Each year, Americans spend $1,700 on average on clothes, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than the average driver spent on gas in 2014.
Unlike with gas, some of that clothes spending probably wasn’t remotely necessary, but instead came as a result of impulse buys and poor deal-hunting.
To help you make the most of every dollar you do spend on clothes and even help rein in a bit of that spending, here are some nifty strategies for scoring deals and outsmarting retailers.
1. Pay with cash only. If you always seem to spend more than you intended, stick to paper money. Handing over actual dollars is more tangible and “hurts” more than swiping plastic. Plus, there is a very clear limit to how much is in your wallet. One MIT study found that people were willing to pay nearly 65% more for a basketball ticket when using a credit card rather than cash. Of course, that was an event ticket, but the logic applies to that adorable shirt too.
2. Time your purchases right. Buying off-season clothing will always cost you less, but did you know there are certain months when the prices dip lowest for a variety of items in your wardrobe. March is your best bet for running shoes, while October is best for denim. See MONEY’s month-by-month guide to the best time to buy everything for timing your own apparel purchases.
3. Buy second-hand. We all know that used items come with smaller price tags than buying new. Next time you’re tempted to go browsing for clothes, try searching Goodwill, Salvation Army, or a local consignment shop. These places can be great if you’re looking for basics like jeans or just enjoy the thrill of finding a good steal.
4. Host a clothing swap party. We’ve all got pieces in our wardrobes that don’t get enough wear, still have tags, or just never made it back to the store. Pull them out and ask your friends to do the same. Then invite everyone over to swap or trade items. You get rid of pieces you weren’t happy with and hopefully gain items you’ll actually wear—at no cost!
5. Get a tax deduction for your charity. Take the leftovers from your clothing swap party or any other unwanted items to a charity shop. Always make sure to get a receipt for your donation so you can deduct it from your taxes, if you itemize.
6. Accept hand-me-downs. If you’re buying for kids, you know nothing fits for very long. Ask friends or relatives with children slightly older than your own if they would mind passing on any clothes, still in decent shape, that their own children have outgrown. Everyday staples may not survive the daily abuse of juice and grass stains, but special occasion outfits, dress shoes, and other less-worn items are likely to be in mint condition. Carry the good deed forward, and find a friend to pass your own children’s outgrown items to as well.
7. Rent one-time outfits. Don’t spend a small fortune on a fancy dress or tux you’ll only wear once. Save some cash and rent the ensemble or, better yet, borrow it from a friend.
8. Abide by the cost-per-wear rule. Want to know if that splurge will really be worthwhile? Divide the total price by the number of times you’re likely to wear the item. The more you’ll wear it, the better the return on your investment, which is why it can pay to spend more on quality basics and scrimp on trend pieces or one-time occasion outfits.
9. Be wary of outlet store prices. Many shops claim that you can save 50% or even 70% off regular prices, but that isn’t the whole truth. Outlet stores often stock items made specifically for them that never appeared in the regular store, or are lower-quality versions of items in the regular store, meaning that discount label boosting a 75% off price is largely made up. Of course, some do still also stock items from previous seasons that went unsold at the regular store, but it could take a lot of research to know for sure what pieces those are. Instead, stick to buying staples at the main stores and trendier pieces at the outlets.
10. Skip “dry clean only.” Check the wash instructions listed on anything you’re thinking of buying. You don’t want to end up footing a dry cleaning bill each month to wear the item. Tacking on an extra $6 to $10 every few wears adds up fast and means that item will end up costing you a lot more than the sticker price. Instead, opt for clothes with that same high-end look, but that can be machine or hand washed to maximize your investment. You could also try home dry-cleaning kits.
11. Take the surveys. Several retailers offer links or phone numbers to surveys about your shopping experience on their receipts, way down at the bottom past the return policy and all the other stuff. If it’s somewhere you shop frequently, take the survey. They only last a couple minutes and some retailers reward you with a coupon, typically 5% to 10% off, as thanks.
12. Count to three before you buy. Cut down on impulsive or unnecessary purchases by challenging yourself to make a list of three reasons to buy it—other than that you simply want it. Think of three other items in your closet this new piece will pair with, or think of three upcoming occasions when you’ll wear it. Can’t come up with three? You probably don’t need it and should hold off.
13. Be smart with flash sales. Several online sites, such as Zulily, Gilt and Hautelook host flash sales where you can snag good discounts on popular or designer brands for a limited time, typically a few days. While the prices are good, know that the “limited-time” offer and ticking clock used on these sites are designed specifically to trigger impulse buys. To keep from being swept away by the time crunch, set yourself a clothing spending limit and give yourself at least a 5-minute cooling off period to think over how many times you’ll likely wear the item and if it goes with anything in your current wardrobe.
14. Track the items you want. Easily scour the web for the lowest price on those shoes or that suit with InvisibleHand, a browser extension that automatically finds the cheapest rate on whatever item you’re looking at. You can also use price tracking tools like CamelCamelCamel or PriceZombie to see the highest and lowest prices an item is currently selling for, as well as its price history. That way you know whether to whip out the card now or wait till it goes on sale.
15. Set up price alerts. Fall in love with an item outside your budget? Use TrackIf to set up email alerts that will notify you when the price drops.
16. Ask for a price match. Once you know the lowest price an item is selling for, ask your local merchant to lower their price. Most stores will price-match with their direct competitors. You can even compare prices while you’re out shopping by using mobile apps like PriceGrabber, ShopSavvy, and Red Laser.
17. Shop from a cash-back site. Websites like Ebates.com, FatWallet.com, and TopCashback.com will give you cash back for shopping at certain retailers as long as you enter the shop’s site through them first. You’ll typically get between 1% and 5% of the purchase back, though sometimes retailers will run specials that bump that figure up to 20%.
Take note that you may have access to a similar deal through your credit cards. Discover’s Discover Deals program, for example, includes several retailers who offer between 5% and 15% cash back when you click through Discover’s site to the retailer. As with the sites above, these offers are on top of your usual credit card rewards.