A Simple Shopping Rule – Buy Once!

Last week’s post, “A New Twist on an Old Shopping Rule,” generated a lot of excellent feedback from readers.  Many agreed with the revised version of my sales shopping rule and shared their stories of how price has both positively and negatively impacted their buying success.  Some readers also shared additional suggestions related to sales shopping, including the use of the “power pause” when online shopping and utilizing sales watch sites to track when desired items are discounted.  I encourage you to check out the comments area of last week’s post if you’d like to learn more about such strategies.

While I loved all of the comments, two in particular stood out in my mind.  Both of those readers shared a variation on a theme so important that I decided to base today’s post on it.  Read on for the philosophy expressed by readers Mo and Carolyn, which Carolyn succinctly labeled as, “Buy once.”

Buy Once Shopping Rule

To shop smarter and increase purchase satisfaction, buy once!

Carolyn’s and Mo’s Stories

A number of years ago, Carolyn decided to purchase some new shoes for an upcoming event.  While she was shopping, she found a pair of shoes she absolutely loved.  She wanted to buy the shoes, but they were expensive and outside her usual price range.  So she left those shoes in the store and instead bought an alternate pair she termed “acceptable” for about half the price.

About a month later, Carolyn again saw the loved but pricey shoes in the store and opted to purchase them that time.  She still loves and wears those shoes ten years later!  The lesser-priced, “acceptable” shoes she originally bought are long gone and were rarely worn.

Mo’s story is more recent but quite similar.  She wanted to buy a white tank top to wear this summer.  Her first purchase was a $7 bargain basement top that was a knit, rather than the woven top she really wanted.  Not long after buying that top, she purchased a $19 double-layer chiffon version from a discount retailer’s e-commerce store.  That tank was better but still not quite what she was looking for.

A little while later, Mo happened upon her dream white tank, but it was way out of her price range at $138 plus shipping.   She held off on buying the dream top at first, but later bit the bullet and bought it for $100 on sale.  She loves this new top as much as she hoped she would and is confident this one $100 tank will bring her more joy than five $20 tops ever could.  She’s happy she decided to broaden her price horizons and spend more for the ideal version of an item on her shopping list.

Settling for Less and Closet “Multiples”

I have settled for a lesser version of what I truly wanted more times than I can count.  One reason why I had so many multiples in my wardrobe is because I kept shopping for an item after I had already bought it.  I settled for a sub-standard version and thus was not satisfied with my purchase.  That led me to keep shopping and trying to find “upgrades” for pieces that I already owned.

One example of this phenomenon relates to black skirts.  When I started my recovering shopaholic project in January 2013, I owned nine black skirts!  Of course, no woman actually needs nine black skirts and I definitely wasn’t wearing all of them.  What happened was that I kept buying black skirts on sale or at consignment stores because “the price was right” and I hoped I could make them work for me.  But none of the skirts I bought really met my needs. Some ended up being alterations failures, while others gathered dust in my closet because the fabric was cheap, scratchy, or garnered too much static.

The bottom line is that I should have waited for the right black skirt, the one that ticked all of the boxes on my list of requirements.  I should have practiced being patient, picky, and practical like Angie of “You Look Fab” advocates.  Instead, I went for instant gratification and ended up with an overabundance of mediocre black skirts in my closet, most of which are now long gone.  The only one I kept is the one I’ve had the longest, the inexpensive but beloved skirt I wrote about for Emma’s “Connecting with Our Clothes” series.

My Shoe Example

Another example of where I should have bought once but didn’t pertains to black ballet flats.  Several years ago, a close friend of mine purchased a pair of AGL ballet flats that she absolutely loved.  I tried them on and shared her enthusiasm for the classic styling, polished look, and impeccable fit of those amazing shoes.

My shoe story is a bit different from Carolyn’s version above.  I did end buying the AGL flats, twice in fact.  But both times I returned the shoes, not because I didn’t love them but because they were out of my price range.  I couldn’t justify spending that much money for a pair of shoes, especially since I was shopping virtually all the time and constantly exceeding my clothing budget.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford the shoes; I didn’t want to sacrifice additional shopping in order to make the price work for my budget.

After I returned the AGL flats the second time, I bought a similar pair of shoes for about a third of the price.  Like the shoes Carolyn initially purchased, my shoes were “acceptable” and were worn a decent number of times.  However, I never loved them and didn’t feel fabulous when I wore them.  Every time I put them on, I was reminded that I had settled for less than what I truly wanted.

Loved and Lesser Shoes

I really wanted the shoes on the left, but settled for the ones on the right.

This past January, I finally bought – and kept – a pair of black AGL flats. In truth, they were a belated Christmas present from my husband, who encouraged me to own the shoes I’ve coveted at long last. Since then, I’ve worn them countless times and have always felt great while wearing them.  I no longer feel the need to continue to shop for black ballet flats, as I finally have a pair that ticks all the boxes.

Just think of how much trouble I could have saved myself had I just bought and kept the AGL flats the first time around.  Not only would I have had a pair of shoes I loved for several years now, I also would have saved the $100 I spent on the lesser version.  Yes, I might have had to postpone gratification until the shoes fit into my shopping budget and buy fewer items overall.  But I would have stopped shopping for black flats and saved myself both time and money in the long run.

Settling – A Common but Troubling Shopping Trend

I know that Carolyn, Mo, and I are not alone in terms of buying twice, three times, or more when we should have just bought once.   Back when I used to do wardrobe consulting, I saw lots of “multiples” in women’s closets.  When I’d ask them why they had so many similar items, their answers often reflected the common tendency of settling for lesser versions and continuing to shop for something better.  This shopping trend leads many women to have jam-packed closets full of lots of mediocre duplicate pieces.  It also contributes to the phenomenon of staring into a full wardrobe and feeling like one has nothing to wear.

What if we all were to follow Carolyn’s wise advice and “Buy once”?  What type of closets would we have then?  I think many of us would have the smaller, more workable wardrobes we deeply desire if only we could hold out for what we truly want instead of settling for less.

