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

Ramit Sethi

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.


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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.

* * *

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 found this post helpful you’ll probably like my new Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance. This is an excellent place to learn more simple ways to improve your personal finance and money management.

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  1. Craig

    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. Rich

    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. Cathy

    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. Jaclyn

    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. Rhonda

    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. Andy

    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. Steph

    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. Jesse

    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. Al

    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. Andrew

    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.

  11. Beth

    My mother has a rule like this growing up. When we got a new shirt, an old shirt had to go. We never threw things out — they became hand-me-downs, went to charity or became rags if they weren’t good enough to share. It shocks and sickens me that people would throw out perfectly good items simply out of laziness!

  12. PDXGirl

    God I try to get my boyfriend to do this… he is a huge clothing hoarder, way worse than me.

    I’m pretty good about this, although sometimes I do fine holes in my wardrobe, for example at the beginning of summer I realized that I didn’t have enough warm weather work shirts, since my work takes me outside a fair bit I needed professional looking but short sleeved shirts for hot days. I bought a few but I think I have enough now so I could probably assign a “budget” to short sleeve dress shirts.

    Also I sew a small portion of my wardrobe, what I sew has no budget since it’s more “what I feel like making” than “what I need to wear”.

  13. Aya @ Thrive

    I agree. If you go into a store, you are bound to find something you want. If you kept buying something all the time, you’d end up with so much stuff and realize you didn’t need it after it’s too late. If you have this rule and “budget” your stuff, you can manage how you spend better than just declaring you won’t spend money – which is nearly impossible to do. If you declare not to buy a new shirt until you decide there are too many holes in your old shirt, that is an easy rule to follow.

  14. kat

    Haha! Those sneakers look a lot like the ones I’m wearing today. I was just pondering on the way to work (as moisture from the damp leaves underfoot found its way through the multiple cracks in my soles and was cheerfully absorbed by my socks) whether I should buy a new pair just yet, or hold out for a bit longer. But I guess it also helps that I absolutely *loathe* shopping, especially for shoes and clothing items. Something really has to be literally falling apart before I’ll replace it.

    I buy most of my clothing at thrift stores such as Goodwill, so it works out pretty well. As soon as the “Goodwill pile” gets large enough to justify the trip, I throw it into a plastic bag and take it over. Then I can do some shopping after dropping off the donations. It comes with a built-in “clothes budget”, since I’m not going to go without having donations in tow — that would be a wasted trip. 🙂

  15. HollyS

    Wow, I never actually thought of this. I like the commenter that said their mom had a rule that if they bought something new, something else had to go. I have a whole bunch of clothes, but I love clothes and I’ve been wanting some new jackets. So I think next time I get any new item of clothing, any old item of clothing has to go! I’ll either donate it, or eBay it if it’s nice. I have a lot of clothes I never wear anyway, and they just take up tons of room.

  16. Peggy

    With six kids in the house, four of which share a room, this has been our hard-and-fast rule for years. We have no physical room for excess, which has been a real blessing to our budget. The weeks between Christmas and Thanksgiving are used to purge old belongings to the trash or Goodwill in anticipation of a few new goodies each year. We very often give away more than we get back, but that’s okay too!

  17. A. Dawn

    This is what I do to buy new stuff: I setup an annual spending limit on items like clothes, furniture, electronics etc. And try not to go over it. For example, $500 for clothes, $300 for books and so on.
    A Dawn Journal

  18. Bekka

    I do something similar to this, but just for clothes (since they are my weakness when it comes to impulse shopping). I have only a certain amount of hangers, so if I buy something new, I have to get rid of something taking up hanger space so the new can fit in. It totally works, because if there is nothing in my closet I want to get rid of, then I really don’t need something new.

  19. Janet

    Jesse: Why didn’t your roommate replace the measuring cup? You would have saved yourself some money AND had a new one.

    Here’s my clothes strategy. At the beginning of the season, I hang all my clothing to the right. As I wear something, I hang it back up facing to the left. At the end of the season, I take all the clothing that still faces to the right and donate it. This ensures that I am only getting rid of what I really don’t need.

  20. Cindy

    I’ve been doing this for years, with one caveat…I donate A LOT to charity, but I also consign my better wardrobe pieces. It’s a way to “hedge” so to speak for the next wardrobe purchase, whether to replace or if an unexpected purchase arises, like the heel of your best pair of boots breaking off!

  21. Jade Cow

    @Steph: I think the way this tip works is that you decide that you need x# of suits and don’t go over that number. If you have less than x suits now, if you buy one then you do not have to get rid of one.

  22. Kevin from Minneapolis

    I think this is a great tip for another reason: It will help you avoid the high cost of shelving. The biggest surprise for me upon moving into my first home was how much it cost to put up shelving to hold all my crap.

  23. Jennifer

    This is an interesting suggestion, but I’m not sure how it can directly help with the goal to save $1,000. I agree with that last comment on how we shouldn’t discard something we still have a use for.

    However, if I haven’t used something in six months to a year, I tend to wonder if I will ever use it. For instance, I purchased a new mattress recently and sold my rarely used Nintendo Wii to offset the cost . That way I got something new, and sold something I hardly ever used.

