How to Meet Excellent People, Eat and Drink, and Support a Fantastic Cause for (Basically) Free

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Last night, I got dolled up in an evening gown and heels, got my makeup professionally done, and went to a $1,000/seat gala. For dinner, I had amazingly tender short ribs, bright green beans, creamy mashed potatoes and finished it off with a deliciously rich tiramisu.

Total out of pocket cost: $5.

How did I accomplish this? I was a volunteer.

Sometime last year, I was decluttering and I thought, I have too many fancy dresses. And then I figured, ok I’m single and I don’t actually have places to wear such fancy clothes. I should get rid of them. OR I should start attending events where I can wear these dresses.

And because I love my dresses, I was set on option number two. Lucky for me though, Washington, DC is a hotbed for fundraiser galas. And not having a date is no obstacle – all galas need volunteers.

One of my 18 Resolutions for 2018 was to attend a gala. The first one came in January with a charity that I perform pro bono services for. I had so much fun meeting the other women and dancing the night away (during our dead time in between volunteer services) that I signed up for another and then another.

I have volunteered at four galas this year. At the first, we danced the night away (but spend quite awhile loading way  too many decorations into vans). At the second gala, I ran into my old boss (haven’t seen him in 10 years and he’s a great guy) and had amazing tastings from some of the best restaurants in the city. At the third gala, I was truly impressed with the honorees, and I got to explore a hotel close to my apartment, which hosts A LOT of galas. At last night’s gala, a vendor advertising their makeup services touched up our makeup. I took home a beautiful leftover bouquet of flowers including orange roses, my favorite.

Throughout the whole adventure, I’ve met a number of great ladies who love doing things by themselves. I’ve done a lot of work helping great causes and had a great doing it. Total cost – cab rides home (which may be tax-deductible).

I should mention that I did do work at these events. I stood at information booths and walk around silent auctions helping the rich and semi-powerful spend too much money on good causes. There’s a lot of work involved in volunteering but it’s typically not laborious and it’s for a good cause.

So if you are bored of another Netflix and chill night, have too many unused ball gowns and dancing shoes, consider volunteering your time to a gala near you.

What do you think of this idea?

 

 

 

The Worst Money Advice from Personal Finance Bloggers

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The beauty of getting financial advice from regular people bloggers is that you get such a breadth of experience and advice. The downside is that no one is policing these people from saying really terrible and stupid things and giving the worst personal financial advice I’ve ever seen.

Look, I’ve done some stupid things to save money, but I don’t recommend those tips to anyone else. I’ve seen a lot of the advice below on different blogs and I think, hey, no one follow these, ok? Let’s not be jerks. Let’s not condone bad, stupid advice. Also, let’s try to include perspectives and advice that average people can use. We don’t all have assets we can liquidate on command, or necessarily any assets period.

1. Rent out an extra room.

Who are these people that have extraneous rooms to rent out but are low on money? In any case, even if you are one of these mythical people, this is bad advice because you might not be able to find suitable people to rent out your extra room, and it might be against your lease or condo agreement to rent out on Airbnb. If you are low on money, perhaps the easiest to thing to do is rent someplace smaller instead of figuring out how to rent out extra rooms.

2. Don’t spend money on [X].

X tends to be luxury items – designer clothing, daily lattes, fancy cars, cable TV, vacations. But they might also be purchases that the person loves. Personal finance is personal. There are very few things that people buy that are universal bad ideas (except lottery tickets and scams). Personal finance shouldn’t be about giving up arbitrary things but giving up things that mean very little to you so that there’s sufficient funds for things you really care about – whatever those things are.

3. Student loan and mortgage debt is “good debt.

This was more prevalent advice before student loan debt toped $1 trillion. While student and mortgage debt may be unavoidable for some, there’s nothing desirable about having the debt.

The “good” label really refers to the moral superiority over having this debt. In terms of impact on your finances, I would venture to say that student loan debt is the very worst debt because 1) it can’t be discharged in bankruptcy; 2) is the fastest and easiest way to get into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt; 3) can’t be settled for a lower payment; and 4) you can’t return or sell the product you purchased to alleviate some of the debt.

4. Diving in the trash is a good way to save money.

If I literally had no money for food, I would still rather skip meals than eat out of the trash. It’s like French kissing strangers, except the stranger has been rotting in the garbage can and tastes bad.