If my AGL flats are any indication, I know I’d be well-served by aiming for higher quality and being willing to spend a bit more for it.  Sure, we can sometimes find the items that meet our needs at low prices or on sale, but we shouldn’t buy things just because they are low priced or offered at a discount.  Price should never be the sole or even the primary consideration of whether we buy something or not.  Yes, it matters, but it isn’t all that matters.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we need to love what we buy and not feel like we’re settling.  When we settle, we aren’t satisfied and don’t end up feeling fabulous in what we’re wearing.  We may continue to shop for pieces we already have in our closets.  We may end up with multiples, none of which we’re all that excited about.  That’s not what any of us want.

Buy once, buy what you truly want, and buy the best you can afford.  If you need to delay gratification in order to purchase the best, it’s worth it.  Every time I wear my AGL flats, I’m reminded of that, and I hope to have many more examples of this moving forward.  I’m worth it, and so are you!

78 thoughts on “A Simple Shopping Rule – Buy Once!

  1. This post so explains alot why I keep buying multiples! Again, a very valuable post. Thanks.

  2. Debbie, Carolyn and Mo, you are not alone, I also fall into the group of those who have bought twice, three times, or more when we should have just bought once. I also have settled for a lesser version of what I truly wanted more times than I can count. This is the main reason I had an overly large wardrobe one upon a time; because I kept shopping for an item after I had already bought it. It’s a slippery slope. Thankfully I’m past that now.

    Another slippery slope that I fell into that is in a similar camp, was shopping for an upgrade of items I already owned, instead of letting go of perfection and wearing the item until it was worn out, and replacing it when it was necessary, instead of chasing the impossible dream of seeking a “perfect” or “better version” pair of shoes, sweater, handbag or skirt. It was a long road getting to where I am now, with a smaller collection of clothes I love (at least most of the time) and wear regularly, and I’ve finally made the leap in understanding that my clothes and shoes won’t always be “exactly” what I want them to be, and this is OK.

    Excellent post. Thank you Debbie, Carolyn and Mo. I agree. “Buy Once” is the single most important thing that has transformed my shopping habits, my closet, and my sanity.

    • I’ve also done this. But I DO have things that I settled for in the past that don’t serve their purpose well, and I do have them on a list to replace as I find the RIGHT replacements. Like my black cardigan- a NEED and a workhorse, but I hate it. It has a sparkly thread woven into it that looks a bit cheap, and it’s scratchy and doesn’t fit in my refined style now.

    • Thanks for sharing your “other slippery slope,” Terra. I am guilty as charged in that realm, too! I’ve actually noticed myself shopping for upgrades of existing items recently. There is a difference between things that actually need to be replaced vs. things that are perfectly good but perhaps not ideal.

      Meli’s point is a good one, too, though. It sounds like her black cardigan was something she settled for and is not really serving the purpose for her. I have some items like that, too. It’s helpful to take a moment to decide whether we settled or whether we’re just being perfectionists. There IS a difference!

  3. YES! Sometimes you can’t really see how you are in the midst of this cycle until you see it in hindsight. Funny, just this morning I was jotting down some things to crystallize thoughts I’m having on shopping recently. I wrote, “Get what you wanted in the first place – hold out and wait, rather than settle. You have enough to get by with in the meanwhile. Really – you do.”
    So often I feel like I MUST plug some wardrobe hole and choose from the best I can find at that moment. Well, there’s no big rush. It’s good to wait until the right thing comes and finds you sometimes.

    • Well said. After starting up a wardrobe editing process, refining my personal style and all, I finally understood that for most things, you can very well hold out and wait. And that I do have enough to get by with in the meanwhile. Trying to reach the ‘perfect wardrobe’ in only a couple of months is just not going to work.
      Of course this also depends on what you expect of a ‘perfect’ item or wardrobe. If you want the piece of clothing to fulfill all kinds of emotional needs, you will likely never find a perfect version. You might feel that you settled because the item just does not make you feel confident, wonderful, sexy and whatnot – but these feelings can at most be temporarily enhanced by a piece of clothing. I think this also plays a big part in people’s need for upgrading.

    • I wanted to add that nowhere has Debbie or I said ‘perfect’ item. I see it cropping up in replies. Searching for perfection is going to lead one in circles and frustrated. Getting what you want instead of settling for second best, cheaper, 2 for 1, etc. is not the same as waiting for perfection. Just to clarify. In my own case of the white tank – the BCBG was my dream tank for styling, fabric, but not in any way a ‘perfect’ item that will solve my wardrobe or emotional needs lol. But it will make me happy to wear, a lot happier than the other choices. And there is no more ongoing search for that article of clothing for my wardrobe.

      • Pardon me Mo. I used the phase “perfect” item and “better version” in my comment, and I didn’t mean to cause confusion or reference you, or Debbie’s post.

        It’s a cycle I fell into and I should have used another word instead of “perfect” to describe it. I was thinking perfect as in having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be. But I probably should have said “better fit” and “better quality.” It was a slippery slope for me because (as others have mentioned) even though I was willing to pay a bit more, there were too many times when an item I thought would be better quality, turned out not to be. It relates back to Buying Once. That I should have bought only once, but instead I kept shopping for something I hoped would be better.

      • I can see how that could happen! Sometimes language choice is a slippery slope itself lol. I just didn’t want to give the impression that I was holding out for perfection, because that’s not the same as following my instinct and allowing myself to buy what I wanted in the first place. Often, we don’t value ourselves enough to think we’re worth it and then begin to bargain and settle, etc. Costing ourselves more in the end, sometimes, ironically!

    • Good points from both of you, Mo and Liesbeth. I think the “patient” point is the hardest part of the 3 P Purchasing Principle. When we are in too much of a hurry to plug in an identified wardrobe “hole,” we often settle. I think it IS helpful to remind ourselves that even if we don’t have item X, we DO have enough and CAN wait until we find the right item. But the “right” item does not mean a “perfect” item. Aiming for perfection is a losing game, but going for what we truly want is the way to go. Yes, language CAN be a slippery slope, but hopefully we’re all on the same page now.

