Frugality tends to involve a lot of policy decisions. We tightwads have a lot of systems and guidelines we follow, and while they seem self-explanatory to us, they aren't quite so obvious to newbies. One of the things I routinely do when contemplating a new purchase is to estimate the cost per use. For clothing, that's cost per wear. This calculation can really help in making decisions, saving money, and also saving closet space.
For simplicity's sake, I don't include externalities like laundry soap, water and electricity, square footage for storage, or other costs that pertain to the purchase. I would definitely include dry cleaning, but I don't buy clothes that require dry cleaning as a rule. There are other "dingers" involved besides associated expenses and storage requirements; the big one is maintenance. I don't buy clothes that need ironing, either, and I avoid anything that needs hand-washing. All anyone has to do is glance around. Do you have a pile of ironing? A pile of dry cleaning? A pile of high-maintenance stuff that needs hand-washing? If it's piling up, that's a sign that you don't dig spending your spare time taking care of your clothes. Pay attention to that because your time is worth a lot more money than your clothes are. Liberate yourself and donate the whole stack.
Clothing, like any other purchase, should be a value-add. Owning it should level up your life, rather than complicating it. Debt and chaos are not on this list.
Back to the number-crunching. I've been using the guideline of "one dollar per wear" for twenty years. My husband says it's time to change this, because of inflation, but it's easier for me to mentally calculate the $1/wear figure. Say I'm looking at a pair of jeans. They're $50. I can say, would I wear this pair of jeans fifty times? That's not quite once a week for a year. Yeah, they'll probably last that long. I do wear jeans that often. In actual fact, I don't wear jeans six months out of the year because it's too hot where I live. But, the last time I bought jeans, they were still in good shape two years later. I know because I'm wearing them right now.
If I'm also looking at a $100 pair of jeans, I can ask three questions. 1. Would I wear them 100 times? 2. Are they really twice as good as the $50 jeans? 3. Would they last twice as long as the $50 jeans?
There is a bottom threshold below which we don't want to go. If I'm looking at a $5 t-shirt, I really have to ask whether it would hold up for five washings. I have to ask whether the garment quality is so poor that this item may ruin some of my other clothes. This happened to me this summer. I had bought a cheap swimsuit cover-up, and I threw it in a drawer in a hotel with my other dirty clothes. (I use the bottom drawer of a hotel dresser as a temporary laundry bag). The dye on the swimsuit cover-up stained this cute pair of capris I bought retail. I tried every stain removal technique I've ever used, and those dye spots are not coming out. Blue on pink. Is it irony that the dye won't stay where it belongs but it will stay where it doesn't? This is not the first time that an inexpensive garment has caused a laundry disaster. I swear, one of these days I'm switching to togas. Universally flattering and no dye transfer.
There are a lot of high-maintenance clothing features that I avoid, because I want my clothes to continue to look at least somewhat acceptable. Sequins tend to rip off and bend, scratch up my dining chairs, and catch on other clothing. Eventually, the metal finish wears off. Beads always come off. Lace tends to run and tear. I'm not paying extra for something that creates extra labor for me and looks shabby that quickly. That's what accessories are for. If I want to be blinged out, I'm doing it with jewelry, not with something that takes half an hour to clean. Fashion designers know better than to market this stuff to men.
The dollar-per-wear rubric can help to clarify decisions in a closet purge. I can hold up something well-worn and ask myself, have I gotten fair value out of this purchase? It can be really emotional for me to let go of favorite items, like my old size XL running shorts, even after I started wearing an XS and the old shorts wouldn't even stay on my body anymore. It's probably more common for people to want to hang onto things they've rarely or never worn. We tend to feel that we haven't gotten our money's worth. That very well might be true! The prime purpose of many purchases - and all impulse buys - is the act of shopping itself. Shopping makes many of us feel lit up with sensory delight, excitement, astute bargain-getting, and the thrill of the hunt. The moment the item goes in the bag, it loses its value. I've never done a clearing job in which we didn't uncover unused items with the tags still on, still in the original shopping bag. It's okay. We're building awareness, attention, and focus. We're planning more purposefully and we're getting more out of the things we buy. Moving forward includes letting go.
Another way to calculate value is to ask, would I buy this again right now? As we assess our belongings, we can see that certain items were a real steal, and others were more of a meh. For example, our bed, couch, phones, sunglasses, and toothpaste get used every single day. Cost per use is going to be far lower than a dollar per day. Will I use my expedition backpack a total of one hundred and fifty days? Possibly. Not there yet, even though it's six years old. I would definitely buy it again, but I have to accept that certain hobbies are more expensive than others.
Possibly the best way to calculate value is to ask, would owning this provide the leverage necessary to improve something else in my life? I hemmed (see what I did there) and hawed over buying a discount $80 suit for a job interview. Went back to the store no fewer than three times before I bought it. Got the job. Got a promotion and two raises, and made Employee of the Quarter. That suit paid for itself many times over. Another way to look at it is that I could have spent the same $80 buying four $20 items, or eight $10 items. None of those cheaper pieces would have been likely to help me level up at an important job interview. They would also bulk up my closet with 4-8x greater volume.
The more items I have, the lower the chances that I'm getting full use or full value out of all of them.
Calculating cost per use has tended to help me ease into buying better-quality items that I would normally consider outside of my comfort zone. Spending money does not come naturally to me. I've been known to walk six miles to save $1.50 on bus fare. Cost per use helps remind me that buying cheap, fall-apart clothing can cost more in the long run. It gives me permission to buy nicer things that don't bleed dye in the wash. It also helps to keep my closet under control, as I buy fewer, more durable things. The end result is easier on the wallet, lower maintenance, and tends not to result in closet rods snapping under the weight of too much fabric.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.