Food prices have decreased dramatically over the decades. Food is cheap. Ramen, beans and rice, frozen veggies, eggs, pasta – you can eat a delicious dinner for less than $1/meal – why eat someone’s gross leftovers for free?

5. Save money by not tipping.

This is how you actually save money – eat at home or eat at a place where you’re not expected to tip. Don’t be a jerk to save money.

6. Get free meals by going on dates.

First there is the inherent risk that if you go out, your date will not cover the cost of dinner or may even expect you to cover the cost of it. Second, if you aren’t interested in dating this person, that’s a waste of your time. Time is more important than money. Third, you’re making the rest of womankind look bad. Some people will argue that men should pay for dates. Some people argue that everything should be split. Everyone thinks that each person should be prepared to pay for the meal.

Generally, these tips don’t save a lot of money but have the side effect of making you a terrible person and hurting others. Let’s not follow these tips because being a stingy miser that everyone hates doesn’t mean you’re good with money. Being good with money involves keeping your reputation and friendships intact, enjoying your life, and not spending all your time strategizing or thinking about money. Wasting your life obsessing about saving every last cent – well, to me, that’s an impoverished life no matter how much you have in the bank.

Four Ways I Cut My Data Usage by Over 75%

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I am a late adopter to technology. I got my first personal smart phone in 2013. So it should come as no surprise that I haven’t yet developed the habits to max out my data. I have a 2GB/month plan and usually use slightly under that limit.

But when I switched service providers and upgraded my phone, my data usage shot up.  Soon I was being warned that I was approaching my limit, just two weeks into the month.  I suspect there’s something wrong with how my new phone sucks up data. But rather than just upgrade my plan to a larger plan, I was proactive and reduced my usage.  Last month, I used 0.3GB of data.  Here’s how I did it.

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Make These 5 Easy Items from Scratch to Save Mega Money

The philosophy that saves me the most in my grocery budget is to shop less. It saves money, but more importantly, it saves time.

If you buy processed, pre-made products, once you’ve finished them, you’re out of food. If you buy raw ingredients like flour, yeast, sugar, butter and salt, you can continue to make meals for weeks. For instance, if you want a nice loaf of bread, that can cost you $4 at the store. Once you’re done with that loaf, you have no more food. But if you buy $4 in flour and $4 in yeast, you can make 6 loaves of bread (and if you store the yeast in the freezer, you will never run out). In addition to the obvious cost savings, rather than making six grocery store runs, you only need to make one.

I’ve only picked items that are really easy and cheap to make. They require few ingredients, very little time, and no advanced techniques. The only equipment required is a blender, a slow cooker or a mixer. It’s easier to use a stand mixer for some of them – but they can all be made without one.

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This Stupidly Easy Tip from My Parents Has Saved Me Thousands of Dollars

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It’s remarkably easy for me to feel ashamed. And the problem when I’m ashamed is that I clam up. And the problem with clamming up is that I don’t get help. But one time I told my parents about a problem and it helped. A lot. (But for whatever reason I never tell them my problems anymore. Maybe I should look into that).

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How I save over 4 hours a day (your mileage may vary)

