My Unfrugal Shopping Spree


shopping spree


In the last three weeks, I have been on the largest shopping spree of my life, bar none. This week I am starting my three-month fellowship in DC, which necessitated a professional wardrobe. Thankfully, the dress code is business casual four days per week and casual on Fridays, plus there will be occasional events that call for business dress (one instance is on my first day, actually). Even with that fairly lax (for DC) standard, I needed a lot of new clothes. I inventoried my entire wardrobe for all business casual clothes that both fit and I was willing to wear and came up with only about three tops and the suit I bought for my interview last spring. I also was not happy with my current pair of black dress shoes (not that comfortable).


This was not a frugal endeavor by any stretch of the imagination. I am frugal in many areas of my life, but clothing is NOT one of them. This definitely stems from my upbringing with my spendthrift mother. The only upside to my non-frugal clothing purchases is that I do it very infrequently. I probably go shopping about twice a year and buy one or two items each time. So this shopping trip really has been the biggest in my life, with the second place being when I was interviewing for grad school.


Here is what I bought and for what price:


clothes spending 2015



The total I spent on these purchases (including tax and shipping) was $796.70. Additionally, I bought two sweaters, two pairs of shoes, and two pairs of jeans that I ended up returning. I am also likely to return the blue and green dress shirts.


Kyle has tried to reform my clothes shopping norms. He likes to say that I never knew what a thrift store was before I met him, which is almost true. I have bought an item from a thrift store in the past (and browsed on a couple occasions), but I didn’t wear it more than once. I can hardly bring myself to go through clearance sections of stores or to discount stores. Shopping is not fun for me, so I just want to get it over with as quickly and pleasantly as possible.


I was talking about my purchases with some of my (naturally good with money) friends, and my habits were appalling to them. I had a couple friends tell me that they have a $10/item limit! I really can’t see myself having that kind of limit (especially for suits and shoes!) so I guess their habits are just as inconceivable to me as mine are to them.


Though I know I have lots of room for frugal improvement, at this point, I’m really not interested in changing how I shop for clothes. I have never wanted to be frugal in every area of life, and this just looks like it’s my vice! As long as I keep shopping infrequently and spending less than the average American, it will stay a small slice of our world. (For comparison, we spent $524 on clothes and shoes for both of us in 2014, of which I think the majority was spent on me).


Do you shop in sprees or at regular intervals? Do you have a per-item cost ceiling? How much shopping did you do when you got your first job?


photo modified from foto76 (Free Digital Photos)


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22 Responses to "My Unfrugal Shopping Spree"

  1. I will occasionally thrift, and I always check the clearance racks, but I care more about getting good stuff that fits and that I actually want to wear than I care about price (within reason.) When I do find something I like, I wear it into the ground! To me the most important thing in easing the pain of shopping has been getting a sense of what labels/stores I tend to like, and what styles of clothing suit me best (drapey dresses, yes; skinny jeans, no) so I don’t waste a lot of time trying on stuff that I would always hate. That said, I haven’t been shopping in a store for 18 months or so, and the last item of clothing I bought except for a t-shirt at a baseball game was a skirt I picked up online last January. I’m due for a major overhaul (I need more professional clothing too) but I can just manage with what I have now, even though I’m not exactly stylin’, and for the moment I’m being cheap about it. Congrats on getting a lot of stuff you like! $800 isn’t that bad for what amounts to a whole new wardrobe.
    C@thesingledollar recently posted..Deciding on a Retirement Plan Beneficiary (Especially When Unmarried Without Children)

    1. Emily says:

      I also am trying to focus my attention on certain stores and brands – hence the short list of stores and also that most of my Macy’s purchases were Calvin Klein. I do need to get better about learning what is good for my body type and so forth so I can be faster in stores and also shop for clothes online, which I generally don’t do unless I have previously tried the items on in store. That is pretty impressive that you have gone 18 months without shopping at all!

