How much should you spend on clothing?

clothes

“You look like a million bucks!” – A friend of yours complimenting you on an outfit that you love.

Clothing, whether you like it or not, is a necessary evil. In order to walk out your front door, go to the grocery store, and go to your job, you need to hide your genitals. Laugh if you like, or stop reading if you are offended, but it’s the truth. Clothing, from the very beginning, was to meant to cover your “areas.” Some people feel compelled to do this with style and panache, while others choose to take a utilitarian approach. Neither approach is right or wrong; they are just different philosophies. This post is for those that enjoy looking nice. If you don’t care, then you don’t care. I’m not judging. You just don’t care.

What you might not realize is that even if you care, you may not have the right to care. If you aren’t in a financial position to care about clothing, then whether you actually care or not, is trumped by your inability to do anything about it. To some degree, this is the same way I feel about smoking, drinking, fine dining, or art. Arguably, they are all vices. Whereas clothing is more essential than tobacco usage and alcohol consumption, it’s your financial stability, or lack thereof, that should truly guide your decisions on all accounts.

But I digress. Back to clothing.

Call me shallow and clueless, but I’m convinced that personal style is important. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend like a moron to complete your look. I just think how you present yourself is very important, especially in a professional setting. Recently, Harris Interactive conducted a survey of more than 500 HR professionals. The survey revealed that 90% of HR pros believe being well groomed is key to making a strong first impression and setting yourself apart from less tidy competitors. When I see someone with cool shoes, cool glasses, or a nice dress, I don’t think, “Wow, those are expensive.” I think, “Wow, they care.” I happen to think that your business/career wardrobe is an investment. But I think that you should plan your purchases wisely. This post will help you do that.

The Numbers

Pete the Planner’s Ideal Household Budget allocates 5% of your household income to clothing. This is assuming that you live in a debt free house. It’s much much harder to allocate 5% of your income, when you are still hypothetically paying for that great handbag that you bought last March. Here’s what 5% of some different incomes looks like:

$40,000 gross is about $28,000 net. Clothing budget $1,400/yr

$60,000 gross is about $42,000 net. Clothing budget $2,100/yr

$100,000 gross is about $70,000 net. Clothing budget $3,500/yr

$150,000 gross is about $105,000 net. Clothing budget is $5,250/yr

What’s included in the clothing budget?

Everything. Clothes for you. Clothes for your kids. Clothes for your spouse. Workout clothes. Work clothes. Casual clothes. Bridesmaid dresses. Rental tuxes. Dry cleaning. Clothing repairs. Shoes. Handbags. More shoes.

You may have been excited by the raw numbers, but the “what’s included” section may have brought you back to earth. Like I was saying, this requires planning and forethought. The first step in my opinion? You MUST take care of your current clothing.

Tips for making clothing last longer

  1. Clean, polish, repair- Grandpa Dunn always said, “You will take care of your bike the way you take care of your car.” He meant that you must take care of the things that you buy, no matter the cost.Do you launder your clothes correctly? Do you regularly clean shoes and bags? Do you repair shoes and clothes when they are broken? You should do all of these things. Don’t treat your clothing poorly. You spend 5% of your budget on it!
  2. Add to your rotation- I used to have only one good suit. It was wearing out quickly because it was doing all the work. I bought another suit that helped split time with my original suit. This extended the shelf-life of the first suit, and helped me maintain the new suit. I eventually added another suit, and so on and so forth. All of your suits don’t have to be high end. Hell, none of them have to be high end. But you should probably read tip #3.
  3. Sometimes quality matters- Some clothes are crap. This isn’t me being a jerk. This is me being a realist. Some clothes look great, but are made poorly. They will get you by in a pinch. Sometimes it makes sense (when your budget calls for it) to buy business formalwear from a “warehouse” type store. However I believe that you can get more use and better effect from a nice clothing store. I like to support the local designers in my town. One of my favorite places for high quality clothing at great prices is J Benzal. (Check ’em out. They have a great online store.)

Starting from scratch can be intimidating

Let’s say that you are starting your first job. Or better yet, let’s say that you decide that you want to kick up your style a notch. How should you get started? Can a person making $40,000 actually build a wardrobe? It takes strategy. That’s why I’m called Pete the Planner. I plan EVERYTHING.

Cheap, good looking stuff is the key. Some of my favorite stores, for men and/or women, are Uniqlo, H&M, and Gilt. Make a list of things that you need, and then use sales to your advantage. Buying things on sale is great when you actually need what you are buying. For gents, you need one or two suits, five dress shirts, five to seven ties, a pair of khakis, a pair of black pants, a pair of brown shoes, a pair of black shoes, a brown belt, and a black belt. That’s it. That’s all you need to get your wardrobe started. Ladies….I’m not even going there. However, I would love for you to leave comments on what you find to be the equivalent of the men’s list above. What are the essentials?

The bottom line is that you need to plan your clothing purchases. If you need to spend more than 5% of your take-home pay, then cool. Just spend less on some other budget category.

Final thoughts and tips

I spoke with Nikki Sutton (left), interior designer and fashion advocate, she is easily one of the most stylish people that I know. But while her look is distinct and powerful, it doesn’t scream “I just dropped thousands of dollars on clothes.”

She feels quite strongly about clothing’s role in her career, “My outfits influence how I feel about myself, how others perceive me and most importantly, provide me a daily opportunity to be creative, to succeed and to fail. I think of my clothing purchases as investments in my personal brand.”

