Last weekend, I spent several hours updating my purchase list for the year. This task took such a long time because I hadn’t done it in over four months and had to hunt around a lot for the pertinent information. Since I had put off the update for so long, it ended up being a much more surprising – and depressing – experience than it should have been. This has highlighted the importance of updating the list regularly, at least once a month, in order to increase awareness and hopefully prevent myself from getting out of control with my purchases.
Even though I update QuickBooks (what my husband and I use for our accounting) every one to two weeks, I still have a tendency to keep myself “in the dark” in terms of what’s going on with my shopping. I may know the financial numbers and even be able to stick to a budget, as I’ve done for three plus years now, but I often lose sight of how many items I’m buying and how they are or aren’t working for my wardrobe and life.
Why Regular Tracking is Important
My purchase list includes what I bought, where I bought it, when it was purchased, how much it cost, and how many times I have worn each item to date (see an example HERE, in the “item report” section). If I update the list at least monthly, I can see patterns and stop myself from continuing on a negative path. Because I didn’t do an update for a third of the year, all I can do at this point is prevent further damage. I’m kicking myself for this lapse in productive behavior and I’m not going to let it happen again. I have bought too much (more on this next week) and even though I did the KonMari Process last month and got rid of quite a bit, I still feel like there is too much in my closet. Lesson learned to keep on top of things and not let myself go unconscious.
I highly recommend that you keep track of what you’re buying in whatever way is easiest for you to manage. Since I know that there are many different means of tracking and what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, I decided to ask my private Facebook group members how they keep track of the clothing and related items they buy. Here’s what I asked them:
- Do you track your purchases?
- If so, how do you do it and how often do you make updates?
- Do you go unconscious when it comes to how much you’re buying (even if you manage to stick to a budget)?
As always, I received a lot of valuable feedback from the group. I’m sharing their responses with you here in the hope that you will find a tracking methodology that resonates with you and which you’ll be able to maintain over the long-term.
Thoughts on Avoidance and Emotions
Before I delve into specific tracking methods, I want to share a few thoughts from group members. This first one echoes what I wrote about going unconscious with shopping. What I like is that she has come up with a solution to overcome this challenge and learn to shop more intentionally moving forward.
- My problem is that I avoided tracking exactly because I would have to confront my shopping head on. Keeping myself in the dark allowed me to continue the behavior. I’ve started a challenge for myself on solely intentionally shopping for the next year, which includes monthly tracking (I have been blogging about this – see HERE, HERE, and HERE)
The comment below highlights the role of emotions related to shopping. I relate to her wish to be far more logical about her purchases. I can do that some of the time, but not always. I think that the questions created by the blogger above could be beneficial to many of us, in tandem with the “power pause.”
- If only emotions didn’t come into play! If I could find a way to treat this like a business process, rather than an emotional process, I’d likely succeed. In order to do this, I’d have to stay away from all triggers, which for me, equates to locking myself away in solitary confinement… I’m not kidding. Even looking at photos of scenery, particularly fall foliage, gets me into a “wanty” state of mind.
A Tracking Success Story
I wrote above about how tracking can help to increase our wardrobe awareness and improve our purchasing track record, but nothing drives this point home as well as a success story. This woman recently reviewed her 2015 purchases, which helped her to learn what types of items have stood the test of time, as well as some “gotchas” to avoid with future shopping.
“I track daily and I’m so glad I do! I am still within my budget and spending less than I spent last year. However, it feels like I am still adding (a lot) more things than I added last year. Thanks to tracking, I know I am actually not. I was working on analysis of what I bought last year to see what I still had and why things left.”
“Of the clothing items I bought last year, 16 things are already gone or almost 25% of my purchases. I looked at why things left and they fell into 4 categories:
- 7 things were “make-do” purchases I should have returned. I knew immediately they were bad buys and 5 of them were actually purged in 2015.
- 6 things were an obsession. Like a lot of us, I fixate on something; I lust after it and then buy it. Somehow, that doesn’t satisfy me, so I go back for more, and more, and more. Then I end up with bad purchases.
- 2 things were bad quality. They pilled where I wore a long necklace and are now “wear around the house” items because I still like them.
- 1 thing was a total impulse buy. I don’t know why I bought it, but it was just bad, so it was donated.”
