Trim the Fat Tuesday: The Consignment Shop

Most of my previous Trim the Fat Tuesday posts have involved finding savings in easy spots. Cleaning up some waste here, making a more environmentally conscious choice there, trimming an almost negligible smidge from something way over there. So far they have been pretty painless.

But now we're one quarter of the way through 2014, and it's time to dig a little deeper. Let's start talking needs vs. wants.

One category that highlights this dichotomy in a major way for me is the clothing category. For our growing kids, spending on clothing is mostly a need (especially their outdoor gear, since they walk to school every day, even in the dead of winter). For the adults, clothing is often just a want, since we have a collection of clothes that fit well and are reasonably fashionable. The line gets blurred when we start talking about speciality items like running shoes or garden boots: They feel like needs, but are we just fooling ourselves into splurges on our hobbies?

Answering these questions can be a bit like aiming at a moving target, but I still think I can commit to some cuts to the annual clothing budget, especially by

Buying AND selling clothing at local consignment shops.

In Newburyport we are really lucky to have a thriving consignment shop culture. There are over a half dozen in our small town, and each one fills a little niche (kids, mens, designer, vintage, etc.). These resale shops are pleasant and have really good quality stuff, and their boutique size makes finding things you like easy. I was never a big fan of slogging through rack after rack each at a giant place like Goodwill in hopes of finding one great thing, so these small, independent shops have really opened up the world of consignment shopping for me.

Since, if I'm being honest with myself, I don't really need any new clothes this year (the single foreseeable exception being new gloves in the fall, since mine are coming part at the fingertips, finally done in by this excruciating winter), I can commit to shopping exclusively at these local consignment shops this year. That way I can enjoy the occasional new (to me) item for a special occasion, but can also keep the costs of that splurge way down.

We also have a kids consignment store in town, and I plan to try that first for the kids' summer clothes and school clothes in the fall. I'm not sure that we will be able to fill every need there, but making it the first stop could save us some cash. I should also mention that we have been benefitting for years from the hand-me-downs of friends (it helps to have kids that are small for their age!), so I haven't had to spend much on brand new items for the kids over the years.

Anyway, with these shopping plans in place, I am decreeing a $200 per person clothing budget for the year. That's $800 on clothes for the year, which is $67 a month. This is down from last year's budget of $85 a month, so that's a monthly savings of $18.

Another way to make sure that we stick to this budget is to take advantage of our local consignment stores from the other end by selling our used clothes there. I started consigning this winter at Modern Millie, my favorite store in Newburyport. (They have really fantastic vintage stuff, which I love! Most of my small splurge shopping will take place here.)

I took a small pile of stuff I don't wear anymore to Modern Millie at the beginning of January (mostly dresses that were worn once or twice for special occasions — anyone recognize my senior prom dress? It's featured in their store window in the photo below as well!). By the beginning of March I had a check for $53.08, which is my 40 percent of the selling price. I also took back one skirt that didn't sell, and after not seeing it in my closet for a couple months, it felt like a nice bonus that I decided to keep after all. Now it's new to me again (and I'm sure there's much to be gleaned about closet management from that psychological trickery as well).

This is a big benefit of Modern Millie, by the way — unlike many other consignment shops, you can get your items back if they don't sell. It seems like most places have contracts that state that they own the item after the consignment period ends, and will donate them to charity if they don't sell. But if they do that, you don't get the benefit of the tax deduction, and that's still a bit of savings that's better than nothing. So do your research about there policies before you sign up with a store — it's better to get it back in the end, unless you really can't be bothered with making a trip to the Salvation Army and filling out the receipt for your files.

I was so motivated by getting that check in my hand that I took another round of clothes to a different local shop (one that won't give your stuff back, but oh well) for the spring. Not every shop accepts every item, so you can't take it personally, and you can donate whatever you can't sell. The money from those items should be in my hand by the middle of May. I'll probably also take a stab at consigning the kids' outgrown clothes when I have time to sort it over the summer.

The money earned from selling our clothes will take the edge off the cuts to the clothing budget, if we find that we need a little extra. If we stick to the budget as planned, the money from the sales can go directly to our car-payoff plan. Win-win.

Savings Per Month: $18

One-Time Savings: $53


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