings account for clothing, haircuts, dry cleaning, etc. We save $60/month to that account, but in the past year or so we haven’t spent much so the money is piling up. We are both grad students so we don’t need a professional wardrobe except for the occasional interview, but as my husband will be starting a postdoc soon he’ll probably need to class up what he wears a bit.
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  11. says

    I do not really budget for clothing because sometimes I find myself shopping for clothes only once per year. However since now I am married, it is a different story. When we decided to start budgeting, my wife kept pitching for a clothes budget and so we increased miscellaneous spending money to cover anything she might want to buy. So we still have no budget specifically for clothes.
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  12. Keren says

    I’m definitely an “as needed” clothing shopper. Typically I hit thrift stores for my kids, they are growing too fast to merit buying brand new clothes! Plus they are very hard on clothes, between rips and stains! For me, it’s actually quite rare that I buy clothing or even accessories. I’m a plain jane kind of gal, and I’m content wearing the same 5 outfits pretty much every week, haha. The Mr., however, has lost 30 pounds and we’re going to soon have to get him some smaller sizes. Thinking of this spending makes me shudder, even if it is for a great reason!
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  13. says

    I love fashion and clothes, but I definitely only shop when I need to. Maybe I’m just a penny-pincher, but I’ve always been that way. I rarely splurge on anything in terms of clothes- I feel like you can find bags at Target that look JUST as good as designer brands. With that being said, I do love designer stuff, too 😛 For me, I just buy when I NEED. Example: a dress for an upcoming wedding, new pants for work, etc.
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  14. says

    My clothing budget SUCKS. I was fine not buying a lot of clothes because I have a nice wardrobe full of things I like, and then I started losing weight. I’m trying to replace things slowly on a sort of two-out, one-in basis but it makes it so hard because I like to mix up my outfits a lot (even though my color-blind male boss is the only person I see most days, and he doesn’t know fashion if it were to bite him on the shoulder). I like the 3% rule too. I try to use my extra income on clothes but since I’m saving to replace my phone before my official upgrade date, it’s been going that way. Everything at once, as usual!
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  15. says

    My problem is I tend to not buy clothing for quite some time and then spend a decent chunk of money when I do. I like the idea of having the entertainment/clothing/misc purchase budget set per week, but at this point I would spend much more of it on entertainment. I think clothes shopping is something that I also need to sit down and really figure out what’s possible and budget my money. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  16. says

    I go in spurts. I don’t have a clothing budget but sometimes if I find myself with extra money I will spend a lot of it on clothes. Here over the past couple months my desire to buy clothes has dramatically decreased and I have barely bought anything. I think at this point I am pretty content with my wardrobe and will just buy stuff if needed.
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  17. Heather says

    I’ve struggled with this too. I hate shopping so my wardrobe was pretty pathetic. I actually decided recently that I need to look more like a grownup with a job than a grad student, so I actually spent some of my savings on a lot of new clothes (my job recently became permanent so with the added security, I figured I could afford to do it). I’ll do the same in the fall for fall/winter stuff. Part of me thinks, “what are you doing??? You should spend that on your debt repayment or keep it saved for emergencies!!!” But, good clothing is an investment, especially in the work environment. I never took my appearance seriously, and I don’t want to put forward an unprofessional impression at work anymore.

    Once I’ve got the bases covered, I will start allocating a certain amount of money every month for clothing and add to my wardrobe slowly. If I feel I don’t need anything new, I can roll it forward to afford things like shoes, which are expensive and tend to blow my clothing budget for the month!

    So, I’ve come to realize that clothes aren’t frivolous, provided you smart with how much you are spending vis-a-vis your financial situation.

  18. says

    Both my wife and I don’t really like to shop so we just wait and buy stuff when it’s needed. We do have a “miscellaneous” budget that clothing would fall under, so it is covered in our budget if we need clothes. Being that it’s not a consistent amount, we don’t have a separate monthly budgeting category for it.

