Money & Style

Budget vs. Item Price Limit

Happy day, dear reader!

The other day I was speaking with a woman on Zoom. She is a bright woman. This woman is financially savvy. As a matter of fact, she’s in the financial field! During our conversation, I asked her if she has a clothing/wardrobe budget. Let me make something clear, I wasn’t asking her to drop numbers on me! I don’t expect people to tell me that number if we are just chatting or getting to know each other.

When I asked her if she had a wardrobe budget, she said “Yes,” but as I pressed her, it turns out that she didn’t have a Budget, she has an Item Price Limit. Which is where things can get a little sticky. A lot of people use the term Budget when what they really have is an (or list of) Item Price Limit(s).

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that they are (Or are not.) willing to buy an expensive dress/suit/pair of shoes. That’s not very helpful. Words like expensive, inexpensive, good deal, bargain, and average have no meaning unless I have context! Your bargain might be my expensive. Do you want to shop at Target or Neiman-Marcus? Once you have a budget, then you can start to put meaning on those words. That matters, because without knowing your Budget and your wardrobe goals or at the very least, your Item Price Limit, I cannot make recommendations of what to buy or even where to shop. And you can’t decide what is a smart purchase! So what IS the difference between a Budget and an Item Price Limit…


Well, if you will indulge the technical nerdy side of me, a budget is an amount (per year/quarter/month, or whatever time you determine) that you allot to spend on something. (In this case your wardrobe.) If you have a wardrobe budget of $2000 per year, that’s what you can spend. You might decide to break that $2000 into $500 per season. You might just start spending on 1 January and stop buying completely when it’s all gone. It’s up to you to determine how, and at what rate, you spend your budget. If you choose to exceed your budget, you can, but you’re breaking a promise to yourself. (And maybe to someone else!) The money you exceed your budget by isn’t magic; the funds have to come from somewhere. (If you’ve figured out a way to magic money, by all means teach me! I’ll keep it a secret… Pinky Promise.)

Item Price Limit

An Item Price Limit (IPL) is very different! An item price limit is a maximum that you will spend on a category of clothing. (Or accessory?) This is where it gets a little dodgy… I know people who have IPL’s for shoes, jeans & tees, but that’s it. They don’t think about the max for other items. Or they have SO many categories that it’s impossible to track them all. Leather shoes have one max, but a PVC pair has a different max. The maxes seem to be awfully flexible, and I don’t mean that in a good way!

An IPL is practical in one sense. It IS worth it to pay more for a good pair of leather shoes that will last and be able to be reheeled and resoled. But to refuse to pay more than a randomly selected maximum for an item can leave you buying poor quality and poorly fitting clothes and uncomfortable shoes that you never wear. Penny wise and pound foolish. OMGoodness! I see this ALL the time in wardrobes!

To compound the problem, when you set maxes, and don’t update them for inflation, changes in geography, and improvements to your financial situation you will find yourself both frustrated when shopping and cheaply dressed. If the price you will pay for a pair of jeans hasn’t changed in 5 (Or more!) years, it’s time to do some online browsing and recalibrate your maxes.

Another problem with Item Price Limits is that you can spend far more than you think because everything is “a good deal.” But 7 pair of jeans that don’t fit properly nor look and feel amazing aren’t a deal. Two pair of “too expensive” jeans that make you look and feel like a movie star are better way to spend your hard earned money! Frequently seen issue: People set higher IPL’s for special event wear at the expense of everyday clothes.

Use Them Together!

These two tools (That’s what they are.) are fabulous when they work together! It’s like the Sesame Street song: “Cooperation. Makes it happen… Cooperation. Working together!” If you are only going to choose one? Go with a Budget. And make sure you start…


Ah, the rub. You knew there had to be one, didn’t you? Neither a Budget nor Item Price Limits are going to do anything for your finances unless you track what you spend! There are many ways to track. One woman I know keeps one credit card (That she pays off in full each month!) that she uses only for clothing purchases. Her statement tells her exactly how much she has spent. All she has to do is keep adding from month to month.

I use a receipts in an envelope method. When I buy something, the receipt goes into the envelope and I jot the price on the outside. Every few purchases I tally up. This requires discipline when making online purchases, because they are easy to forget… (Hard earned knowledge.)

There’s also the cash only/envelope method known by so many Dave Ramsey fans. The downside? It makes online purchasing a challenge. But if that’s the only way for you to stick to your budget, go for it!

Remember me saying I don’t expect people to tell me their budget? Well sometimes I do! If you want me (Or another image consultant or stylist, but why?) to help you find clothing or suggest places to shop, We DO need to know your budget. Which is where it gets sticky. Many people don’t want to talk about how much (or how little) they spend on clothes, and most don’t have any idea how much they actually spend.

Time to get off my soapbox now… How about you? Do you have a wardrobe budget? Do you track your clothing expenses? Do tell! I love to know more about you!

Stylishly yours,



    Liz, I have a monthly budget for clothing and accessorries etc, but I’ve never thought to track my spending. How would this be helpful? I only can spend what I have !!

    • Liz K

      Good for you on spending only what you have, Natalie! Many people don’t. Tracking your spending can help you know the percentage of your budget you are spending on clothing and also allows you to see cycles and patterns over time. Maybe you spend more in the spring than the fall, so you should allot yourself more of the budget during that season and less in another when you don’t purchase as much. When I lived in a cold four-season climate, fall and winter was the more expensive season, so making sure I kept enough of the budget for those higher ticket items was key!

  • Ruth

    Nerd confession time – I keep a tracking spreadsheet. It started a few years ago as a memory exercise to see if I could list the entire contents of my wardrobe (answer, yes, with over 90% accuracy). I then started tracking additions and spending – it’s been a very interesting exercise to see what I spend and where I spend it!

    • Liz K

      I love another nerd! Thank you Ruth, for visiting! Although… I hate spreadsheets. With a passion. Don’t ask why; I should love them. I think it’s because I need to write the information down to really get it into my head. Typing it in doesn’t create memory, it just flows from fingers and right back out my ears. Any way you track it, knowledge is power! So do you have a wardrobe budget? Or do you track just to collect the information and see where your money is going?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.