  2. E 2 says:

    There are times for thrift shopping, and times to spend money to get the job done. I love thrift and consignment stores, and most of my wardrobe comes from them, but you can’t really walk in to find one specific thing, like a white button-up shirt. You have to be willing to spend time shopping for unexpected, cheap things that will enhance your current wardrobe. When you do just need a white button-up shirt (that actually fits you and isn’t lacy/striped/covered in weird pockets), and you don’t have time for multiple trips over weeks or months, you have to go to a store and actually spend money on it. The idea that you could build up a business wardrobe in a week with a $10/item limit is totally laughable – nice, but unlikely.

    I’ve had to spend hundreds of dollars over the last year on clothes that are hard to find secondhand and it really annoys me. First it was maternity clothes – there aren’t many at my local secondhand stores, they’re the same price at regular stores (usually $20-40 per item!), and they don’t go on great sales because the stores know it’s a captive market. I got a few really ugly things secondhand that made me feel like a house, and then I gave up, got out my credit card, and bought a bunch of stuff online. Then this weekend I dropped around $80 at Target just two items of nursing clothing and a cheap suit jacket for a Skype job interview (couldn’t find a dress shirt without patterns or weird pockets, haha). When you have to spend, it sucks, but there you are.

    1. Emily says:

      There is definitely a time vs. money trade-off in this area. I suppose that people who enjoy shopping have an advantage in that they might not mind doing the monitoring, but the pitfall is probably buying more than you need.

      I have heard that finding a decent maternity wardrobe is a nightmare! I’ll probably wear the same few items over and over (as the belly size permits) when the time comes – I’m pretty close to doing that now, anyway.

  3. I didn’t spend quite as much as you did (even adjusting for inflation), but I did what you did. The main difference being that I went to the outlet mall and stuck to Loft, GAP, and a few similar places during a big sale. (Of course, I found out I was pregnant the weekend after buying my new work wardrobe, which meant I didn’t wear it for long.)

    My trick is to go with a friend who *really* likes shopping. I spend one day every 2-4 years and just blitz an entire new wardrobe for ~$500. (My current shopping friend is *really* good with coupons and discounts. She saved me >$100 at the register this last time. We also left at 10am and got home at 9pm! And now I’m done for several years.)

    With maternity clothes, I found people on e-bay with my in-seam and just bought their entire wardrobes. (People will often sell their used maternity clothes in lots just to get rid of it. Per item it ends up being relatively cheap, even once you get rid of the stuff you would never wear.) I supplemented that with ebay maternity suits in my in-seam that cost less than $20.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Another note on privilege

    1. Emily says:

      Great suggestions! I think shopping would be more fun for me if I had a buddy, but I easily get cranky while shopping so it might not be fun for my buddy.

      1. Knowing that it’s only one day and I’m going to be all done, and making sure the shopping buddy is someone who gets joy out of shopping and isn’t like my sister (who says everything is “too young” for me) helps. Also bringing trail mix or something similar to keep me from getting low blood sugar.
        nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Apparently I am too young for a midlife crisis

  4. Fiby says:

    I hardly shop for clothes. Last year I spent….$75 on clothes. I did try shopping at a thrift store once, it worked out okay. I might do it again sometime.

    I saw your clothing budget and like your friends, was initially appalled. But then again, I’ve spent $620 on bicycle clothes since I got my bike last July, so I can’t really be appalled can I? =P

    I haven’t gotten my first “real job” yet, so I haven’t had to fill my wardrobe with professional clothes. I only have one suit for interviews. So I’m sure I”ll run into this problem at some point.

    1. Emily says:

      There is a big difference in expectations between men and women in this area. 🙂 Thankfully after we got married Kyle kind of understood that and didn’t criticize me too much. But yes, I would definitely put workout attire under clothes spending! It’s funny how easy it is to critique others’ spending while ignoring our own vices.

      1. Fiby says:

        Haha well cycling is such a big part of my life now that it has its own category in my budget. I use that figure to compare my cost per mile of cycling to driving. And for that metric, I do think it wouldn’t be fair to not include cycling clothes.

