Value: Year-end report card and lessons learned

At every year end, I review my record of personal spending, and assess whether I got good value from the purchases. 2013 provided more than a few lessons.

Lowest grade: Fab dress, but...

This Veronique Miljkovitch dress caused Le Duc to whistle in admiration. But the occasion for which I bought it was changed to a more casual venue, so I didn't wear it then, and became rather awed by it. 

Lesson: Sometimes the item is perfect but the timing is not. Grade is F—embarrassing. There is zero value in a hangar-dwelling dress.

All is not lost. Come spring, I'll just put it on and go for a walk or something, dammit.

Highest grade: Pile o' pants

During 2013, nearly my entire budget was spent on replacing bottoms, via buying or alteration.

Lolë's "Chamonix 2" pants, $140:  cool details in a techno fabric that holds deep black better than denim. They travel perfectly: much less room needed in suitcase than jeans, fast drying, no ironing. Cost per wear, stellar!

I drew censure from an occasional reader for buying five pairs (in assorted colours) of these Land's End cords at a sale price of about $17 each—but I wore them almost daily, and the price for new pants was less than that of extensive alterations.  

Some women handle size change by expertly shopping consignment or thrift, but there weren't many pairs in unworn condition, and none met the LE price.  

Lesson: Maintaining a stable size is far less costly than significantly changing! I continually thought about whether alteration or replacement was the better option, and also whether I needed to do either. 

Surprise buy: Wristwarmers

Susan gave me a felted wool pair last winter, and I left them, along with my Kindle, on a train. (I got the Kindle back, but not the warmers.) 

Brora had a special offer, so the replacement is a knit, and finally I can work at my keyboard without stiff hands. A fine yet functional accessory.

Knitters are smiling and thinking, Oh, I can do that!

Lesson: At 65, the comfort criterion of value assumes more importance. Chic shoes that offer good support, a light but cozy coat, a bag that's kind to the body... all worth spending for.

Fixer-upper: New coat needed a tweak

I also needed to replace a coat. My GF Diane called me to say she found the perfect super-warm parka, at a closeout liquidation sale; "Hurry!, she commanded, "there's only one left!" 

It had features I wanted: down lining, storm cuffs, generous pockets, washable. The fur trim on the hood was a touch thin, but the price was great, the store was closing for good in a day, and I was not going to haul back I bought it.

When I showed it to Le Duc, he said, "Nice coat, but the trim is kind of ratty." Busted! 

I visited Mr. O., the furrier who handled last year's mink coat reno. We chose a supple recycled coyote pelt; in less than a week, he delivered a lush detachable trim for the hood. 

Lesson: Though I spent $100 to improve the coat, that trim adds greatly to the pleasure of wearing it daily, during our severe winter. 

Total cost was still reasonable, but this is the type of time-pressured decision I hope to avoid. Sometimes it's not so much 'lessons learned' as re-learned.

Following your lead, with thanks

Last year I wanted to spend less overall, and did. (A believer in Suze Orman-style budgeting, I work with a self-set monthly allowance.) My plan for 2014 is to keep it the same, and save at least as much.

In 2013, I was supported by the experience of other writers and friends.

Quite a few bloggers wrote about eschewing sales, duplicates or a killer item that was, even if glorious, just too much. 

When they bought, they helped me by explaining their criteria or serving, the odd time, as a cautionary example. We all have our Achilles' Heel!

Even some fashion-industry writers counseled against overbuilding a wardrobe. Visiting friends, though different in personal style, approached shopping with discernment, avoiding the I'm-here-it's-here trap into which I can tumble while traveling.


une femme said…
I'm going to check out those Chamonix pants. The site is down at the moment, but I'll try back. This year I finally found a tailor shop that seems to know their stuff, and it made me braver about buying pieces that were otherwise fabulous but needed a tweak here and there to fit me correctly. I don't buy or wear real fur anymore but your hood does look luxe, and where you live a great coat is an excellent investment.
Madame Là-bas said…
I am in the middle of evaluating my wardrobe right now. I have a number of unworn items and I have 3 sizes in the closet. Right now, I am moving down the scale but a stable weight makes great wardrobe and health sense.
frugalscholar said…
I am impressed (and inspired) by your control over this area--where it's so easy to overaccumulate.

As the granddaughter of an immigrant who started a biz in the 1920s buying scrap fur and making collars, cuffs, and your ruff!
Kristien62 said…
Is the Veronique Milkjovich from Muriel Dombret? I still am dying to get there.

