23 September 2013

how to budget for your wardrobe destiny: a verbose guide to black crow existence

Got an email the other day -- and quite a few similar -- that I'll address them all in this post for future reference. Here's the email:

From this post : A CDG mix of gifted clothing and clothing I bought. The TAO CDG shirt was a $10 thrift find from a friend, the CDG skirt was around $120 at the annual archive sale. Shoes were a gift from the brand and the jacket was on loan. I bought my glasses at a local vintage store. 
Let me give you some background on how I accumulate nice things, first, so you know where I'm coming from. I won't give you my like, tax records or specific details about my class status (y'all don't really need to be that much up in my business, I come from a working class background and I receive financial aid from school, that's the basics) but essentially I afford my luxury lingerie and CDG via a lot of bargain hunting and budgeting of my income from working 6 days a week. It might seem like I have an endless amount of CDG, this is just because I only like photographing and memorializing the items I'm wearing and love the most and those happen to be it. I'm presenting to you an editorialized version of my life and you shouldn't forget it. Anyway, I buy the majority of it myself, though there are a few pieces here and there that were gifts from friends or from the designers because I'm a lucky girl. Mostly it's all me working a little bit above minimum wage and budgeting seriously for months at a time. This is going to be a LONG post, so half of it is under the cut.

How do I budget?

This post operates on the premise you have some source of income, if you don't, I'm sorry, this post will probably be useless to you. Moving on from that point, to manage income & expenses, I use the app called Mint on my phone (available on both android and apple products) to track my finances and have multiple budgets laid out for my finances. 
  • By being specific. I have my monthly budget laid out pretty specifically into four to five categories, but I tend to adjust it every two months according to my income and priorities at the time. 
  • By holding myself accountable. If and when I go over budget, I pay myself back so I don't fall behind on my budgets or goals. If I over spend in a category, I make up for it in another that month and sacrifice one thing for another. This is super important: self-restraint and recognizing your discipline is the really the only thing that keeps you on track in the end. No one is (I hope)  making you buy things outside of survival necessities like rent, groceries, medications, transportation -- it's you making these choices, so you need to be very conscious about your limits. 
  • By making it simple. I mark down my paydays and automatically have a certain amount of money go from one account into my savings every payday. This is super simple, lazy budgeting, you don't have to worry about it that way. It's just done for you. Putting aside $50 a month automatically into savings, taking into account interest, means you're automatically saving minimum $600 a year. That's awesome and basically effortless.
  • By using every resource available. I use financial calculators on a regular basis. There are plenty of them online, I use the ones on Mint.com, but you don't need to. Here is one, I just plugged in an example amount. $900 can get you so much CDG on ebay via resellers, or multiple items at their annual sample sales, etc. 

Source: Time Value Financial Calculators

Here is an example of what Mint.com does for you in terms of goals. The downside to Mint.com's goal-keeping is that unless you have an individual account dedicated to your goal savings amount, it'll just assume whatever amount of money you have in the account it's linked to is 100% dedicated to your goal. If you open up another account just for your savings goal, though, it'll be accurate and send you weekly and monthly alerts to let you know how you're doing and what you can do to improve.  As it stands, I always over-shoot the goal amount to compensate for the money in the account that isn't dedicated to the goal.

I used Mint to track and calculate how much I needed to save and when for my London trip, which I paid for 100% myself through work-study at school. I found it super helpful for that actually. You can constantly update and monitor yourself on your phone or online, and organize your purchases and income and expenses by category (like Shopping, Education, Tax-Free, etc) which comes in handy during Tax season. It'll also show you the average amount US consumers spend in each category and how you match up. (I don't know what the average US consumer is supposed to be, but whatever.)

Here are some other budgeting apps.

My first super investment was this CDG dress, purchased at the first CDG Archive sale. Paired with a thrifted Gap striped shirt and my mother's vintage Junko Koshino suit jacket. Post here.

How do I decide when and where to invest?

I spend most of my money dedicated to clothes in one month, whatever  month the CDG sale is. So, May. I might buy a lingerie set every three or four months on super sale and that might set me back $60 or something similar, but then I work overtime to make up the difference. I never, ever buy anything full price. Not ever. I will wait months and months if I have to to get something I want on clearance, but that is perfectly fine with me. Here are some questions I ask when I buy a thing:

