Welcome to our Gen Y money blog, where a recent grad chronicles her real-life journey to becoming a financially independent adult.
Over the Christmas holidays, I begrudgingly completed one of my least favourite tasks: the annual closet clean out.
Whenever I start this task, I'm appalled at the number of cheap items from discount retailers that end up in the "trash" or "donations" pile. It's not because I'm resentful about parting with a few out-of-style, falling-apart shirts. It's because this project is a direct manifestation of my "disposable clothing" habit.
Buying inexpensive clothing worked well for me as a student, when I cared less about separating my lights and darks in the wash and didn't feel the pressure to "dress to impress." Though I'm fortunate that my first career-founding jobs have been at offices with business casual dress codes, maintaining a professional appearance definitely requires a lifestyle adjustment.
Since paying off my student debt is a current financial priority, I keep a pretty modest budget for wardrobe updates. On average, I spend $150 a month on clothes and accessories. I try to only purchase as necessary, replacing worn-out clothes or buying a couple of new items according to a seasonal or lifestyle change.
I'll admit, however, that I sometimes cheat on my "shop as needed" rule – especially when trendy clothing is so inexpensive and accessible.
Thirty dollars at Forever 21 has helped me resolve a number of fashion dilemmas, without the guilt. Not only have I been able to afford everything from last-minute party dresses and first-date outfits to professional wardrobe updates, I also get the sartorial confidence boost that comes with wearing something new. (And let's face it, when trying to secure a decent job in today's dog-eat-dog work force, a confidence boost of any kind is more than welcome.)
This year, however, as I tried not to imagine the clothing trash bags full of my hard-earned dollars, it struck me that my quality clothing basics have lasted a long time.
In my final year of university, I invested in a classic BCBG blazer that I've worn to countless job interviews. When I got my first entry-level position, I splurged at a local boutique on a couple of nice tops that still make for excellent professional outfits. The only pair of jeans that I've owned for over a year cost me well over $100 (on sale).
So here's my two cents on clothing: While "fast fashion" is fun and affordable, it's becoming easier for me to see how the quantitative value doesn't quite add up to the qualitative value. Though it's not financially feasible for me to start shopping exclusively at top-line designers, I've come to realize that it is in the best interest of my wallet to consider how long a piece of clothing will last me when I am mulling a purchase.
For example, a couple of weeks ago, a Matt & Nat bag caught my eye. Normally, the $180 price tag would have kept me walking. Instead, I recalled the three discount bags I'd cycled through over the course of last year, each of which cost between $30 and $40, and all of which broke after only a few uses. The Matt & Nat bag wasn't so expensive that it required months of saving, and I knew it would easily outlast six cheaper bags, both in style and durability.
I bought it. And for once, the nagging thought of "but you could have gotten so much more at another store!" isn't in the back of my mind.
As a young woman transitioning from a student life into that of a young professional, part of my financial education is learning how to properly inform a purchase and recognizing when the cheapest option isn't always the best option.
Investing in the basics, like a classic blazer or a good pair of jeans, is definitely worth spending a few extra dollars. Kicking my disposable clothing habit shouldn't require a budget change, just smarter spending habits, a bit more effort toward maintenance, and some patience to see how the investment pans out.
As always, staying in the black is the new black.