  4. Oh my gosh, how many times have I settled? Only to keep pursuing the item I settled for, I can so relate…. I too have become a huge fan of AGL’s… I have come to realize that most shoes don’t fit my feet (kinda narrow and small), but these do! So worth the spurge, and… There is always a pair on sale at the Nordstrom Anniversary sale 🙂

    I digress. One point I wanted to make about settling… It isn’t always us shoppers. The retail offerings have gotten SO bad (truly loved your post about how bad quality has gotten, some time back) that settling is sometimes the only option. It is SO frustrating for me to have a set idea what I want and then hunt and hunt and hunt only to come up with nada! I’m your opposite… I’m petite. I walked all over NYC last month seeking quality petite clothing only to come up entirely empty handed. Either stores had no petites, or, in the case of Macys herald Square… A TON of tacky, crummy polyester junk. So frustrating. I too despise settling. Perhaps as consumers we should wholesale reject the junky offerings and make do. I keep thinking quality can’t get worse and then it does. Not that it is an excuse, but sometimes I have to settle because there’s nothing else. I can tell you I am getting increasingly tired of it though…

    Just a thought, happy blogging!

    • You raised some excellent points, Paula, and I totally agree with you. A number of times recently, I went to the mall and was ready to spend a good sum of money for items on my shopping list. But I was unable to find anything of the quality level I want. One item I haven’t been able to find is a nice white top that I can’t see my skin or my bra through! Why do tops these days have to be so threadbare? And some of them aren’t cheap, either!

      I agree with you that we should reject the junky offerings and demand better quality! We vote with our dollars and if enough people refuse to buy see-through white tops and the like, perhaps the retailers will up their game. We can only hope!

    • I think that recovery is a continuum, Tasmanian Minimalist, and there are lots of ups and downs along the way. There have been times when I thought I was “cured,” too, and then I overshopped again. I doubt that you have backslid all the way back to where you were before. From reading your blog, I know you have learned a lot, but I also know you went through a traumatic experience recently and probably used shopping to cope. I’ve been there, too… Don’t give up! Just take it one day at a time and revisit what you learned before. Perhaps read your old blog posts. You can get back on track and I believe you will!

      • Good plan. I always find it helps to re-read posts, including my own. Try to be gentle with yourself and forgive yourself for the backslide. I’m sure you’re still ahead of the game and will get back on track before too long!

  5. Thanks for sharing those stories, Debbie. I too have settled for a lesser item and then repurchased more times than I can remember. Often it’s because I don’t want to pay a lot for something when there’s a cheaper option, and sometimes it’s out of fear that the more expensive option that I love in the store won’t turn out to be worth the money.
    Digressing slightly, I’ve noticed some other reasons for my multiples. One is that an item *does* work for me. For example, I also had many black skirts (I never counted but I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was close to 20…), most of which I really loved. They’re easy to find and a really good one takes pounds off, so I just kept buying more! The other is with new trends, I often purchase a piece without properly thinking about how to make the trend work for me, then end up buying something else similar when the first piece doesn’t work.
    Digressing even more, I also agree with what another commenter said about having to settle due to the poor selection offered by stores. I’m a medium in my native Australia, but that makes me plus sized here in Japan where I live. This means that the selection of clothes available to me is very limited and I often have to settle for what fits rather than what I like or looks good (I think this has been a big cause of my overshopping, but that’s another topic!).

    • I worry that expensive purchases won’t be worth the money, too, Kayla. I often don’t trust myself to make the right decisions, which is why I’ve returned expensive items in the past (including the AGL shoes).

      About your multiples, I wonder if the things you said “worked” really checked all or most of your requirement boxes. You black skirt story may be different from mine, but I know I kept buying the black skirts trying to find a better version of what I already had. The skirts I bought were all okay but not great. As for trendy pieces, I’ve had a similar experience, but I often think I wasn’t really all that into the trend in question. I felt I SHOULD be wearing it, but it didn’t really float my boat, so to speak.

      Sorry to hear about the small size range in Japan and the poor selection in your size. I often settle in terms of tall pants for similar reasons. I can’t find what I really love, so I buy the best facsimile. I’m trying not to do that so much anymore, though.

  6. Like many others I’ve done this over and over again. I saw the light with a few different items. A pair of jeans that was $100 instead of a TJ Maxx special. A pair of Frye boots instead of the $40 pleather? version. The one that really was obvious to me was a winter jacket that was $300. Of course me being me I did wait for a sale and got $100 off. I love that jacket and wear it more that any other one that I own. The thing that’s really stuck out about this purchase is that I haven’t looked for another jacket since then and it was 2 or 3 years ago. I got what I wanted and I feel satisfied. When I do this I feel like I spend less money overall because I would also keep trying to upgrade purchases that I settled on.

    • Congrats on your amazing jacket success, Tonya, as well as your success with jeans and boots. I’m starting to see the light more and more, too. I started with handbags and watches, then moved on to shoes. I’ve been a slower study in terms of clothes, but I’m getting there. As Mo mentioned above, sometimes we end up spending MORE money overall when we settle. With the level of introspection I’ve done with this blog, I’ve seen that. I think I may be scaring myself straight!

  7. Very nice round-up of this “settling” phenomenon! I think most of my purchase mistakes since I started editing my wardrobe 3 years ago comes from that actually! Because I had a wardrobe list of things I wanted to buy little by little to rebuild my wardrobe, and I felt like I needed to find them all in order to feel like my wardrobe was “complete”, I would go look for a particular piece (such as the black ballet flats or the white tank you mention above) and “settle” for the best I’d find on that day, because I was so eager to “complete” my wardrobe.

    In my case it isn’t really a question of price range (I don’t even look into stores that are out of my price range to avoid unnecessary temptation), it was more a question of rushing to buy a particular item, rather than waiting for the opportunity to find the right one. I remember settling for items, wearing them a couple of times, then neglecting them because something was off (cut, colour…), then buying another one to “upgrade”, but still settle etc. You are right, it did lead to buying multiple “average” items rather than one adequate one.