Who couldn’t use an extra hour a day? I will admit that the ways I save time won’t work for most people, but maybe some of this could be useful to someone.
1. I combine my commute with exercise. (savings: 1 hour)
I actually exercised pretty irreglularly before I changed my commute so it’s hard to say that I actually save an hour. I really just get an hour of stuff done that I wouldn’t normally do. If you counted the time I spent feeling guilty about not working out though, that would bean hour a day in adn of itself.
2. I combine weight lifting/stretching with work and TV (savings: 20 minutes)
I try to stand while reading or on the phone. I try to do squats and lunges while working as well.
Limiting TV is important for saving time. But I still love watching TV when I get the chance (The Great British Bake Off mostly). I tend to only watch TV while working or foam rolling or doing housework. It doesn’t constitute JUST dead time. I wouldn’t allow it.
3. I only eat one meal a day (savings: 2 hours)
This counts savings in planning for, buying, prepping, cooking and eating food and cleaning up for 2 meals. This also saves the time of digestion lethargy. Technically it could count the hours I spend working to save the money to pay for these meals too but that’s a bridge too far).
4. I limit time for decisions in the morning (savings: 20 minutes)
It took me years but I finally have a work wardrobe where I would be happy to wear any outfit from. I still have favorites and there are some that I would rarely reach for if given the option, but I will wear everything. This saves me time in the mornings because sometimes I just can’t make a decision and during those moments, I just pick the next thing on the line. And it’s fine!
5. I use dead time (20 minutes)
This includes playing a language lesson while I’m brushing my teeth and getting ready. I also carry a book so I can be prepared for inevitable metro delays. I listen to podcasts when doing particularly monotonous tasks at work.
Part of this involves having these things queued up. Whenever I hear of an interesting book, I immediately add it to either my hold list or to my later list on my library account. It will go on the hold list if there’s a long list of holds but it will go on my later list if I can get the book immediately and already have books at home or coming up on holds. Every week, library holds become available and my library lets me keep them out for 3 weeks each. This is often plenty of time when some books I just skim, or ultimately don’t like, and some I read and relish.
6. I limit social media (20 minutes)
Well for the rest of you this probably could save 4 hours a day, but the only social media habit I adopted was Instagram, which I scroll through weekly instead of daily.
Basically my tips boil doing to cutting out extras (some would say, necessities), limiting choices and multitasking.
What do I do with all this extra time? To be perfectly honest, if I didn’t bike to work, I wouldn’t work out during the day. So it’s not exactly like I have an extra hour a day – I’m just getting in an hour of biking that I normally wouldn’t. The same goes for stretching and foam rolling. Overall, I’m in much better shape and probably less likely to get injured. I guess it just means I can’t use lack of time not to exercise.
But I also always make time to sleep or just stare out into space and play. If I was just a machine and wouldn’t let a second go by unproductively, I would get too stressed!
What are your tricks and tips for saving time?

17 Meals to Cook without Going to the Grocery Store

Sometimes I feel like the laziest or most anxious person in the world but sometimes the thought of going grocery shopping seems like a huge undertaking. (In my defense, I don’t have a car and we’re currently under a monsoon watch.) Ditto going out to eat as a single person. And I’m really not a delivery kind of girl (never got into the habit). So what’s a girl to do but make meals with what she already has in the apartment she never wants to leave?
Thankfully, years of cooking and being single (and being too tired to go to the grocery store) has led me to be quite crafty with my meals. I once went a month without going to the grocery store and actually came out in the negative for grocery spending (I returned some spices I was never going to use). So long as I have eggs, rice and soy sauce, I’m pretty happy. Thankfully it doesn’t have to come to that very often.
Below are meals I can prepare for myself currently with ingredients in my pantry and fridge/freezer with the ingredients listed next to them. I will admit though that I will very soon run out of eggs and coconut milk/milk and greek yogurt, and without those options, the pickings will be much scarcer!

What I’ve Learned from Eating One Meal a Day

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I’ve tried Gen. McChrystal’s one-meal-a-day diet for two weeks. For me, it hasn’t been that difficult a transition. I had already started an intermittent fasting regimen a month or so earlier. I have learned a lot about my eating habits from this little experiment – that, spoiler alert- I think I will continue.

1. I am not in tune with my hunger or my body.

So many diets come up with newfangled ways to keep you from being hungry. This diet also kept me from being hungry – by not giving me any food.
I’ve never counted calories. According to my age, weight, gender and height, I should eat about 1,500 calories a day. Looking at 1,500 calories a day meal plans, this is way more food than I ever eat even on a normal 3-meal a day meal plan.
I would typically eat (when I was trying to be a good paleo dieter) a small chia pudding for breakfast, and then a salad for lunch and then meat and veggies for dinner. No snacking, no dessert. If I were to guess, I’d say I probably ate 1,200 calories a day. And I would exercise for an hour a day as well. And I did not lose weight. And then other reports say that 1,500 is way too low, even for sedentary females.
When I read about this diet, I had read that one could just get all daily calories from 1 meal instead of 3. As one would expect, you eat a lot more in 3 meals than 1. And at least for me, I eat less when I’m hungry than when I’m bored.
So when I got around to dinner having eaten nothing at all, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t starving. In fact, I was not hungry at all. I definitely ate far fewer calories than I had previously and with no hunger pangs. It should come as no surprise that I lost weight on this diet. But my energy was consistent throughout the day. Without my body working on digesting all day, I had consistent energy and no cravings.
It got me to thinking that maybe I wasn’t eating three meals a day because I needed it but because it was a habit. I never asked myself if I was hungry. I just ate at my scheduled times. My lack of hunger pangs was a huge red flag that I was eating too much and that had led to weight gain.

