Avoiding the 3 Most Common August Shopping Mistakes

On Wednesday evening, I led a teleseminar with Dr. April Benson, author of “To Buy or Not to Buy:  Why We Overshop and How to Stop.”  This call focused on the most common mistakes shoppers make this time of year and how to best avoid these pitfalls.

Avoiding summer sale temptations

Are you struggling with summer sales temptations?

A big thank you to all of those who attended the call!  I hope you received a lot of value from the information that Dr. Benson and I provided.  Since I know that many of you weren’t able to attend the teleseminar due to prior commitments and time zone issues, today’s post is a recap of the most important points discussed.  Feel free to ask questions or add your feedback and tips in the comments section below.

What are the 3 Most Common Mistakes?

There is a lot of pressure to shop during the month of August.  End-of-season sales, back-to-school deals, and the fall fashion push all come together to create a “perfect storm” for overshopping. While many people feel compelled to shop this time of year, we are all prone to these three very common shopping mistakes:

1. “Stocking up” for next year at end-of-season sales

When people buy clothing at end-of-season sales, they reason that they’re getting “great deals” and will be “set” when summer rolls around next year.  While this line of reasoning seems logical at the time, it rarely holds water over the long-term.  End-of-season shoppers fail to consider that the following things may occur before next year’s warm weather arrives:

  • They may gain or lose weight or their body proportions may change due to exercise, hormonal changes, or aging.
  • Their lifestyle may change (new job, moving, retirement, new activities, etc.), leading to alternative wardrobe needs.
  • Their style preferences may evolve such that they no longer love the sale items they purchased.

Many “shopaholics” enjoy fashion and like to dress in the latest trends.  Consequently, their “great buys” from the previous year may feel “stale” and outdated.  Thus, instead of wearing the things they stocked up on, they rush out to the stores to buy the newest styles.

2. Buying for an imagined, wished for, or past lifestyle

Each fall, the fashion magazine produce thick, glossy “September issues” filled with abundant ads and beautiful style pictorials.  Case in point… the other day, I received my September edition of InStyle Magazine.  It’s 716 pages long and my husband called it a “telephone book”!

All of the glorious images present fantasy lifestyles that may be 180 degrees removed from the real lives we lead.  We may even realize this, but that doesn’t always stop us from wanting to buy the clothing, shoes, and accessories presented (or at least reasonable facsimiles thereof).

Even if we don’t read fashion magazines, we may receive catalogs or view store mannequins which evoke a more exciting and glamorous life.  Those sights may also lead us to recall our past lifestyles, when perhaps we used to go out on the town more often and needed to buy “little black dresses” and loads of beautiful heels.  We may now buy clothing and accessories “just in case” we resume our previous lifestyle or in the event the life we dream of comes to pass.

3. Shopping out of habit instead of for real life needs

We were all kids once upon a time and many of us have children now.  Most of us can recall the “back-to-school” shopping that took place each August.  For some, there are fond memories associated with buying new school clothes and supplies.  For others, the memories are instead of scarcity and having to wear “hand-me-downs” or simply go without.

We may wish to recapture positive memories or make up for negative past experiences. In either case, we may feel driven to shop when the ads and commercials touting “back-to-school deals” come out.  Even if we don’t have children of our own or our children are grown, we may still find ourselves buying new clothing and supplies just because that’s what we’ve always done.

Key Tips and Strategies for Resisting the August Pull

While this time of year can definitely be challenging for those of us who overshop, there are some strategies we can use to combat the all too compelling pull to buy more than we need.  Many of the tips I gave on the call have been discussed previously on this blog, so you may recognize one or two.  While I went into more detail on the teleseminar, for the sake of space, I’ll do a brief recap here.  Feel free to ask questions if any of these points are unclear.

