How to Splurge

There’s a right way and a wrong way to spend your hard-earned cash.

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How to splurge the right way -- where to spend and where to save, plus how to calculate cost per wear

Here’s a reader question that warranted its own article. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to budget your clothing dollars, decide what to spend on, and pick which designer pieces to invest in, keep reading!

“How do you splurge!? I’ve been a penny-pincher since birth but I, like many other girls, have cravings for couture… how do you do it?”

The what-to-splurge-on question is something that we all have to worry about. I’ve been asked about this before, and here’s how I calculate my splurges. Contrary to what some people may believe, there are certain times when it’s better to spend more money on an article of clothing than less. Want to know how it works?

Fashion Theory

Let’s start by talking “fashion theory” – the basics of splurging and saving, while building a fabulous wardrobe. Believe it or not, there is a method to buying expensive clothes, in order to maximize style for the price you pay.

When it comes to your wardrobe, you should splurge on classics – basic items that you will wear over and over. It’s better to spend on quality and save on trendy items that you won’t wear all the time. You can build your wardrobe from there.

If you’re going to buy a designer piece, make sure you get a basic, classic item first. Build up your wardrobe and accessory collection from the basics to the crazy stuff. Buy shiny, trendy pieces later when you can afford to have things you won’t wear very often. It’s all about value for your money.

Cost Per Wear

So how can you figure out how much something is actually worth? How can you know the value of a piece of clothing? Easy. It all comes down to cost-per-wear. If you factor in how often you’ll wear a garment, a pair of designer jeans can end up costing you less than a cheap top from Forever 21! Sounds amazing, right?

Here’s the magical formula. Commit it to memory immediately:

Cost Per Wear = $ Cost of Garment / Number of times you’ll wear it

Here’s a look at the formula in action: For example, if you buy a cheap top for $20 and wear it twice before it goes out of style or falls apart, that top cost you $10 per wear. If you buy an amazing pair of J.Brand jeans (let’s say they cost $198) that look perfect on you, and wear them just twice a week for a year, the formula is $198 / 104, and the jeans cost you just $1.90 per wear! See the difference?

The cost-per-wear formula says a lot about what you should and shouldn’t splurge on. According to the formula, items with high cost-per-wear’s, such as prom dresses and other formal stuff that you only wear every-so-often are actually more impractical to splurge on than expensive items that you’ll wear all the time.

Use the cost-per-wear formula every time you aren’t sure if an item is worth its price, and be honest with yourself! It will help you see the real value of everything you buy.

Hint: If you want to get really specific, you can use the app Stylebook to track how often you wear each piece in your wardrobe — it calculates cost per wear for you and is just $3.99. I use this app all the time and I love it.

Shopping mall

What to Splurge On

Now that we have the basics down, here’s a list of what to buy and what to skip when price tags are high! There are some exceptions to these rules, but use them as a general guide.

Here are some items that you SHOULD splurge on:

  • Perfectly fitting jeans! You’ll wear them all the time, and they make such a huge difference in your wardrobe that you’ll want to spend more to get the right cut.
  • The right classic dress that fits you perfectly – plus tailoring if it doesn’t fit just right at first.
  • Classic and comfortable black or nude high heeled pumps in good-quality leather. You’ll wear them to parties, work, and even interviews.
  • A basic bag that will last you forever – you’ll carry it everywhere, and it will affect your entire outfit. Make sure you get a good one that you’ll love for years to come.

Here are some items that you SHOULD NOT splurge on:

  • Trendy pieces that might not be around next season. Those Balenciaga over-the-knee Knife boots (in purple à la Kylie Jenner) may make a statement, but they’ll only be making a statement in your closet once they go out of style in a few months. Plan accordingly.
  • Brightly colored items that aren’t “basic” and that can’t be worn with most of what’s in your closet. These pieces just won’t get worn enough to be worth dropping big bucks on.
  • Clothing that is very ornamented and memorable. You can’t get away with wearing these pieces all the time without people noticing. And you don’t want to be that girl who wears the same sparkly pink dress to every party.

Value & Bargains

Now that you know what to splurge on, you can use this knowledge to change the way you think about bargains.

If you pick up an inexpensive shirt at TJMaxx, for example, but you only wear it twice, it’s not really a bargain in comparison to an expensive but amazing dress that you wear a lot! You need to think about value of your clothes as part of a wardrobe that you’ll have for years.

Of course, if you can find something amazing on sale that you’ll wear over and over… as Carrie Bradshaw would say: well, that’s just fabulous.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2018 with new photos and information.

10 thoughts on “How to Splurge”

  1. Totally answered my question!!!!
    I’m glad I asked!
    I’ll definately take this knowledge with me to college next year.

    THANKS! 🙂

  2. wow this is really helpful!!
    i definitely find it risky when one buys trendy for the now clothes
    but the cost per wear makes so much sense!
    thank you for posting this article

  3. I really like true religion jeans but I mostly buy american eagle jeans because they are cute, cheap, and good quality. I agree with the cost per wear though. I just bought a pair of frye leather riding boots that I think I will get a lot of use of.

  4. wow, this is a much needed and appreciated post! I am incredibly thrifty yet have a closet full of clothes I barely ever wear (quite a paradox haha). It’s so hard for me to make expensive purchases, I feel kind of guilty know especially as a college student who should spend her $100 on books instead of designer denim.

    But it is incredibly true, investing in something that you will actually get use out of and is constructed well is so important. I splurged last summer on a leather jacket in florence, italy and next up is a pair of true religions (my sister has a pair that I borrow wayyy too much)


  5. oh well said!!! i totally spend serious cash on some great pieces, but then i wear them all the time and it’s definitely worth every single penny. i don’t have many cheap items that have actually survived the time test. most have been cheap and only lasted a couple of months at best, and thinking about it now, they weren’t worth it at all.

  6. xogirl – Thanks! Yeah, it seems like a good idea at the time to buy lots of cheap stuff, but it’s not really a value if they fall apart! I’m all for cheap in some cases – basic tank tops and trendy stuff, but for jeans, jackets, bags, and classic dresses, it’s really better to spend more.

    Shasha – I love True Religion’s Joey and Bobby jeans – they are slightly flared at the bottom and that style flatters every figure. I like TR’s stretch denim also – fits like a dream and it’s so comfortable! And about the AE sale, hmm, may have to check that out, thanks!

  7. this is some great info! What are your fave styles of True Religion jeans???

    on a different note, I found the cutest purple wrap dress at American Eagle yesterday marked down from $40 to just $15! I love it and it fits great on my petite body! so, American Eagle is having some great sales right now, I would check it out!

  8. wow i love this article! seriously, i’m always buying all cheap clothing and it really would make a lot more sense to splurge on the basics, all my basics fall apart! haha


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