  19. says

    I think that the best way to budget clothes is on a as needed basis. I wouldn’t mind wearing a pair of shoes till they wear out, or only getting new jeans when my current pair wear a hole through the knee. Of course every once and a while we like to update our wardrobe a little, but for the most part, as needed should suffice our clothing budget. It’s more rewarding to have less debt than to have a few new outfits every month.
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  20. says

    Like a lot of the other commenters, we purchase clothing as needed but most months we buy no clothing, and on the months we do we spend between $50 and $100. I work from home now so I generally don’t feel I need to purchase clothing, but my wife is trying to update her wardrobe so if there’s a good deal on something, we’ll go for it.
    Done by Forty recently posted..Thirty Things Lighter UpdateMy Profile

  21. says

    I’m currently doing a clothing cleanse, it had become a bit of an addiction so I decided to cut it out completely and hopefully later I can get back to it – slowly. It’s hard keeping up with the Joneses and Mr. CrazyRichLife and I have decided to no longer do it. We’re currently making a lot of cutbacks so hopefully we can still to our goals. Thanks for sharing, when I start shopping again, I can try out the percentage idea.
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  22. says

    I bought all of my professional clothes out of college as I had nothing to wear that would fit the dress code. This year I realized I have no need for new clothes, and just stopped buying. I try and just ignore the clothes section in whatever store I happen to be shopping in, so I spend on clothes on a very “as needed” basis, which at this point would probably be a special occasion. I was spending too needlessly before, so that’s a good thing, but I do think I would benefit from a little budget for personal things.
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  23. says

    It’s interesting that you are writing about this because it has come up several times for me lately. I NEED a dress clothes wardrobe for my new job teaching at a university in a month so I have been slowly buying items when I find good deals. Recently I found over ten New York & Co + other name brand dress shirts for $1.99 each at a thrift shop HERE and I also recently wrote about How to Buy and Dress In Business Clothes for Less HERE This can be very expensive but I have really cut my costs.
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  24. says

    You need to spend something on yourself even if it slowed paying off your debt a little. And you have it about right I guess. We have a personal budget too – about the same. Neither of us are particularly shopaholics though so generally it was quite easy just to stop buying clothes, which largely stayed in the wardrobe anyway – I still have two designer T-shirts with the labels from well over 10 years ago!
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  25. says

    Since I don’t buy much clothe, I don’t have a budget for this, but I need to create one asap. Recently I came across this local shops where they will buy back your clothe that are in decent condition and give you store credit to buy clothe at their store. The store is called buffalo… something. Clothes are so expensive though…
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  26. says

    I am in the strict as needed clothing budget camp. In the last year I have only purchased 4 second hand maternity pieces (thankfully the rest of the maternity clothing that I have to wear was given to me to borrow) and a pair of shoes for work because my other ones were falling apart. If I know that I am going to need clothes it generally gets added to the budget spreadsheet a few weeks out and comes from the small amount of wiggle room that I allow myself for unplanned needs.
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  27. says

    I LOVE clothing but currently I’m not spending any money on shopping. I am trying not to purchase any clothes or items that adorn the body. I had quantified how much I’d spent on fashion from January-March and I was shocked at the amount. So far I have saved a lot of money and it’s helped stabilize my expenses. I’m not sure what I’ll do once I start shopping again. I will probably buy good quality items but shop a heck of a lot less throughout the year.

  28. says

    It’s not that I’m depriving myself but if I’m reaching a goal or saving for something important or big, I don’t spend on clothing. I would allow myself if I really need to but if my current wardrobe still works, then that’s fine with me.
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  29. says

    I pretty much just buy clothing when I need it. The last time I bought clothes was last year, when I had to buy new shorts (I gained a little too much weight for my old ones :p). I just went to walmart and got their faded glory brand. Usually when I buy clothes its at thrift stores. I must have gotten like 30 button downs a few years ago that were in great shape for like $2-3 each instead of the normal $20-30 at a department store.
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  30. says

    The key for this approach is the ability to identify trends in your own spending habits. If you can plot out future expenses, you can often identify preventive measures that might require you to spend money today, but will save you a far greater amount of cash in the immediate future. Tracking your spending habits and using a budget are essential parts of bolstering your finances and provide a baseline for sustainable wealth increase. If you’ve never used a budget, start today .
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