  • Do some “prep work” in your closet:  Get a better sense of what you have and what wardrobe gaps you have.  Make a list to take with you if/when you hit the shops or e-commerce sites!
  • Shop with your list:   Prioritize your list (must have, secondary priorities, nice to have) and only buy the items you have listed.
  • Use the “power pause”:  This term originated from Jill Chivers of shopyourwardrobe.com.  She recommends that you wait two hours to two days before buying something.  If this long of a pause is not feasible for you, at least take half an hour to get a cup of coffee or a snack and allow yourself to re-group.
  • Ask the 6 key questions from Dr. Benson:  Why am I here?  How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it?  Where will I put it?
  • Remove yourself from mailing lists:  Unsubscribe from email newsletters, catalog lists, style blogs, and fashion magazines.  Limit the number of tempting messages you receive.
  • Avoid your most tempting situations:  If there’s a particular store or sale when you always overshop, consider not putting yourself in that situation (part of the reason why I skipped the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale).
  • Buy for now!:  Only buy things you will wear within the next few weeks.  Don’t “stock up” for next year!
  • Adopt a personal return policy:  In addition to heeding store’s return policies, it can help to adopt a return policy of your own. One example (what I try to do but don’t always succeed!) is to return anything you haven’t worn in a month.

I had more tips than I could cover on the teleseminar.  If only I could heed them all myself!  Eventually I will get there, and so can you!  I will share more of my tips for avoiding overshopping in a future post.

Tips for De-cluttering Your Closet & Managing Your Wardrobe

I’ve definitely written a lot about this in the past, so I won’t delve into too much detail here.  Here are the key wardrobe management tips I presented on the call with April Benson.

  • Do a “closet audit” before you shop:  Take a few hours or a full day to go through your closet before shopping for new fall/winter clothes (or at the beginning of any new season).  Try everything on and evaluate how each piece fits your body, lifestyle, and personality.
  • Use the “first impression test”:  I credit longtime reader Deby with this term.  When we meet new people, it generally takes 30 seconds to create a first impression. Deby does the same thing with her clothes!  She tries them on, looks in a full length mirror, and decides within 30 seconds if they should stay or go.  Rating on a scale of 1-10 and aiming for “8”s or higher helps, too.
  • Create a shopping list:  Pay special attention to your wardrobe for the coming season.  List the items that need to be replaced, as well as new items you need or want to add to your wardrobe.  List by priority:  must have, need but not urgent, and nice to have.
  • Use the “hanger trick”:   Turn all of your hangers so that the hook faces out instead of in.  As you wear your clothes, replace them on the hanger so that the hook faces inward (the “normal” way).  This will give you a birds-eye view of what you are and aren’t wearing so you know what to buy more of and what to stop buying!  See more tracking suggestions here.
  • Look at needs and cost-per-wear:  Consider how much you really need.  Look at how often you want to wear your clothes and consider “cost-per-wear.”  Most people think they wear their clothes more often than they actually do and don’t think about how often clothes should be worn (not that there is a right or wrong answer, but it’s worth some personal consideration to come up with the best answer for you).

Meeting the Longing for Fall Clothes without Spending Money

As a recovering shopaholic, I frequently use shopping to meet my emotional needs, even though I intellectually know this doesn’t really work!  A wonderful quote from Dr. Benson is:

We can never get enough of what we don’t really need.”

The last portion of our teleseminar was especially meaningful for me, as Dr. Benson spoke about the needs which are frequently behind our desire for new clothes.  These include the need for:

  • Love and affection
  • Belonging
  • Self-esteem
  • The esteem of others
  • Autonomy
  • Self-actualization

An important part of our recovery from compulsive shopping involves finding new and more productive ways of meeting our needs.  Psychological research has shown that when use our disposable income for experiences and ideas rather than for goods and services, we are often much happier as a result.  Two posts on Dr. Benson’s blog elaborate on this concept:

Dr. Benson wasn’t able to go into too much detail on our short teleseminar, but her wonderful book includes a number of helpful tips and exercises.  I will be doing these exercises in the coming weeks and months and writing about them here, so stay tuned!

Your Thoughts?

I hope you enjoyed this recap of my teleseminar with Dr. April Benson!  If you have additional thoughts or tips related to the concepts discussed in this post, please share them. 

Not only do I learn a lot from experts like Dr. Benson, I learn a great deal from all of you, and I know other readers also benefit greatly from the comments as well as the posts.  Thank you for reading my blog.  I appreciate each and every one of you!