2. You may need supplements

Because I wasn’t eating meals, but well, I got thirsty, I would drink a lot of tea and water. Super healthy right? Well a few days in, I started to get very slightly lightheaded but I could tell it wasn’t for being hungry. I think it may have been that
 I needed to supplement with potassium, magnesium and calcium, which were low with the decrease in calories. Once I added some lemon water and sea salt to my water, it seemed to help my lightheadedness.

3. Counterintuitively, eating less makes me less hungry.

After a long day of denying myself food, I was delighted to treat myself to dinner. The totality of the diet was skipping breakfast and lunch – I didn’t give myself any restrictions for dinner. But when I sat myself down for my final meal, I wasn’t salivating. I wasn’t even hungry.
I had read that competitive eaters always eat before their competitions. It helps to stretch out their stomachs. I think my 3 meals a day regimen was stretching out my stomach as well so I would seem hungry consistently throughout the day. I had previously thought that I had needed to eat because I had felt hungry. But maybe I had just stretched out my stomach so much that I needed to eat to feed this larger stomach rather than the needs of my body.

4. People can get freaked out about this diet. 

There’s a joke about how you know if someone is a vegan (Answer: they will tell you). With this diet, it’s a bit hard to hide it. Someone will invite you to lunch, it’s very difficult to go out for drinks on an empty stomach or you’ll be quite impatient at dinner time.
But everyone I told about it was extremely intrigued. Most of the comments were that I didn’t need to diet and not to lose too much weight. Some worried that I wasn’t eating enough. Don’t worry – if I start to diminish to nothing, I will certainly eat before I perish!

5. I spent a lot of time thinking about food.

If you think theoretically about cutting out breakfast and lunch, it seems like at most it would save you 40 minutes a day with our rushed eating schedules. In reality, it seemed like I had so much extra time per day. It’s not just the time spent eating these meals (est. 15 minutes/day), but the time anticipating eating (10 minutes), figuring out what to eat (20 minutes), shopping for food (20 minutes) preparing the food (20 minutes) and cleaning up after (5 minutes). I could work through lunch (because honestly, what else was I going to do?).
Overall, I am saving time, money and food, while losing weight and reducing cravings. I’m more aware of what my body needs and wants. I think it’s a great diet for me and I’ll see how long I can maintain it.
What about you? Would you try a one meal a day diet?

A Controversial Way To Save Money on Groceries

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Back in the heyday of my student loan pay off blitz, I would sometimes, as people do, forget my lunch at home. Or forget to make one. Now, a periodic $10 is not a big deal when you’re paying off tens of thousands, right? Right. Logical. But the hunger and the deprivation were making me illogical. On many of those days, I skipped lunch. I was cutting back on everything, and I didn’t want stupid mistakes to derail me.

Since that time, I have reversed course into thinking, yeah a $10 lunch here or there will delay your loan payoff by a literal minute, if that. Health is more important.

Now I still believe health is more important than money but I may be revisiting the idea that skipping meals is a bad thing.

A New Diet Plan

What I had found when skipping lunch was that it was unbearable to work for about an hour.  After the pangs stopped, I wasn’t hungry.  I didn’t eat a giant dinner to compensate. I wasn’t irritable. The only effect was that I felt guilty for skipping a meal and treating my health so flippantly.

After reading about intermittent fasting in a few publications, I decided to take the plunge.  I’m starting a diet whereby I only eat one meal a day, typically dinner. 

I’m sure this sounds disordered. But there have seen some studies that show that intermittent fasting might actually lead people to live longer. And General Stanley McChrystal eats only one meal a day. He has a much more demanding exercise regiment and a much more stressful job than I do. Here’s a man who needs more calories and likely does not have an eating disorder. If he can survive, then surely I can too.

There doesn’t seem to make any rhyme or reason why we eat three meals in a day. Looking at our primitive ancestors, they ate whenever they could. They didn’t have set meals. If given an abundance of food, it would still make sense to eat only when hungry, rather than by habit.

