When You Should Save and When You Should Splurge

When To Splurge and When to Save

Everywhere I turn nowadays, there’s this overwhelming sentiment: you should spend more money on clothes.

“Cheap clothes are actually too expensive.”
“Buy fewer, but better.”
“Quality clothes are an investment.”

Lucky for me, am I ever in the mood to spend. Spring has finally decided to show its face: the magnolias are blooming, the winter parkas are getting packed away, and I’ve got the shopping itch. If you’re on my newsletter you know I just went on a little shopping spree myself.

So since I can’t be the only one who’s in a shopping mood, today I’m talking about the merits of spending money on clothes. If you can afford to, you have every right to spend money however you want. But sometimes you want to put your money where you’re going to get the most mileage. You don’t want to feel like you’re wasting it, right? Like, was spending $300 on that dress last summer really a wise idea? When it comes to money and clothes, it’s hard not to wonder:

Is buying expensive clothes worth it?

And most importantly, how do you decide?

Here is a guide to what you can expect when you buy more expensive clothes, factors to use when deciding if spending more is worth it, and how I personally save and splurge.

The Differences Between Expensive Clothes and Cheaper Ones

I don’t buy expensive things just because they’re expensive, but for the overall qualities that expensive items tend to have. It doesn’t mean cheaper clothes have none of these qualities; they’ll just have fewer of them. Here’s what I expect when I spend a little more:

Creative Design

Ideas. They cost money. I experienced this first hand when I was planning the flowers for my wedding. I wanted arrangements that felt fresh and exciting, and after talking to 17 florists I quickly realized that there was no way I was gonna get that for under $2,000.

I value creativity and innovation, and in higher-end clothes I expect to see ideas I don’t encounter every day. Ideas can be things like new silhouettes or fits, interesting ways of mixing colors or textures, or even a unique point of view on what “sexy” looks like.

Or how about when a designer creates their own prints? Watch this video on how Dries Van Noten made the marble prints for his men’s fall 2018 collection:


And the end result:

Dries Van Noten Men's AW 2018
Credit: Tommy Ton

One reason people buy Dries Van Noten is because he’s a master at prints you won’t find anywhere else.

Fabrics That Are Durable and Feel Nice

Fabric is the main component of garment, so the cost of raw materials alone can add up fast. You’ll almost never come across a cashmere sweater or leather bag that costs less than $100, because the materials themselves are relatively expensive.

Better Fit

In more expensive items, there’s more attention paid to the pattern making, which makes the garment fit better. Sometimes to get the best fit, you need to add darts for shaping or cut and sew more pieces together.

Detail, Detail, Detail

This is the quality that most visibly separates cheap products from higher-end ones. All you have to do is look at the details or lack thereof. In expensive clothes, you’ll also see nicer finishings like substantial hardware on bags, metal Riri zippers that run smooth as butter (yes, there are such things as high-end zippers), and buttons that aren’t plastic or lightweight.

Point of View/Brand Reputation

I’ll splurge on items from designers that have a strong point of view that I identify with. Not only am I paying for the product itself, when I’m deciding to pay a premium, I’m also buying into the designer’s world. Then I buy from the same brands over and over again, because I’ve come to trust them over others.

How to Decide to Save or Splurge

Most people don’t have unlimited budgets, so splurging on everything and keeping your bank account happy isn’t realistic. But how do you pick and choose? And even if you could afford to, is paying top dollar for everything always the best value?

Here are three factors that help me decide whether I should save or splurge:

1. Frequency of Use // How often will I wear this?

The more I think I’ll wear a certain item, the less price-sensitive I am. The items I wear into the ground are my staples, and every time I wear my staples, I’m maximizing my money. Conversely, spending $200 on a dress I’m wearing, and getting value from, only once per year isn’t worth my money. The less frequently I plan on wearing something, the more likely I’ll skimp on it.

2. Utility // Does this need to perform?

Some articles of clothes do more than just cover you up. They serve a specific function. Think:

  • Hiking boots prevent you from breaking your ankle or your face.
  • Winter jackets keep you warm.
  • Bras with underwire support you.
  • Exercise clothes wick sweat.

If I need to buy something that needs to perform, I’m willing to splurge. In general, with performance items, I’m paying for technology and research and development.

3. The Unicorn // Does this meet my excruciatingly long list of requirements?

Sometimes no factor matters more than this one:
You know that item you dreamed up in your head and aren’t sure exists? Three years go by. But then one day you’re walking down the street and there it is, in a shop window.