She’s right. Caring about how you look is important. It’s not vain. And it’s not stupid if you do it within your budget. Nikki shops on a budget, “That sweater may have only cost $20 however, by NOT buying it, I mentally reserve that $20 to put towards a pair of bada$$ shoes I simply can not live without. Actually, I weigh everything I buy against the latest pair of shoes I can’t afford: If I don’t go out to eat tonight, that’s $30 I could put towards something I have been wanting.” That’s just smart. The Pete the Planner Ideal Household Budget encourages you to move the pie pieces around. Make choices. Don’t just say yes to everything.

Bonus tip: Buy clothes that fit. A well-fitting, tailored suit, shirt or pair of pants can make all the difference in the world. Clothes that fit don’t cost you more money. And if you can’t find something that fits the way it should, then find a good tailor. Many dry cleaning places will tailor your clothing for a reasonable price.

The main takeaway is simple: don’t ignore this seemingly simple budget category. Although clothing should only account for about 5% of your budget, it’s quite a challenging process to make sure that you arrive to that 5% safely.

  • Good stuff Pete! Once again, it’s all about the choices we make!

  • I assume you don’t mean 5% per person, right? I think another great topic (if you haven’t covered it already) is the amount of money parents “throw away” on kids clothes.

  • Excellent post. Although, I am very surprised there was not a single mention of Jos. A. Banks.

  • Pete the Planner

    Hahaha. I was tempted

  • Women need: 1 suit, 2 pairs of black pants, 1 pencil skirt, 1 pair of khakis, 1 pair of trouser jeans, 2 button down dress shirts, 1 sweater set, 2 other nice work-appropriate shirts, 1 versatile cocktail dress. Black flats, black heels, one other pair of work-appropriate shoes. Get everything in neutrals and add color and personality with a scarf, handbag (I like having 2 in the rotation), or jewelry.
    Don’t overlook 2nd hand stores for high quality accessories and outerwear. And don’t worry about ‘last seasons’ stuff. Classics don’t go out of style.

  • Sara

    As a woman, it is easy to get carried away with this category of spending. Luckily for me, I’ve been the same size since high school (I’m 24) and I can still wear some of the same clothes I wore then….and they look nice because my mom would buy high quality stuff.

    I prefer to buy pieces that are “classic” but that can be pepped up with new accessories as the trends change every year. Ann Taylor and Banana Republic in the Edinburgh Outlet Mall are my favorite stores to shop for professional clothes. These are nice stores. They always have clearance racks and generally they have good sales. I don’t mind paying $50 for a skirt if I know it will last for several years. My favorite steal last spring was a beautiful navy blue shirt dress, originally $80, and I got it on clearance for $29.99. WOOHOO! =)

  • Katie

    This year is blowing my clothing budget out of the water, but for good reasons. I’ve lost 40 pounds and even if I just had all of my pants tailored, that would start to add up. Even the many pairs of jeans purchased at Goodwill started to get a bit expensive.

    Then I graduated and started a new job in a different industry. I went from wearing scrubs all day everyday to having to look semi-professional Monday through Friday (I’d say business casual, but really it’s a step above that). Oh yeah, all of these clothes I had to wear were in a size I hadn’t been in 7 years, so of course I didn’t own anything in that size anymore. More shopping. All I can say is thank goodness for clearance sales at outlet stores (seriously, like $300 worth of clothes for $75. Can’t beat it.).

    On top of that, I’m getting married in September. Yay! But wedding dresses don’t come cheap. Especially when I absolutely fell in love with a designer gown than cost more than a semester at Ivy Tech. Luckily, I was able to find the same gown as a sample online for about 70% off. It’ll have to be altered, again adding to my already blown budget, but after this, I don’t plan on buying anymore clothes, ever.

  • As a female filmmaker, I have 2 work wardrobes.

    Depending on whether I’m dressing a set or filming, whether I’m inside or out: one pair each of grungy/neat/nice jeans, various casual shirts, nice casual (very) comfortable shoes, tennis shoes, serious jacket/boots/gloves/hat.

    For office-y editing gigs and meetings (which happen fairly often when the job turns over every couple weeks: a few pairs of nice dress pants, shirts and sweaters, Flat brown/black dress shoes.

    And, of course, a suits and cocktail dress, and black heels, for wrap parties, screenings, fundraisers, etc.

    Minus side: as a filmmaker, you probably already guessed I’m not making a whole lot right now, and I’m hard on my clothes (read: klutz, plus a lot of running and kneeling on the job).

    Plus side: most of my daily wear can be fond at second-hand stores, and since many of my jobs are with different groups of people (with minimal crossover), I can reuse the outfits and not many notice. The more I build, the more I can mix-and-match.

  • Cas

    After college, my first job was in an extremely relaxed office and I could saunter in wearing t-shirts, jeans, flip-flops and everything else I would’ve worn trudging across campus. Then I worked from home for 2 years, and barely took off yoga pants, sports bras and the same old college/office t-shirts. I had the same 2 pairs of Gap jeans for 5 years and never wore them out, which was great on my clothing budget.

    Then I moved and started a new job in a business-to-business-casual-attire-required office.

    My essentials: black suit with both pencil skirt and pant options, black dress, gray dress, gray suit with both pencil skirt and pant options, 5 solid-color cardigans, 2 patterned cardigans, 5 solid-color shells (I can wear these w/cardigans, with the suit, under the blazer, etc.), black flats, black heels, white button-up shirt.

    All of these were either outlet mall finds or TJ Maxx grabs.

  • Colleen

    I just figured out that we spend about 2.5% of our budget on clothes — kids and adults included. But we still have some debt, so I’m not sure you feel about that. In general, I feel it’s a necessity due to kids growing up, and weight gain/loss on the part of the adults (getting healthy, having babies, etc.). I take advantage of hand-me-downs for the kids, always shop sales, and try to balance investment pieces with a few inexpensive trendy items. It can be done!

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