Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gearing Down, pt 2: Clothing

Coping with a sudden reduction in one's financial circumstances is not easy. We speak of buying habits because they're just that, habits. Things we do automatically. We go into the same stores and buy the same familiar brands. Having to change to make less money stretch further requires conscious thought, not just automatic responses.

Fortunately, clothing may be one of the easier things to change our habits on. Unlike food, we generally don't buy clothing on such a regular basis. Unless we're in a line of work in which we wear through clothes on a regular basis (construction and other manual labor positions) or are required to keep up with the latest fashions (media jobs are notorious for this), clothing purchases often can last a year or more. Seldom-worn special outfits like a good interviewing suit may well last a lifetime.

Still, clothes will not last forever, especially garments we wear on a regular basis. So when faced with a financial downturn that looks to last for months or years, we need to have a strategy for maintaining our wardrobe at a minimally acceptable level.

One important technique for keeping clothing costs low is to buy second-hand. Thrift stores such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army often will have garments that are practically new. Some of them may even be so new they still have the original tags from the high-end stores where they're purchased, although this sort of happy find is most likely at a store that's near a wealthy area where stores will dump unsold merchandise at the end of the season and take the tax deduction rather than store it and risk that it is no longer in fashion the following year.

Of course there are some things that should never be bought second-hand. Personal protection and safety equipment should always be bought new, since you have no idea what used equipment may have been exposed to that may have compromised its ability to protect you. Shoes are another thing that should always be bought new, and not just because of the possibility of transmitting diseases such as athlete's foot and toenail fungus. As we wear our shoes, they mold to the shape of our feet, and will no longer fit anyone else's properly.

The second important thing to stretch one's clothing dollars is to maintain the clothes you have in order to make them last as long as possible. When you have the money to casually replace worn or damaged articles, you don't have to worry about things like care labels or proper storage. Now that you need to avoid unnecessary purchases, you  need to pay attention to things like the temperature of water in which to wash your clothes. Also, consider how to store clothes so that they do not become stretched or distorted, or pick up stains or odors from a drawer.

Finally, even when clothes become worn, you may be able to repair or repurpose them. This may not be possible for all clothes. For instance, if maintaining a professional appearance means having clothes that look new, it may not be possible to wear clothes that have visible patches or other repairs. However, for everyday clothes or for things such as undergarments and socks which are not in the public view, being able to make some judicious repairs can be a good way to get another week or month of life out of a garment.

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