How Shopping Support Structures Can Help Us Shop More Wisely

I was apprehensive about posting my most recent accountability update, as I definitely purchased far too many new clothes during August and September.  However, the comments I received on that post were very supportive, encouraging, and helpful.   Although I could use many of these comments as launching pads for new blog posts, there was one in particular that stood out for me.

Shopping Support Structures

What tips and tricks do you use to help you shop more wisely?

Wise Words from Ellie…

A commenter named Ellie wrote the following:

  • “How can you start using your analytical approach before making purchases and maybe model for us a process of managing our shopping? I remember Jill Chivers said that setting up support structures for success was crucial in going through a shopping ban (see her guest post here). I am wondering what the support structures for success are for shopping with a purpose.”

She then went on to suggest two “structures” she uses to manage her own shopping:

  1. When she is waiting for something she’s ordered online to arrive, she doesn’t browse any e-commerce sites. Once the item arrives and she has evaluated whether or not she is keeping it, she can then shop again.  This helps to slow down her excitement and has prevented the “snowball effect” that can lead her into a full-blown shopping “binge.”
  2. For a given item on her shopping list, she finds several potential options online and then plays with their images to make possible outfits. She forces herself to do this for a few days before “pulling the trigger” on a purchase.  Comparing several options gives her a chance to enjoy the emotional anticipation she gets from playing with something new, as well as the opportunity to analyze what will work best for her.   The item that does the best in her outfit collages is the one she purchases.

Advice from Commenters and the Facebook Group

I loved this concept of “shopping support structures,” as did several other commenters on the blog.  Because I thought this was such an excellent topic, I also posed it to my private Facebook group.   The following is a collection of ideas from both blog commenters and group members:

  • Once an item has been purchased within a given wardrobe category (i.e. a scarf or a pair of jeans), another item in that category cannot be bought until the new item has been worn a given number of times. (Note:  This is something I tried to do during the first year of the blog, but gave up on too soon!).  
  • Before buying anything new, ask a reliable friend or family member if the item fits into your personal style.
  • When you’re obsessed with a piece you don’t need, ask yourself, “Who the hell are you trying to impress with this?”
  • If I’m not sure if I should buy or keep an item, I probably shouldn’t. I find that if I pause before buying something and ask myself what I would wear it with, would I really wear it, do I need it, and does it fit correctly (if buying in person), I’m usually happy with what I bought. For me, the most important thing is to buy something because I really need or want the clothing. If I’m buying for emotional reasons, I usually make poor choices.
  • Think about the “opportunity costs” of an item. Ask yourself what you would need to give up in order to buy the item in question or what you could use the money for instead if you don’t buy it. Example:   If I don’t buy this, I can add the funds to my parents’ or husband’s Christmas gifts, bring a better meal or wine to our weekly potluck party, tip more generously, or donate to another charity, etc.
  • Pausing before buying (or placing the item in my online cart and leaving it there for a while) works pretty well for me. I find that if I have walked away and the item still screams “buy me” after I’ve waited (and if I keep dreaming up new combinations for it), then it is probably a good buy. I also keep all tags on and try the item on at home to truly decide if I am keeping it.
  • I ask a couple of questions depending on what I am buying: (1) What will I get rid of when I bring this home? It’s a rule that if I bring something home, I have to get rid of something. I have no storage space at my house. (2) I calculate the hours of work the price represents and ask myself, “Would I work X hours just for this item?”
  • For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to say to myself patiently (in the tone one uses for a three year old who wants a cookie before dinner or a teen girl who wants yet another shade of nail polish), “You have enough (jeans/scarves/tees, whatever the item is).” I say this to myself firmly and lovingly, and so far, the answer has been, “Yeah, you’re right. I do.”
  • I like to think about how good it feels to have money accumulate. I sometimes visualize Smaug the Dragon lying on his pile of gold, which actually does help, strange as it sounds!
  • A big part of managing it all for me now is deciding way ahead of time how many of any category I allow myself for the year. I hesitate to say ‘need,’ as we all are aware that true needs are much less than what we think we need. So, I started “the list” (read more here). Knowing that I have 4 pairs of shoes allowed for the year, I think in terms of a sandal for summer, boots for winter, flats for spring, and sneakers for fall.