  • How long have I been wanting this? Why do I want this? -- If the answer is only a few weeks (or even just that day) or even just a month, I'm not gonna get it. I buy things that haunt my dreams and that I've already imagined in my closet and in endless variations of outfits. It has to mentally be mine already before I hand over my money. Do I want this because I saw it on three other girls that I'm envious of or do I want this because it will get me closer to my ideal look and goes well with other things I already own? Am I being influenced by shit bloggers wear?
  • Is the material and quality worth the price? I'm straight up obnoxious about the fabrics I want. This doesn't mean I haven't forked over hundreds of dollars for polyester, it just means I have spent a lot of time researching why they used polyester instead of like, a pure cotton blend. Rei and other designers I like often use manmade materials because cotton and jersey don't stand up to the processes they like their clothes to go through. They'll double boil wool and custom dye it, then stamp it with rubber cement, blah blah blah. That being said -- I'm not down with paying hundreds of dollars for a dress made of polyester blend that is scratchy and is comparable to a fast fashion dress that will inevitably be made in imitation. I want to spend my money on designs worthy of the hours I put in to afford it, and I want those designs to be inimitable (or the original of many imitations) and ethically made. These requirements eliminate a lot of things for me, which just makes buying shit way easier in the long run. I know lots of high-end brands that use sweatshops or other fuckups, and I don't buy from them. These are the same designers lots of people masturbate over on style.com every season -- your faves probably aren't perfect. 
    • When it comes to lingerie, pricing and value have to be measured differently than other things. I know plenty of people complain about a mid-range bra like, Huit or something, costing $60, when we'd all like to pay a cool $10. Well, that shit ain't happening, buddy. I only buy lingerie on sale, but even then, it still needs to be budgeted for because a bra on sale might still be $60 as opposed to a fast fashion set which might be like, $30. But you know what? Considering the quality of the materials and the time it takes to draft comfortable bras in small (and ethical) workshops, and all the time that is put into it, I'm fine with it. People deserve to be paid for their work just as much as I want to have nice things in exchange for my work. Capitalism tells us we should consume a lot for as little effort as possible, but when that comes at the cost of someone getting screwed over, I would really rather not participate. I started a pretty rad discussion about lingerie pricing on my Tumblr, should you wish to know more about the industry and  it's prices. 
  • Basic questions we can all consider: how much will I be paying per wear? If you're buying a well crafted staple item for $60, like a well made bra, you might wear it twice a week, for 3 years or something like that. By the end of the first year, the cost per wear will be down to $0.57. When you think of it this way, poorly made, lower quality items will be rags by the second year, but a well made, ethically produced shirt will last you (ideally) a lot longer. There are exceptions to this of course, but I think it fits the bill mostly. I think long term and examine garment construction & quality before I plunk down my dough. Some designer is made terribly, some is made perfectly. I don't think a label makes anything inherently more valuable, there are extenuating circumstance to everything. You've just got to be an educated consumer and determine if something is worth it to you, based on the quality involved, and the circumstances you're living with. Another question: If I don't buy this now, will I be able to in the future? I set aside a large lump sum for an annual major purchase at the Archive sale because I know there is absolutely no other opportunity for me to buy seasons old comme in person at such a steep discount. All of the purchases I've made at an archive sale have been iconic looks that are basically future museum pieces, and I know that they will be impossible to buy elsewhere. If it's something #iconic in a rare way, I suck it up.There are items from labels that are constantly re-issued, though, and the prices never go down on these. Like Margiela Tabis -- you're never really going to find them for less than a fixed price, because they are a staple of the brand. There are things that will not be reproduced and will just fall into oblivion and there are things that will be there season after season. Depending on what it is, I factor my budgeting and time necessary to meet my goal accordingly. 
In the end, though, these are just my personal guiding questions based on the things I already own and the circumstances I find myself in. I am a very privileged girl in the scheme of things, many things people find themselves paying for, I receive for editorial consideration or as gifts or as compensation from my work. I hope I'm very clear about this privilege, I know there are a lot of people who blog who aren't and it's hard to trust voices because of it and I want to have that baseline of trust with you (I'm also a journalism major, so it's been ingrained in me that blogging without disclosure and some kind of editorial distance is unethical.). I do work and earn these so called 'free' things through the labor I go through photographing, networking, styling, assisting, researching, writing, etc, to become a trusted voice in the beauty and fashion blogospheres, so I don't really consider anything "free". These things still come at a cost of time and money spend to get to a place of influence.

Alright. I've got the money now, but where do I go from here?

If you've managed to set aside some lump sum to go to something you've dreamed about -- congrats! On my sidebar, I have a list of places where I personally shop. My favorites for lingerie are ASOS, Journelle, Hautelook, the Outnet, Yoox, and Gilt. Net-a-porter occasionally has great discounted designer lingerie too, but you have to constantly check for your size. I buy 100% of my lingerie online, even if i visit Journelle's brick-and-mortar locations to try things on. I list where I buy lingerie here in much more detail. My friend Cora has an amazing blog with tons of lingerie resources should you choose to explore other options, I realize my selections suit smaller busts like mine but leave the rest out in the cold.

For clothing -- I sometimes honestly find designer for very, very cheap at Beacon's Closet or other thrift & consignment stores in the city. It's not that hard to do, you just have to be thorough. I love Tokio 7 too, it's a fashion kid staple. But these are inaccessible if you aren't located near Manhattan, I get it. If you have a Nordstrom or Nordstrom Rack or even Burlington or something similar nearby you in the suburbs, chances are you can get a decent selection of mid-range to high end from there, too. I got my Gareth Pugh & Alexander Wang things from Nordstrom Rack actually in Los Angeles for like, 20% the retail prices. You can also snoop through Ebay and other online retailers and get good deals if you find reputable sellers. I've purchased from A Bathing Ape Tokyo's Ebay store before, and NYC A La Mode before as well, both are reputable and offer decent prices -- you might find better prices on the ABA stuff, but NYCALM run 20% off sales on already discounted items in perfect condition and you likely won't, unless you get lucky at a consignment store or a sample sale.

So. The short of it? Research and self discipline and resources makes my closet happen. I check multiple sources on a daily or weekly or monthly basis and I have no shame about trying to find coupons, discounts, or networking for discounts through friends. For every big ticket purchase, I put a lot of hours in to pay the sticker price but even more to actually find (or wait) for the opportunity to actually buy it. Research is what saves you the money in the end. I hope you found this helpful & leave a comment with your own consumer methodology, I'm super curious!