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How I got $132 worth of clothes for free

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A clothing swap allows you to freshen up your wardrobe without a pricey shopping spreeA clothing swap allows you to freshen up your wardrobe without a pricey shopping spree.

It’s totally unfrugal, but sometimes buying new clothes and shoes and accessories just feels good. But know what doesn’t feel so good? A busted budget.

Good news is, there are ways to satisfy your inner shopaholic without going broke. One of my favorite ways to scratch a shopping itch on a budget: swap parties.

Yes, swap parties. (And get your mind out of the gutter. This ain’t the ’70s.) I’m talking clothing swap parties: get-togethers in which you and your friends sip wine, snack, and then trade awesome outfits.

Swap Party 101

It doesn’t take much to throw a swap party. You just need friends, refreshments and gently used clothes. Here’s how I’ve seen it done. Each guest brings a snack, and the host provides the booze and beverages. When a guest arrives, the host the takes guest’s bag of clothes and organizes them for easy picking. Dresses go in one pile, tops in another, and so on.

It’s pretty simple. If you’ve ever hosted a party, you can host a swap party.

Last month, I’d been on the hunt for a new winter coat and a pair of boots. But my budget wasn’t equipped for these expenses. In short, I wanted to buy things I couldn’t afford — not good. So I was excited when I got an email from my girlfriend that included the subject line: “Next clothing swap.”

I had a whole bag of clothes ready. Some items no longer fit; some I just didn’t wear anymore. I was ready to swap.

Swap Party Expenses

In attending the party, I had two expenses:

  1. Pie ($14): A neighborhood bakery has the most delicious chocolate cream pie, and the hostess specifically requested this. “No problem,” I said. “It’s a small price to pay.”
  2. Bag of gently worn clothes ($20): Of course, my ticket to the party was a bag of gently worn clothes. I estimated its worth at about twenty bucks. How’d I come up with that number? That’s roughly the amount I get when I sell my clothes to a consignment shop.

Total expense: $34

Sweet, Sweet Loot

The loot I got from my clothing swap

When I arrived to the party, there were six of us, which meant there were a ton of clothes. We snacked on pie, veggies and cheese, and then we grabbed a bottle of wine and dug into the loot.

I nabbed three high-end items:

  1. Dolce Vita blue suede booties ($60): With a super high heel, I’d never buy these on my own. But they were just radical enough that I had to have them for free. Four-inch suede booties aren’t exactly an everyday shoe, but if I don’t wear them often, I don’t have to feel guilty, because they cost me nothing. A swift eBay search shows that, on the high end, these boots sell for upwards of $100, used. On the low end, they’re $20. Thus, I think $60 is a completely unscientific but probably still accurate estimate of their worth.
  2. Vintage 1960s wool coat ($50): I wanted a new winter coat, and at the swap party, I found a vintage wool one that’s both versatile and warm. The coat goes with pretty much everything in my wardrobe, so I’ll get a lot of use out of it. Based on my eBay tactic, I priced this coat at about $50.
  3. Urban Decay eye shadow palate ($22): Urban Decay cosmetics are quite expensive new. Even used, the eye shadow palate I found is priced at about $22. I’d never buy expensive cosmetics on my own, so this was a great way to add some quality stuff to my makeup bag.

Maybe you can’t quite put a price on a potluck lunch, but in addition to my loot, I left the party with a belly full of wine, pie, baked brie, and fruit. An added bonus.

Total value: $132

What I Would’ve Spent

I don’t buy things I can’t afford. But for the sake of quantifying my savings, let’s say I gave in to my shopping urge before the party. I likely would’ve spent upwards of $75 for a coat and $50 for a pair of boots, for a total of at least $125. Instead, I nabbed some items that were a lot better than those I would’ve purchased on my own. And the best part is: they were free.

Of course, the clothing items that don’t get swapped are taken to Goodwill. At my friend’s party, we divvied up all the leftover bags, and everyone was in charge of dropping a few of them off for donation. And not to take away from the charity of this, but should one decide to take the tax-deduction, that’s another added bonus.

These days, I’m on a pretty tight budget. My inner shopaholic sometimes has a little trouble coping with that. But clothing swaps have helped enormously in staving off the urge to spend.

Have you ever hosted or attended a clothing swap? What sweet loot did you score?

(Photo: Brave New Films)

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5 Responses to “How I got $132 worth of clothes for free”

  1. Meagan says:

    I love clothing swaps! Best way to get new clothes for free and they (usually) don’t smell as bad as the ones you get at Goodwill :)

  2. Wilma says:

    LOVE THOSE BOOTS!!!!! I love Goodwill and The Salvation Army too. Get all my work clothes there. Never went to a clothes swap before. Have read about them though. I think it would be fun. I’m in the process of going through drawers, cabinets, closets and the basement. Time to dung out the pack rattery and a party like that sounds like the way to do it. Looks like you did good.

  3. Marie @ 4HWD says:

    I also love clothing swaps with my friends. Usually we just posted our clothing photos on the Facebook and we will meet once or twice a month.

  4. Cosmo says:

    Not exactly “free,” as you did bring clothes to exchange (and a $14 pie).


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