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Comments

  1. I will admit that I just shopped the LOFT Friends and Family 40% off sale. But I took my fall wish list with me and knocked off a black cardigan, winter work pants (3 pairs, because I had to replace all of my heavier pants), and a gray pencil skirt off my list. The only thing not on my list (besides a necklace) was a pair of red pants, where I fell victim to “oooohhh so cute, and they are on clearance plus an additional 40% off and oh look they have my size!” To be fair, even though they are “summer” pants, I think they’ll be able to be worn year round. However, I consider this to be a success, because I “window shopped” the sale online the night before (power pause?) and took note of all the things I liked, and ended up buying none of them because they didn’t fit right. Just a few months ago, I would have bought the black ponte peplum top because “well, it’s only $6!!”

    I still have a few other items on my fall shopping list, and I will take the to the outlets next week to make sure I don’t stray and go end up wiping out my entire savings account!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Congrats on your smart shopping, Melissa! You used the sales to work for you, which is a good thing. I think your “window shopping” the night before is a good twist on the “power pause” concept and something I will try myself and recommend. Sometimes I online shop, put things in my cart, and wait until a day or two later to see if I still want to order them. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but it has saved me some buying mistakes along the way. Good luck with the rest of your fall shopping!

    • Deborah (Deby) says:

      I am proud of my restraint in that despite the pricing and my total love of LOFT clothing, I only bought one fall/winter thing at the 40% off sale, an item I’ve had my eye on for weeks–the redwood/black polka dot pencil skirt. I love that color combo! I did try to do casual suit look with the coordinating polka dot cardigan, but it was just too much pattern for me! Fortunately I have several other options already, and anyway earlier I said I was going to focus on more solids. But I had to have that skirt–I just fell in love with it! I can see a lot of ways to style it with things I already have.

      • That skirt is so cute!!! I kept circling back to it in the store, but didn’t purchase in the end. I’m so glad polka dots are in this year, because I love them!

  2. I realized how much I was shopping for an imagined, wished for, or past lifestyle when I moved recently – why did I have all those power suits?! I don’t go to court, meet with clients, or have any need to wear more than pants and a cardigan to work. Most suits went to Dress for Success (I kept an interview suit) and I hope someone else gets good use from them.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Congrats on becoming aware of your past shopping habits and for letting go of the “power suits.” I’m sure they will be put to much better use now and they won’t be in your closet making you feel bad every time you see them. It’s good you kept one interview suit, but most of us don’t need more than that (and some don’t need any suits at all).

  3. I enjoyed it! Lots of good tips. I also am really benefiting from Dr. Benson’s book. I just let go of 38 more items. So with the 53 last month, I have donated, gave to friends, or returned 91 items in the last month and only 1 new item has come in. I don’t think that I’ll ever be a minimalist, and I still need to let about 100 more items go to get things to a manageable level, but having less and not filling it back up shopping has made me have a deeper level of satisfaction with my wardrobe.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It was so great you were able to join the call, Tonya! I even got to hear you ask a question 🙂 You are doing SO well and setting a wonderful example for me and many others! Not everyone aspires to be a true minimalist and there is not an ideal size wardrobe for all women, but it sounds like you’re better understanding what you want and are making your way there. Kudos!

  4. Thanks for the recap of your teleseminar Debbie – it certainly covered a lot of aspects with regard to having a too full closet and how to avoid same!
    Certainly I have found avoidance of sales to be helpful unless I have a definite need in mind – and remembering I no longer have to dress for work every day so I don’t need the same type or the same amount of clothes anymore.
    You have helped me get rid of many benchwarmers – mostly items that don’t fit my lifestyle now or have been replaced by a newer version of a favourite piece. Now I’m looking forward to doing Project 333 when Spring begins in September 🙂

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you liked this post, Megan, and that my insights have helps you to get rid of lots of “benchwarmers”! I’m glad to hear you’re planning on doing Project 333 in September. Please share how it goes for you. I wish you the best of luck! I learned so much for doing Project 333 and I hope you do, too!

  5. I always shop from a list and only shop to replace clothes in my wardrobe that have finally worn out or whatever. I work in retail and see people shop the clearance racks to buy lots of stuff because it’s on deep discount. (Even with my employee discount I seldom shop.) Shopping no longer holds any allure for me — it’s a task I need to do occasionally, like go to the dentist or get an oil change for my car. As a result, I don’t waste money on clothes I don’t need/will never wear. I’ve become rather frugal and I’d rather spend my money on experiences that provide a long-lasting impact — time with my family, travel, pay off my mortgage early, etc.