I’m not going to starve, darlings.

No one dies from starvation from having one meal a day. Or at least, one big meal a day. And I can foresee a lot of benefits.

Benefit #1: It relieves stress

After we stopped that whole hunting and foraging for food thing, you would think procuring and planning meals would be a breeze now. When I think about planning 21 meals for myself, it seems like a lot to wrap my head around. Each meal has to be balanced in terms of nutrition and I have to figure out where I’m going to eat it and when I’m going to cook it. Then I actually have to shop for and cook it. By forgoing two meals a day, I can focus all my energies on shopping for, preparing and cleaning up one great meal.

 Benefit #2: Reduced environmental impact

I’ve heard a number of people say that the positive environmental impact would be huge if people would eat one meatless meal a week. Well, by cutting out 2 meals a day, you’re cutting out potentially 10 meaty meals. You get all the environmental impact with none of the work (figuring out vegetarian meals can be hard!). 

Benefit #3: Spartanism can be pleasurable

I’m a bit of a masochist. I’ve run 2 marathons. I never turn on my air conditioning. In the winter, I bike to work so long as it’s above freezing. In the summer, as long as it’s below boiling. I had listened to this podcast entitled “Your Climate Controlled Life is Killing You” and it really spoke to me. I really was getting tired of the comfort. There’s that line in that Goo Goo Dolls Song “You bleed just to know you’re alive” and while that sounds perfectly emo and high school, it does make me feel more alive to suffer a bit.

On my morning bike rides, I’ve learned to enjoy this incredibly empty feeling. It’s not hunger. It’s just ….being. You don’t always have to feel completely full. You don’t even need to feel sated. You can function perfectly fine without thinking about food at all – when there’s no food to be digested and when you’re not desirous of any food. It’s at these times when your mind might actually be clearest.

But honestly, I suffer for maybe 10 minutes when I’m hungry. And then the hunger pangs go away. That’s the only difference between eating one meal a day and three meals a day for me.

Benefit #4: Weight Loss

I’ve had this stubborn belly fat for some time now. From eating one meal a day, my stomach shrank. I lost 10 pounds. I looked better, had more energy. My body wasn’t spending all of its time digesting food. Furthermore, I didn’t have to kill myself going to the gym to burn off excess calories I never should have eaten. Now I understand why they say that losing weight is about changing your diet,not about exercise.

Benefit #5: Hunger Control

I was on a budget cross-country flight with a friend. We left at around 4pm and would arrive around 9pm our time. We didn’t realize that there wouldn’t be any food offered on such a long flight. She had brought some snacks and offered them to me, but I was fine. I had had lunch. She devoured all of them and was ravenous when we arrived. This reminded me that I’m used to taming my hunger by now.

I’ve also learned to appreciate hunger. It’s not a bad feeling. I’m not hangry. I get the feeling that my body is starting to figure out it’s hungry but I’m more than my feelings. I’m in control of the way I respond.

Benefit #6: The Controversial Way I Save Money on Groceries 

And we come to the headline of the post – of course this will save money! While it seems like you would eat all the same calories you would have in one day, just in one meal, I ended up eating a normal sized dinner. Plus I don’t buy snacks or any other foods for breakfast or lunch. I doubt you’ll cut 2/3 of your food budget, particularly since breakfast tends to be a pretty cheap meal. But it’s impossible not to save money. Even if you ate out for dinner every day – say $10 a meal –  you would only spend $70 on food for the week and never have to cook. That’s quite a low number for eating out, and you could get it much lower if you cooked.

You can easily cut half your grocery bill (by cutting 2/3 of your meals). You’ll find that you don’t need to buy very much food. Eventually you’ll cut down on food waste, because you won’t need to buy as much food. You won’t need to go to the grocery store as often, cutting down on spontaneous shopping. You will cut down on gym memberships because you don’t need to burn off as many calories. It becomes a virtuous cycle of saving.

In the end, it’s just an experiment I’m doing to see what works. If I’m hangry and irritable and my hair starts falling out, you best be believing that I’ll stop.

What about you? Have you ever tried intermittent fasting or some other crazy diet?

How to Buy Clothes You Love

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I remember looking at sweepstakes that would promise $1,000 to create the wardrobe of your dreams. That seemed like endless money at the time. But I’ve undoubtedly spent more than that on my wardrobe and at times, it has felt like there was nothing great to wear. Sound familiar?

