Re-evaluating your clothing budget

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I track my expenses. In fact, I do so religiously. It does not necessarily mean that I curb them (as long as they stay within the limits I defined). But I like to have an idea of how much money I spend on different lifestyle categories. A quick reminder: according to the 50-30-20 rule, you can allocate up to 30% of your net income to lifestyle items (including clothes).


While I am mostly frugal when it comes to my accommodation (I have shared flats or partially lived at my mother’s house), I am not when it comes to clothes. This is how much I spent on average per month in the last six years: EUR 182 (2013), EUR 271 (2014), EUR 203 (2015), EUR 314 (2016), EUR 122 (2017), EUR 329 (2018). Put differently: I invested a little less than EUR 20.000 in six years in clothes (to be precise, EUR 17,078.81). Or EUR 2846 per year. I researched the average clothing budget of G7 countries (G7: the world’s most industrialized countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom). According to Statista, per capita spending on apparel is highest in Australia (USD 1,050 per year on average - Australia is not a G7 country), followed by Canada and Japan (USD 831 and 814 on average) and the EU 27 countries with USD 663 per capita.

My annual clothing expenses are nearly 4.5 higher than that of the average EU 27 citizen!


One could argue that I have to spend this much money on clothes as I work in management consulting / banking and need to wear chic and professional looking attire. But that is only partially true, as the dress code for women has gotten more relaxed (you can get away with wearing a nice dress with a blazer). I tend to buy my work dresses on Ebay UK, as my favorite brand for professional clothes happens to be British (Hobbs’ NW3 line). Their dresses average GBP 40-60 when purchased used. Also, once you have invested in 2-3 classic suits, you are good to go and only need to buy a couple of new tops per year to mix and match. So no – that’s not a reason. I simply have a big clothing budget. Of course you could relativize that in comparison to some Instagram fashionistas who showcase Céline bags worth several thousands Euros, my clothing expenses are relatively harmless. You could argue that.

Here is what the experts say: You should not allocate more than 5% of your monthly net income towards clothes.



I got inspired to write this article as I recently went shopping at a Goodwill store in Northern California with my friend Lesley. This was a first for me (in a long time at least): while the equivalent of Goodwill stores exist in Germany, I am not allowed to shop there. Also, I haven’t been to a second hand store in a long time (unless you count my online Ebay UK dress shopping as that). Going to this particular Goodwill store was quite a revelation. Some of the Nike running tops they had looked hardly used to me! As I have an interest in fashion and the huge machinery that backs the (fast) fashion industry, I am aware of how much waste is produced by the apparel industry.

According to the American Ellen Mac Arthur foundation, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned EVERY SECOND (2017).

By 2030, we will consume 102 million tons of apparel (an increase of 63% over 2017 consumption levels). Let’s not even talk about the carbon footprint fashion produces.

By 2050, the global-fashion industry will account for a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget (also according to the Ellen Mac Arthur foundation).



Knowing the statistics is one thing. Seeing all these used clothes in one place was another. My American friend Lesley loves going to the Goodwill. She recently wore a cute denim jacket by Ann Taylor Loft (an American brand). It looked like new and she had gotten it for USD 5 at a Goodwill store. Inspired by this – and also, because I was lacking an outfit for an upcoming business school networking event – I went on a “shopping spree”. The objective: get a pink dress for an upcoming international women’s day event (dress code: pink). This is what I got: a cute, new looking pink dress, which cost me USD 7. A matching pink belt for a whopping USD 2.55. And ballerinas for USD 5.35. I will combine this with a navy suit jacket and be all set. In total, my new outfit cost me USD 14.90. And it looks good!

I am not the type of blogger to advice women to spend less money on clothes. I think fashion is fun and if you earn a good salary and stay within the confines of your lifestyle budget, why not spoil yourself a bit? I love Chanel nailpolish and lipstick and would not want to not afford these items once in a while. My friends can attest to that.

I do however believe that it is important to be mindful of the implications of buying new clothes on a regular basis - both for your budget and the environment.

Given the environmental damage associated with increased apparel production, and the sheer volume of used clothes that exist, why not do the globe and your clothing budget a favor and think twice before buying something new? There are quite a few good resources for second hand shopping, such as Goodwill stores in the US, or Ebay and Kleiderkreisel in German-speaking countries in Continental Europe.


Shopping at the Goodwill and seeing all those used clothes put me in a pensive mood. I read a book by Austrian author Nunu Kaller in 2017 -  the German title “Ich kauf nix! Wie ich durch Shopping Diät glücklich wurde” can be roughly translated as “I am not buying anything. How I became happy thanks to a shopping diet”. The author took a honest look at the sheer amount of clothes she owned and did not allocate any money on clothes for one year – only to discover that she was fine doing so. I wondered whether I could do this – the answer is no. But buying less and more second hand? Yes – that’s definitely an option.


Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation: “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning fashion’s future” (2017), Statista and WWD: “List: Who Spends the Most on Apparel?” by Arthur Zacczkiewicz (2015), and various sources such as

Written by Caroline-Lucie Ulbrich
Finelles Founder. Coach and organizational consultant (ECB, Deutsche Bank and UBS). 



(3 min read)