The average American woman spends between $1,000 and $2,000 every year on clothing but wears just 20% to 30% of what's in her closet. That means that every item in a crowded closet has less than a one in three chance of actually being worn. The real amount spent on clothing is actually much higher than a couple thousand dollars. In 80-85% of American families, women are primarily responsible for buying clothes, household essentials, accessories, and groceries not just for themselves, but for their spouses and children.

In these tough economic times, I propose a solution I've abided by for over ten years: thrift store shopping. Local thrift stores such as Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Village Discount not only offer new and even designer labels for rock-bottom prices, but your money often goes to a great cause in the community. Buying second-hand clothing at thrift, consignment, and resale stores is also environmentally conscious and does not contribute to the steady supply of clothing made under slave or slave-like conditions. If that isn't enough to convince you, then maybe these points will.

Understand How Much You Actually Spend on Clothes

The first step in saving money is understanding how it's spent in the first place. My husband and I swear by Mint, while others may be loyal to LearnVest or Manilla. Regardless of what type of budgeting method you use, it is important that you use it. You never know how much you are spending on clothing and accessories until you take a hard look.

Take Inventory of What You Have, Plan for What You'll Need

We may not all be inclined to switch to cloth toilet paper, but we could learn a lesson or two from frugal mom Angela Coffman's semi-annual clothing menu for her family. Every spring and fall, Angela takes inventory of the clothing that her children have and plans accordingly for what they will need throughout the year. Once the menu is set, they are able to scour thrift stores, garage sales, and clearance racks for great deals. In this case, the axiom "failing to plan is planning to fail" is more than true, it’s expensive! Last minute purchases, especially during back-to-school “sales” for kids’ clothing, backpacks, and school supplies, can really add up.

Aim to Buy Nothing New for the Year

I can proudly say that in 2012 I did not buy anything new, and that my modest expenses at thrift stores have been long-term investments: a wrap dress for work, a designer dress shirt for the hubby, and an organic cotton onesie for the little one sometime in the future. Total spent: $5.00. Compared to regular prices even at discount retailers like Target, I'm still saving 75-90%. Of course, for hygiene purposes, essentials such as socks and undergarments should be purchased new.

Shop Strategically

Just as you do with couponing for groceries and other deals, strategically plan your thrifting around store sales. My local Village Discount stores have 50% off everything days where I can snag a pencil skirt for $0.30. Every Saturday, Salvation Army designates one tag color to be $0.59 throughout the store. On these days, it is best to get to the store early and be ready for an adventure.

Beware of Bargain Overload

To be honest, thrift store shopping is not for the faint-hearted or impulse buyer. It may be difficult to bypass a blouse for $2.00 because it's just a couple bucks. It's important to buy only what you really need, not what you think is an unbelievable price. Similarly, thrifting may not be for people who dislike wearing second-hand clothing or may not have clean, organized thrift stores in their neighborhoods. To find a thrift store in your neighborhood, check out the Thrift Store Locator.

My suggestion is for you to try it and see if it is right for you and your family. If it is, you'll reap the benefits by not only being a more ethical consumer but by saving thousands of dollars each year.

This has been a guest post by Danielle from Chicago, IL
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