    In the end, after realizing that, I have stopped going to shops looking for a particular item. Now, I have a general wardrobe list, and either I go to shops with a budget and buy something only if I find the “right” one, or I go to shops after having done some prior research and knowing that I did find a “right” one in the current collection. I agree with you that it is better to wait, and/or invest, in the right piece even if it is a bit above the price range, rather than buying “second choices”. We are never satisfied with second choices in the end, and now, if I don’t find a right piece I prefer to buy nothing at all.

    • I remember reading an excellent post from you on this very topic, Kali, and I think you posted another comment along these lines in response to one of my accountability posts. I think your new strategy is the way to go. I sometimes head out to find particular items and have definitely settled in order to feel like I accomplished something. I recently updated my shopping priorities list and it has more items on it than I plan to buy this year. I will keep the guidelines for what I’d like to buy in mind, but won’t try to force the issue with anything. If I don’t find the right item, I will wait until I do. In some cases, I may end up deciding I don’t really need that type of thing anyway. Either way, I won’t come home with sub-standard pieces anymore. Like you, I’d prefer to buy nothing at all than more mediocre items!

  8. I’m sure I read somewhere that poor people spend more money on shoes than rich people overall, because the rich guy can afford to “buy once” and get good quality shoes whereas the poor person has to buy a succession of cheap shoes that wear out quickly. So, I would add that this only works if you can afford the thing you really want in the first place!

    • Very true, Rachel. I’m not surprised about poor people spending more money on shoes overall. I wouldn’t advise anyone to spend more than they can afford, but sometimes we can afford more if we wait awhile and buy less (like Dottie’s story about the boots later in the comments). We can at least afford BETTER if we are more selective, but I don’t recommend going into debt to buy shoes, clothes, or anyting else!

  9. I learnt this lesson shortly after I started work and needed a good suit for meetings. Because I couldn’t afford the one I really wanted I settled for a cheaper one. Before long I had 3 suits which I hardly ever wore because I didn’t really like any of them. For the price of 3 cheap(ish) suits I could have had the one I thought I couldn’t afford. When I finally bit the bullet and bought my first good suit I found I wore it more than my 3 inferior versions put together. I wish I could say it has all been plain sailing since this revelation but of course sometimes we need to learn a lesson several times before we finally get it. I think I am getting there now and this blog has been a big help. One thing I have noticed is that when I spend more I think more carefully about my purchases and make better decisions. I have been experimenting lately with making a decision without checking the price. It’s amazing how often you are not sure about something and then it somehow looks better when you know it doesn’t cost much. I am really trying to get away from that and I do think I am buying better as a result.

    • I had similar suit stories back when I worked in the corporate world, Marion. I’m glad you found a suit that worked well for you, but I understand about having to learn the lesson several times before you finally got it. I don’t even want to count how many times I’ve had to learn it! I’m glad this blog has been helpful for you! Good tip about not checking the price before making a decision. It takes discipline not to look at the price right away, but I think it could be a good way to go.

  10. Wow!!! Mo, Carolyn, Debbie – you Ladies ROCK!!! You have hit on my “Holy Grail” Its one of the primary reasons that I spent a fortune on things, with very little quality to show for it! And now, because I am embracing the minimalist approach, and in my 7th month of shopaholic recovery (yes, Tasmanian Minimalist, you CAN do it!) I am giving away hundreds of articles of clothing, shoes, and handbags because of it. Look at the money I wasted! If I had been “patient, picky, and pratical” I would have a gorgeous wardrobe now! And with things that i LOVE!
    Slowly working towards that end…using many of this site’s strategies, thanks to Debbie et al!!! Blessings Ladies! YOU CAN DO IT! Love yourself enoough to try harder! hugs

    • Congrats on your recovery, Sheri, and I’m glad my blog has helped along the way. I have given away hundreds of sub-standard quality items, too, and I’m not done yet! Try not to think so much about the money you’ve wasted. I know that’s easier said than done. Just try to do better moving forward. That’s really all we can do and we’ll be in a much better place a year (or even sooner) from now as a result. Buy once! Blessings to you, too!

  11. Great post, Debbie, and I think we all have done this at one time or another. But experience is a good teacher. It does remind me of an old diet rule, that if you want that pizza, eat it, or else you’ll eat your way around it. And those AGLs are on my list in dark brown for this fall.

    • Good point about the diet rule, Cornelia! I actually thought about that but then forgot to add it to the post. I know I’ve rummaged around the kitchen many times eating healthier items but finally eating the item I truly wanted at the end of it all. I ended up consuming far more calories as a result and feeling uncomfortably full, too! Yay about the AGLs! I love mine and I’m sure you will love them, too.

  12. This is so true. Every time I purge my closet the first thing to go are all the bargain pieces that I settled for. They almost never become favorites! On the other hand, what stays? The high quality, beautifully cut, perfectly fitting pieces that I spent the money for. You actually do get what you pay for, usually!

    This is a good reminder for me to stick to my list of needs and shop carefully for each and every one of them. I promise that in the future I will only fill my closet with the perfect version of whatever is on my list!!

    • The things I’ve settled for usually don’t hang around long either, Happy Forgiver. I agree that we usually DO get what we pay for. Of course, there are exceptions, but the important thing is not to settle regardless of the price.

  13. This post, Debbie, is very insightful. I backed away years ago (about 30) from the “settling” and decided to go with clothes that fit, were styled along “classic” lines, were well constructed in quality materials. In so doing, I had to decide to buy LESS to get MORE — and I’ve stuck with this mantra ever since. So I have a smaller wardrobe than most women but EVERYTHING in it fits, is beautifully made, and has stood the test of time. There are some less expensive items as well but even these were carefully chosen for timeliness, quality construction, and appropriate connection with my other stuff (an inexpensive white tee for summer wear to go with my black-white-gray-red-navy-medium blue wardrobe). In order for this to work for me, I have to plan my purchases and save $$ to afford the more costly item. For example, I’m saving my dinky clothes budget to replace 20-year-old leather boots. Last fall and winter I “shopped” boots without buying to see how much $$ I’d need, and I’ve been saving my $$ to get the boots I want (Frye, the way — I had a pair in college 40 years ago and I think I’d still be wearing them if they hadn’t been stolen). This means delaying gratification for over 12 months, but the boots will be worth it. I expect them to last at least 20 years! So, yes, buy ONCE — and make sure the purchase is worth your time and money.

