When to Save, When to Splurge

As a somewhat frugal minimalist who likes to put thought and care into my purchases, I thought it would be fun to make a little bit of a shopping guide. Now I’m no expert over here, but I’ve learned a bit over the years. I’ve been shopping secondhand since before it was cool! The fact that more and more people are interested in sustainable living and buying used instead of new is absolutely wonderful! Here’s my guide to thrifting if you haven’t already read that.

Today we’re not just talking about frugal purchases though. Today we’re talking about balance. Which purchases are actually worth splurging on – if any? When should you be looking for higher-end items, on the new or the used market?

I should clarify that even when I say “splurge” I’m not talking about anything you cannot actually afford. You should never, ever have to carry a balance on your credit card to support your consumer spending. Even if you use a credit card for points (like I do) you cannot actually afford an item if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay it off right away. There is no reason to finance purchases like clothing. “Splurge” will mean different things to different people – but I’m saying that number is based on actual money in the bank, not your credit limit.

Another thing about the “splurge” purchases is that I recommend spreading them out. You don’t need to get a new coat, new shoes, and new handbag all in the same month. Not only does this mean you’re putting less thought into each purchase, it also means that the excitement and anticipation of each item will be diminished. Research shows that anticipating the item when shopping is often more exciting than the item itself. Therefore, if you’re someone like me who desires to shop less and consume less, then you might as well spread out the excitement and anticipation of your few purchases for as long as possible. Am I right?

So, with that out of the way, let’s jump right in!

When to Save:

For the “Save” category, I’m gonna largely say two things: 1) Get it when you see it. 2) Shop used if possible. I’ll explain why as we go.  

Everyday Basics – Get these used if possible because there is such a large inventory of barely-worn basic pieces out there. I admit it may take some looking to find the perfect pair of jeans. Some sizes ARE easier to find than others. But at least start out trying to thrift your basics and go from there if you have no luck. A perfect example is my black shirts. I have about 8 black / gray shirts that I wear under my sweaters and jackets in the winter. Since I wear them under things, I’m not at all concerned with what they look like. Their job is to be a barrier between my skin and the sweater and to add another layer of warmth. Many of these I have been given for free from clothing swaps. I’m thankful for them! But I’m also not picky. Same goes for camisoles and most T-shirts. I’ve either thrifted or been given them for free because people tend to buy more basics than they will ever end up wearing. These basics aren’t exciting, but they are often needed to make the more exciting clothes work as an outfit. You need a layer under that cardigan. A cami under that blouse. It is not necessary to pay full price for any of these items – unless you are a size that is very uncommon.

Workout Clothing – This is on the list because they are readily available – most thrift stores even have an activewear section! – and they can be very expensive new. Personally, I don’t want to pay $100 for a pair of yoga pants that I intend to take on dirty, sweaty adventures. Workout clothes are meant to be abused, used, lived in. I’d rather not be worried about snagging them or wearing them thin. I know there are cheap brands out there on Amazon, but shopping used is more sustainable than shopping “bargain brands.” If you go too cheap, there will be quality issues. Whereas on the used market, you can often score the good quality brands for the price of the “bargain brand” so it’s actually a win / win.

Kid Clothes – These are on the list because they are outgrown SO quickly. I’m not interested in paying full price for something that is readily available used – sometimes even free! When I had my first baby I was more concerned about how he was dressed. I’ve since embraced a little healthy apathy about what my kids wear. They are old enough to pick out their own clothes now, and all they really care about is comfort and no holes. Kid clothes also depreciate in value instantly. You can’t expect your kids to be kind to their clothes so you can resell them later. It’s easier to source them used and then bless someone else with the hand-me-downs – if the clothes survive that long.

Formalwear – On the list because it is often worn once and then donated. You’re often getting something that was never worn, or worn once, for 95% off! Overconsumption is a real issue, and this is an easy way to recycle! It may take time to find the right thing if you have a specific vision in mind, but if you’re a little flexible this is an excellent way to save money. Most thrift stores have a section just for formalwear. Even if you must pay to get it dry cleaned, you’re still coming out way ahead!

