How to Set a Clothing Budget


I'm a huge believer in having a clothing budget. I've had one for going on five years, and I can indubitably say that it has made me a better dresser, given me peace of mind, and saved me tons of money. I post a recap of everything I buy each month, with an explanation of why I bought those items. (You can see those budget posts archived here.) I do this to encourage you guys to spend wisely, to set a budget and to stick to it. Today, let's talk about how to set one, but first let's talk about why!


Why Have a Clothing Budget?
  • Clothing is a necessity. The first and best reason to have a clothing budget? Clothes are a necessity, because you simply can't leave the house without them. *wink* Every personal budget includes clothing, so it's important to not overlook this category if you are organizing your finances.
  • It relieves guilt. The first thing I noticed when I created a budget is that it relieved buyer's guilt. I am my father's child, and I absolutely hate spending any money on clothing, even though I love fashion. This dichotomy and guilt used to eat me alive. Having a budget though, can actually be great medicine for this, because if it is in the budget, it is fair game. I don't let my conscience guilt me any longer!
  • It creates family peace. Along the same lines, if you are married or sharing your finances with someone, having a set budget can be a great way to bring peace to your home. You don't need to discuss purchases with your spouse, and you don't need to hide your shopping bags. If it's in the budget that you mutually agreed upon, then it is fair game. 
  • It helps with purchasing decisions. Another one of my favorite reasons for having a clothing budget is that it helps with purchasing decisions. If you have $200 to spend on a shopping trip, then you can view potential purchases as a piece of that pie. An $80 blazer that is marked down from $300 might seem like a steal, but if it's almost half your budget, then it may not be the best use of your money at that time. A huge part of being a well-dressed person is being a smart shopper in my opinion, so having a budget can certainly help your style! 
How to Set a Clothing Budget
  • Your income. Most financial planners recommend to set aside between 2-8% of your take-home income for clothing (because, again, clothing is a necessity). This is a great starting point for computing your personal clothing budget. This can actually be a pretty large range though, so how do you decide which number to go with? Keep reading for more factors to consider.
  • Your family. The first thing to consider is that the budget includes everyone in your family - so if you have children, then their clothing also needs to come out of this budget. If you are single, then the budget is just for you.
  • Your job. Your job is going to be another huge factor in deciding how much money to set aside for clothes. Some jobs, such as working in a law office or a fashion magazine, are going to require clothing that is higher quality and of more variety, and therefore you should create a larger budget. A job with a uniform, however, should save you a considerable amount on clothing since you only need clothes for weekends and fun occasions.
  • Your financial goals. This is another huge factor to consider. Are you saving money for a house? Are you paying off credit card debt? If you have significant financial goals or stressors, then you will want to reduce your clothing budget as much as possible to make room for these other (more important) categories. I don't recommend completely doing away with your clothing budget if at all possible though - because if you completely close off the category that can actually lead to irresponsible and/or sporadic spending. 
  • Your values. You may value other things in your life more than clothing - such as traveling, or donating to charity. These can be reasons to reduce your clothing budget and move those funds into other categories that mean the most to you.  
  • Your shopping habits. Another factor to consider - do you tend to shop often, or only a couple times a year? For someone who shops often, I like to suggest a monthly clothing budget. If you tend to shop in one or two big chunks every year or when you have a big life event such as a new job, a clothing budget just for your shopping trip might be a better route.
How to Stick to a Clothing Budget
  • Keep track. I'm not great with math, but even if you are, it can be difficult to keep track of your spending. If you don't write it down, it can seem like you are spending way more than you actually are, or vice versa. The best way to keep yourself honest is by simply writing it down.
  • Carry over. If you have a monthly clothing budget, don't ever pressure yourself to spend it that same month;  I definitely don't recommend a "use it or loose it" mentality. If you want to save up for something big, then carry over the budget you didn't use from the previous months. Or do what I do and save some of your budget for the best times of year to score great deals - right after Christmas, and in late June/early July (when the clothing seasons change). 
  • Return overages. Let's face it, sometimes our eyes are bigger than our wallets. No biggie. Whenever this happens to me, I go through my purchases that month and pick a few things to return. If I really, really love them, then I take them out of next month's budget, or I simply go back and buy them next month. 

Overall, I think there is a wide spectrum when it comes to clothing budgets - some of us may be entering overspending territory, and a clothing budget can help you scale it down. Some of us may be too frugal (yes, there is such a thing, I was this person!), and a clothing budget can help you gain the confidence to invest in quality clothing that is more appropriate for your job and lifestyle. A clothing budget helps us find balance, and as I experienced - helps you become a better dresser, brings peace of mind and saves you time and money.

What are your philosophies or tips for personal clothing budgets? Do you have a clothing budget?