I have finally conquered my "shopping as therapy" problem and, although I love clothes and makeup, I can look and appreciate without purchasing. My kids all gave me gift cards for Christmas knowing of my former penchant for binge shopping. They remember my comment, "How I love the smell of the mall in the morning." I'm thrilled to have the cards-for a time when I will actually need something. It really is quite liberating.
materfamilias said…
I'm, as always, impressed by your discipline and your honest analysis. I'm down in size and not sure I'm done yet, so I'm also whittling my wardrobe and adding to it simultaneously. For me the two biggest expenses of the fall were replacing my jeans (skinny designer jeans are NOT cheap! but they are such a foundational piece in my wardrobe that, although price is a consideration, I won't compromise on certain essential elements). . . and replacing lingerie -- mostly bras. I'm probably just going to swim in my good coats for a while, and perhaps look for a good tailor. . . .
I think you're going to end up being pleased to have that Veronique Milkjovich dress -- there will be some perfect occasion(s) for it and it's going to be stylish for years and years as there's nothing trendy to potentially date it. And it makes le Duc whistle at you? Wear it while he whips up lunch one day and forget about going for the walk . . . ;-)
Your Lands' End cords were a bargain! I found pants the most difficult to find second hand. I did get a dressy pointe knit pair but bargain shopped for the skinny jeans and have a black and a dark denim pair. New from Walmart of all places. Crunching the budget as I have since retiring I am still replacing some basics. I find that I am more content with less clothing now.
Your dress will come in handy when the weather warms up....I like mater's idea though....
Beth said…
OK, clearly what's called for is a dinner invitation that specifically requires that dress to be worn. The boys will just have to follow suit, so to speak! I won't forget!
Nancy K said…
The dress is fabulous; wear it out to dinner this spring. Wear it out to lunch with friends. You live in a city where it's easier to dress up I would think.
I have a friend who thinks that more is better. I subscribe to the smaller wardrobe where I love everything I wear. I also sew all of my clothing so it takes longer to make than to buy! Bu, I still have the temptations of fabric and I've really kept my purchases down this year.
Duchesse said…
une femme: Lolë make very good sportswear; fit is true to size. I have worn only recycled fur for 45 years.

Mme.: I seem to have stabilized after losing 35, and any more would be too thin. (I do believe one can be too thin!)

frugal: Thanks, in its own way it;s as much fun as accumulating.

Kristien62: Yes, dress is from Muriel Dombret (but line is carried elsewhere, too- see VM's web site.). My problem with gift cards is that they burn a hole in my pocket, unlike cash which I can hold onto, they seem to murmur "Spend Me".

materfamilias: Lost 35# and never changed size in bra or tops, it seemed to all come off my hips and thighs. At least did not have to replace all that.

hostess: I have what Frugal Scholar calls "the squeam factor" for secondhand pants (unless

Beth: Great! And they do not have to dress up, it's not a ball gown!
Duchesse said…
hostess: oops. my reply was cut off: "unless tags till on".

materfamilias: Le Duc agrees with your idea!
LauraH said…
I'm so impressed. This kind of formal evaluation takes time and effort and I can see the benefits. I'm going to incorporate something similar into my 2014 wardrobe building.

Love the fair isle hand warmers - I cut the finger tips off a pair of damaged wool gloves and use them at the computer, such a relief.
You'd have saved almost nothing trying to thrift new jeans and cords. There are very few here in Montréal for women as tall as you are, for one. My friend M and her lovely mum are probably taller than your are... Not easy to find trousers.

I trust that you gave away your wearable too-large jeans, to friends and family or to charity. I'm taking other stuff to women's centre Le Chaînon this week.

I can so see you in that dress, and hope you'll wear it, even around the neighbourhood. Spring will come!
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Yes, I did; spotting my donation on the street is a terrific feeling.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: I keep logs for each month in a little notebook, writing down price and sale price (if any). Before I did that (2009) dramatically underestimated my spending! And for me it is not jut actual price but value, which is not exactly the same as price per wear, but that's part of it.

For the first 2 years, I logged absolutely everything, even a cup of coffee- but that is no longer necessary. However I think it's a good practice.
Anonymous said…
I just returned two sale dresses that looked good on me, but completely impractical for the winter wedding I am attending this weekend. Instead, I'll wear my black sheath that I always feel great in and can accessorize like crazy. Feeling fantastic about it!
LauraH said…
Thanks for the details. I track my spending on Excel but have never taken the next step to analyze. This will become part of my January review along with my budget, investments, etc.
Mardel said…
I love your year-end report card posts. I should do the same thing. I logged my spending for a long time but haven't this year. I am thinking about it again. But I haven't bought anything for me for a bit, so that is fine.

No I take that back, I was caught in San Antonio in December when DFW was iced in. I had packed for temps in the 50's and 60s and needed something for the 20s and 30s so I bought 2 sweaters. Well at least I've been wearing them constantly since.

I have been keeping track of what I actually am wearing. Eventually I have to deal with the closet full of stuff I brought from NY and haven't dealt with yet. Losing weight, gaining it back after my husband died (everyone wanted to feed me) and now starting to lose it again have been convenient excuses for too many things.
Eleanorjane said…
Great post - it's facinating hearing about other people's choices and what works for them. I've just done something similar where I hauled out all my work clothes and had a good hard look at what I've got and what I need. You can see the results here:
Duchesse, I knew I had something cogent to ask you (and other posters here), other than the obvious value of the Lands' End trousers.

Some bloggers have been saying that their quality has fallen in recent years, since they were acquired by Sears. Anything I've ordered from Lands' End has been of decent quality, but I haven't ordered anything there in the last few years. Opinions?

Trust you are enjoying the lovely mild weather.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Sears acquired them in 2002.

I was very happy with the cords, and with several cotton-modal tees I bought last year.

For dependable basics and services like free hemming, LE do a good job. The down jackets all the guys in the family wear are outstanding: great price, washable, useful features.

Like any mass retailer, you have to pick and choose.

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