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Tip #9: Only buy new things when replacing something old

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This is tip #9 of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge.

Today’s tip is to keep an “Item Budget” in your house — and before you buy something new, you must get rid of something old.


This tip was submitted by Evert from London, UK, who writes:

When buying things like clothes, set a rule for yourself that you can only buy something new, to replace something you already have. For example, from a practical point of view, let’s say you need to have 15 business shirts. Set a ‘budget’ of having 15 shirts, and then when you want to buy one, first throw away (or give to charity) the worst of the other. Can’t make a choice which one to throw out? Guess what: you won’t need a new shirt.

Before buying anything, think ‘how many of those do I need?’and ‘how many do I already have?’, then think again if you really need a new one. The same applies to electronics and all sorts of other stuff (want a Playstation 3? Sell the Wii / blueray player / old laptop / etc. )

Applying the rule will have two benefits: less drawers and closets of stuff you still want to keep but never use, and spending less money because you’re more conscious about what you already have.

Ok, there are 2 things to note about this tip:

First, this is the kind of tip that’s easy to gloss over (“yeah, yeah”) and not do anything about. But I think about this as an active barrier (learn more about barriers) — something you consciously add as a roadblock before you can buy something new. The psychology of having to open up your closet, decide what to give away, and get it to the nearest charity (or garbage can) is enough to stop many of us from buying something new. Plus, it just keeps things neater around the house.

Second, this tip is starting to focus us more on being goal-driven: If you have a goal (“Save $1,000” or “Only have 15 business shirts at any given time”), your decisions become a lot easier. ‘Should I get that shirt? Hmm…let me check my goals. Nope, if I buy that, I can’t save $1,000 this month, so forget about it.’ When you’re not goal oriented, it’s like a neanderthal walking into a crystal shop. Everything is shiny and you’ll buy anything indiscriminately. When you have a simple overarching goal, you have a rubric to measure your decisions against. (You should share this with anyone else in your family so they’re on board, too.)

Personally, I had to buy a new coat last week to go to Chicago. As a result of this tip, I’ve taken out three old shirts from my closet to give away to charity.

Total Saved: From $10 to god knows how much you would have bought otherwise.

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Last thing to do
Leave a comment on this post describing how much you’re saving with this tip and any unusual techniques you use to make this tip work.

If you liked this tip, check out my Premium tips — one long, tactical tip per week. Save money or get a 100% refund.


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  1. I agree, no reason to replace something if it still has life in it. Whether clothes, sneakers, car, computer. Unless you absolutely have to replace something, you shouldn’t. And when the time comes you should prepare yourself buy saving up money beforehand.


  2. I really like this idea. For things that don’t really need to be replaced like clothes it can help you save money.
    I also think it has some value for keeping your home uncluttered, reducing the desire to keep moving into bigger and bigger homes to hold all of your stuff.

  3. I do this with my tech books too. When I need a new tech book, I look at my bookshelf and see which of my old books I no longer need. I sell it on Amazon, or Half Price books. Keeps my bookshelf clean and current. Also helps to have fewer books to pack when moving, too. Oof.

  4. Wow, I am so guilty of this. I could even extend this concept to not buying anything until the thing it’s replacing is used up. For example I buy personal care item, cleaning supplies, food, books, etc. all faster than I consume them. If I see something new and cool I usually end up buying it, you can imagine what my bathroom looks like. This is a great idea and if I can do it will save me loads of money every year, hard to quantify actually.

  5. I like the fact that this tip brings up the psychological aspect again. And it’s more than just playing “mind-tricks” on yourself. It is acknowledging that often our spending isn’t based on real need but on some kind of emotional or psychological pull. Advertisers and retailers sure use that fact. I’m trying to figure out how I can accomplish this tip, while I am actively working on my Christmas shopping. Maybe I’ll use the principle to try to massively de-clutter, and get rid of something of mine each time I purchase something for someone else. If I can get the hang of Craigslist maybe I can get money for my de-cluttering, too. We’ll have to see!

  6. I already use this one and the trick I use to make sure I stick with it is this: I bought 10 nice wood hangers. Although it’s an upfront investment, it’s saved me money over the long haul because when I’m out, and I see a shirt I like, I know there won’t be room in the closet for it when I get home. I could buy the shirt and just stop at the store on my way home and buy more hangers, but that’s enough of a barrier to keep myself from making the purchase lightly.

    Awesome side effect: my closet looks neat and uncluttered and my hangers all match!

  7. For me, this is the hardest tip to utilize. It’s easy to cut back on texting, cell phone internet, and making lunches for myself. If you are a professional and a young one at that, quality clothing such as suits are required to be worn to work every day. I don’t have a large number of suits, and I’m building my wardrobe. I’m not going to buy a new suit and throw out one that I already own at this point in my career. I think this is a good tip, but it might not work for every circumstance.

  8. This is a great tip. Depending on the item, I take it a step further — not just throw something away, but wait until it no longer works.

    I really wanted a new measuring cup for the kitchen, but I already had one that worked great. One of my roommates set down a hot skillet in the sink that melted the measuring cup, and that gave me the green light to purchase a new, much nicer one.

    Sometimes I want to sabotague my items in order to rationalize new purchases. But that’s another story.

    @Steph I think the point of this is moreso if you aren’t willing to throw out old suits then perhaps you don’t need new ones.

  9. When you move into a new place or you’re just starting out, there’s always temptation to throw this trick out the window because you “need” stuff. A good replacement of this tip for that situation is: don’t buy anything unless you have a place for it. If you can’t immediately think of where you’re going to put it and what it will be used for, then you don’t need it right now.

    It also helps keep your place tidy.

  10. I’ve grown comfortable wearing a fewer number of designs at work. I mostly wear blue and white dress shirts, and a couple of checked shirts. This allows me to buy fewer shirts, because I can discretely wear the same shirt twice in a week (assuming it is clean) while also simplifying my fashion by dressing conservatively.

    This may sound like a no-brainer to some and a stupid idea to others, but there was a complex underlying emotion for me. I had felt instinctively compelled not to repeat a shirt or style more than once every 7-10 days. I confronted my discomfort realizing it was meaningless to me and now I cycle through a much simpler selection of clothing. The simple style I have embraced has made it easier not to feel obligated to purchase a new style of dress shirt I may pass by somewhere.

    I will apply the knowledge in this post to other items that are easy to purchase but many are often not needed such as:eyeglasses, sunglasses, work shoes, televisions.