I grew up in a nice, upper-middle-class, Washington, D.C., suburb, and new shoes and clothes at the beginning of every school year, season change and growth spurt were just considered a given.
However, although my parents had money, they were thrifty. I remember childhood shopping trips to Sears; United Colors of Benetton was the most high-end label I ever wore. When I inherited a Givenchy necklace from my grandmother, I didn’t know how to pronounce Givenchy until a friend corrected me.
Still, even mall staples from the likes of The Limited, coupled with indie-boutique finds, can add up. By the time I moved to New York at age 29, I spent an estimated $2,000 a year on attire. And while I had a dozen outfits for every occasion, my savings account remained at about $500 for the entire four years I lived in Brooklyn.
Making the Decision to Downsize
Three years ago I moved to Connecticut, got married and started covering health insurance for my spouse, who works in sales and marketing. My cost of living skyrocketed, and my already-modest journalism salary (plus a tiny bit of income from a second job as a guitar teacher) was pretty much eaten up by living expenses, with only a few hundred a month to spare for all the nonnecessities.
I wanted to follow my parents’ advice and start saving at least $1,000 a year for retirement to supplement a small IRA I inherited from my grandfather, not to mention put a bigger dent in my student loans. I also felt badly that I never really seemed to have much money for Christmas gifts, either, except crappy $15 pot holders or Starbucks gift cards.
So in early 2011 I decided I would try to spend just $900 a year, or $75 a month, on clothes, which was something I could control. I would track expenditures in an Excel spreadsheet to make sure I didn’t go over or blow too much money early on in the year.
$900 per year wasn’t too difficult: I just had to watch the little things, like redundant tank tops and that extra pair of shoes. But by late 2011, I got pregnant and needed an entirely new wardrobe.
Were it not for the generosity of a few friends who were willing to loan their maternity clothes, and family who bought me key items like work dresses and elastic-waist pants, I would have had nothing to wear unless I broke my budget.
Still, with a baby on the way, I decided further cutbacks would be needed.