Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Six-Month Progress Report: Shopping and Budgeting

personal photo, with VSCOcam filter

I began the year with some trepidation about my ability to stick to a budget, and I thought it'd be easier to go on a "shopping fast" where I could buy things I needed, replacements, and some well thought out "wants." That ended up being the wrong approach for me. I slip easily into making impulse purchases with as little as a few days of planning, and it'd be inaccurate to try to claim those as the well thought out "wants" that make sense during a shopping fast or for anyone committed to minimalist consumption. I also belatedly realized that it is problematic to fail to set some kind of upper limit for my shopping. Accordingly, my budget for clothes, shoes and accessories is now $250/month or $3000/year. I don't worry too much about the number each month as long as I'm relatively on track for the year.


From January to June, I came in under the roughly $1500/half year limit. I've spent $1318.85 on fashion items for the year so far. The numbers, which you can see in my monthly budget posts are as follows:
  • $227.87 + $376.72 + $233.40 + $107.00 + $373.86 = $1318.85. 

A quick note on my budget setting might be in order, given that I spent the calendar year thus far as a graduate student with my living expenses largely financed by student loans. The $3000/year number likely seems a bit high without more context. In my case, one important detail is that it's a bit less than 5% of my after-tax pay when I start work this fall. In anticipation of the pay cut I will be taking because of my fellowship-ish in fall of 2016, I will likely adjust my budget downwards for at least the later months of 2016. 

Shopping Fast: Needs, Wants, etc.

Although I largely ditched my shopping fast rules when it came to clothes, I still think that it was a useful exercise. By starting to think in terms of shopping fasts and what constituted  actual "needs" or "wants" that I could reasonably indulge, I was making a commitment to be thoughtful about my spending and consumption. I think I've still made great strides towards the spirit of that goal.

My success is most obvious when it comes to my beauty and skincare shopping fast. I was about $150 away from being a Sephora VIB Rouge last year ($1000/year in spending) because of careless indulgences and the added temptation to put in an extra item to get free shipping. This year, I'm likely not on track to renew even my VIB status ($350/year). The vast majority of the beauty items I've bought this year are simply replacements for products I already used frequently. After taking the time to depot my powder cosmetics for organization, I'm finding that I don't particularly enjoy or need eyeshadow, blush, or bronzer, which cuts down on many potential future purchases. It also allows for some additional downsizing, but I'll probably wait on that step.

I have a harder time figuring out the fashion side of my shopping approach. My main problem is that I give myself too much freedom to buy things when they're both a good deal and useful for work. I'm generally less confident with picking out work clothes than casual items. Embarrassingly many of the work clothes that I bought as recently as last summer made their way to the donation or resale piles in the last few months, especially after I started applying the KonMari method to my things.

Before I can figure out the best approach, I might need to put more thought into how many pieces I actually need for work. I don't think I'm going to become someone who wears the same thing to work everyday, but last summer I learned that I prefer to repeat the same 4-5 dresses or 5-6 tops with black skirt combinations over and over, with interchangeable cardigans or jackets. In that light, something resembling a "capsule wardrobe" for work is certainly possible and likely practical for me. I'll probably have to wait until I start work to come up with something concrete, but I definitely don't need to continue buying things just because they'd be suitable for the office.

In the meantime, I've been very inspired by the blog Paris to Go (both her 10 piece wardrobe and her commitment to a no-waste lifestyle). She writes about many aspects of truly minimalist living, and it is all fascinating to read.

In other news, I'm currently working through my thoughts about how to balance minimalism (the ethical consumption type, which when it comes to buying clothes new, often means expensive things) with being a busy budget-conscious professional. I'm inclined towards thinking that the two things are incompatible on some level, though I know that this isn't necessarily a "good excuse" for someone who is relatively privileged. Also, I probably am failing to account for how little a person truly needs to buy, which cancels out some of the budget concerns. Furthermore, if I relied more on buying things secondhand, there might be less of an issue... Assembled Hazardly touched on this topic somewhat recently, and I thought it was an interesting take. If any of you have seen this topic discussed in other minimalism-inclined blogs, I'd love it if you'd share the links with me!