It’s The Unicorn. The thing you’ve always wanted, but could never find quite the right option. Until now.

If I find an item that meets all my requirements and I literally haven’t found any other options, then I’m willing to splurge for scarcity reasons. I don’t know if another unicorn is ever going to appear again!

Why You Shouldn’t Splurge

This is a money blog, and from that lens, I can’t make a blanket statement that everyone should splurge on clothes. Two reasons why you might want to skimp instead:

1. You don’t have a defined style yet.

How I dressed in my early 20s is different from how I dress now. Back then, I hadn’t refined yet my style. If I had read one of those “Top ten wardrobe staples” articles and splurged on something from the list, like a pair of ballet flats, that would have been a waste of money. I don’t work at place where I have a dress code, and I wear sneakers almost every day. If you’re a total tomboy, deciding to buy a dainty Chanel bag because it’s an “investment” and “classic” is super tempting, but not always the best use of your money if the bag doesn’t go with any of your outfits. If you’re unsure about your personal style, check out this post where I talked about how to get a wardrobe you love.

Likewise, a good leather jacket is hard to make on the cheap: you need nicer leather, the fit needs to be on point, and the details definitely matter. But what’s the point if you’re just not a leather jacket person?

2. You think higher prices automatically = higher quality.

Not all expensive clothes are built to be durable. There are plenty of poorly made, expensive things, so if you conflate price with quality, then you’re going to be in for disappointment. Buying more expensive clothes comes with a little baggage; you’re going to have to be willing to take care of them. Think of it like a long-term relationship.

Real-Life Examples of How I Chose

Like most people, my savings goals are important, so splurging on everything isn’t practical. It’s also perfectly OK to skimp on every single item, but if you have the means for options, and you want some structure, here’s how I’d go about it.

Item: Comme des Garcons wallet
Spent: $210
Deciding Factors: Frequency of Use, Utility

A wallet is something I could have gone either way on, but I decided to splurge. I use my wallet every single day, and I’ve had the same one for eight years. But the deciding factor was the design and utility. How many times have you bought a wallet and there was no place to put your loose change? Too many times. This one had an origami-like snap pocket specifically to house your change. I’ve never seen a design like that before, and it’s so dang useful, I’ve dubbed it the perfect wallet.

Comme des Garcons Leather Wallet

Item: Dress to wear as a wedding guest
Spent: $65
Factors: Frequency of Use
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a dress person. Considering I wear dresses once or twice per year, and go to weddings infrequently, this one was easy to say ‘save.’ Sure you could splurge on a classic dress to wear to every wedding, but most people will want to change up their look. Go cheap so you can get a variety of looks without overspending.

Richard Chai floral dress

Same deal for my actual wedding dress. Wearing it just one time? SAVE. Of course, this isn’t a simple decision for everyone, but for me, it made so much sense. I knew I could find a design I liked that was also inexpensive.

Item: Silk tropical shirt
Spent: $20
Factors: Frequency of Use
I really wanted this Ganni tropical shirt, but $295 on a trend? I estimated I’d probably wear this about 20 times before getting tired of it, so this was a SAVE. I still wanted a 100% silk shirt, so I found a vintage-y one on eBay for about $20.

Silk tropical shirt

Item: Tracksmith wool merino tank top
Spent: $58
Factors: Utility, The Unicorn

I like my exercise shirts to fit loosely, but 99% of them are fitted. So when I found one that not only was flattering and had a relaxed fit, I SPLURGED. I’m also odd and prefer natural materials over polyester and spandex for workout clothes. Wick sweat? Whatever, I’d rather feel comfortable. I tried wearing a $15 Old Navy polyester top for running once, and I hated how it felt on. Now that I’ve found my perfect running tops, I don’t plan on buying any more exercise tops for a long time to come.

Tracksmith Harrier Tank Top

The Ultimate List of What to Splurge and Save On, and Why

So this post didn’t get out of hand, I made a PDF of 25+ categories I’d save or splurge on, and why. From casual jackets to swimwear, want to see what I’d recommend? I think you’d be surprised by my assessment for suits to wear to interviews.

Download the guide, for free.

More About How to Shop Well

You might get sticker shock when you see the prices of higher-end items, but do you really have to pay retail? In many cases, you don’t. Read how to get designer items for less.

Everyone loves to talk about quality, but no one ever defines it. What’s quality, and how do you spot it when you’re out and about?

Is keeping up with the Joneses the only reason to spend more on clothes? For some of us, there’s more to it than just status symbols.

What about you? Where do you save and where do you splurge? 

Image: The Luxe Strategist

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