Look for:

  • Depreciation
  • Filling holes in your wardrobe
  • Base pieces – camisoles, plain long-sleeved shirts
  • Classics: jeans, t-shirts, sweaters, leggings, tanks, long-sleeves, cardigans
  • Versitile items
  • Good quality brands and fabric
  • Wear – lots of life left in them
  • Fit – this is everything! This is what makes used basics look chic.

When to Splurge:

My two rules for splurging are: 1) Plan ahead. 2) Always sleep on it. While you sometimes have to grab the thing at the thrift store before someone else gets it, new purchases can be thought about carefully. The item will not sell out overnight, so why rush the decision?

Shoes – Good shoes not only look great, they improve our quality of life by preventing pain and foot issues. Whether you’re active or not, good shoes are important. I have a shoe size that isn’t common (10.5 – 11 y’all!) so this year my strategy has been to go to outlet stores. I’m able to try the shoes on in person, and since the outlets carry what doesn’t sell well at other stores there is often a good amount of inventory in my size! And I’m not paying full-price for the same quality, same brands as everyone else! It’s a win!

Bags – I’m not sure if I should put “bags” or “bag” because in my ideal world you really just need one. One good quality, great-looking, practical bag to throw all your stuff in if you’re a woman – because leggings and skirts are awesome but don’t have pockets! This is one of those “grown-up” purchases that I put off until my kids stopped needing a diaper bag. Honestly, the brand that makes it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you love it, and it is built to last – because like kids clothes and workout clothes, handbags go through a lot! They should be durable, stylish, functional, and go with everything. Black is a classic, but I once heard a blogger recommend a gray bag because it also matches browns and navy even better. It’s possible your bag could even be the pop of color in your outfit. But keep in mind that it needs to be something you won’t get tired of quickly. You might regret getting something too trendy here. Think: practical chic.

Jewelry – I’m not a snob about jewelry, but I honestly can’t wear anything that isn’t actual gold or silver – not just plated, but solid. These pieces may cost a little more than fashion jewelry, but keep in mind that less is more. The same gold hoops will go with everything. The same diamond (or CZ) studs will go with everything. A simple strand of pearls will never go out of style. Figure out what you really like, and then save up for it and treat it well.

Coat – A good coat covers over a multitude of sins. I can be dressed pretty sloppy and put on a nice coat and boots and look halfway decent. Someone once said that a coat is the first thing people see when they’re meeting you. Get one that makes a first impression! Also keep in mind, classic, won’t go out of style, and also functionality – does it actually keep you warm / dry? That is, after all, the main job of a coat. It’s not impossible to find a great used coat, but you may have to do some searching. If you can score a $10 coat that you love from Goodwill or Salvation Army, that’s great! If that’s not possible, look at it is an investment piece that you will wear for many years. And then hold yourself to it! If you spend a lot on a good coat, force yourself to keep wearing it even after you’re tired of it. If there is nothing wrong with it, you’re just bored – keep on keeping on! That is how you get the cost per wear down to something reasonable.

Socks / underwear – Maybe it goes without saying, but I don’t recommend getting these things used. Again, try outlet stores before paying full price. Again, look for quality and longevity rather than just getting the cheapest brand out there. Cheap intimates just fall apart in the wash and are a waste of money. Ask your friends what their favorite brands are and what has lasted the best. If you pay a little more upfront, you may not have to replace these basics but every few years.

Look for:

  • Functional – does its job, warm, waterproof, etc.
  • Stylish, not trendy – something that will never go out of style
  • Durable – brand you know and trust
  • Timeless – you won’t get sick of wearing it year after year
  • Comfortable – benefit of having a wide selection, and time to shop
  • Most importantly: You – since you hand-picked these items this is your change to express yourself. Keep in mind that your tastes may change. Ask yourself if you’ll still love it even once it isn’t the “color of the season” anymore. 

That about sums it up! Here’s the questions I like to ask before making any purchase. These rules apply to any non-consumable, non-grocery items that I’m considering buying.

How do you decide when to splurge and when to save? When to shop used and when to spring for newer, more pricy items? Do you give yourself limits or timelines for buying things? I hope we can learn from each other! Thanks for stopping by!


Photo by Gyorgy Bakos


Add yours →

  1. Good post! Agree with your shopping strategy for clothing. I have purchased underpants at my local thrift store, BUT they still had the original store tags on them.

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