Before I decluttered, I was always a little disappointed with my clothing options. Surprisingly, after getting rid of stuff I didn’t like, the stuff I did like seemed to shine even brighter.  And I’ve kept it up so that every new item that comes in shines as brightly. The most important lesson I learned from Marie Kondo’s “get rid of what doesn’t spark joy” movement is that one can’t go through the multi-day purge without being more mindful of what’s coming back in. After decluttering, it’s always in the front of your mind when shopping that what you buy might just become future clutter. Here are some tips I’ve found to make the transition from mindless shopping to consistently buying what you love, at least for your wardrobe.

1. Assess your Current Inventory

The first step to buying stuff you love is knowing what you already have. If you’ve done the Marie Kondo decluttering, you should have culled your inventory into something manageable enough for you to know basically everything you own. You should now be able to see all the things you like and wear often and all the things you want to have to complete outfits. You should also be able to see what you had too many of, or what didn’t work for you. Before I decluttered, I would find myself buying black shirt after black shirt, black dress after black dress. (See a trend?)

Don’t just mindlessly shop for things – keep your eyes focused on the holes in your wardrobe. Maybe you actually need a new blazer to wear to work. If you’re unfocused, you can see a new black dress and get distracted (I know I would). But you know you don’t need another dress – you need another blazer. You must be disciplined about this. Now that you know what pieces would complete your wardrobe, just fill those gaps. Otherwise, it’s like assembling a 100 piece puzzle set with only 10 distinct pieces. That just doesn’t make any sense!

2. Judge New Purchases Against what you Have

It can be a rush to have new things. And it might seem like an extra piece of clothing won’t make any difference. Clothing tends not to be that expensive. Anything nice and new will cheer you up and make your wardrobe better, right?

But to have a great wardrobe, you need a high barrier to entry. It’s good to think of  your stuff is a family and bringing a new product in is like bringing a random new boyfriend or girlfriend in. You have to think about how the new guy/girl is going to fit in. You don’t just invite anyone to meet or join your family. They might not get along well.

You’ve cleared away the chaff in your wardrobe and now you know what the lowest standard of acceptability for your wardrobe is. For every new item of clothing you consider, ask yourself the following questions and only buy what passes the test. Otherwise, you’re bringing in more stuff that won’t pass the next purge.

  1. Do I like this as much or better than the clothes I already have?
  2. Will this be as useful to me than the clothes I already have?
  3. Will this item fit in with the clothes I already have?

3. Search for Better and Cheaper alternatives.

Even if you find something you like, you have to remember that now every product you bring home is something that you may have in your house for years.  And with that kind of commitment, you should love the product. And in order to know you love something, you really should search to see what else is out there.

The problem we have with buying clothes is that because they’re cheap, we don’t spend the time to think of each one as valuable. This is unlike how we buy expensive items. We can only afford one car and will drive it for several years, so we research to make sure we are getting exactly what we want. With clothing, we think, this is good enough. And if not, we can buy another one that is good enough. And soon, without really questioning it, we have spend thousands on clothes we don’t like, don’t wear and have to spend time taking care of and/or disposing.

Try searching for similar items on Google search, Shopstyle or eBay. Maybe you found a great red dress at The Gap, but an even better dress is available at Banana Republic for a similar price. And there’s no point in buying two red dresses when one is clearly better. But be careful – remember that eBay may be cheaper but it may be difficult to return items.

4. Try stuff in the store if possible. Return what you don’t want.

The problem with shopping online is that the product worms its way into your house and it becomes another errand for you to return. This is the opposite of buying in a store, where it’s a burden for you to buy the product and bring it home.

Remember that your house is a sacred place. Be adamant about getting rid of things you don’t want as soon as possible at the highest value you can still get. If you are forgetful at returning things, then it might make sense to shop only in stores. Or to shop infrequently.

Conclusion: How to Buy Clothes You Love

Remember that the Marie Kondo method isn’t a one-and-done. It requires constant vigilance to ensure that clutter doesn’t make its way back to your wardrobe or your home. But if you follow these steps, you’re much more likely to bring in more things you love, so that you can keep getting dressed with ease and style. Never relax your standards – if you want a wardrobe you love, you can only buy stuff you love. You deserve it.