A Novel Resolution: Go On a Clothes-Shopping Diet
Three friends already started a year-long ban on new apparel. You might want to join them in '14.
Caroline Mayer is a consumer reporter who spent 25 years working for The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter @consumermayer
I’m going on a modified “clothes diet,” sharply cutting back my apparel purchases in 2014.
My "Clothes Diet" Goal
My goal is to buy only what I need and to look askance at all those tempting items I tend to buy only because they’re such great deals.
(MORE: How Much More Stuff Do We Really Need?)
I have to credit my good friend Nancy Bennett of Arlington, Va., for this dietetic approach to shopping. She and two of her longtime pals, Donna Smith of Athens, Ga., and Moleta Wade, of Leeds, Ala., began an even more drastic clothes diet in August, after a weekend get-together following Nancy’s 45th high-school reunion in Alabama.
The three friends spent one of those days shopping. “It was a very full day,” Nancy recalls, no different from the many days they’ve enjoyed together since meeting at an Alabama summer camp in the 1960s. They had been assigned to kitchen duty, making the equivalent of 11 cents an hour their first summer together, a sum often doubled with tips divided among the staff. “On weekends," says Nancy, "we took our meager earnings, went downtown and managed to have a hamburger and shop for clothes.”
(MORE: Should You Sign Up for a Store’s Card?)
A Thought-Provoking Trip to the Mall
Fast-forward to the summer of 2013. The three went shopping again — this time, with a lot more to spend. Nancy, Donna and Moleta used every store coupon they had to purchase whatever they could during a day trip to a mall. “We were buying just because there was a sale and we had coupons," Nancy says. "By the end of the day I was exhausted.”
Nancy later wondered aloud if their strategy was worthwhile. “What would you think if we didn’t shop for a while?” she asked her friends.
“I thought they would dismiss it, saying they enjoyed shopping and found it a good way to socialize,” Nancy told me.
The Rules for Their Shopping Diet
Instead, the women jointly agreed to a clothes-shopping moratorium: no new apparel or accessories for a year, unless absolutely necessary (underwear, for example, or a new pair of sneakers to replace worn-out athletic shoes). An exception — perhaps for a special social event — would require the others' approval. They also gave themselves permission to shop for household items and gifts.
On August 1, their clothes diet began.
(MORE: Money Can Buy Happiness — If You Spend It Right)
Now five months into their regimen, the women are enjoying the challenge — much to their surprise. "It's been a life-changing experience," says Donna, noting that she's not just saving money, she's saving time. “It's incredible. I'm not going to stores, not opening those tantalizing emails and not flipping through catalogues ‘just looking.’"
So far, no one has asked for approval to buy new clothes; they’ve all become more creative with what’s in their closets. “It is really so much fun to look at my closet differently," Donna says, "putting together different looks by changing up accessories and putting different tops with jackets.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been anxious moments. In fact, all three have had their share of fitful shopping dreams. Nancy, for instance, dreamed she’d purchased the perfect pocketbook, only realizing when she got home that she had vowed not to shop and would have to confess to her friends about going astray.
And like all diets, this one is far from easy.
Nancy admits to enviously eyeing this year’s fashionable bright sweaters. “The sweaters in my wardrobe are either black or gray,” she says. “It’s not that I needed to shop, but I do want to be up to date in fashion.”
When discouragement hits, it helps to know that at the end of their yearlong shopping ban, the three friends will use the money they didn’t spend to go on a trip. Nancy thinks she has probably saved about $250 a month, which will add up to far more than necessary for their vacation. “So I'm giving a lot more money to charity,” she says.
The diet has also affected the womens' other purchasing habits. "It's made me much more conscious about how I spend my money," says Nancy. "I now look at everything I buy and ask, 'Do I really want to buy this?'"
How Their Diet Affected Me
As I’ve watched Nancy adjust to her new non-shopping life, I’ve realized that her diet has also had an impact on me. Whenever I step up to a checkout counter, I ask myself, “Do I really need this?” Increasingly, the answer is no. I’ve repeatedly returned merchandise to the store shelves and left empty-handed — or with only one sweater, not two.
So my goal for 2014 is to ask this question consistently, even before I step into a store.
I’m not sure I’m ready to take the drastic no-new-clothes-for-a-year vow; I’ll ponder that for my 2015 resolution. But I do know I can and will be a far more sensible and frugal shopper. Every time I go to a store — or browse online — I’ll first ask if I really need to be shopping, let alone buying a particular item. And I'll only buy what I truly need.
4 Tips for a Clothes-Shopping Diet
If you’re ready to follow the path of Nancy and her friends, here are four of their tips to help make your “diet” successful:
1. Make a total commitment to stop buying clothes for the year. “It’s easier to say ‘no’ than just cut back,” Nancy says.
2. Set an end date. This will make your resolution less painful and give you something to look forward to.
3. Enlist friends in your venture. Their mutual support and commiseration will help you stay on track. “It does help to be doing this as a pact with people I care about deeply,” says Donna.
4. Reward yourself when the ban ends. Plan on treating yourself at the end of your quest with some of the money you’ve saved by not shopping.
Take a vacation, like these women plan to do. Or buy a piece of art you’ve long eyed. Whatever you plan to splurge on, having a mental picture of it will help keep you honest — and, in the end, it will be a well-earned gift.