    • I hope you find your boots soon, Dottie. I admire your patience and your resolve in saving the money and waiting for the right pair to come along. I would LOVE to find a pair of boots (or anything for that matter) that will last 20 years. I wonder if that’s even possible given the plummeting quality of items in recent years. But I’m sure if it’s possible, you will find it.

      I’m wondering about the white tee you referenced. Were you able to find one that wasn’t see-through. I’ve been trying but have had no luck!

  14. I have been going with a different personal definition of the “shop once” strategy. I’m a satisficer but may be a satisficer because I’m actually a perfectionist. I see the drop in quality fabrics and construction and I’m happier with the often better quality I find in the thrift store and I know I’m happier paying only one or a few dollars. Plus my style evolves and I’m fickle. I have *current* favorites. Still, when I have a success, which is often because remember I’m a satisficer, I get an urge to replicate it in many colors or prints.

    I’ve substituted gratitude and appreciation instead. I ask myself, if this feels like the very best example of what I wanted to me, then can I name *what* color or what print would suit me as well? And I can’t. And times in the past when I’ve tried, I always preferred the one better. So I have developed a kind of Niche philosophy. *This* is MY dark toned gored skirt and *that* is MY light toned gored skirt. Done. That doesn’t mean I have any kind of minimal wardrobe but is a philosophy I am trying to put in practice as I go forward. I also use it in purging: if *this* is my favorite style of jacket now, then what others are not measuring up?

    • This. One great pair of thrift store shoes in rich distressed brown leather, that can be resoled many many times. I’m set. If I lose/damage it, it cost me $3.50.

      I bought great wool sweater from Woolovers for $50. Then I got a couple more in the same style, different colors when they showed up in my size on ebay – $15 each.

    • I had to look up the definition for satisficer, Vildy, and also found this great article for you and others interested in the topic: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2006/06/are_you_a_satis/ After reading the article, I realize that I am mostly a satisficer, too, or rather I’ve come to that after many years of unhappiness as a perfectionist (or maximizer as it’s called in the article). It can be a delicate balance between satisficing and settling, it seems, and I think the key is in knowing ourselves. Both you and Nutrivore seem to know yourselves and you’re acting accordingly. If it’s working for you, no need to mess with it!

  15. Well, as a self-professed tightwad, I am of several minds about this. Clothing is ridiculously overpriced, so I will always wait for sales. And I don’t believe there is a perfect piece–and, if there is, perfection can be marred by spilling, tearing, etc.

    I am willing to settle for a bit with thrift store pieces (or from Target etc) while I wait for the one I THINK will be “the one” to go on sale.

    • I agree that clothing is often ridiculously overpriced, frugalscholar, especially for the poor quality we see so much of the time. I don’t always think buying thrift store items means “settling.” Sometimes we can even find better items at thrift stores, but we have to be willing to hunt around and often leave empty-handed. There’s nothing wrong with waiting for “the one” to go on sale, either, but you have to be willing to possibly lose out if the item sells out.

    • I am cheap too but this only means that i limit the size of my wardrobe and thus my purchases so I can spend a little more per piece. I’ve had very limited success in resale stores — better luck with good stuff family and friends no longer wanted. I have a lovely Jaeger sweater of some vintage that belonged to my sister’s neighbor and luckily was in “my” colors and not my sister’s. I may buy (outside of undies) only 2-4 items per year, depending on what I need. I spend no more than $250 per year on clothes, including undies, shoes, accessories, sleepwear, and outerwear. Cheap, cheap, cheap. And strategic!

  16. I totally agree with what you’re saying and I think we’ve all done it at some point or another, and it truly is a false economy.
    Example, a few years back I saw a great pair of leather boots from a good brand for over $200. I didn’t want to part with the money and bought some fake leather boots for about half the price. They were comfortable but were wrecked after a year. I then, unbelievably, bought the same pair again as I saw them on sale for half of the original price. I don’t have these boots anymore either because they were just as bad as the first pair. Had I bought the leather boots, I would still have them. Instead I spent nearly the same on items that have long gone in the bin.
    And not only does it mean we keep on buying because we settle for less than what we want, it also explains why we hang on to dozens of items of the same kind, none of which we actually love but are still looking for a better version of the same thing.
    I try to buy better these days and am less shy with spending more money per item on the big things, like a wool coat, leather boots etc, and I have yet to regret one of these more expensive purchases. I think it’s the small things where it still gets me – 3 Euro tees are so tempting, but they’re already dead after one wash. I should know better but it gets me every time! Also very true about spilling and tearing – I would spend money on a white shirt if I didn’t know that I will ruin it with one bowl of spaghetti!

    • It seems we’ve been on a similar path, K. I’m becoming less shy about spending more money on big things, too. I think I’ve had to proceed slowly, though, and prove to myself that I can make good decisions. I’m still struggling with clothing, but am gradually getting there. Sometimes we have to learn certain lessons over and over again, but eventually we get there!

  17. Aha! I think this puts into words what I’ve been realizing lately. I thought I had maybe become a brand snob, but I think what I’m really after is the quality, buying ONCE, and keeping forever. I just can’t do that with Target or JCPenney items. I’m very much not buying anything right now, which will hopefully build up enough funds to buy the “right” thing when I find it, even if it’s out of my current normal price range. Once and done sounds great!

    And, Mo, nice to “see” you here! I thought the white tank story sounded familiar. I’m pastrygirl elsewhere. 🙂

    • Good to see you commenting here, Cristina. I love your blog! Good for you for not buying at the moment, as I know it’s hard for you. I think it’s good to aim for quality and if you find brands that work for you, it doesn’t mean you’re a brand snob. I didn’t know you were “pastrygirl.” Sometimes I still read the posts on YLF, but don’t visit there as often as I used to because I often get too tempted to shop after seeing everyone’s new acquisitions and lovely outfits. I try to remove myself from temptation as much as possible these days!

    • HI! Good to see you as well. Debbie has a point about YLF feeding my shopping desires. I might have to pull back a bit in the coming months, actually. I’ll have to go see your blog and catch you here, as well 🙂

  18. Ok, so I’m brand new to your blog by way of your great p333 profile on Courtney Carver’s blog. And I really like this article!

