6 questions to ask yourself when buying new clothesLike a lot of people, I have a little shopaholic inside of me. She doesn’t come out as often as she used to, but she does make the occasional appearance.

It’s fun to splurge every now and then. But spending quickly gets out of hand, especially when it comes to buying new clothes. When my emotional side takes over during a shopping trip, I’ve learned to ask myself a series of questions. These questions usually take me from impulsive shopaholic back to practical spender.

Do you have an inner shopaholic? If not, I envy you. If so, here are six questions to ask yourself when you’re on the verge of an out-of-control shopping spree.

What’s the upkeep of this?

When I’m shopping for new clothes, this is usually the first question I ask myself.  If it’s dry-clean only, it usually goes back on the rack.

Not only do you have to consider the maintenance of a clothing item, you also have to consider its long-term cost, if it requires special care. Consider the following:

  • Cost of paying someone to wash the item for you
  • Cost of products to wash the item yourself
  • How long it will take to clean the item
  • How often the item will need cleaning

 

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Most of us have fancy pieces that need special care, but if it’s something you hope to wear often, you should definitely think about the maintenance when considering the value. Will you actually keep up with it, or will it just hang dirty in the back of your closet?

How often will I wear this?

A friend of mine likes to calculate the “cost per wear” of each clothing items she buys. One might argue this tactic only justifies the expense by making the price seem more appealing. But calculating the “cost per wear” does force you to think practically about your purchase.

Ask yourself where you’ll wear the clothing item most–at work? At home on the weekends? On special occasions? It’s okay to own a few pieces you don’t wear often. But if you’re shopping on impulse, and the item you’re considering is probably going to spend most of its life in the back of your closet, it’s probably best to forget about it.

Do I have to buy something else to make this work?

It’s called shopping momentum, and you’ve probably experienced it at some point in your consumer life.

You find an adorable new pair of shoes, for example, but they go with absolutely nothing in your closet. So you buy some pants to match the shoes. And then you buy six shirts to match the pants. And then you buy new sweaters, because your old sweaters don’t go with any of your new stuff. And then you buy a yacht to match your new, updated yuppy wardrobe.

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Give or take a yacht, that’s usually how it goes, right? When I’m buying something new, I think about whether or not I’m going to have to spend more to make the item work. If I have to completely rethink my wardrobe, it’s usually because the piece I’m considering doesn’t fit my style in the first place.

Will this go out of style?

My general rule of thumb: the trendier an item is, the less I spend on it. Five years ago, for example, I spent $80 on a cashmere cardigan. I wear this cardigan a few times a week. It probably won’t ever go out of style, and, provided it still fits, I’ll be wearing it weekly for the next five years, too. Yes, it takes a little more upkeep than my other pieces, but I’ve gotten so much use out of it, it’s totally worth it.

By contrast, I recently spent five bucks on a cute little owl ring in Little Tokyo. It’s adorable, but I wouldn’t have spent more than ten bucks on it. Why? Because I know I won’t be wearing it a year from now, when this whole cute owl trend looks as dated as a mullet.

Am I buying this just because it’s on sale?

When I ask this question, 90 percent of the time, I put back whatever I’m contemplating. My love for a good deal can be blinding. I’ve mulled over some downright ugly crap just because it was on sale for a few bucks.

If I wouldn’t pay full price for it, it goes back on the rack.

Do I have something like this already?

When I’m shopping for new clothes, I often find myself wanting to buy something that looks exactly like something I already own. What’s that about?

It’s not always about looking similar, either. Sometimes I want something that serves a similar purpose to something already in my closet. A few weeks ago, I found a really nice long cardigan on sale. I asked myself: “Why do I want this, and do I already own something that serves that purpose?”

Turns out, I wanted it because it was long and it had pockets. It was a nice sweater, but I already have a long cardigan with pockets. So it went back on the rack.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional splurge. But if you’re on a budget, you probably want to wrangle your emotional, impulsive spending. Taking the time to ask yourself a few questions can do wonders to tame your inner shopaholic.

Photo by Zurich

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Kristin writes and makes videos about money, the economy, travel, and more. You can find her stuff at Lifehacker, the New York Times, New York Magazine and more. Check out her blog, TheWildWong.com.