    • Deborah (Deby) says:

      Dottie, I worked for a major retailer one Christmas season to earn some extra cash, and I know what you mean about people overbuying on clearance. Even though I got 75% off on some items, I seldom would purchase anything either, because I found that being around the merchandise was enough. I got a chance to examine it over a period of time to decide if I really wanted it instead of making snap purchasing decisions based on some emotion at the time. I usually decided it wasn’t worth it!

      • Debbie Roes says:

        I liked reading both of your comments, Dottie and Deby. I have worked in retail, but it was very long ago when I had very little “means” (think high school and college years). I’ve thought of working in that environment as an adult but was always worried I would spend everything I made on shopping! Perhaps working in a retail store is like working in an ice cream shop. If you’re around something all the time, it holds less allure.

        Overbuying on clearance is an all too common mistake that rarely really pays off. Far better to buy less, get better quality, and use more disposable income for experiences that will be far more memorable and enjoyable than new clothes we may rarely or never wear!

        • I liken it to working in a bakery but an ice cream shop is also very apt. I see the “life cycle” of clothes — from the fresh new fashion item to the forlorn garment languishing on a clearance rack. I also examine workmanship, fabric care, and the other “hidden” costs of a garment. Some shoppers buy a well-curated ensemble of clothing — everything goes together — but most buy an armful of “stuff” because it’s on clearance. I am not saying that clothes are clearance should be avoided. I just bought a beautiful, well-made b&w tweed skirt for less than 20% of the original price, and it will work very nicely in my mostly b&w wardrobe. And I will be retiring another skirt that has served me faithfully for more than 15 years (now showing some wear) to make room for the new purchase. A very serendipitous purchase!

  6. Deborah (Deby) says:

    What a great post, Debbie! I’m sorry I couldn’t make the seminar, but timing was an issue for me too that day. Hopefully you will have more seminars and I will be able to be there!

    Just this week, the temps dropped here and I found myself enthused about purging my fall/winter wardrobe–and I went about it with great focus and intent, so that now all I have left to complete for the first culling is my shoes and boots! At present, my guest bedroom is piled up with the garments that are going to find new homes from the consignment store, or my favorite charity, St. Vincent de Paul. (St. Vincent’s does good things in our local community, plus has some of the best thrift shops, hands down!).

    It was fun to do the first purge, and I’m eager to count up how many garments are going to find new homes, but I’m even more pleased to discover that, as a result of my first pass, my fall/winter wardrobe is down to 109 pieces! It took me weeks to cull this efficiently when I was working on spring/summer! My ultimate goal is what I am now calling Project 198: the idea is to have a grand total of 198 garments (or less) to cover the entire year.

    For those who are true minimalists, this number seems like a lot, I know. But I have come to terms with the reality that I like too much variety to be a minimalist, but I can temper my desire for as much sartorial variety as I had in the past! I have already learned over the summer to be happier with less to choose from in my closet. My goal is to get my wardrobe curated to the point where I can easily get dressed and not fuss over anything, no matter what the season or weather.

    And Debbie, you will be happy to know that I have not yet succumbed to any fall purchases, although I am thinking of a few pieces to add. I am following the rule of waiting….

    • I am glad that you said that Deby! I am working toward a similar number for myself. I started the year with 400-500 items, so this will be quite pared down to me. I also like variety and I seem to fluctuate between two sizes. I think this will accommodate my needs and wants without being overwhelming and unmanageable.

    • Deby, I have the same goal — to get my wardrobe curated to the point where I can easily get dressed and not fuss over anything, no matter what the season or weather.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      So glad to hear the fall/winter culling process has been much easier for you, Deby! Seems like you are almost at your goal, which is very exciting. I’ve mentioned this before but I’ll say it again. I don’t think there is an optimal wardrobe size for all people. Like you, I also enjoy more variety, which is part of why Project 333 got difficult for me towards the end. There is nothing wrong with liking clothes and enjoying variety. The problem arises when we have SO much that we don’t even know what we have and don’t wear a lot of it. I don’t know what my target wardrobe size is just yet, but I know I’m still not there. But I do feel hopeful I will get there by the end of this year!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    What a great post — thanks for summarizing the teleseminar for us — I learned a lot.