    I’ve got some questions and I’d like to hear your thoughts. What to do when you have a really cool unique item of clothing that is nearly perfect, but not quite? Something you couldn’t really hope to find again. I’ve got a couple of these, one of which, for instance, I’d like to take to a seamstress to have recreated in a different fabric. I don’t want (or couldn’t!) buy the item again, and don’t want to remove the item from my closet until I’ve transformed it into the piece I’d really like to have (since the piece is its own pattern). Have you experienced this before?

    And what do you advise regarding a less-than-ideal piece that is a necessary item but isn’t quite right. Like, a black cardi (staple) that doesn’t quite check all the boxes, but is necessary. Is it best to get rid of it so that I will one day fill that void with the just-perfect item, or should I keep it because it gets used (necessity) even if it’s not perfect? (For context, I don’t love to shop and don’t have much of a budget for wardrobe.) While I’d like to let the sweater go so that someday I could get one I love more, I’m hesitant since I do use it…

    • Elise, keep the black sweater, and if you really want to let it the sweater go, let it go later, after you find a replacement. But for a workhorse staple item like this it might be a good idea to keep it for a while, and make sure that you really do like the replacement better.

    • Welcome, Elise! I’m glad you found my blog and that you like this article. I agree with Terra’s advice about the black cardigan. If you hated the cardi, I’d say to get rid of it, but it seems you like it but don’t love it. Wear it now and keep your eyes open for a better version. Having a cardigan you like well enough will stop you from settling for new items in the store. In regards to the other item you’d like to have re-made by a seamstress, I encourage you to do that as soon as you can. What is holding you back from doing it? There was a guest post here on custom clothing a way back. Check it out and be sure to read the comments, too, as there is some good wisdom there, too: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/custom-made-clothing/

      • A good seamstress should be able to copy the dress you sort of like. The challenge will be to find good fabric. There are some fabric stores around that sell “better” fabric than national chain stores — there’s one in my Midwestern city. Some years ago, I had a friend who found the perfect dress for her wedding in the special occasion dress dept. of a very upscale store. She bought the dress (it was blue), and took it to a seamstress who guided her through the purchase of fabric for a white wedding dress (if you don’t sew, ask for help from someone who does). Her sister wore the blue dress as maid of honor (and it really was a dress she could wear again!) and the bride wore an exact copy in white satin for about 1/4 the cost of a typical wedding dress. Beautiful!

  19. I wonder if the decline in quality of clothing items is part of what makes it difficult for some of us to buy the “right,” more expensive version of a thing. I think that I have a fair amount of knowledge about clothing materials and construction that will make items last — I know what quality is, and yet when faced with a potential purchase that is over a certain $ threshold, I find myself doubting that I am really making a quality choice. I am just suspicious of the clothing on offer in general, if you know what I mean! Certainly there is a lot of poor quality at high price points out there.

    I like what Mo says in the comments above about “You have enough to get by with in the meanwhile.” It really is true in most of our cases! I have been following that mantra lately and I think it is really liberating.

    • Sarah, for me quality (and size) is a key factor. These days more expensive no longer always equals excellent quality. I never buy cheap clothing. And I’m having a difficult time facing the fact that the Eileen Fisher and Patagonia clothing I’ve purchased within the past two years is of poorer quality than it was five years ago. Also, I wear a petite size and good quality clothing that fits me is hard to find. So these days when I settle, it means I have settled for the best that the market has to offer in my size and within my price range, and in a color that is flattering for me. Thankfully I’m happy with a very small wardrobe because it is getting harder and harder to find clothing. And I’m discovering as things wear out I can’t always find a decent replacement even after waiting months and with constant searching. So, I’m also following the mantra “You have enough to get by with in the meanwhile.” But in truth, while I do have enough, I also have a very tiny wardrobe. This is liberating because my goal was to own less. But I do worry – if poor quality and available sizes continues to worsen (say for the next 5-10 years) someday I will probably be able to fit my entire wardrobe in the size of a suitcase most people take on vacation. Yikes.

      • I worry about this quality issue when I think about clothes that I will need to replace in a few years. I am hanging onto stuff I might have cycled out of my wardrobe for one reason or another because I’m not sure I could replace them. It’s tragic that the clothing on offer at nearly all price points is of poorer quality that even 5 years ago. Yikes is right!!!

    • I can really identify with your concerns, Sarah, and Terra’s response further highlights some of the things I worry about. While it’s true that we can count on certain brands, I’ve seen the quality of all brands plummeting in recent years. I think that’s why taking care of our clothing is so critically important. We need to do all we can to extend the lifespan of our loved items. I wrote a post about this on a previous blog that might be helpful: http://debbieroes.com/how-to-make-your-clothes-last-longer/ A lot more can be written on the topic and we’re going to have a great guest post about this soon, but perhaps there are a few things you can use there.

      I am suspicious of clothing, too. It’s interesting that Terra mentioned Patagonia. I usually really like that brand, as does my husband. But my husband bought a pair of their shorts last summer and they already look like they’re on their way out! And we take good care of our clothes, too. Here’s a great guide from Into Mind on assessing garment quality: http://into-mind.com/2014/05/01/how-to-assess-the-quality-of-garments-a-beginners-guide-part-i/ We may still win some and lose some, but at least we can do our best to discern quality by being informed.

      • Yes, I really liked that post from Into Mind as well! But. Just as an example, earlier this year I bought two 100% cashmere cardigans from Ebay. With the caveat that when buying secondhand you can’t truly know how much wear a garment has previously experienced, both sweaters were in excellent condition when I received them. One is vintage, made in Scotland, I’d estimate 1960s based on the cut and label. The other is current, from Bloomingdale’s (I think) store brand, made in China. Guess which one is pilling…

      • Thanks for sharing your cardigan story, Sarah. Good point about not knowing how much wear Ebay items have gotten. I always feel like it’s hit or miss to buy there, but I know many people have good experiences. I’m glad that one cardigan is holding up well. Too bad about the other one pilling. Hopefully you’ll be able to get some more good wear out of it…

  20. This post really hit home! I am so guilty of this and as I work to purge my closet of all the wrong things, I can see how often I fall for this trap. It’s really hard to hold out for quality when there are so few quality garments made these days (at least in the average shopper’s price range.) Thanks for this post, and the clarity it has given me regarding future shopping goals!