“I did wear the things I tossed an average of 3.5 times before I got rid of them, so there was an effort to use them or make them work. My numbers tell me, I need to avoid obsession, return make-do items, not shop impulsively (like I did earlier this week), and consider quality.”
I really love what this woman had to say about her process. I think it can benefit all of us to have a shopping pause, which I think has a different tone to it than a shopping ban. One is about reflection, whereas the other can feel like a punishment, which can lead to rebellion or a binge.
- I take stock weekly and a few times per year I pause for 30 days and do not buy anything. I use the 30 day period to reflect, wear and enjoy what I have without thinking about whatever it is I’m starting to want next. I also keep an ongoing list of what I buy and review it weekly. Otherwise, I tend to forget about what I bought and begin telling myself it’s not all that much, when in fact it is. Most of all, what helps me is to stay under budget each month. Just because I have it does not mean I need to spend it. It’s lots of work to do all of this, but trial and error over the past 5 years has taught me it’s the only system that works for me.
I can see this woman’s point, too, as I also have an obsessive nature. Although she doesn’t specifically track what she buys, she does have limits in terms of her wardrobe size.
- I stopped tracking because it made me obsessive about things. I’m happier to stay under 100 items because then everything gets worn and it all fits nicely in my hanging space. I can easily tell what’s not being worn, as I see everything every day.
I have a friend who has a certain number of hangers and when she has used them all, she can’t buy anything new until she purges one of her existing items. This friend doesn’t have a shopping problem, though. For some of us, having such a system would lead to excessive “wardrobe churn” and we might cull perfectly good items just so we can shop more. As with everything else, we need to evaluate potential solutions based upon our individual needs and tendencies and determine what’s a good fit for us.
A tracking methodology doesn’t need to be sophisticated, nor do we need to be a computer whiz in order to get going. Here are some low-tech (or no-tech) ideas that might work for you:
- I write down purchases in a small notebook that I update every few days: I list the month, the item, and the cost. I’ve done this since 2011, and I go over each list at the end of the year to see what the good and bad purchases were so that I can analyze why. The good thing about doing it every couple of days (I try to record it the same day but don’t always keep up) is that I always know where I am in terms of my item total, so it’s harder to overshop accidentally.
- I keep a basic list of what I purchase and I highly recommend it. I find it really helpful to see what my buying patterns are and to look back at what I bought a year ago. The list helps me avoid going unconscious about my spending.
- I just have a notebook that I write everything down in as I get it. If I decided to return it, I subtract it. At the end of the month, I add the total expenditure to what I’ve bought in previous months for the year-to-date total. I can say that I’m never surprised anymore since I’ve been doing this.
- I just have an email draft that I add to if I buy something.
- I keep track of what I buy (in a simple Word-file, since January 2015). I note what I bought, where I purchased it, and how much it cost. At the end of each month, I count my expenditures and the number of items I bought that month (since I have created a budget and designated an item limit for myself). I don’t track the number of wears, but I don’t have a huge wardrobe. I recently looked at everything I bought in 2015 and realized that I still have everything on that list. I also saw that there was one item that I have never worn: a striped maxi-skirt. So everything “maxi” goes on my “blacklist.” Whenever I purge something on my list, I will put it in red. This process works very well for me. At the end of July, I had purchased 24 items, which is three more than I had planned for. Thus, I can’t purchase anything this month, which has been difficult from time to time (especially last Friday at TJ Maxx, when I saw some great things: a scarf, a silk top, and a lovely yellow bag – thinking about my Word file, I managed to walk out of the store empty-handed).
- I note down my purchases every month in an e-mail draft – what I bought and how much it cost. A couple of times a year, I update my wardrobe inventory spreadsheet to keep track of what I have.
Excel spreadsheets are a popular way to track purchases, but many people still keep it simple:
- I use an excel spreadsheet and try to update it each time I purchase something, whether online or in person. I sometimes have to go back and delete when I make returns. I don’t go more than a week without updating or I’ll end up off somewhere.
- I have a simple budget in Excel. I added a list on the same page of the clothing I have bought. I update it whenever I buy something since it only takes a few minutes. This way I can track the number of things I have bought. I make the item boldonce I have worn it so I can quickly see what has not yet been worn. Hopefully, there will be few items in this category! I have a separate sheet on which I track daily wears of all my clothing as well as other information.
