Love Shopping, Hate the Bill? 20 Clever Ways to Save Money on Clothes

A woman sits with piles of clothes on her bed./
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Clothes are expensive: the average American spends more than $1,400 on clothes each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number might seem high, but it can easily be dialed up if you have expensive tastes, buy cheap clothes that wear out quickly, or buy things you don’t need. What’s a penny-hoarding fashionista to do?

If you want to cut back on your clothing expenses, you’ll need to choose your purchases wisely and take good care of what you already have. Here are 20 ideas to get you started.

How to Spend Less Money on Clothing

Shopping for clothing without blowing your budget isn’t easy, but these strategies will help you decide what’s actually a good deal, and what purchases will cost you more money in the long run.

1. Define Your Style

Know what lines and fabrics work well on your body type, and stick to them. When it comes to wardrobe staples, focus on looks that never go out of style.

Not sure what to go with? Real Simple has a great list of wardrobe essentials for women, and The Art of Manliness put together a detailed guide to creating a manly wardrobe.

2. Buy Clothes That Fit You Now

While buying clothes to “grow into” might work for kids, it’s not an ideal way to build an adult wardrobe.

Don’t live in the future. You’ll look and feel better in clothing that’s the right size for you now, not the size you want to be. Plus, you’ll save money by not buying clothing you might never wear.

3. Choose Quality

Spend more on basics from good manufacturers. You can always jazz them up with accessories, and the fabrics will hold up years longer than something made cheaply.

Don’t be worried about missing out on trends. If square toed boots are in but you have a high-quality pair that are rounded, they will always look right — and might add a distinctive, personal touch to your wardrobe.

4. Buy on Sale

Sales are terrific ways to acquire wardrobe staples like neutral pants, skirts and shirts. Study the sales cycles of top retailers and check out the discounts. If you don’t mind risking an occasional return, buy clothes online and try them on at home; you can often get free shipping and free return shipping.

5. If You Love Something and Will Wear it Forever, Buy It!

When you find an item that’s perfect for you — a great pair of skinny jeans, a button-down shirt that fits just right — don’t wait. It might go on sale, but if it’s that fantastic, you can’t count on it. If it’s a really fantastic wardrobe staple, consider buying two so you have a backup when the first wears out.

One strategy to save extra cash? Scout out the item in the store and then order it online using coupon codes for clothes.

6. If You Don’t Love It, Don’t Buy It

This strategy is a simple way to save money: if you don’t think an item is fantastic, don’t buy it. Why pay for something that’s only “OK”?

Take a long, hard look at the cost per wear of every item before purchasing it. If you want to invest in a designer suit or couture cocktail dress that you’ll put on only once or twice a year, make sure it’s something you love and will enjoy wearing time after time. Do you love it enough to make the cost per wear worthwhile?

This also brings back point #3: pieces you will wear for years should be good quality.

7. Don’t Buy Cheap Shoes

A pair that smashes your toes or gives you blisters every time you wear them will consume your thoughts and harm your feet. Unless fancy footwear is your signature style, no one will care if you wear the same few pairs over and over.

8. Don’t Spend a Lot on Trends

The fashion cycle is getting shorter all the time. What used to last a season is now hot for only a few weeks!

Something extreme (hello, 1980s shoulder pads) just won’t get much wear, and that’s a waste of money. Better to buy trendy stuff cheaply and share it with a friend.

9. Don’t Be Afraid of Thrift Stores

I have found my most enduring pieces in thrift and consignment stores for outrageously low prices. You won’t consistently strike gold, but visiting a thrift store is always a treasure hunt!

Always try on items before purchasing. Sit, stand, walk and swing your arms to make sure the fit is perfect. If it’s almost perfect and you love the item, take it to a tailor and have it adjusted. However, if it has an unpleasant odor or a deep-set stain, it’s probably best to move on.

10. Ask for a Discount

If you’re shopping and see a stain that’s easily removed, such as powder or makeup, ask politely for a few more dollars off the item. Missing buttons or faulty zippers can also earn you a discount.

I once got an extra 10% off a $300 INC leather jacket that was marked down to $100 because it was missing a button on a cuff. No one has noticed in three years — and if it really bugged me, I could always add a button myself.

A woman folds her knitted sweaters.
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Preserving Your Clothes

Once you’ve bought your clothing, how do you make the most of it? A few simple strategies can help your favorite items last a little longer — saving you money by delaying their replacement.

11. Be Proactive

Give loose buttons an extra stitch. Use iron-on patches on the insides of the knees of kids’ jeans.  Don’t wear pants that are too long; your heels will wear out the bottoms.

12. Wear Undershirts

Layer a cotton tee or a camisole underneath shirts to protect them from sweat stains.

13. Fold, Don’t Hang, Knits

Have you ever hung up a favorite sweater, only to pull it out of your closet and find it misshapen and distorted? Hangers can stretch out the shoulders of knit clothing, so it’s best to fold these items instead.

14. Don’t Keep Dry Cleaning in Plastic Bags

The chemicals in the bags can weaken and yellow fibers over time. Instead, store business suits in canvas bags or cotton pillowcases cases with a hole cut at the top.

15. Don’t Put Dirty Clothing Back in the Closet

It seems simple, but readers with children or teenagers might be all too familiar with this problem. Clothes smashed together in a closet don’t get much air circulation. That makes them hold in moisture, causing mildew and other damage.

Cleaning and Laundering

Keeping clothing clean and presentable is crucial — but certain techniques will extend the life of your clothes.

16. Don’t Over-Launder

On the other hand, don’t wash clothing too often. Remember that washing is friction and friction causes wear, so make the most of your wears between washes.

17. Treat Stains Promptly

Dab stains right away with a travel-size stain spray or, if appropriate, plain water. Get into the habit of applying stain stick to shirt collars to combat sweat stains, or try soaking them in borax.

18. Launder Clothes Properly

Use a cold wash and don’t overdo the suds. I’ve had great success using half as much detergent; instead I add borax to the wash cycle and vinegar to the rinse. The cold wash also helps prevent potential shrinkage.

Wash like with like colors; after all, that pink hue on your white shirts will require more washing and chemicals to remove.

19. Dry Clothes Gently

High dryer heat can damage many fabrics and elastics. It also causes shrinkage, ruining the clothes you love. Air dry your items, or minimize their time in the dryer and finish on a hanger. This strategy cuts your energy bill as well as giving your clothes longer life.

20. Skip the Dry Cleaner

Not all items with “dry clean only” labels actually require dry cleaning, and you can save a huge amount of money by washing them at home. The U.K.’s Daily Mail put this theory to the test by washing five delicate, dry-clean-only items at home, and found that three of them turned out just fine — though two did not.

Which fabrics would be fine with at-home handwashing or delicate machine washing and air drying? Polyester, cashmere, silk and wool, according to the article’s experts.

How Will You Save Money on Clothing?

Adopt a strategy of buying fewer, better clothes and showing them tender, loving care. Your clothes could last 15 years or longer, depending how often you wear them. You’ll lower your wardrobe budget — and save time getting ready to go out in the mornings.

Marie Hickman is a savings writer at She lives the fun but frugal life with her son in Palm Harbor, Florida.