    A comment on the “adopt a personal return policy” recommendation — I never cut tags off anything I buy until I actually wear the item. I keep my receipts, and if too much time has elapsed for a refund, I take store credit for the full price of any item that doesn’t look perfect when I put it on again at home. In addition, I am able to sell items on eBay and elsewhere if they are “new with tags” — often, I make a profit on impulse buys that no longer work for me.

    However savvy I am about the above (!), my goal this year is to buy less and use it now, not store it for some future time/life/circumstance.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Great tips, Elizabeth! I usually leave the tags on, too, and I have a folder for all of my receipts (although many of them are now emailed to me – I have a folder for that, too). I haven’t tried to see “new with tags” items on eBay, but that’s an idea. I’ve sold some used pieces there, but I often got so little money that I usually opt for consignment shops (and donation) these days. But with the new with tags items, I’m guessing the compensation is far better.

      I share your goals about buying less, using it right away, and not saving things for a future life or situation. We can both accomplish that goal!

  8. Good follow up post. In past years I was guilty of “Shopping out of habit instead of for real life needs” and this is what led me to having an over-filled closet filled with an abundance of outstanding and good quality clothing that fit me well, but didn’t need. And I’m so glad I broke this cycle and stopped shopping out of habit. Although my wardrobe is now small I must pay careful attention not to let excess creep in and as pointed out in your post, avoiding sales is key.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks, Terra! I think we all need to be vigilant about “closet creep.” That’s why having a “one in, one out” policy can be so helpful. I haven’t exactly done that yet, as I’ve been trying to get rid of far more than what comes in. But I do plan to implement such a policy once my wardrobe gets to a more manageable size. Congrats on no longer shopping out of habit. That’s a really big step in the right direction!

      • Elizabeth says:

        I’ve always wanted to do a “one in, one out” policy…my friend does this by refusing to buy any more clothes hangers! She has a hanger for every item in her closet — if she buys something new, she has to get rid of something in order to hang the new item. Very disciplined!

        • Very clever idea! I use a one in-one out policy too although some times there is a hanger problem — the new item needs a different kind of hanger, etc. I never take the store hanger — that way lies madness and “permission” to expand your wardrobe.

        • Debbie Roes says:

          I have a friend who does that, too, Elizabeth, and I’ve considered doing the same. Once I determine the optimal size for my wardrobe, I’d like to reduce “closet creep” and that’s one good way of doing it. As for the types of hangers, we could set a limit on the various types and not let things expand beyond that point. I agree that taking the store hanger is a bad idea!

  9. Thanks for the reminder that August sales are created by marketing departments. I needed to shop for a friend’s birthday, went shopping and now feel myself being drawn into the % off and coupons enticements. There is that sense of urgency and thrill of the chase that turns into tired drudgery at some point for me.

    I appreciate your breaking the spell.

    Jeri

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, those coupons and offers can be enticing, Jeri! They really do try to “get” us from multiple angles. But once we understand what’s going on, we can better prepare ourselves to meet the challenges. It isn’t easy, but we can be more in charge of our shopping – when we shop, where we shop, and how much we buy. I’m glad you found this post helpful!

  10. I took my 85 y/o mom shopping today. I rationalized all sorts of purchases, but this article really reeled me in. I envisioned my drawers of clothes the way I want them to look (neat, organized and uncluttered), I reminded myself of the store’s end-of-season sales tactics w/ their clip and “save EVEN MORE” coupons. I paused. I power paused….and walked out. I haven’t torn up the coupon, but I’m working on that. 🙂

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good for you, Betsy! I’m sure you felt really good after you were able to reduce the sales pressure. Envisioning the way you want your drawers to look was a helpful tactic and one I will remember for my closet. The power pause can be very effective. Sometimes even waiting half an hour while you take a walk or grab a snack or coffee is enough time to remind you of your priorities and have you rethink an ill-advised purchase. Keep up the great work!

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