Your Thoughts?

Aren’t those some great ideas?  I’m sure that many of you out there have other suggestions that you can add.   Please feel free to do so in the comments section.  The more the merrier!  I’m sure I will be doing a follow-up post on this topic soon, especially when I decide which shopping support structures I plan to take on for myself for the rest of this year and as 2016 gets underway.

I’ll be back later this week with my “Grab Bag of Useful Links” for October (see previous installments here).  This round-up was on hiatus during September, but I did share some helpful articles on the hot topic of capsule wardrobes last month.   I have lots of great content from fellow bloggers and others to share with you this week, so stay tuned.

21 thoughts on “How Shopping Support Structures Can Help Us Shop More Wisely

  1. It’s so helpful to see all those tips here in one place where I can bookmark the post and refer back to it when I’m slipping. Thanks for making sense out of all our jumbled thoughts from the FB group!

    • You’re welcome, TexasAggieMom. I have SO many threads that I could do this with! I’ve been bookmarking them. The group is just full of so many great ideas and so much wisdom!

  2. When I’m obsessed with a piece I don’t need it’s usually the case that I want to buy it for my pretend life. You know, the one where I’m always fashionably dressed and not covered in dog hair, chicken feathers or paint?

    It would be more helpful to figure out what the item means to you – what need you think it will fulfill, i.e., shimmer, new color(s), edge-y, sophisticated, etc. – and then figure out how you might work that into your current wardrobe.

    • Your first paragraph made me chuckle, Diane. I have such a pretend life, too, and when I buy clothes for it, it doesn’t end well. I agree that giving some thought to what an item means to us is a good first step for determining if we should buy it or not.

  3. I love the third from the end suggestion – I’m definitely going to try talking to myself as if I was a teenager! Come to think of it, some of my worst purchases have been when I’ve slipped into teenager mentality, wanting something dramatically different, or to follow a new trend, or just wanting more stuff to feel pampered… definitely worth a try!

    • Same here, Alice. For someone who is almost half a century old (gasp!), I still lapse into teenager (or toddler) mode a lot with the “I want”s. I never would have thought of talking directly to that persona, but it very well could work!

  4. Another possible couple of Q’s: if I don’t buy this item, to which charitable org. could I donate the money and help others live healthily? If I don’t purchase, how could I use the money to truly enrich my life: take a class, buy a bike, invest, etc.

    • Great questions, Helen! We often don’t stop to think about how else we might use those same funds, but then when we want to do things like that, we don’t have the money. It’s okay to buy things, but it can be helpful to consider the trade-offs we are making when we do.

  5. I love this post. Great suggestions. I have a question, the second from the last suggestion talks about your visualizing your money accumulating. Do you have a software program or a specific way you organize your expenses/budget for clothing shopping. If you have posted it before, I apologize for missing it.

    • I’m not sure if I have ever mentioned how I track my clothing-related expenses, Charlotte. Definitely in response to comments, but I’m not sure if I’ve included this in a post. I actually use QuickBooks because my have that program for my husband’s business. But I used to use Quicken, which is a much more simple program. I know that some people use Microsoft Money and others have mentioned You Need a Budget (YNAB), which I believe is a smartphone app. Still others just use a simple spreadsheet or even a notebook. I think that starting out simple is a good way to go because you don’t want to let the complexity of a program get in the way of keeping track of your spending. I think that ANY tracking is better than NO tracking, as our spending can get away from us so easily. I try to update my budget weekly so I am aware of what I’m doing. Feel free to ask any other questions you have about this or other things.

  6. I have a very seriously wealthy friend who told me once she always thinks “what else could I buy with this money?” before she buys clothing.

    • That is a very good question, Carolyn! I think that even if we end up buying the clothing item in question, we’ll feel better about it knowing that we are consciously choosing it over other potential things we could buy.

