Clothing is a necessity, but spending a lot of money on it isn't.
Apparel expenses are low-hanging fruit to cut spending from a household budget. It's easy to save, look great and still wear name brands, if you know how.
A family of four spends an average of $2,850 a year on apparel and apparel services, according to the federal government's Consumer Expenditure Survey for 2005. That's nearly $240 a month. So it is an expense worth addressing.
For help to get better value for your clothes-shopping dollar, you can turn to Steve and Annette Economides, authors of the book America's Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money: Your Guide to Living Better, Spending Less, and Cashing in on Your Dreams and the newsletter, The HomeEconomiser.
The couple isn't crazy about the term "cheap." Their focus isn't to be a tightwad. Instead, it is to get the best value for your money and stop wasting cash, so you can spend more on things you really care about.
That can be accomplished in clothes buying. Here are a few of the many ways to reduce spending on adult clothing. Next week we'll look at frugal steps in buying apparel for kids:
Do nothing. Most adults have enough clothes to get by for months. If you need to get out of debt or save money quickly, make do with what you have. That may seem obvious, but it helps to acknowledge consciously that you don't "need" new clothes right now.
Buy used. This is the crux of saving big on clothing - buying high-quality, name-brand used clothes. If you refuse to buy secondhand, you will not save much on clothes in the long term.
To buy quality clothing inexpensively, you'll need to get acquainted with secondhand stores, such as thrift stores and consignment shops.
"The cool thing is the thrift-store industry has changed so much over the last 20 years," Annette Economides said. "It used to be that you had to just paw through dirty, smelly clothes, and no one wanted to bother with that. Now, the thrift stores have clothes on hangers. They have air fresheners in the stores."
Clothes are organized by style, size and color. She once bought a Jones New York skirt and jacket for $15.
"You not only can get nice clothes, but you can get all the name brands," she said. The couple once went on a clothes-shopping spree for a television news program, buying 22 garments for $90.
Many of the clothes are just lightly worn. Some are new, with original tags. A warning, however: As with any used purchase, secondhand clothing must be examined thoroughly for flaws. Don't forget to test zippers, for example.
Garage sales. Garage sales can be sources of great bargains. But for clothes, it's more like a time-consuming treasure hunt than shopping for what you need. Chances are low that you will happen to find great clothes in your taste, your size and in a color that looks good on you during the few minutes that you happen to show up at the sale. Your chances improve when there is more inventory in one place, such as at a church rummage sale.
Strategize. Many adults assemble their wardrobes willy-nilly, buying items that strike their fancy. Instead, organize your closet and take inventory of what you have. That way, you can determine what you need. Write it down. Also, reflect on the colors and styles that look good on you.
Steve and Annette Economides suggest the book Color Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson, who uses skin tone and hair color to suggest color palette "seasons" that are likely to look good. Also, buy for the size you are now, not the size you someday hope to be.
Simplify. Buy classic styles that will look good for years. And assemble a base of neutral colors - blacks, khaki, navy blue - that can mix and match to create a number of outfits. The same concept goes for shoes.
Develop a process. The couple has a hierarchy of stores used for clothes shopping. They generally go from thrift stores to consignment shops to discount retailers to retail closeout stores, for example.
Save on buying retail. If you won't buy secondhand clothes, Melissa Tosetti, editor of Budget Savvy magazine, suggests going to your favorite store's Web site to check its sales every week.
"You can save hundreds of dollars on your annual clothing purchases just by monitoring sales," she said.
Similarly, sign up for your favorite stores' e-mail newsletters to receive coupons and learn about coming sales. If you can't wait until the end-of-season sales to save money, at least wait until mid-season.
"You will save 25 percent to 50 percent just by waiting a few weeks," she said.
Maintenance. Realize that garments that must be dry-cleaned cost more over their life. Also, be wary of fabrics that tend to pill or wear too fast. "It's not a bargain if you only get to wear it a few times," Tosetti said.
And put your clothes in the dryer for just a few minutes, then hang them to dry. "Dryers suck the life out of your clothes. Just look at your dryer's lint trap," she said.
Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.