Talking about personal finances is right up there with politics and religion when it comes to acceptable topics to talk about at the dinner table. In the past few years the barriers surrounding politics and religion seem to have weakened but finances – still a bit too uncomfortable to discuss with those close to us. Thankfully finance gurus such as Dave Ramsey and online sharing communities where individuals can post somewhat anonymously, retaining the specifics and whole picture even if their name is out there, have helped many of us pay more attention to our money troubles. Do we have a financial plan for retirement? Are we putting enough money into savings? Could we afford our children’s education? These questions nag at so many of us and keep us up late at night with a mixture of worry and hopelessness.
What is the most common financial advice we hear from gurus and forums alike? Remove any debt and cut out non-essential items. Forgo those daily lattes or cancel your subscription services to Netflix or Pandora. Whatever you do just make sure you are saving for the future. But there’s one thing almost no one is talking about when it comes to your finances because it may not seem obvious: your closet. The fast fashion industry problems are many but could it also be making you broke?
The State of Our Finances
According to a 2018 study by Northwestern Mutual twenty-one percent of Americans have nothing saved for their retirement. An additional third of Americans have less than $5,000 in savings. With dwindling social security and the current state of politics, younger generations are doubting they can rely on that as a source of income in their older years. With all that said, it’s no wonder that individuals are turning to financial gurus and online platforms in panic to sort out their financial predicaments.
Where is our money going? Housing, transportation, and food take the top three spots closely followed by personal insurance and healthcare. After that things get a bit murkier with money going towards personal indulgences such as beauty, entertainment, alcohol, and of course clothing and apparel. While many of these costs can’t be avoided – only minimized – the fashion industries problems are leading us to some unhealthy spending habits.
What are the Fashion Industry Problems that are making you broke?
Spending on Disposable Clothing
Data suggests that American families spend on average $1,803 a year on clothing and apparel. Along with the purchase on new items this includes laundromats, dry cleaning, and tailoring. How many of those purchases are actually put to good use? “More than 50% of women claim 25% of their wardrobe sits in the closet collecting dust. This equates to around $600 thrown out the window.” What’s more is that 73% of women say they update around 25% of their closet every 3 months. That is more than money being simply thrown out the window. This is the equivalent of burning your paycheck before its ever deposited.
In the era of fast fashion, we have been told by brands and advertisers that clothing can, should be, and is disposable. It’s this mentality and attitude that since the 1980’s has led us on an environmental and social decline. A recent article in the Guardian outlined our obsession with wearing items only once which was most notably showcased around the holidays when 3.5 billion pounds were spent on Christmas party clothing. Many of these items will end up in landfills shortly after their intended one wear comes to an abrupt end once the holiday parties wind down. It’s this approach to fashion – especially fast fashion – that is drying up our bank accounts without us even noticing.
Due to the nature of fast fashion – low price, micro seasons, and advertising which tells us our clothing is already out of “trend” the week after we bought it – we end up spending more on clothing than we did just a few decades ago. While a T-shirt may be cheaper than a latte these days, it’s adding up even quicker.
I’ve talked a bit about the hidden health risks of cheap clothing and with medical insurance being unpredictable in the US market many families fear any kind of medical emergency will bankrupt them. A Chicago Tribune article found that “25 percent of Americans have less than $100 in savings for medical expenses, and nearly half have less than $1,00 saved”
No one ever wants to be put into the position of deciding between a hospital visit which could mean going broke or saving money but letting health decline. Chemical compounds in clothing could be adding to these health risks. While, it is advisable to create an emergency fund to deal with the unexpected, cutting down on potential health risks such as skin absorption of formaldehyde which is leached from fabrics, can help to maintain good health. With many chemical compounds unregulated and commonly found in cheap clothing it is wise to choose brands that use natural fabrics and dyes. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.
Taxes through garbage collection and disposal
If we’re not paying the price of fast fashion upfront with a five-dollar purchase here and a ten-dollar purchase there which is slowly draining our accounts, then we are certainly paying for it on the other end. In the United States 85 percent of the 25 billion pounds of textiles discarded each year end up in landfills. That works out to approximately 21 billion pounds per year.
“Forty-five dollars is the estimated cost per ton your local municipality pays to have this waste sent to landfills. In NYC that worked out to be roughly $20.6 million annually in 2016.” Monies for the removal and disposal of textile waste is raised through taxes. Your hard earned dollars are being taken out of your paycheck and to state taxes to dispose of your shopping habit. This is the same as throwing a portion of our paychecks right into the trash. Do we really want our hard earned paychecks being spent on clothing we will wear maybe once, if at all, and then on garbage disposal? I would imagine many of us could think of better uses for that money.
How to change your shopping habits and save yourself some money
One of the biggest myths surrounding sustainable fashion is that it costs more. After looking at how much we spend on fast fashion and the cleanup effort, a small upfront increase for an eco-friendly sweater might not look so bad, especially if keeping in mind it’s meant to last a lifetime. How do you move forward knowing that your shopping habits are draining your bank account? Don’t make the fashion industry problems your own. Shop for what you need, only when you need it. Buy items of higher quality that are meant to last. Thrift and swap. Need a new holiday dress but don’t want to spend a lot of money because you might wear it only once – borrow it (ideally from a friend so it won’t cost a penny) or from a clothing rental company. Look at your clothing and apparel as an investment just like your bank account. With a few changes in spending habits you can not only get your finances under control but go on to create a timeless wardrobe that is truly yours. Don’t let your shopping habits and the fast fashion industry advertising giants prevent you from retiring.