  24. bizimunda

    Great tip man,

  25. Jennifer

    Actually Dawn, I like your tip, too!

    Although I tend not to set a limit to my annual spending, which I should!

  26. Weekly Round Up: Goodwill Edition — Green Panda Treehouse

    […]  Only buy new things when replacing something old […]

  27. links for 2008-11-16 |

    […] Tip #9: Only buy new things when replacing something old | I Will Teach You To Be Rich If you buy something new, you have to give up something old. (tags: Financial) […]

  28. Courtney

    Or eBay your old clothes. I was shocked at how well my clothes sold on eBay when normally I would just dump them at Goodwill. Plus with Christmas right around the corner, there are more people on eBay than normal (and they are also willing to pay a lil more).

  29. Coupon shipping

    Great post! Keep up the good work!

  30. Battra92


    If your shoes have cracks in them by all means use Duct tape and have them last a little longer! ~_^

  31. Suzyn

    This tip could also be called “pretend you live on a boat.”
    I have friends who lived on a smallish sailboat for several years, and they didn’t have room for anything new. Now that they’re on solid ground, they still live by this rule. Hmmm, seems like they have plenty of money, too….

  32. Evert

    Wow, that’s cool you featured my tip! Thanks! It’s fun to read all the reactions, indeed some people will not have this problem at all, or only in a few areas. I like the idea that it requires you to think about ‘what is enough?’, and ‘what do I really need?’. It is so much more fun to spend money on stuff you love and/or need then just thoughtless buying out of habit. Thanks for all the great comments!

  33. Besh

    One thing to do with the clothes you would otherwise donate to goodwill – clothing swap! I do this with a group of girlfriends several times a year. We all drag our goodwill bags to one location and “shop” each others clothes. Something that you may be done with can be just what someone else is looking for! All the leftovers go to Goodwill or get sold on Ebay.

  34. Reusing & Reducing Saved Us Money on Living Room Redesign — Green Panda Treehouse

    […] The big concern was budget. We wanted to spruce up the place without spending a ton of money. Fortunately, our friend brought over some stuff she had in her basement and storage and gave us some ideas on how to use what we already have and change it up. Sometimes you don’t have to buy stuff new, you can just reuse items that you have or reuse other people’s ‘treasures’. […]

  35. aaron

    i got a new computer with Vista (barf) and need to rid myself of the old one.

    anybody up for an old comp (5 years now) contains something like 10000 music files. 75% of all south park episodes and plenty of other stuff.

  36. Nick

    Used is definitely the way to go, in regards to many things. Books are a big one (if you can’t find them at a library). Also, getting clothes from a thrift shop can save you big time. Usually the only difference between them and new clothes, is that they are missing the tag.

  37. BajaGramma

    Hahahaha! My personal rule, after moving 10 times in 4 years, is:
    When I want to buy something (especially on impulse), I ask it would I move you 1500 miles, or will I eat you within a week?! Works every time!

  38. Amy

    Andrew, that is true, you could wear the same shirts in the same week and no one would know the difference. However, if the shirts are washable, this is also a way of wearing out your clothes faster and then you would have to buy more clothes. If the shirts are dry cleanable, then you would have to make more trips to the dry cleaners. All I am saying is in the long run, it is probably better to have at least 8 good shirts that you can wear to work. It will save wear and tear on your clothes. We found out when my husband had fewer clothes, we were not saving any money because we had to buy more clothes more often.

  39. ngk

    BajaGramma – I’ve done a similar thing! At school, I stored my things over the summer in a friend’s attic, so during the year whenever I thought of buying something, I would ask, “would I carry you four flights of stairs up & down?” It definitely cut down on the impulse buys.

  40. TC

    We did this during the summer. We’re video game junkies, so for every new game we bought, we would turn in 2 or 3 old ones for store credit. I’m not going to count that for this month, though, because none of our new games will be out until mid-December. It is a good barrier, though, and an even better way to clear out clutter in a painless manner.

    This tip: $0
    Current total: $225

  41. Caro, master of the run-on-sentence

    What I took away from the title of this one, which is a little different than giving up one you’ve already got in order to get a brand new one of the same, is this: If there is a new want in your life – “as in, wow, I didn’t know that they actually had a robot that washes your floors for you – I’d love to have one of those . . .(what will they come up with next?)” you don’t run out and buy a new one – you shop around until you find a used one. Then if you love it and use it all the time, when it’s kaput you can legitimately get yourself a new one. Sure cuts down the cost of all that “what was I thinking?” junk (and maybe even the amount if there’s extra effort to procure it, in which case is it worth it?) . . . So you don’t miss out on the MP3 revolution because you never buy anything new, but you ease into it because you started out with a used MP3 player from someone’s garage sale and test drove it long enough to know it was a really good fit for you before upgrading to the latest IPod, which you selected with a working knowledge of how the technology fit into your life and which features really were important to you when buying new . . . And it doesn’t hurt to add a spacewise-equivalent of the new object to the out-of-the-house box in your trunk when you are creating storage space for your new thingamajig.]

  42. 30 Tips That Can Save Your Money This Month

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