        Going forward, I should only really have maintenance costs to deal with. We’ll see if that actually pans out

  5. Mrs PoP says:

    This totally cracks me up because I never would have expected it! You didn’t even hit up the outlet mall instead of the regular mall first? Frugal card revoked! =)

    Like N&M, I hate shopping, but do my best shopping when I go out with my shopping ninja best friend. We do this once every couple of years and I get a couple of nice items – not a whole new wardrobe. She’s amazing at finding the best deals for me – dresses from Ann Taylor for $8 and other steals.

    I don’t have any hard caps on pricing, but I have to REALLY love something to spend money on it for the most part these days. But if I do REALLY love it, I’m likely to go back and buy it in multiple colors.
    Mrs PoP recently posted..Happy Friday – A Happy Complication

    1. The outlet mall is good not necessarily because it’s cheaper, but because there’s SO MUCH MORE STUFF. (At least there’s more stuff at the outlet mall if you live in a college town that doesn’t really cater to working professionals in terms of shopping, YMMV if you live in a city.)

      I’ve done thrift shopping with shopping buddy #3 from back in grad school, but the deals really weren’t that much better than outlet mall shopping and it took so much time. She’d always have us stop on the way to something and she kept her eye on particular pieces until they reached her price point. I don’t have that kind of mental load anymore.
      nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Another note on privilege

    2. Emily says:

      Yeah, I considered going to the outlet mall at first but I can’t remember why I didn’t. It was probably just the time investment as I only wanted to shop for 2-3 hours at a time and with the distance I would have to make it a longer event. 🙁 Not really a legitimate reason, though.

      I also tend to buy the same item in multiple colors if it is available. You are definitely leveraging the time you spent making that first decision in that case.

  6. Now that I’m a stay at home mom and don’t have any professional attire responsibilities, I usually pick up a few new things in the spring and fall. I’ve never shopped at a thrift store for clothes because I find them not much cheaper than cheap stores with sales, but everything seems better organized in a store and there are multiple sizes and colours for everything. That being said, I am looking to do some shopping soon and am thinking of making a bigger effort to try a thrift store again.
    Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom recently posted..Why Do You Want a Budget?

    1. Emily says:

      The organization and inventory availability points are a big deal to me! That’s what I was talking about when I mentioned making the experience of shopping more enjoyable.

  7. Jenna says:

    I am a really bad shopper, so I tend to do the same thing. I often only buy clothes when I really need them. That often means I’m in a time crunch and I can’t wait to score nice deals. At a thrift store, you have to be willing to sort through everything. Not only that, if you really want to score deals, you might have to come back multiple times over a few months. I normally end up just getting what I want but buying less of it.
    Jenna recently posted..6 Ways to Make Extra Money This Year

    1. Emily says:

      My habit is also to shop at the last minute (often the night before something was needed!), but since I needed so many items this time around I really made the effort to do it in advance. It was definitely a more pleasant experience – also time to order alternate colors/sizes from store websites – so I will try to make this my new habit.

  8. SP says:

    I”m with you on this. I don’t do well with thrift shopping, it takes more effort and patience to sort through things than I have. I also don’t have much style vision, and I can’t see how cute things are without the store helping me out.

    I do mostly stick to sale racks, because the stores I shop at seem to have sales ALL the time. Of course, if you need something TOMORROW that doesn’t work as well. 🙂

    I’m not a fan of outlet malls, as they typically aren’t even the same quality as the regular stores. I mean, that is fine as long as you keep in mind what you are actually paying for, but just because it is JCrew on the label doesn’t mean the quality is better than a shirt from Target.

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my unfrugality in this area. 😉 I did buy most everything on sale, though only one item was on clearance (and I only went into that section because it was quite well-organized!).

  9. I actually used half of my salary for clothes like new shoes, slocks, ties, and a lot more. I just enjoyed my first salary. I was lucky then that these were on sale. It was really the not-so-frugal side of me.
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..How Much to Secure a Home Loan?

  10. […] already addressed one of the big spending areas – new clothes! I bought a bunch of pieces for a new business casual wardrobe for my fellowship, and Kyle also bought two new pairs of jeans and spent what he called an […]

  11. […] for a while. Finally, the increased appearance budget was because we figured we would need new work clothes and outerwear (both necessitated, to whatever degree, by the transition). In reality, we haven’t […]

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