Have any of you thought about the conflict between one's budget and minimalism? What are your thoughts on the issue? 


  1. I don’t think there’s a one size all brand of minimalism. There’s

    the kind that wears a loin cloth and lives in a space surrounded by air and

    nothingness, and then a moderate version of getting use out of the objects in

    your life—whether you have 10 or 1,000.

    I was feeling “cloth-ed out” so I wanted to focus on

    beauty/skincare. The first time in my life, I ever seriously considered makeup.

    But after tracking how much I was spending on the beauty purchases & time

    watching youtube videos, I became a little disgusted w/ myself. Lol! But I view

    makeup as a fun hobby not an obligation.

    I dress in a “capsule” style for work. I’m not limited by 10 tops, 5 pants,
    etc… but more so in color palette. I stick to largely BLACK,grey, navy/blue,
    white, creams…that way everything coordinates w/ each other, and I stick to my
    favored silhouettes. I'm happy to say that I interviewed wearing all "old clothes", including an 11 year old suit from Express!!, and yes I got the job!

  2. Congratulations on the successful interview! And I definitely have experienced how easy it is for a beauty products/skincare habit to get a bit out of control. It was easy for me to see each individual item as an acceptable small-ish indulgence, but it all added up. I would make a little more room for it in my budget still if I enjoyed it more! I don't have much occasion for wearing makeup beyond the minimum concealer/foundation and eyeliner for work, though I enjoy having some brightly colored lipsticks.

    One thing that does get confusing when talking about minimalism is that it has a lot of different meanings (and I can't say for sure that I really know what it "should" mean). In hindsight, I was probably talking about a pretty specific type of minimalism that is more an instagram-friendly, minimalist aesthetic attained through owning a small number of expensive things. (I think anyone that comes close to embodying that idea generally does pay some attention to cutting down their consumption and ethically produced items...)

    Separately, I think I feel very self-conscious or guilty about buying things fast fashion when I'm getting close to an income bracket or spending level where I could "do better" for the planet, workers, etc. Not as sure what to do about that sentiment!

  3. In my comments from your last post, I was definitely thinking about that post that Assembled Hazardly made and the discussion on various blog-forums (gomi, etc) surrounding it! I know I've seen the budget + minimalism topic brought up in a few other places too though, so I'll try and dig up some links for you!

    Off the top of my head - if you've never come upon Cognitive Buyers (formerly Empty Emptor) then I strongly recommend a big read through all of her back posts. She presents a lot of academic theories and arguments about consumption and consumer / cultural habits - always lots of good discussion in the comments too! I often find myself going back to revisit old posts she's made, but apologies if you're already familiar with her! >>

    Two posts of note :

  4. Thanks so much for the links! I've seen Cognitive Buyer's blog linked before and clicked through, but I hadn't taken the time to read closely, and I haven't seen the posts that you linked before.

  5. I think it's smart you can see ahead and attempt to control the spending. I had a similar shock back in 2011 when I realized I spent nearly 4 grand on shoes, clothes and bags in one year. I could afford it because I had little responsibilities but once we bought a house, it hurt! It's taken 2.5 years to adjust my spending to about $100/month and sometimes I still find it hard to avoid impulse purchases.

  6. Oh gosh, I can't even imagine having to balance spending against something like buying a house! It's very likely that I won't even be able to start saving to buy one for at least five years or so, eep. By then, I'll at least be very accustomed to keeping my spending down to make room for fairly large student loan payments every month (and have a decent quantity of retirement savings so that I feel better about my habits)... Hopefully it won't be too painful for me!

    In terms of impulse purchases, I've found tracking my budget and individual transactions with YNAB to be very helpful. Because I "give every dollar a job" (including some funds that are allocated for impulse buy-friendly categories like restaurants/coffee and shopping each month), I can still have a little bit of fun while being in control of my overall expenditures. I probably sound like a broken record because I recommend the software (more for the approach than the software itself) so often, but it really changed the way I approach spending!


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