Did you know that April is Financial Literacy Month?  There are some of these symbolic months and days that we celebrate, like National Handwriting Day on January 23rd, May’s Water a Flower Day on the 30th, or National Play-Doh Day on September 16th that can get a little absurd, which you can actually celebrate on Absurdity Day on November 20th.  However,  April’s financial literacy month?  I would have totally benefitted more from a financial literacy class in high school than taking geometry.

Considering I’m dyscalculic (the numbers version of dyslexia) and my current retirement plan is throwing myself in front of a bus the day I retire because I’ve not nearly socked as I would have liked to by now, I’m the last person that should be giving tips on financial literacy. However, there is such a thing as being financially literate and making smart financial choices when it comes to your closet and what you put inside of it.  In honor of Financial Literacy Month, I am offering you some tips on how to build your wardrobe with smart financial choices.

ASSESS USE VALUE 

We all know the concept of cost per wear and have probably used it at least once to justify some purchases.  If you can rationalize dropping serious cash on clothing or an accessory and see that you will get use from it, it’s easier to hand over the money.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept of cost-per-wear, it basically means taking the amount of money an item costs and then dividing it by the number of times you wear it or estimate you will.  

Case in point, my client, Ms. Astounding, purchased an ivory moto-style boucle jacket from Akris Punto a few years ago.  I don’t remember the exact price, but I believe the price was around $1,400.  It was a steep purchase and definitely on the higher end of what she normally spends.  Ms. Astounding and I have been working together for the past three years and that jacket has made the cut on every trip she has taken.  Ms. Astounding wears the jacket casually with jeans, as well as to work with dresses and tailored pants.  There hasn’t been one occasion where this jacket hasn’t been thrown into the mix.  Now let’s say she has worn this jacket 100 times since purchasing it, which is a number that is probably conservative, and the jacket costs $1,400.  This jacket’s cost-per-wear is only $14. 

Understandably, not everyone has $1,400 lying around to spend on a jacket even if the jacket would at some point pay for itself.  Fair point.  Yet, you have to take the cost-per-wear a step further.  It’s not so much about the original price tag as it is about the value that the item offers.  Let’s take another scenario.  Mary, a fan of bargains, is out shopping.  She finds a sweater that she likes but isn’t sure about until she sees that it has been marked down from $250 marked down to $49.  That’s all it takes because Mary just can’t pass up a deal and the appeal of the sweater just skyrocketed due to how little she was getting it for.  Mary is drawn in by what clearly looks like a bargain.  She buys the sweater and, sadly, it winds up sitting in a drawer.  She tried wearing it once and quickly realized that it really wasn’t as flattering as she thought it was.  Mary never wears the sweater again and eventually donates it.  The cost-per-wear of Mary’s sweater is $24.50 which is more expensive than Ms. Astounding’s $14 jacket.

I like to refer to this as use value.  Use value is the value of use you get from something regardless of the price.  Use value has nothing to do with money or how much something costs.  I read an example of use value as something like this: if someone were to take a painting worth tens of thousands of dollars to a closed indigenous tribe in Africa in exchange for some game they hunted worth $1,000 the indigenous tribe is surely getting a deal, right?  After all, tens of thousands of dollars in return for the game they hunted that is only valued at around a thousand bucks?   However, is it really?  Regardless of the price of the painting, there is no value provided to the tribe because what use will they get from the expensive painting?  In their world, they have little need for a painting like this.  On the other hand, if someone sells this tribe a $500 hunting rifle in exchange for that same amount of game, value has been provided because the tribe can actually use the hunting rifle to more effectively secure more game and make more money.  Essentially, price is inconsequential if there is also no use value.  A $1,400 jacket or a $39.99 top, if someone gets value from the purchase, it is worth it.  Forget about the price tag, instead look at use value.  

TIME IS MONEY 

Every Friday, a lovely woman comes to my apartment to clean it, on Wednesdays, I drop my laundry off to be washed by someone else, and on Saturdays, someone from Instacart drops off my groceries.  I do these things not because I am wealthy but because time is money.  Sure, I could take the time to clean my apartment or to do my laundry, but when I calculate the time involved in doing these things, time that would eat into the time I could use making money, no question outsourcing these things makes smart financial sense.  

You don’t have to be a business owner to know that time is a valuable commodity and the time it takes to do things could be better spent doing something more productive.  I think about this when I consider getting rid of things from my closet.  I’m all for getting money or credit back for items in my closet that have gone by the wayside, but what I also know is there is no way I am going to use that time selling things on sites where I have to do any work.  I’m a huge fan of buying on Poshmark but it’s the last place I go to when I want to get rid of things because that time could be spent making a heck of a lot more money than I would ever make on a Poshmark sale.

Of course, if this route is your preference and you enjoy the time spent doing it, I support it.  This isn’t a right or wrong scenario, but if you are someone who is trying to carve out time to manage the reselling of your clothing only to get frustrated by the process, consider cutting your losses and using places that make the process easier.  Consider a ThredUp where all you have to do is toss some things in a bag and send it away, a site like The RealReal that may take a larger cut of the profits but will also handle the reselling from end to end.   If clothing items don’t have much value, you can still make money back using a site like For Days. What is the saying, penny wise and pound foolish?  It may seem like you are making more money managing your sales, but in the end, did you lose money by taking the focus away from more productive things?

