Why I'm budgeting for clothing every month (and avoiding sporadic shopping sprees)

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April 15, 2018

When I began this Financial Peace journey back in 2014, I cut all spending down to the necessities only. Not these necessities -- eating out, gifts for friends, or drinks at bars. But these necessities -- groceries, gas, rent, bills.

I was so energized to start getting my debt paid down that I didn't mind keeping spending slim for a while. Besides - I'd racked up a $1,600 balance on my Ann Taylor Loft credit card so I clearly didn't need to be buying any more clothing. (And ya -- I wore those clothes for yyeeaarrss.) 

I kept the budget slim and trim and focused on building my emergency fund and once that was done, throwing extra money at my. I did this necessity spending for months, maybe even close to a year. I had everything under control (so I thought) until...

I cracked. 

I used a credit card I was paying down and bought $200 worth of clothing. 

Not my finest moment.

I had withheld shopping from myself for too long and it caught up with me. It was a bit embarrassing and a little shameful, but actually pretty understandable. I brushed myself off (read: returned some stuff) and took note of the lesson I'd learned: I needed to do a better job of building in small treats to my budget so I wouldn't lose my ever-loving mind.

So I vowed to do a better job of this and upped my "free spending" budget line item a bit. That was a good first move but I ended up finding that I rarely spent that money on actual clothing, and instead eating out with friends and the like. When I realized I hadn't bought clothing in a while, I decided to start saving up money from side hustles and that when I'd saved up $200 or so I'd go shopping! Seems like a great idea, right?

Seems like it. I've done this a few times over the course of 3.5 years, and instead of looking back on those times fondly, they kind of stress me out.

Since it was so infrequent that I had this amount of money to spend on myself, it was almost overwhelming walking into a store to make selections. And since it was so infrequent that I had this amount of money to spend, I was also really eager to spend it. This resulted in, more than once, buying pieces of clothing that I end up not really loving.

The endorphins that came from having money to spend distracted me from buying pieces I actually wanted. I'd wear these pieces a few times, still blinded by their newness, but down the road I'd realize that, as Marie Kondo would say, they just weren't bringing me joy.

So now, after flirting with this clothing debacle for the last several years, I've got a budget line item for clothing every single month. When I first started budgeting monthly for clothes I started small. $10, $15, or $25. If I wasn't ready to spend it, I'd pull that money out and stuff it in an envelope until I was ready.

These days I've been able to make a line item that is more like $50 or $100 work, but no matter the amount, I've learned that this way of spending money on clothing has made me enjoy the experience more. There is no guilt associated with spending this money because that is what I've designated it for. It's also made me much more intentional about what I'm buying. Instead of just blowing 200 saved dollars because I don't get the chance to do it very often, I allow myself to buy something every month and really put thought into what it is that I need and want. 

A common misconception about budgets is that they restrict your spending. I would argue, however, that they allow you to spend more freely without guilt or worry. Within boundaries we find freedom and that applies to money as well. 

What fun line item do you have in your budget that allows you to spend without guilt?