    • I’m glad this post resonated with you, TexasAggieMom! I agree that it’s hard to hold out for quality, but as we see how many lesser items we’re discarding, it makes it easier. We have to be more selective and not aim for instant gratification. I still struggle with that, too, but I’m always happy when I’m patient and hold out for something that truly delights me!

  21. This really hit home for me, too. I was thinking about this exact topic the other day and it is nice to know I’m not alone. Recently, I have decided to stop doing just what you are describing. When cleaning out my closet, I discovered 5 black skirts. I had forgotten about the other 4 because I don’t like the fit, fabric, etc. I have the same problem with shoes. Really, 3 pairs of black flats. When I realize that I could have had the very nice, though expensive, pair of shoes for the same or less than I paid for the 3 pairs I don’t love…now I know why the fund for the trip to Paris isn’t filling up!!! I have made the decision that I am only going to buy it if it makes me feel great. Oh, and if I do replace something I don’t love with something I do, the one I don’t love is out. I’ve donated clothing at least every other week on this quest to have a slimmer wardrobe that I love and actually wear. Thanks for all your wisdom.

    • Good realization, Terri! And good move to get rid of the lesser items once you find a loved alternative. We often forget to do that and then wonder why we have so much clutter around! I hope your Paris travel fund starts filling up! I’d love to go there myself again sometime (went in 1995, but that’s almost 20 years ago!)…

  22. Yes to this post!! This is totally “me” – trying to be a better, less expensive version of myself lol!! I recently bought a pair of pricey booties that I’ve coveted for 2 years!! Bought at least 2 pr of similar ones and wore those enough to realize spending the money and loving them will be worth it. Can’t wait for fall – and hopefully if I stop buying the lesser versions, I will love everything I own 100%!! (of course part of me wishes I could be happy with the less expensive ones ;-))

    • I think there are a lot of us in that same boat, Sandy, not that it makes it any easier to get out! I’m glad you got those pricey booties after two years of coveting them. I think we CAN be happy with less expensive items sometimes, but only if we’re not settling for them just because they are inexpensive. It’s a difficult distinction to make sometimes, but an important one!

  23. I just wrote about this on my blog! I have definitely had a problem in the past with buying a so-so item, and continuing to shop for something similar but better- I could have saved so much money had I just searched for that one perfect piece. As I mention on my blog I feel like I have a ‘fear of missing out’ in terms of clothing; if I don’t snag the just okay garment maybe I’ll never find what I want! But I’m becoming more accepting of this and taking it on as a challenge to hunt down what I really want- that’s where the fun lies!
    http://acuratedcloset.blogspot.ca

    • Welcome, Megan! I see that we are kindred spirits… I enjoyed reading your recent blog post and look forward to reading more. I have that fear of missing out (FOMO), too, and I think it has played a large role in my overshopping. But I never end up loving the just okay garments, so I’m really making an effort not to settle these days. Easier said than done! Good luck with your journey – it’s a very worthwhile one!

  24. Yes, yes, and yes! Great post, Debbie. I think it really encapsulates a lot of the reasons so many of us have shopped so much over the years. I have definitely been a settler, and then end up buying multiples trying to find something that works. One area I still struggle with is shoes, though. I’m vegetarian, so I don’t want to buy leather shoes. But the pleather versions are often low quality, or just not available locally. Buying shoes from the internet is very hit and miss for me, as so often they don’t fit quite right or the material is too stiff to be comfortable. I still wonder how to fix that – so far I have taken to buying cloth shoes from Payless, and just replacing them every year. But for clothing, I’m slowly doing better at looking at more expensive options, and walking away without buying if the item is not totally right for me.

    • I know it’s SO hard to find good vegan shoes, Sarah. There are some high-end brands (i.e. Stella McCartney) who do them well, but the price is out of reach for many of us. I think the options will improve as time goes on, but I know it’s a challenge right now. It’s hard enough with clothing, as you wrote! Good for you for starting to walk about from less expensive but not right options. As you do that more and more, it will get easier.

  25. This post really made me think…

    I do this instinctively with purses. I only have one handbag at a time, and use it until it is pretty worn out. I carefully select my next purse, put a good amount of time in researching it and deciding on which purse is the best for me. I then will purchase the selected purse (usually at full price) and not think of purses again for a couple years until it begins to wear out.

    However, with clothing and shoes, I have not always been as selective. I make a lot of impulse purchases! BUT, when I do decide to purchase a particular item (most recently lace shorts) I again did my research and paid full price for a pair that I am just thrilled with.

    Apparently for me, this issue breaks down to impulse purchases vs. planned purchases. If I could cut out the impulsiveness I would probably instinctively be a better and more focused shopper.

    Interesting stuff….

    • You know, Chelsea, purses was where it started for me, too, as well as watches. Then I moved on to shoes and am gradually being more selective with clothing now. I think it’s a process and we all start where we are more comfortable. For me, I saw how much I loved carrying my nicer purses and it made me think that I should expand my horizons in other areas. I agree that we often do far better with our purchases when they are planned than when we buy on impulse. Impulse buys are rarely ones we love later, at least for those of us who overshop.

  26. This is a great post; something my husband and I talk about a lot. See, he likes fashion as much as I do and we’ve learned to not settle. We remind each other to wait for what we really want in lieu of just buying this version because we couldn’t wait. He said that we have enough clothes to wear for several years, so there is no need to rush anything. I feel that if I do settle, I will always feel that something is off, so the item is left taking up space in my closet.

    My husband recently bought a pair of Alden boots (the boots Indiana Jones wore in the Trilogy) and he LOVES them. Yes, they cost $$$$$$$, but he loves his shoes. Those are the only pair he wants to wear daily. He shines them nightly and feels like a million bucks when he has them on. It was pricey, but he really loves those shoes. If you really like what you bought, the Cost Per Wear will be in the negative because it’s been worn so much and so often.

