I Survived the No New Clothes Challenge for a Year, Here’s What I Learned

How does a self-confessed lover of fashion and shopping survive one year without buying any new clothes? Hear from Dora as she shares the lessons she learned, some tips on running a successful clothes swap, and the surprising amount of money she actually ended up saving.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a modern lady in possession of an income, must be in want of new clothes.

Well, at least that’s what the fast fashion industry wants us to believe.

In January 2020, I decided to put the hypothesis to the test. Could I, lover of new things and fun clothes, survive not buying anything new for a year? Just how intimidating would this challenge be – as indomitable as Mr Darcy is when Lizzie first meets him, or more like the gentleman she bumps into at Pemberley, sweet and conquerable? Let’s find out.

It all started when my podcaster-author friend Frances Cook issued a No New Clothes challenge on Instagram: who was keen to join her for a year of buying only secondhand clothes?

I paused mid-scroll when I saw her post. I’d been toying with the idea myself and had even made a list of pros and cons, which went something like this:

Why a year with no new clothes is a Good Thing

  • Consuming less fast fashion is better for the environment
  • Reducing my clothing budget means I get to save more
  • Buying secondhand stuff from Op Shops (thrift stores, for our non-Australasian friends) helps support local charities – everybody wins!
  • I’m a bargain hunter and, let’s face it, I’d love the dopamine hit of a cool find

But yet… we wants it! We needs it! We must have our precious new clothes

  • Browsing in Cotton On, H&M, heck, even Kmart, is a form of stress relief for me
  • I get bored with my wardrobe and love trying new things
  • I’m Singaporean Chinese and traditionally, new clothes for Chinese New Year are a must have for good luck. If I broke tradition in 2020, what would happen? (Reader: she did indeed tempt fate but one cannot simply pin the turmoil of 2020 on the shoulders of a lone female who eschewed new clothing – let’s not go there, shall we?)

So, after a raging internal monologue, I swatted away my inner Gollum, embraced Smeagol, and decided to go all in.

That’s it, no new clothes in 2020

My goal was to only buy secondhand clothing for myself in 2020. What’s more, in a fit of deranged optimism, I committed to a stretch goal of achieving a net neutral clothing budget, by selling existing clothing to fund my purchases. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t achieve the latter goal, read on to see how close I got!)

A full 12 months later, I’m reflecting on the year that was.

I look back at pre-pandemic me on the first day of the challenge, dressed in my thrift store finds – a $10 H&M dress and $8 new slides. And I want to give my peppy reflection a giant reassuring hug for the trippy year ahead. You got this, I want to say. And you’re going to learn so much in the process.

A picture of Dora in her thrifted outfit - a $10 H&M dress and $8 new slides

I saved $1,153 by not buying new clothes for a year!

That was by far my biggest learning point – that consciously choosing to buy secondhand or going without saved me $1,153 in 2020!

Here’s how I arrived at that magical number:

  • I categorized every clothing purchase I made in PocketSmith. This included accessories, bags and shoes.
  • I used labels in PocketSmith to keep track of all 2020 Clothing Challenge transactions, including expenses, as well as income I received for any clothing I sold. These appeared as “refunds” in my Clothing category.
  • So you’ll see that my net clothing spend in 2020 was $263.74 ($385.22 expenses, take away income from clothing sold of $121.48) – pretty darn happy with that outcome.
  • Then I used a Custom Dashboard to compare my 2020 clothing spend with 2019!

A screenshot of a custom dashboard in PocketSmith comparing 2020 clothing spend with 2019

Bargain finds are the best finds

The No New Clothes Challenge didn’t just impart financial lessons. I learned a lot about myself in the process. For instance, this experience validated that the joy of clothes for me is in the hunt rather than the eventual prize.

I discovered all sorts of treasure troves for bargain hunters, my favourite being the humble New Zealand school fair. Most schools hold an annual fair to fundraise for the year ahead, and these usually have a well-stocked clothing stall. At my kids’ school, every item of clothing went for $2 each! I spent $10 and got two merino jumpers, a pair of denim overalls, and two tops.

That said, the highlight finds for me this year were from my local SPCA thrift store: a Superdry long-sleeved top and a Zaket & Plover cashmere jersey I found for $15 each!

Make clothing swaps part of the new normal

A friend invited me to a clothes swap at the start of the year. It was basically the best way to spend a morning – fun and fiscally fashionable. Each guest brought some clothing, accessories and snacks to share. We laid out the things we brought in neat piles, and went round the room picking out stuff to try on.

It was pretty amazing arriving with previously loved items that I’d gotten tired of, and leaving with a refreshed wardrobe, at absolutely no cost at all.

Some tips for a successful clothing swap:

  • Invite a good mix of people. Think in terms of sizes, so everyone invited should have the ability to swap with at least another attendee. This will lower the risk of people feeling excluded.
  • Set some rules, like the minimum number of pieces each guest should bring.
  • When everyone arrives, group the items they’ve brought by type to make it easier to browse.
  • Consider holding an accessories-only swap, for stuff like shoes, bags, belts, jewelry, scarves, and hats! It’s easier to cater to a wide range of guests of different shapes and sizes that way.

Mindful spending became more than a buzzword

By categorizing and labelling each clothing purchase I made, I became more mindful about what I was choosing to buy and why. Tracking income from clothing sold as a refund in my clothing budget was also highly motivating!

Sadly, it also helped that with a pandemic ranging around me, there weren’t exactly a ton of events to go to.

It did make me resolve to hire an outfit the next time I attend a special event. Why spend upwards of $200 on a big ticket item I might only wear once, when I can rent a designer dress for a quarter of the price?

There are always exceptions to the rule

I had to buy a pair of new shoes in February. There’s a story behind that though. I was on my way to a work event and the pair of Melissa jelly flats I was wearing broke, split right down the middle. It was pure serendipity that I was near the mall when it happened. So $55.99 and a pair of random flats later, I went on my merry way again.

I also bought two bags for myself this year – both crossbody, one leather and the other waterproof. For no other reason than I’d budgeted for them, and they made me happy!

I’m part of a larger budgetary ecosystem

While I personally saved $1,153 by taking part in the No New Clothes Challenge, alas, I belong to a household alongside my (frugal) husband and two growing sons, the elder of whom has taken up cricket. This means we needed to get all sorts of paraphernalia in 2020, including pads, gloves, trousers and a giant bag to fit all his equipment in!

So all up, according to my trusty PocketSmith income and expense statement, my family spent $605 less on clothing in 2020 than 2019. I’m pretty glad that my efforts played a part in that!

But as I sit here on the last day of 2020 writing this, I’m reminded that life’s so much more than a ledger. I love that I saved a bunch of money by not buying new clothes, but equally, I’ll happily fund my son’s cricket habit as I see how much joy it brings him.

Just don’t make me watch a full game, I’ve got Op Shops to go to!

Dora is Head of Marketing here at PocketSmith. She’s the mum of two boys, and calls both Singapore and New Zealand home. She’s obsessed with succulents, sci-fi and bubble tea, and is waiting for the day a novel will combine all three. Maybe she should just write it herself.

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