TAKE A MACRO APPROACH TO YOUR WARDROBE

I was talking with a client last week who told me about a shopping excursion with her friend.  After nearly three years of being my client, her perspective on shopping has seriously warped for the better.  She changed to looking at what she puts in her wardrobe more comprehensively, or, as I like to call it, a macro view.  She told me she was shocked by how her friend just bought things she liked without really thinking through the purpose the items would serve or how exactly those pieces would work into her wardrobe.  It made me chuckle, and I said to her, “Your friend shops the way the majority of women shop, you’ve just become sensitized to it because of the way you think and shop now.”

I referenced this post I wrote years ago about shopping with a wardrobe mentality where I say, Imagine you were buying appliances, pots, pans, and utensils for your new kitchen. You would go in and think clearly about your needs before you go to the store. You wouldn’t go in and buy 14 skillets, 16 blenders, no saucepans, 40 spatulas, and two spoons, for example. You would go in with a clear sense of what you need to make your kitchen complete; there would be a plan and you’d make sensible choices based on your cooking needs.  You might even think about the overall theme of your kitchen before heading out to the store.  Yet rarely does this level of thought go into it when women shop for clothing, and, worst, they then can’t understand why their wardrobe doesn’t work.  Did you decorate your living room scattershot or did you think about the bigger picture?  Do you throw things into a cart at the party store when planning an event, or do you think ahead?  Yet you’re surprised when things don’t automatically come together when you randomly buy things for your wardrobe without thinking it through.

I bring this up because this is a matter of being financially smart and fiscally responsible with your wardrobe.   Do you think Ms. Astounding purchased that Akris Punto jacket on a whim?  The only way she was going to get value from it was if she made sure it had sense being there and that she didn’t already own something that provided the same value.

This is why even though it costs money to work with me, my clients tell me they wound up saving money in the end because their wardrobes became more purposeful as a result.  It goes back to the last point about outsourcing, in the end, it saves me money to pay for someone to lift the burden and I do the same with my clients, I lift the burden that often causes costly mistakes and an unworkable wardrobe.

You can’t throw clothing in your closet willy-nilly and expect it to magically come together.  You have to take a step back and see what’s not working and strategically work in what does. This is why we create virtual wardrobe boards with all our clients that offer a macro view at all times of exactly what is in their closets.  At any moment, I can scan what a client owns and pinpoint where things may be off and what is missing.

DIVERSIFY YOUR PORTFOLIO

The term I coined many years ago called Splitting Your Wears took hold and is now used not only by clients but readers of this blog.  We even turned the saying into a coaster and a mug due to its popularity.  Splitting Your Wears means when you have too much of the same thing playing one role in your wardrobe. As a result, the need for that item is spread over multiple pieces which reduces the number of wears you’ll get from each piece.  It’s basically a situation of over-saturation of the same thing.  I have talked about times when splitting your wears is okay, which you can read here but for the most part, too much of the same thing is something to look out for because it’s such a financial drain.  

If you put too much money towards owning too much duplication, you spend money that could be used to create a more diversified wardrobe.  In the end, when you split your wears, what happens is you have too much that does too little.  It may appear like you have a lot but in reality, you don’t, not to mention the fact that putting too much of your wardrobe budget towards duplication is a total money waste.

MAKE SOUND INVESTMENTS

Another Stylish Bridgetteism, like Splitting Your Wears, is Wishful Wardrobing.  Yes, we have a mug and a coaster for this too.  Wishful Wardrobing is a term I use to describe when a person buys clothes for the life they wish they had, not the one they do.  It’s way too easy to get taken in by something fabulous, but if you can’t realistically figure out where you will wear it, you’re Wishful Wardrobing. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I’m not saying everything has to be worn regularly to not be considered Wishful Wardrobing. For example, I have shoes in my closet that rarely get taken out. These are shoes I will wear to events or on special occasions. I also have a cape ready to go for when I need a dressy layering piece. While these items don’t get the same amount of use as my M.Gemi driving loafers, my Birkenstock Gizehs, my favorite jeans, or the J.Crew tees I live in, I am glad I have them. My rule of thumb is that these infrequently worn items be universal enough that no matter what I decide to wear, these pieces will work. The pairs I have for dressy are a pair of heeled Lora Piana sandals in a mushroom- taupe, and a beige pair of pumps. With colors so easy to wear with just about everything, even if I don’t break them out often when I need shoes like this they work.

Avoiding Wishful Wardrobing means shopping for clothing that supports your lifestyle and tempering the volume of an area of need based on how often you participate in that part of your life.

BE BULLISH WITH YOUR STYLE

As the saying goes, dress for the job you want, not the job you have. While this saying may immediately contradict my previous point about Wishful Wardrobing, it doesn’t. Dressing for the job you want isn’t about buying clothes you don’t need but to dress in a way that communicates where you want to go next. The reason this is a sound investment isn’t just about making more money— although that’s a nice perk— but because of how we change when we dress in a way that makes us feel powerful, strong, and confident. When we change, the world changes, and you’re not a human if you haven’t experienced how disempowering it feels to not feel like who you are is expressed through your clothing. I have had initial calls with clients who have told me they basically started living on the sidelines of their lives because they didn’t feel good about the image they projected to the world. Some of these clients told me about how they shied away from opportunities, being more assertive, or going after what they wanted.

People call it dress for success but I’ve always avoided that term because it implies dressing for others to make a good impression. What I believe is more important is that we dress in a way that makes us feel successful which in turn changes how we engage with the world, and, as a result, changes how the world interacts with us. One of the best investments you can make is finding your power through what you wear.