    Not only did I ‘settle’ for a cheaper version of what I wanted, but I settled for the correct version but in the WRONG SIZE! Yes, I did that. I wanted this blouse and I was impatient waiting for my size to appear on eBay (aka Evil Bay), so when a larger size appeared, I bought it with the intention of tailoring it to my size. I did that by sewing the sides in, but it never fit right! GRRR…Needless to say, I wore it twice and ended up giving it to my mom which fit perfectly for her. I did find my version of what I wanted in my size a few months later. This lesson taught me to wait for the right version in the right size before buying. It’s better to wait then to waste the $$.

    • Thanks for sharing your insights and stories, Wendy. I have done the same thing as you in terms of buying things in the wrong size and trying to tailor them down. And I have had the same experience with the tailoring not going well. I have done such things with consignment buys more time than I can count, sadly. I’m glad you later found the right top and that you learned your lesson from the experience. I love the story of your husband with the boots! We should all feel like a million bucks in our clothes, shoes, and accessories 🙂

  27. This is an excellent post, Debbie. I try to follow the “buy once” strategy by shopping with a list that details the specifics of the item I am seeking. One of my biggest challenges, however, is assessing the fit of an item properly while in the dressing room. I try to move around a bit to see how the item feels but it is often not until I have worn it for several hours, while sitting, etc., that I realize with dismay that an item is not as comfortable as I would like (particularly as I am adjusting to my evolving menopausal shape).Out goes that item and the search begins for a replacement. I would appreciate any suggestions anyone has as to how to better assess fit before the tags come off.

    • This is a tough one! Do you know what causes discomfort — construction, fabric, design? If not, it might help to keep track (a modification of Debbie’s charts) to see what causes discomfort, where, and why. Then perhaps you can track this information back to the construction or fabrication or design of the garment. If it’s the design of the garment — say pants –you might consider buying something that is a little larger (not hugely larger) but still relatively comfortable and then have the item altered — waist taken in or back seam adjusted. Checking out button placement is another thing I do — a lot of garments have awkwardly placed buttons. If you have an interior button on a waistband that digs into your abdomen, you can replace with a snap that won’s dig. Another thing to do is to really examine the item in good light to see if it has any offending stuff in the construction — “fish line” thread on the tag, rough edges of exposed facing, and so forth, that might rub and create an irritation after wearing the garment a few hours. This is something I do because I have very sensitive skin and because the wiry monofilament thread might not irritate when trying on the garment but could driving you nuts while sitting through a wedding (happened to me) or concert or business meeting. I’m very choosy about fabric — I seldom by garments of man-made materials (acrylic, etc.) because of the sensitive skin issue. But even with silk, wool, and cotton I really road test the fabric for comfort and durability.

      • Thanks for the advice, Dottie. It is a good suggestion to keep track of design specifics that make a garment less wearable outside of the dressing room. I have been focused on design specifics that I do want that I don’t always pay attention if a garment has something I don’t want (if that makes sense). Overall, I probably need to spend more time in the dressing room to really examine how a garment is constructed and how it fits.

    • It looks like Dottie gave you some excellent advice, CMO. I think it might not always be possible to know 100% whether something will work for us when we try it on in a fitting room. That’s why I think it’s important to try things on again at home and see how they work with our existing wardrobes. Of course, we should try to vette things as much as possible in the store in order to avoid having to make returns, but we should also double-check them at home and be willing to make returns if necessary. Sometimes the mirrors can be deceptive and we can get a better idea of how things look in our home mirrors and with our home lighting.

      If I have any doubts about particular items, I usually wear them around the house for a bit before taking the tags off. I sometimes take photos, too, as sometimes the photo will tell me something that looking in the mirror does not. I ask my husband’s opinion, too, and take into consideration what he has to say. Both in the fitting room and at home, I try to move around as I would in my day to day life. I sit, raise my arms over my head, turn from side to side, etc. Just standing still and looking in the mirror can tell us if something LOOKS good on us, but that’s only part of the equation. We have to move around and see if something is comfortable and whether or not it is “fussy” (needing to be adjusted a lot). These things have helped me to make better decisions, along with the types of tips Dottie presented. That said, sometimes things don’t end up washing or wearing well. We can make very informed decisions, but sometimes things still don’t work out. But we can do the best we can and we’ll get it right most of the time…

    • Thanks, Hilda! Yes, I love the comments, too. I always learn a lot from the various perspectives that are shared.

  28. I am intrigued by the idea of shopping for something. With the exception of special occasions when I have had to have a certain type of outfit (graduation – black dress, wedding – white dress, my childrens’ baptisms – something smart but which allowed breastfeeding etc) I have rarely shopped for a specific item. I do buy clothes, I buy clothes that I love, that call out to me and most importantly I will wear. I have a fairly good idea of what suits my rather matronly figure but fits with my slightly hippy / fifties diva look (I never said it was easy!) Recently I have bought one top and two dresses. Along with the one in one out rule, three roughly equivalent items had to go. When I first started this journey that was easy, there was so much in my wardrobe that I never wore. Now that I have downsized it is becoming harder. But I am strict, nothing in unless something goes out. That does curtail the shopping a little 🙂 But I am still confused by the idea of “filling a gap” in a wardrobe or shopping for a specific item. Just not the way I shop I suppose.

    • I think that people have different ways of shopping, Gillie. There isn’t really a right or wrong as long as something is working well for you. It seems like a big part of your shopping success related to your one-in, one-out rule. Knowing that you will have to get rid of one existing item for each new piece you buy likely helps to prevent you from making impulsive shopping mistakes. It also seems like you have a good sense of your personal style and what you like. Many of us aren’t as clear about such things, which leads us to buy items that don’t end up working out for us. As for wardrobe gaps, it doesn’t seem like you have any, until those social occasions you referenced come along. If you are pretty much “set” for the various events in your life, then your shopping can be based solely on buying things that call out to you. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broken, then don’t fix it! You seem to be doing well, so keep up the good work with your shopping and wardrobe.

Comments are closed.