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9 Clever Tricks to Help You Love Your Wardrobe More Than Ever (While Spending Less)

How to curb impulse buying and embrace your own style with confidence.
This Paper Ship

This Paper Ship

How many times have you found a piece of clothing crumpled and unworn in the back of your closet with the tags still on? I know that has happened to me before. Then of course I wonder, “Why on earth did I buy that?”

I’m not alone. The average American woman only wears 20 percent of her closet, Ginny Snook Scott, chief design officer of California Closets, told the Wall Street Journal in 2013.

Whether it’s due to the thrill of an amazing sale, the expert styling on a mannequin, or the search for something that will make us happy when we’re feeling down, too often we buy things we don’t need for the wrong reasons. Below are some handy tips to keep impulse spending in check without having to resort to freezing your credit card in a block of ice, Confessions of a Shopaholic–style.

01. Plan Before You Go (and Stick to It)

Have you heard that you should never go grocery shopping hungry and should always shop with a list? The same rules apply to recreational shopping. Before you head out, write down exactly what items you are looking for and how much you are willing to pay. Then, when you’re out shopping, stick only to the list and the prices you set for yourself. If you doubt your ability to stick to a plan, leave the credit cards at home and bring only the amount of cash you are willing to spend. If you see something you are interested in, but it’s not on your list, keep it in mind and see how you feel about the item in a few days. Speaking of which . . .

02. Wait Before You Commit

When you’re in the moment, it’s easy to envision that you’ll wear or use an item all the time. But take some time to think about it. Give yourself a few days. Research. Shop around. Read reviews. If you still think it’s a smart buy, go for it. Or, you may find that stepping away for a couple days provides clarity. Sure, that glittery tuxedo jacket would look amazing on you. But where and how often would you actually wear it? Now is the time to ask others for advice and think about cost per wear. Are you willing to “pay” $50 to wear a $300 dress six times? 

03. Be Wary of the Thrill of a Good Sale

Sometimes an incredible deal makes it easier to convince yourself that you need a particular item. One study by The Integer Group found that two-thirds of the participants made an impulse buy because of a sale or promotion. A steep discount can create a sense of urgency (“I have to buy this before someone else does!”). Whether it’s clothes, kitchenware, or furniture, ask yourself how you would use that item once you bring it home. Just because a particular item is inexpensive doesn’t mean that you have to buy it.

04. Be Your Own Stylist

Retailers are experts at styling clothes to create aspirational looks that convince us to buy. Sure, that shirt looks amazing in the store, but once you bring it home, will it work with what you currently have in your closet? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you can create three to four outfits with that item, and you can see yourself wearing it on a regular basis, it’s likely to be a smart addition.

05. Beware the ‘Shopping Momentum Effect’

In the world of marketing, there is a phenomenon known as the “shopping momentum effect.” It means that an initial purchase fuels the likelihood that subsequent purchases will be made—once you’ve purchased that first item at the mall, it’s enjoyable to keep the high of buying new items. Outsmart this effect by knowing that it's coming.

06. Beat Retailers at Their Own Game

Store credit cards, rewards programs, and coupons are all designed to encourage you to buy, buy, buy. Branding expert Martin Lindstrom tells Kiplinger that even scents, lighting, mannequin placement, and music in stores are chosen to create an atmosphere where you feel comfortable spending your time. Items are placed strategically to make their prices more attractive. For example, a dreamy $75 shirt may seem like a bargain when it’s placed next to $150 blouses. Product placement is a science. If you become aware of these techniques, it’s easier to resist their siren calls. Recognize their influence on your shopping experience, and you’ll know when to be on the defensive.

07. Identify Your Goals

What are your financial aspirations? Are you saving up for a trip with friends or for a new car? Save a picture of your goal to your phone, or take the old-school route, and stick it to your fridge. That way, you’ll be more mindful of a bigger picture when shopping. “Thanks, but no thanks, dollar section. I’m saving up for a vacation.”

08. Ask ‘Why?’

If you find yourself embarking on impulsive shopping trips and returning home with bags of items you don’t truly need, you owe it to yourself to take a step back and question yourself about why this is happening. Sometimes, we shop to fill a void. Look for patterns when you find yourself spending on impulse. Are you worried or anxious about something? Are you feeling negative toward yourself or something else? Are you looking for something to make you feel better? Knowing the reasons behind impulsive spending trips can help you take control. Your wallet won’t be the only aspect of your life that benefits. Once you realize there’s a deeper issue, you’ll be one step closer to addressing it in healthier ways.

09. Don’t Put Yourself in the Path of Temptation

If you don’t trust yourself to resist the thrill of a good sale, remove yourself from the situation. Don’t go to the mall unless you absolutely need something. If you find yourself standing in front of your closet thinking you have nothing to wear, invite a friend or two over to have a clothing swap. Shop your own closet, and experiment by putting together new outfit combinations. Being creative can give you the fun of adding something new to your closet without making a dent in your wallet.