- Since January 2016, I have used a very simple Excel sheet on which I note down what I buy, when I bought it, and how much I spent. I also calculate the difference between my monthly expenses and last year’s monthly “budget” (the sum I roughly spent last year for clothes and accessories, which I think was reasonable). I total up these differences, so if I want to buy something expensive (like a handbag), I know how much I should spend to be in line with 2015. Strangely, this seems to motivate me to spend less, but this is an unconscious side effect.
- I update daily on a spreadsheet that I have backed up everywhere, as I’d cry if I lost it! When I add a new purchase and fill in the relevant sections, it calculates everything for me. I keep a very close eye on how much I wear a new item. This may sound odd, but I make myself wear new pieces weekly in the first month after the purchase. I find that if I’m not really excited to rip the tags off and wear it, then it should go back.
- I have a spreadsheet with purchase date, cost, and number of wears which I update daily. In my diary, I note my purchases in the year-at-a-glance section to give me a better sense of how often I shop, and I keep a running total for each month and the year.
- I started tracking my purchases this year in a basic Excel spreadsheet. I’ve started this in previous years and quit when I got disgusted with myself, so I guess I’m making some progress as it’s August and I haven’t quit! Periodically, I go through thelist to see what I’m still wearing. I have a number of “bad” purchases this year, mainly due to my obsession with blush pink and the number of items I purchased in this color before having my color analysis! Light colors wash me out…why has it taken 52 years for me to face this fact? I’ve already purchased a number of things for fall/winter. I’d like to think I was being mindful in those purchases, but I still have a lot of work to do there.
Cell Phone Tracking Methods
Most of us carry our smartphones around with us all day long, so why not use them to track our purchases like these two ladies do?
- My system of keeping a running list in the notes function of my phone is super simple and effective. I just write in what I bought after I buy it. And I can go back whenever I want and re-evaluate. I like to use emoji’s, which are always all positive when I first buy things, but sometimes that changes a few months in. Since I track wears and cost per wear in Stylebook (more on that below), I just use the notes to generally keep track of how much I’m bringing in each month. We always have our phones with us, whereas entering stuff in a spreadsheet can be a real chore, which is probably why you don’t do it right after each purchase.
- I just type mine in the notes app on my phone. I organize it by month and by store or location, then I list the items purchased and the overall cost. I log all non-essential purchases (everything but groceries and other necessities like shampoo, etc.), but I am mainly concerned with clothing purchases. I go through the list every couple of weeks and add “X’s” next to items to show how many times I’ve worn the items. Some new pieces from this year have already become “workhorses” while others are rarely or never worn.
Smartphone and Tablet Apps
Of course, there are many applications out there to help us with tracking our purchases. Here are the ones that were mentioned by the group:
- I have a budget app called Daily Budget and I totally love it. I put every purchase in it right after I’ve bought it, and then it tells me how much money I have left to spend that day or if I’ve gone over. When I was traveling and very stressed, I stopped doing it and my spending got out of control. Now that I’m doing it again, my spending has gone way down. It has helped me so much; I think it’s something about the interactive quality of it that works for me. At the beginning, you enter your income, all of your expenses, and how much you want to save, and then it tells you every day how much money you have to spend based on that. Each time you buy something, you choose a category for it like clothes, groceries, pets, household, etc. Then the app recalculates how much money you have left to spend. If you don’t spend it all, it rolls it over to the next day, and if you go over it takes it off the next day so you can see how long it will take you to get back to where you’re not overspending. It also has graphs so that you can check where your spending is going and on what. I find it very easy to use.
- I stopped tracking individual items because I was obsessing too much about my clothes. What is helping me is YNAB (You Need a Budget). With the app, you assign every dollar that comes in to a job. It may not work for everyone (they’ll just keep moving their money around), but for me, I know where I’m spending my money. So far, I’ve been pretty strict and only allowing money in the clothing budget for what I need. This might change when I assess my fall/winter wardrobe. This group has really helped me re-prioritize my life. I would not have even considered budgeting before!
