shopping with intention

Why are sale and clearance racks SO compelling? They’re like the sirens to Ulysses, calling me to come take a peek. Just a quick little look to see what’s new, because I might find JUST THE THING to change my life–and at 70 percent off, no less! What budget? What schedule? It’s as if I’m a heat-seeking missile, and cheap clothes are the sun. Or it was, until I started shopping with intention.

What is this way of clothes shopping, you might ask? Well, it’s like this: Before I impulsively plunk down $3 for a new cardigan (because it was ONLY $3!), I ask myself a few questions. All of my clothing purchases now have to meet these criteria, which are stricter than Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet:

Criteria for Shopping With Intention

Is it in my budget?

What? You don’t have a clothing budget? (Look of horror.) Just kidding, I didn’t either until I started shopping with intention. It helps to first get a handle on how much you’ve been spending on clothing. Turns out, I wasn’t spending as much as I thought, so it’s a good thing I didn’t pick a number and run with it! Make sure yours is no more than 3 percent of your take-home pay. Then use a free budget tracking app to record purchases as you make them, right there on your phone. No excuses about forgetting. 

Is it something I need?

Remember when you did a wardrobe evaluation? (If you didn’t do a wardrobe evaluation, back up the bus. This is pretty critical to shopping with intention.) That likely led you to identify some holes in your wardrobe–things that you need to replace because they’re worn out, or things that you need to be able to complete several outfits. You also should walk through the steps to finding your personal style adjectives. Then keep those handy with your list. Every single item you bring home should fit within a need and/or your personal style. 

Is it among my best colors?

I love the really pretty pale rose color that was everywhere recently, but it makes me look like Casper the Friendly Ghost with indigestion. Resist, sister: Even if that flowy tank top is a great cut and a great deal, you’ll never *feel* great in it if it brings out the wrong hues for you. A good way to know what works? Post your photos to the RidMe style app and get feedback from the kind, encouraging community and our team of professional stylists. 

Does it fit well?

Since I’ve started shopping with intention, this step alone has slowed my roll. If I don’t have the time to try something on, I let it go. Trying on everything will save you time in the long run–you don’t have to return ill-fitting clothes or shoes. It will save you money–if you forget to return it (or can’t, because it was a final sale), that’s cash just going to waste in your closet. And it will save you the angst associated with holding on to clothes that simply don’t make you look or feel amazing, and then having to find a responsible way to discard them. 

Is it made well? 

Cheap, fast fashion is a scourge on our earth. LITERALLY. Read this article or countless others that describe the impact on the planet and its people to understand why buying cheap clothing is not an ethical practice. Don’t perpetuate the cycle. Look for signs of quality. (Tailoring and alterations expert Sarah Knochel offers some key tips for evaluating garments.) Of course, your first clue that you’re looking at a piece of fast fashion is the price: Anything selling for $2.99 is not of high quality. But even pricey items can be poorly made if they’re churned out to meet trends. 

Anything selling for $2.99 is not of high quality. But even pricey items can be poorly made if they’re churned out to meet trends. 

Want to find high-quality clothing on a budget? (You established your budget in step 1, right?) Secondhand stores can be a fantastic resource. (As long as you promise to be intentional with your purchases there, as well.) Avoid Grab Bag Syndrome–grabbing items and tossing them in a bag because they’re cheap.

And this leads us to our final criteria for shopping with intention:

Am I buying this just because it’s on sale?

Do you love those jeans because they make your booty look amazing and you have been needing a pair in that style? Or because they’ve been marked down five times with a red pen? We all do it–there are studies on the lure of a bargain. But that doesn’t mean we need to keep doing it. 

When considering a purchase…

  • Ask yourself whether you’d still love and need the item if it were four times more costly.
  • Think of the cost of your emotional energy and guilt if you buy it and never wear it.
  • Put the $19.99 that you would have spent on that item into a jar at home and watch the fund accumulate. You can visualize the expense!
  • Think about the price of the garment as if it were a coupon–you just saved $19.99 by not buying those jeans.
  • Go home and think it over; if you still don’t want it badly enough to go back for it, then let it go. No picking up T-shirts on your way to the checkout lane as you’re walking through Kroger!

Every time that I see a sale rack, I hear Robert Palmer’s Simply Irresistible ringing in my ears, even though I know that what I find on that clearance rack will never fit as perfectly as the dresses in the iconic video. So I have to give the whole clothing section at Target a wide berth, unless I really need to find a certain thing.


Yes, this will take some practice. Shopping with intention is not nearly as endorphin-producing as shopping with abandon, and doesn’t offer the same high as the thrill of the deal. 

But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a new kind of satisfaction, one that comes from saving time, money, energy and your decision-making powers. (Not to mention the earth.) And maybe with all that time and money saved, you can treat yourself in a whole new way: some new music, or a luxury facial cream. Me? I’m saving for a few days next winter somewhere warm. Somewhere where all the clothes I’ll need fit into a reusable shopping tote.

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