  7. When I was younger, I used to cut out from magazines all the pictures of the clothes I was “craving for” but couldn’t afford. Any time I wanted to go shopping, I watched these pictures until I was fed up with them (and sometimes it took me several weeks or months) but finally I lost interest in buying those clothes. Perhaps the same thing can be done nowadays through internet.
    Today, I no longer do this and I only use internet for selecting clothes from my favorite brand but I always go to the shop to try them and possibly buy them. I live in a small city so there are fewer temptations than in a big city but there are ! As I’ve learned to be wary of myself, I no longer go shopping when I’m in a hurry, in a sad mood, if I’ve had a bad day at work or with someone else. And when I have a doubt, I don’t buy.
    I’m french and it’s probably easier to do so because in France credit card is not used for buying clothes and because shops never pay back a shopping mistake. You can only exchange.

    • What a fun way to deal with “wants,” Isabelle. I really do think it could work and some people use Pinterest for the same purpose. At least they can monitor what they want and consciously make choices that way. I agree with you that shopping when we’re in a hurry or in a bad mood can be a recipe for disaster, as we’re not likely to make good choices that way. Not being able to return things can make us think twice, too. Many boutiques here only allow exchanges, too, but the mall stores almost always allow returns. I know that I can be too quick to buy things knowing I can “always return it” later if I change my mind.

  8. Two strategies I use:
    1. What do I have that I can use instead of this?

    I wanted a white cotton blazer. I have a thick white shirt I love that is the wrong length. It’s too short to tuck in, too long to use as a cropped jacket (cuts me off on my widest part). I got this shirt cropped by three inches for $12, and voila, I have the perfect cropped white shirt/blazer.

    I wanted long tunic tops to wear with leggings in winter. I don’t bother looking in stores ‘cos all the women’s stuff is rayon and polyester. I use my hubby’s wool sweaters and cotton long-sleeved tees that cover my butt. (I simply roll up the sleeves). After I wear and wash them, they go back on his rack. Mission accomplished.

    2. Why do I not like what I already have? Can I fix it?

    I have a black silk tunic that has too wide a collar. I love mandarin collars, and was looking for a tunic with one. I cut off the collar on my tunic (like this – and now it’s perfect.

    If I still can’t get what I want, I will buy something. I am prepared to wait and almost never pay full price.

    • You are so creative, Nutrivore! I think it’s always a good idea to shop our closets first. Many of us don’t even really know what we have and how we might be able to re-purpose things. I try to fix what I already have, too, if I can, but too often I ALSO buy new things. My mother-in-law is like you. She pulls pictures out of magazines and catalogs that she likes. Then she goes to her closet and tries to pull together similar looks using what she already has. I love your example of turning your thick white shirt into a cropped blazer! The DIY collar transformation is great, too.

  9. “I calculate the hours of work the price represents and ask myself, “Would I work X hours just for this item?”

    Actually, If an item costs you $40 in the store, if you add up the taxes you paid on your income, the tax you will be levied at checkout and the fuel costs at the store, plus storage costs to keep it in your home, plus maintenance costs of that item, it costs you $80 or more. So if you’re paying x for something, ask yourself : “Is it worth paying 2x for this?”

    • Some food for thought here for sure, Nutrivore. I never thought of it that way, but you raise some excellent points.

  10. I ask: “If I’m not wearing the (ten) scarves, cashmere sweaters, silk blouses…that are hanging in my closet right now, what makes me think I would ever wear this additional one?”
    You can also change the question around from: “Do I want to buy this, or not?” to “Would I rather have xyz (something else entirely)?” It kind of breaks the spell and allows you to realize you don’t have to make this purchase.
    Have “looking days” where you purposely walk out without buying. It builds your willpower very quickly.

    • Good questions, Ruth. I think we do need to focus on wearing what we have within a wardrobe category before we go out and add more to that category. I like your idea of “looking days.” In the early days of the blog, I was going to go shopping without my wallet and then write about it. I never did it, but perhaps I should now.

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