- I started out just keeping a list on a random piece of paper. You can guess how well that went; I can’t keep track of random pieces of paper. Next I tried a notebook. Then I tried using a spreadsheet on Google. Finally, I am trying Evernote, since I dowell tracking using apps. I’m still trying to figure out the whole Evernote thing, but I’m encouraged. I have lists for purchases, items donated (and why), and accessories. I am really hoping that I’ve finally found a system I will use. I tend to go unconscious about how much money I’m spending and how many items I’m bringing in to my closet, so I have tracked since 2013, but not in a way that satisfies me, if that makes sense.
- I just got the Stylebook app two weeks ago, so I’m now starting to track my wardrobe and what I wear that way. I don’t know if I will need to keep updating my wardrobe inventory spreadsheet when I have an app that contains all the same information (except when I bought things and how – online or in a shop). Anyway, just the basic statistics of that app are very enlightening (What is the value of my wardrobe? What is most used? What is the cost-per-wear of my items?) It’s a huge job entering your wardrobe in the app, but it is also very enlightening!
- I put every purchase into Stylebook right away, then set up outfits, just to ensure that the new items will coordinate with something in my wardrobe. I consider this a step forward, but I still don’t have a handle on planning my purchases so that everything coordinates and can be worn multiple ways. As I was setting up my fall/winter options in Stylebook, it’s clear that I continue to have many outfits, but every one is distinct in that the top can only be worn with a certain skirt, etc.Now that I know via Stylebook that I have at least 20 distinct outfits, I’m hoping that will impact my ongoing want to have more. After all, that’s a whole month of no-repeats in my work wardrobe, which makes it impossible to maximize the number of wears and get value from my investment. Based on this information, I should not have to buy anything all fall/winter, as I have more than enough options. I need to focus on developing several combinations for the pieces I have.
Group Accountability Threads
The Facebook group itself was mentioned as a tracking modality. It actually serves the same purpose as the monthly accountability updates that I posted on this blog for over three years (you can see them all here). A number of members chime in every quarter (and some do it every month and even mid-month) about what they bought and how much they spent.
- I have also found this group very useful – in particular the quarterly accountability updates where we all evaluate what we bought and how much we got out of the purchases. I used to do an annual evaluation when I had my blog, but doing an evaluation every 3 months makes it easier to prevent mistakes.
While I agree that the group accountability threads are very helpful and I usually participate in them myself, I still feel that it’s a good idea to maintain my own tracking and update it often. Facebook threads can be great, but given the speed that things move over there, it’s easy to lose sight of threads and not be able to find them again later. I think using a “both and” approach here is the best way to go.
One Final Useful Method
Before I sign off for today, I want to share one last method that was mentioned by a group member. While this method is very individual for her purposes, it can easily be modified for your needs if it resonates for you. It’s similar to the “100 items” limit that was mentioned above, but it also includes some additional rules that are helpful for keeping shopping in check. I especially like her rule #1, as it contributes to more mindful buying.
I have a method I devised for myself called Project 198. The premise is that I’m allowed to have no more than 198 pieces of clothing for the entire year. (This may sound like a lot to some, but 3 years ago I had about 700 pieces, so this is approaching minimalism for me!) My 198 does not include shoes, handbags, underwear, or layering tees.
Within the 198 pieces (or less) I am allowed to do whatever I want, but I have several shopping rules that I also follow.
- If I purchase something, it is preferable that it replaces something I already have. If it’s a trend item, an older trend item that I have gotten tired of is encouraged to go to consignment
- I am not allowed to go over 198 garments.
- I have a monthly budget of up to 200.00, and I’m allowed to spend it however I wish. I don’t hold myself to a specific number of garments that I can buy (but see #1).
I am not much into spreadsheets, but I keep a seasonal Word doc that lists how many items are in rotation for that season and then a month-by-month accounting of what I purchased to keep tabs on my budget. It’s all right to spend more one month and less another month as long as it balances out over the year.
Lastly, I seldom buy anything that isn’t on sale. The only time I will pay full price is if there is no other way to get it and it’s a “must” item. I wear a handful of brands that fit me without alterations and I pay attention to what they are showing for the season and when my watched items are going on sale.
I hope you enjoyed reading all of these tips and found them both interesting and beneficial. I’m sure you found at least a few in the mix that can help you to better keep track of your purchases. If you have any tips to add, I invite you to share them with me and your fellow readers. The more the merrier!